A philanthropic strategy need not be either financially onerous nor simply a big corporate privilege, as Be the Business found out when we spoke to three companies which have successfully implemented one.
If the vision and values of your business are somewhat ill-defined or no longer working for you, then something ethical, charitable or environmentally-friendly could be just thing to breathe new life into them.
Looking beyond your business and into the wider world could result in an enterprise finding an orphanage to which they funnel a portion of their profits, or the answer could lie in something slightly less overt, such as making sure their business supply chain ticks as many sustainable boxes as it can.
No one is exploited
Dorian Perry is the co-founder of London creative agency The Borough Works and a member of The Supper Club, a community of innovative founders and CEOs of high-growth businesses. He has been striving to ensure that no one he works with is exploited in pursuit of making a profit for well over two decades: an earlier business of his which imported fresh produce from Africa was involved in some pioneering work that became instrumental in the setting up of the Ethical Trading Initiative base code.
Today, he tries to bring his ethical principles to the table when meeting new clients, and has nudged them towards using recycled plastics, turning celery leaves that were traditionally left behind during harvesting into a juice drink, and biodegradable packaging – amongst other things. “We laterally think through each project that we’re looking at to try to have the least impact on the environment or the social welfare of the people that are involved,” said Perry. “I will just ask some key questions and get people thinking that maybe they could do this in a less wasteful or more socially-acceptable way. It’s immensely rewarding for everyone involved, and you do find that a lot of people want to do something better.”
Something to believe in
It’s probably true that few businesses have philanthropy at their core when founding. In the early years just staying afloat is the primary goal of many organisations – and it’s often the case that “something to believe in” will only present itself once a business has reached a certain maturity. Such was the case with telephone answering and live chat specialists Moneypenny, which launched in 2000.
Co-founder Rachel Clacher explained: “A few years ago I had an idle thought in my head: ‘What would happen if we brought the kind of support that we give to the Moneypenny team – which is amazing – to a different cohort in our local community, namely young women who haven’t had the best start in life?’.
“I went out and thought about how other people had helped provide people with similar opportunities. I spoke to the Timpson Family, Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, The Berkeley Foundation and all sorts of people, and we designed a six-month, paid traineeship. We’ve now had almost 60 girls on our traineeships and 70 per cent of them are now out in the world with real choices, either working or in full-time education.”
The traineeship – which is run as a charity named WeMindTheGap – is intended to cram as much into six months as possible. “It started with a list of what I would want if I was 19 and living in a homeless hostel in Wrexham,” said Clacher. “I would want to try work in different environments, so we give our girls five different work placements in retail, adult care, customer services, hospitality and logistics.” Trainees are also given invaluable assistance by coaches and mentors and get to go through “all sorts of workshops and experiences”.
“We thought it would be really hard getting employee partners to work with us,” said Clacher, “but our local employers said, ‘yes, we understand what you’re trying to do and we want to support you’. It actually helps them to extend their own reach into the community in a really positive way.”
Not that this philanthropic strategy has been a walk in the park – Clacher admitted that it is incredibly time-consuming – but she feels the rewards to be incalculable, and not just for the trainees. “There have been massive benefits,” she added. “Some of our clients see it as a demonstration of our ethos, and I think that some of the bigger businesses these days are putting much more into the kind of people they want to work with. The support from the team here has also been very strong and I think they now feel more engaged. It does put a spring in your step.”
A philanthropic strategy
For Nick Gold, MD of motivational and after-dinner speakers agency Speakers Corner, bringing his personal philanthropic interest – foster caring – into the workplace wasn’t really part of the initial plan. He said that he discussed it with his business partner before he and his wife started fostering three years ago so that small adjustments to his working life could be made (freedom to dash away from the office as and when needed was a requisite), but the rest of the team were only introduced to it more recently. Gold found nothing but support.
When he was asked to speak publicly about fostering as part of an annual promotional event named Foster Care Fortnight, he was initially reluctant. “Up until then I hadn’t talked about myself as managing director of a company and also as a foster carer,” said Gold. “For me, they are two different things and I didn’t want it to become a ‘thing’; that’s not how I am. But as they explained what Foster Care Fortnight was all about, I realised I do have ‘access’, I do have a small public persona and I thought that anything that creates awareness has to be a positive. If it helps to make people ask questions, then that can only be good for the kids who need to be looked after.”
To help promote the event, he did a handful of interviews and also wrote a blog about it on the Huffington Post.
Gold’s personal sense of wanting to make a difference has, perhaps, always been intertwined with the Speakers Corner set of company values. The business first worked with a food charity for homeless people eight or nine years ago – something that became logistically unfeasible when the charity moved – and the whole team is currently in the final stages of committing to helping out a local homeless shelter on a weekly basis.
“You’ve got to stop being a bystander and do what you can,” said Gold. “People are looking for ways they can make a difference, and I think the whole team has become more engaged here because of the philanthropic things we’ve become involved in.”
From a business perspective, he is convinced that the positives can’t be overstated. “If you’re only interested in what your own company is doing, you’ll never be able to grow in a wider sense,” he said. “But if you can benefit society, then it gives the people who work with you a feeling that you’ve got bigger plans – and that you want them to experience new things, appreciate the world and to grow in themselves.”
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