Mission Driven Entrepreneurs Episode 26 - David Lale of Charity People

The entrepreneurs I interview here all have a mission and David Lale is no exception. I only wish I had known about his company when I left recruitment myself!

David set up Charity People in the 1990s, after harbouring “ambitions to save the world”. He’d wanted to go into the church but they didn’t feel he was ready and because he was working in recruitment, he looked at other ways to make a difference. He was on honeymoon when the idea came for Charity People: “All good ideas come when you least expect them or when you have the mental space for them.” The company, which he set up with funding from the Prince’s Youth Business Trust and London Enterprise Agency, filled the charity sector’s need to hire good people. “I knew nothing about the sector,” he laughs, “my wife and I were cutting out adverts from the Guardian to follow up as leads and I spent most of my time explaining what a recruitment agency was to charities.”

The company grew fast and opened regional offices. David drank 100,000 cups of tea and placed 30,000 people in new jobs. But in the early noughties, he felt he needed some time out so he went to work for Henshaws Arts & Crafts Centre in Knaresborough, which provides training for people with disabilities. This experience came off the back of a failed recruitment campaign, laughs David: “They were left without a candidate. I lived in Harrogate and wanted a year out. I sold it to the trustees and, bless their hearts, they took it at face value and gave me a chance.” He adds, “What I did bring was my recruitment abilities to put together a team who did actually know something about fundraising so I could hide behind their competence.”

Too much, too soon

David Lale of Charity PeopleCharity People was way ahead of its time. “This,” says David, “is a euphemism for saying we messed it up. We rushed into regional expansion and it wasn’t really sustainable.” So they scaled back to having one Central London office, covering the national UK market: “The vast majority of charities are headquartered in London so it makes a lot of sense. Having said that, we are looking at the opportunity to grow the activity back nationwide again.”

Charity People now has 22 staff. David says, “I was never destined to run a really big organisation. I like working with small teams and being able to be fleet of foot and pilot and experiment with new ideas.”

Being chairman and no longer MD, he gets to indulge his own interests too, such as working out how the charity sector can become more of a thorn in the side of Government.

Career Volunteer

Career VolunteerTo this end, Career Volunteer started formally in July, after three years being run as a hobby. The company helps charities recruit trustees and volunteers, notably by engaging corporates to run Employer Supported Volunteering schemes. “Individuals find the extra dimension fascinating, charities love having a new gene pool available to the, it fits with CSR and learning and development objectives,” says David. It all started as a bit of an experiment but since then Career Volunteer has put in a bit more research to help assess the impact. “We tend to find when we’re measuring that people are more engaged and motivated and more inclined to give their employer the benefit of the doubt,” says David, “For me, it’s interesting to be running a project at the top that’s having a bearing on the way the organisation thinks. That’s lovely to see.”

Along the way David received a huge amount of support from John Stewart (Chairman of Legal & General) and Graham Precey (Head of Corporate & Social Responsibility). Aside from their support, the key lesson that David has learnt from working with John and Graham is the importance of getting buy-in from the most senior levels of an organisation if you're going to make any meaningful progress. Go in too low and nothing will ever get done!

Having juggled a London life and a Yorkshire life, David now resides on the sunny south coast and runs the business from London (both businesses are in the same building with a third project on the way soon). And his plan is to see skilled volunteering as business as normal. “We need established leaders to be doing this stuff,” he says, “and it’s not just altruistic. Volunteers learn lots of soft skills and also about policy issues that might be pertinent to their day jobs too. There are wins for the individual but mostly they absolutely love it.”


Favourite books

“I haven’t finished this book but I quote it often. Thinking Fast And Slow, by Daniel Kahneman is a fabulous book for understanding the irrationality of our decision making. You end up challenging yourself on every decision you make. It’s great for ditherers and procrastinators as it makes us feel justified.”

Tribal Leadership, by Dave Logan, John King and Halee Fischer-Wright was recommended recently to David on the Realised Worth blog, which he loves. The book's about building tribes within organisations, and he's enjoying it tremendously.

Productivity hack

“I know 80% of people will say this but making lists works for me. I am horribly disorganised and last minute and I always recommend a good list. I use the notes function on my phone, which appears on my laptop and chases me.”

Another Mission Driven Entrepreneur who lives by the power of the list!


Career Volunteer is on Twitter @CareerVolnteer 

Charity People is on Twitter @CharityPeople

Or email David at [email protected]

Other Links

Charity People

Career Volunteer


The Prince's Trust

The Realized Worth blog

I really hope enjoyed the interview with David, whether you just read it here or listened to the whole thing on the podcast. If you have any thoughts or comments about this episode, please do share them with us on Twitter or Facebook – we’d love to hear from you!

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Thanks again to David for sharing his story with us.