What does Pro Bono Economics do?
Pro Bono Economics helps charities and social enterprises understand the costs and improve the impact of their work. We do this by matching highly skilled economist volunteers with charities that need this expertise and then guiding the work and ensuring a high quality output.
After the financial crash in 2008, Pro Bono Economics co-founders Martin Brookes (now CEO of Tomorrow’s People) and Andy Haldane (Chief Economist at the Bank of England) wanted to demonstrate how economists could use their skills to help charities and consequently re-establish public trust and respect in the discipline of economics.
How is PBE funded and where does the money go?
Pro Bono Economics is funded through donations from businesses and individuals, as well as grant-making trusts and foundations. This funding pays for a small central team to run the charity and deliver our service. We are growing this central team so that we can provide a wider range of services to and provide a better experience for volunteers and charities.
How do you decide which charities to work with?
Each year Pro Bono Economics will carefully select a portfolio of projects where our skills in economic analysis can produce the best results for the individual charities and promote wider learning across the sector. To do this we assess charities against our selection criteria and if this shows promise we will meet to discuss our approach in more detail. We will allocate an economist, or team, who can get into the detail and determine the best approach.
Sometimes a charity may not have enough data, the right data, or data over a long enough period of time for a piece of analysis, and so our economists may work with them to identify what will be needed to allow analysis in the future. We hope that the charity would get back in touch with us once all the data was collected – possibly after one or two years. There are many other ways Pro Bono Economics can help charities. Sometimes it is simply a conversation that helps them to better understand the challenges and complexities of estimating their impact.
Do you only help charities?
We will work with registered charities and social enterprises including charities registered as Industrial and Provident Societies. Organisations registered as IPSs must demonstrate that they are a charity, i.e. confirm that HMRC regards them as such. Any type of organisation other than those listed above, including Community Interest Companies and those that describe themselves as social enterprises, must be able to provide us with evidence that a key component of their mission, stated in their governing documents, is to meet specific social/environmental objectives.
We work with charities from across the UK. We do not currently help charities that are based outside the UK.
Who monitors the quality of Pro Bono Economics' work?
Projects are undertaken by an experienced economist, or a team of economists with senior oversight. Quality assurance is provided by Pro Bono Economics' central team. Our trustees carry out a regular audit of our working practices. Most importantly, we have a review process for every piece of analysis, using an experienced economist, independent of the project, to carry out a review. This allows us to be sure that our output is high quality, transparent and unbiased.
How will charities use the results?
Charities sometimes use the results from our work to support campaigns or fundraising. They also use our recommendations to develop and improve their services for greater impact.
If the results show that their interventions are not effective, or not cost effective, and there is no reason to think that better data might give a different picture, we would expect the charity and its board to consider why this might be the case and use this information to help think about how they might make changes.
Where our work centres on advice around data collection, we hope that the charity implements our recommendations, collects useful data and comes back to us for analysis, once sufficient data has been collected.
We undertake reviews with each charity one year after our work project is completed. This is important, as it allows us to demonstrate our own impact. We aim to share the results of our work on an open source basis. We also share our findings by holding discussion events for relevant stakeholders.
How does Pro Bono Economics match projects?
The Pro Bono Economics project team works to match the needs of the charity to the skills and experience of the volunteers in our network.
How do volunteers know what projects are available?
The Pro Bono Economics team works to match the needs of the charity support to the skills and experience of the associates in our network. Pro Bono Economics will contact you when projects arise which match your skills and experience.
How many projects does Pro Bono Economics complete each year?
This varies in response to charity need, but typically we undertake around 30 pro bono engagements each year across our four strategic areas; education, employment, mental health and poverty.
Where do your volunteers come from?
Pro Bono Economics has over 400 active volunteers including professional economists drawn from the public and private sector as well as academia. These volunteer economists are highly-skilled professionals, some with many years of experience.
Will volunteers be working independently or in a team?
This varies depending on the charity need. Some projects are suited to one individual working in collaboration with the charity. For bigger projects we take a team-based approach.
