House of Trust: How to make trust and good relationships central to your work

The project “the House of Trust” is aimed at people who love to invest in social change.

Matt Smith, CEO of  Key Fund Investments – a social finance organisation based in Sheffield, UK – is someone who moves capital for good. In this short podcast, Matt shared his insights from the past two years as a social investor and how to put trust and good relationships at the centre of your work.

The Key Fund’s mission is to help build successful communities through Social Finance. Trust runs through everything they do. And it is also the reason why Matt has been working at the Fund for the past 20 years. He came in first as an Investment Manager without an investment background – but a background in psychology and counselling – and later as CEO, which is a role he has fulfilled for the past 4 years. And this thinking process around trust is strongly reflected throughout the Fund’s work.

The pandemic tested Matt’s approach to uncertainty. He went from “I don’t know what comes next” to a total overhaul of the Key Fund’s approach as a lender. The team got out and talked to people, clients, and stakeholders and quickly understood more debt wasn’t going to solve anything.

They decided to go back to their original offer – grants- as it seemed the most trustworthy approach in the first stage of the crisis.

A usual year for Key Fund means about 100 deals – £5 million of lending, and £1.5 million of grants alongside. In comparison, in 2020-21, the fund did 300 deals, £9 million of grant work, which was unprecedented, and just under £2 million of lending, so a complete change of activity.

It was that kind of relationship and trust basis that really drove us towards that change”.

Matt Smith and Servane Mouazan

As they slowly come back to a more balanced ratio of grant vs lending, Matt believes the future is into blended finance, combining different resources, terms and types of money.

“Fundamentally, what came out of all of the challenges of the last two years for me, was actually the trust that we had in each other, the way in which we could keep an organisation rolling and delivering more than ever, whilst we were all isolated, and the fact that we understood how each other works and work through that. I respected that. We had respect for our clients. Our first consideration was actually: “how do we work more effectively for them and what is it that they need?”

Matt and his team over the years have been focused on making sure that, through the investment of their funds, people don’t feel left behind.

On Authenticity in social finance

“We are very clear about what we are and don’t try to dress that up. I think that we’re clear [with our customers] that we’re trying to achieve the same thing. We want them to be sustainable and we want the impact AND the finance to be sustainable as well”.

The Fund’s consistency, focus on fairness, and the trust they put in the relationships contributed to them being paid back!

Building relationships, understanding context and lived experience

The Key Fund’s investment managers develop a listening approach as they work with clients, from the application stage to discovering the context of the organisation. They take the proposal apart and put it back together and really understand what’s going on, the motivations and the way the organisation operates. The team talk to their clients a lot, face to face.

This approach contributes to generating an extra layer of connections and resources. It expands the portfolio and its longevity. It helps the fund to respond in a timely manner to new issues.

When hope feels distant

Conscious of the power dynamic linked to being part of the team with the money, Matt feels it is important to uncover the issues people are not necessarily keen to talk about out loud in person. Anonymous research enables the fund to make their client feel comfortable with sharing their issues too. Matt is adamant (a legacy of his past as a therapist?) to hear the full story.

“You work out the value of the relationship when things are hard, when they’re really tricky, when hope feels pretty distant. That’s when you have those conversations. That’s actually when I think trust is really formed: when you can talk to someone honestly when you’re in a bad place and it feels like that’s the hardest bit to do.”

Questions that matter

The best lessons I’ve learned are from our investees because I think amazing people doing just breathtakingly phenomenal things every day. That just feels extraordinary to me.

Matt advises everyone, independently of the deal, to get out and meet people.

Sitting, and listening, hearing and talking to the full team, not just the leadership or the management, and really hearing about how things are, how people are experiencing things really – that’s what I think are the greatest lessons for anyone who’s wanting to invest in this space.

Then before you invest, you need to ask yourself:

  • What could we be doing that’s helpful?
  • Who are the best people to do it?
  • How can we make it as simple as possible?

Key Fund Investments The brave social investor

They offer investments from £5k-£300K to community and social enterprises in the North+Midlands


The House of Trust is a thinking project. Through group sessions, 1-2-1s and public conversations/podcasts, we explore what trust looks like, the stories we create in ourselves and around us to generate valuable relationships, and conditions that generate and ignite impact. 

In the podcast series, through their various backgrounds, technical skills, passions and experiences, guests help us look at trust as an input, a journey, an outcome, and a condition that transforms people but also brings people closer to each other.

Do you love to invest in social change? Be the first informed of my Conscious Innovation updates: activities, tips, jobs and opportunities that help you transform people’s lives… and your own.

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Binocular - Turn to clear vision - Pic by Chase Murphy - Unsplash