The Key Fund uses Business Productivity Grant to put more time into investees

The Key Fund was founded in 1999 by a group of social entrepreneurs wanting to remedy economic decline in South Yorkshire. As the coal and steel industries dwindled and jobs disappeared, “many places were left without a reason to be,” explains CEO Matt Smith.  “The Key Fund formed to fund other social enterprises, ensuring that European and UK government funding was distributed with a very local flavour. “If you want to regenerate communities, you have to put power and money in the hands of local people.” 22 years later, the fund has invested around £75 million in over 2,600 social enterprises – but as their portfolio grew, they realised their customer relationship management software was holding them back from supporting investees as effectively as they wanted to.

“Whereas most organisations in our sector make low volumes of high value investments, the Key Fund does the opposite,” says Matt. “We invest in lots of smaller organisations looking to start their journey, so our portfolio is large in terms of volume, but modest in terms of value. That meant there were no CRM systems on the market that worked for us, and the solution we had was highly inefficient: there was lots of duplication of input, and gaps in the system that had to be filled with separate spreadsheets.”

The company knew for some time that they wanted to invest in a tailored system, but the opportunity didn’t come until Matt heard about the Business Productivity Grant. “The application process was relatively straightforward,” he says, “and Rachel [Fletcher – a Business Advisor with Business Sheffield] was absolutely brilliant. She reviewed drafts and gave us really clear feedback, always straightforward and to the point. It was the quality of support I hope we provide to our own investees.”

The Key Fund procured their supplier as part of their application process, and once they knew the funding had been granted in early 2021, they set to work with them on their tailored CRM. Despite the complications of Covid-19, the process went relatively smoothly. “Without the support from the grant scheme we would have really struggled,” says Matt. “The funding enabled us to dedicate staff time to ensuring the project was successful, and backfill their role with temporary resource.”

The new CRM is already paying dividends for the Key Fund and paving the way for future work to improve productivity even more. “Our process for investment is much more thorough and streamlined,” says Matt, “saving time in processing applications, which helps our clients because we can do deals faster. Our reporting is lightyears ahead of itself: we can understand what’s going on across the organisation with a click of a button, and see performance against targets instantaneously. 

“Next we want to look at how we can streamline our monitoring processes in the same way, and make it easier for investees to share more detailed data with us so we can support them better. We’re also seeing interesting trends and data points emerging that we could use to make more intelligent decisions and enhance support: we’re starting to do some analysis with a third party specialist to understand how we can do that.”

See how the Key Fund used their grant to improve support for the organisations they fund here.