Start Up Stories: An Interview with Michelle Wright of Cause4

Michelle is the Chief Executive of Cause4 , a social enterprise that supports charities, social enterprises and philanthropists to develop and raise vital funds across the education, art, sport and charity sectors both in the UK and Internationally. Provoking change is at the heart of everything she does, which is why Cause4 is known for its disruptive philanthropy and has so far raised over £46 million for their clients and over £500,000 charitable income per month. Cause4 also attracts some of the best graduate talent who take on some of the charitable sector’s most pressing issues, so it comes as no surprise that Michelle has been shortlisted for the London & The South Not For Profit /Social Enterprise Award .

Let’s see what Michelle has to say:

Forward Ladies: How did you come up with the idea for your business?

MW : In the back of my mind I always thought that I might want to start a business.Looking back I’d say my career journey has been slightly unusual. I trained as a violinist at one of the UK’s leading conservatoires – London’s Guildhall School of Music & Drama – and then had a five-year career as a professional violinist playing in London orchestras. It was completely by chance that I found my way into the charitable sector where I worked in a variety of communication and marketing roles, eventually becoming a Chartered Marketer. In 2007, my time as Development Director of the London Symphony Orchestra involved a whirlwind three years of fundraising and international sponsorship development. Then Lehman Brothers bank collapsed and 20,000 people lost their jobs. As the UK economy continued to wallow in recession the idea for setting up Cause4 was born. I knew at that moment the world had changed and the charity sector was also going to have to change, grow and respond. I wondered if there was scope for a small organisation to work more entrepreneurially in the charitable sector, that could overcome the new challenging financial climate for charities.


Forward Ladies: What were some of the initial challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

MW : With any fast-growing SME, our reputation and business opportunities have grown far faster than our infrastructure or staffing. We’re now seeking to put in place as many processes as we can to ensure that we continue to deliver a quality service. We know that not taking care of our processes and clients as the business grows is a key risk for us. The main issue has been recruiting staff with the right entrepreneurial mindset to cope with the demands of the business and the innovative and fast-paced way in which we work. Having brilliant people that are able to deliver quality work for clients is essential, and the speed of this delivery takes most new recruits by surprise – however honest we are in the interview! We found recruiting senior people into the team (to support growth) a particular struggle, and realised that we needed to ‘grow our own’ talent. So, in 2010 we formalised plans to develop our own graduate ‘Entrepreneurship’ programme that would provide a solid basis for the future development of the business.


Forward Ladies: How did you fund your business?

MW : We’ve been lucky enough to fund the growth of the business solely through profits. As yet we haven’t taken on any external investment.


Forward Ladies: What is your top tip for growing your business?

MW : Be clear on the metrics that are right for you, not what other people measure successful businesses by! For me that’s quality of work, feedback from clients and culture – how it feels. As I’ve developed the business I’ve become less interested in the traditional metrics that investors look for such as turnover and number of staff employed.


Forward Ladies: Why would you recommend that people build their network and find the support they need to start and grow their business?

MW : It can be a very lonely place running a business. The very best advice I received is from other entrepreneurs who have been there and done it, but you have to seek out that advice carefully and make time to network with other entrepreneurs. I recently set up a programme with Santander to provide mentoring for female entrepreneurs because I recognise just how essential this is.


Forward Ladies: How do you maintain a work/life balance?

MW : I haven’t been great at this in the past, but I had my son 12 months ago and since then I’ve had to get much better at separating family time with work. It’s a bit of a cliché, but if he’s happy, I’m happy. Making sure home life is working ok is essential for me to grow the business.


Forward Ladies: How has mentorship made a difference in your business?

MW : It’s been essential. I was quick to seek out a mentor, and at any one time I have 2-3 trusted people that I talk to around the business – usually entrepreneurs that are 5-10 years ahead of me. I think everyone should have a mentor and we should all undertake training as mentors, because you learn so much!


Forward Ladies: Thank you for your time Michelle, you’ve been great!

We hope you found our interview with Michelle helpful and inspiring. If you want to benefit from being around ladies like Michelle on a regular basis, be sure to come to the next Forward Ladies networking event in your area or become a member and be part of something amazing.