How long do the projects undertaken by Pro Bono Economics typically take?
The average project takes around one year to complete, but this can vary. Please see project types for more detailed information.
Does Pro Bono Economics charge for its services?
Although the detailed economics work is done by volunteers, Pro Bono Economics sources, project manages, reviews and helps interpret and communicate results using a small staff team. Therefore, we ask charity partners to contribute to project costs where they can.
Does Pro Bono Economics cover volunteer expenses?
As part of our charity agreement, the charities we work with agree to cover all reasonable out-of-pocket travel expenses incurred through Pro Bono Economics projects. In the first instance expenses should be recouped from the charity, but should there be any difficulty the volunteer can then contact Pro Bono Economics.
What data does Pro Bono Economics collect about the projects?
At the beginning of the project, we will estimate how much time this project will entail. At the end of the project, we will ask you to let us know if this is a correct estimation of the time you have contributed pro bono and the commercial value of that time. This helps us understand the scale of pro bono work undertaken and to recognise the huge contribution of our pro bono partners.
What kinds of charities do you help?
We focus our work with charities that work in education, employment, mental health and poverty.
Each year we carefully select a portfolio of charities/subjects which can benefit most from the application of our economics expertise. For the wider charitable sector we are developing training and masterclass offers which can build early understanding and confidence in impact assessment.
For bespoke projects our high-level eligibility criteria are as follows:
- Be headquartered in the UK
- Be a charity or social enterprise
- Have a turnover of between £100k - £10 million (for larger organisations we may ask for a contribution towards core costs)
Have at least 2 months’ financial reserves (preferably 3 months)
Work in one or more of the following areas:
- Mental health and resilience
- Addressing poverty; multiple deprivation, financial inclusion, homelessness and substance misuse
How do you help charities?
We help charities in many ways, but most commonly in data advice, analysis of interventions and research to support advocacy and campaigns using national datasets.
For charities that are looking to find out how cost-effective an intervention is, our volunteers use tools such as cost-benefit analysis, but have a range of skills that they can deploy. Our volunteers often spend time advising charities on data collection methods.
In general, looking at the impact of one service or intervention is more straight-forward than conducting analysis of an organisation as a whole.
How much time does economic analysis take and how much input is needed from the charity?
This is difficult to answer and we simply can’t tell until we have scoped and planned each assessment. This helps how much data and other support is required from charities and the demands on your staff.
Some charities find projects easy, needing only a light touch with data close to hand. For others, it means working hard to engage stakeholders, digging out data hidden away in filing cabinets and spreadsheets. The most successful projects are those where the charity is engaged and able to commit time and resources with a project manager to drive the work forwards.
Our average project length is six months. If the outcome of the advice is data collection, a charity can expect to be collecting data for at least a year before anything can be done with it. It can be a commitment of several years.
What if the results are bad news for the charity?
We have a ‘do no harm’ policy. This means that if the data suggests a given intervention is not having a discernible positive effect, and the charity does not wish this to be in the public domain, we will not publicise the details of the report.
However, we will ensure that the board of the charity sees the report, so that they are able to take appropriate steps. As with any project, we would follow up to identify whether our work is having an impact. A more likely scenario is that there is some data, but that it is simply not enough to know whether the intervention is having a positive impact or not.
In these cases we may recommend that further data collection is carried out. We also have an agreement that states that all parties (the charity, Pro Bono Economics and the volunteers) must agree what is published. This ensures that nothing ambiguous or unclear will reach the public domain.
Can you do an SROI analysis for us?
Social Return on Investment is a framework used to help understand the social outcomes generated by an organisation.
We are not SROI practitioners and are not SROI accredited, nor are our volunteers. Our volunteers are economists who will bring to any project a range of skills and tools, and will use the most appropriate methodology to address the issues at hand.
If you are specifically seeking an SROI analysis we would recommend that you approach the SROI Network who have a directory of practitioners. However, take the time to think about whether an SROI analysis is right for the needs of your organisation. It may be that there are other types of analysis are more appropriate.