ADVO Group interviews Gillian Murray, Pilotlight


Pilotlight is a capacity building charity offering free tailored strategic planning support to charities and social enterprises that are tackling disadvantage in the UK. They do this by connecting directors from charities and social enterprises with teams of senior business people and facilitating a year long engagement to plan for sustainability, development and growth. A recent survey by the the charity found that nearly 90% of senior business executives who have been through their skills sharing programme said engaging with charities improved their sense of wellbeing and happiness. The findings also showed that although 8 in 10 senior executives got involved with charities to ‘give something back’, nearly two-thirds (62%) found it increased their own job satisfaction. In our latest interview, we discuss the findings of the survey with Pilotlight’s Gillian Murray, who became CEO in 2013 after joining the charity in 2005.

Tell us some more about the survey 

We survey our business members because we want to know that what we are doing is having a positive impact for our members as well as our partner charities. As a charity ourselves, our mission is to help charitable organisations have a greater impact on more people, but we can only do this if the business people we are working with are getting value from the process. Measuring our impact is central to what we do, and the survey is a core part of that.

You must have been delighted to have found that such an extreme majority (89%) of senior business executives who have been through the skills sharing programme reported that engaging with charities improved their wellbeing and happiness?

Yes, we were really pleased to see that what we are doing is having a wider impact on their professional and personal lives. Our business members find it extremely rewarding to work in a different environment, use their business skills to help fantastic charities and social enterprises, and see the direct impact their coaching and mentoring can have. The Pilotlight process enables executives to develop their leadership skills outside of their usual environment as they coach charities, collaborate with other business people, stretch their skills and broaden their perspectives. We also hope that they have fun; they are working with committed and inspiring people and organisations, and as the survey suggests, that can only be good for their overall wellbeing.

Tell us some more details about the skills sharing programme and how business leaders can get involved?

The Pilotlight programme involves each partner charity and social enterprise working with a team of four carefully selected senior business leaders who serve as mentors and provide tailored strategic planning support over a 10-12 month engagement. The programme requires only three hours a month, with a Pilotlight Project Manager organising and facilitating monthly meetings; our managed process is designed to make the most of everyone’s time. During the Pilotlight engagement the teams look at every aspect of the organisation and tailor the project to explore and realise its strategic needs, strengthening the leadership and making organisations more resilient. Since 2003 Pilotlight has worked with over 400 charities and social enterprises and more than 1000 business leaders.

There is a cost involved for our business members, which keeps our service free for charities and social enterprises. We have corporate membership and individual membership; there is more information on our website here. We are always looking for people from all professional backgrounds and sectors that will bring different to the table. If anyone would like to have an initial conversation about whether Pilotlight might be right for them or their organisation please contact Shenley Connolly on or 020 7283 4206.

What were some of the other key statistics from the results of the survey that really stood out for you?

What really stood out were the professional benefits that our respondents were getting from engaging with Pilotlight. 64% of our members actually joined Pilotlight to further develop their skills, and areas where they professionally benefited included that 87% had an increased awareness of other leadership styles, and 62% reported increased job satisfaction. We are delighted that as well as benefits that maybe would be expected, such as having a better understanding of the challenges faced by people in need, business leaders are able to take what has been done in a Pilotlight meeting back into their professional lives.

You previously commented on the survey saying “85% of business leaders in our survey said they had improved their coaching skills after working with charities”. What ways in particular do you think these business leaders will have developed these skills and what impact do you think this has had on their own staff?

A key part of the Pilotlight process is that our model is not consultancy but is coaching and mentoring; charities and social enterprises are under no obligation to take the advice offered. One piece of feedback we often get is that business people learn to be patient, and not to jump in with quick solutions. Another is that our members learn to listen!

The business leaders are also working with three other senior business people, who may come from very different corporate cultures, and they must work together as a team to give charities and social enterprises guidance. Charities are often facing challenging circumstances, and, as in a lot of organisations, it can be lonely at the top, so part of the coaching remit can often be encouragement and confidence boosting.

The survey results were presented in line with the ‘Giving Tuesday’ campaign. Can you tell us some more about this particular campaign?

Giving Tuesday is a global campaign that started in the United States in 2012 as an antidote to the start of the festive shopping season, and came to the UK, with great success, for the first time in 2014. It is a call to action for people around the world to come together to donate time, money or their voice to help a good cause. Our survey showed that for our members sharing their skills benefitted charities but also had very positive effects for themselves. The next #GivingTuesday is December 1, 2015.

How important is it for charities to be able to receive this kind of expert business support?

We think it is incredibly important, not because charities aren’t doing a great job but because it can always be beneficial to have an external viewpoint. Charities and social enterprises we work with are often experts in delivering brilliant services but may lack the capacity or skillsets to develop an effective strategic plan. Pilotlight enables them to step out of their operational day to day environment and look at the bigger picture. They engage with experienced and skilled business people who can offer a different perspective or way of doing things, and act as a critical friend.

Where can people find out more about Pilotlight in general?

There’s lots of information on our website,, and you can follow us on Twitter (@pilotlightuk) and LinkedIn If you have any queries or would like to know more please get in touch on 020 7283 7010 or for our London office, and 0131 524 8160 or for our Edinburgh office.