Cows & causes…

A lot of company directors ask me how they can best get involved with a mental health charity, I’m asked regularly what companies can do if they don’t just have money to give, and the answer is actually so much simpler than just handing over cash.

Charities within any sector, as within mental health, rely on long term finance to continue the distribution of their services to local community. That we know is obvious!

The biggest issue with raising money to run a charity, as well as with any commercial business, is that you’ve got to constantly spend money and market the business in order to drive higher returns.

My mentality when working with charities, is slightly different to most folks who go out and jog about for some cash (not that this type of action is not hugely valuable, so keep doing that if that’s your thing). However, if, as business professionals with skills, we can impart knowledge and sustainable plans with these charities then we can help them to broaden their development and remain more sustainable in functioning long term.

What we forget so easily is that charities are sometimes exclusively made up of volunteers and those charities that aren’t, may still not have a wide range of skills within their leadership or management teams in order to innovate, because even if they are innovative, they’re usually tasked with making the day to day moves they need to survive as a ‘not for profit’.

Therefore the answer as to what we can do to aid these charities is to get involved and use our time to train staff in commercial planning, or marketing, sales, IT process management etc. give them the tools, by using what your company, or you do well, and impart your years of knowledge in fields where you feel comfortable and can add greater value.

What the charities gain from us doing this is the ability to run their operation more nimbly, to develop skills internally as working individuals and to use those skills to enhance every element of how they run as a unit. In training charities in commercial thinking, we show them how they may be able to better partner with businesses locally to raise money and awareness, without any cost to increase the resource; we might be able to show them how they can sell clothing to those who run events on their behalf, thus generating revenue when fund raisers are out canvassing.

There are so many things that commercial businesses can offer to charities and it’s only down to your imagination as a business as to how you could be involved! So don’t just give money, think outside the box!

As an example I recently became involved in an event called the Surrey Hills Cow Parade, the premise being based on companies across Surrey buying a giant, life size cow statue, for around £3500+ donation and that cow is then designated to an artist to paint, sculpt around etc. on the companies behalf; following which, the cow is auctioned off and the money given to the companies chosen charity.

Now as my company is an SME we don’t have lots of money to invest in these types of activities, however we’re always really keen to be involved if we can because they’re fun and you meet lots of new people…

In this instance what I did was sign my company up as an artist, because my company specialising in printed, embroidered and bespoke clothing, so I thought that a fabric based cow could be quite interesting.

Now, along comes Guildford’s major shopping centre and says that they’re keen to work with a local company, and because my colleagues and I are all former University of Surrey students in one vein or another, as well as running a company based around clothing and textiles, they’d like us to design the cow for their addition to the event!

Brilliant news, so, I thought I’d innovate further, and what I did was call up the local college of technology; with whom I’d been looking to run an outreach project for students interested in fashion, and I said, “I’ve got a challenge. Why don’t we have a competition among the graphic design and fashion students to compete for the chance to design this cow for the shopping centre and then we’ll choose a range of the students designs and we’ll all get together with my staff and the students and we’ll design this cow and present the finished article back to the shopping centre for display?”

So that’s what we did! What I also did up front, if a little bit cheeky, when I found out the shopping centre were interested in us as an artist, I suggested my charity Oakleaf Enterprise who are a local mental health charity in Guildford, who run vocational training to those with mental health issues all over Surrey, should be as the designated charity, who would get the £3500 donation from the shopping centre.

And the shopping centre came back and said that they’d definitely like us to be their designers, they love the current student design concepts so far and they want to work on a professional brief for the students to follow, while donating their money to Oakleaf my charity… so all in all we’ve got a great looking project on the go that brings together local students, a student led limited company, a local charity and large local company with accessible funds. What’s also very exciting is that the students will see their designs go from concept through to finished product, sitting in a huge shopping centre, where they can visit with their friends and family.

In addition all of the cows in the parade will have a tracking device and be situated in locations all over Surrey, so you’ll be able to have a sort of geo-cache challenge through an app on your phone to find them all with the kids at the weekend, which again brings families from all over the county and beyond together, both on and offline.

I guess my point is, that in spending a bit of time thinking about what you could be doing to better support your local charities, you could discover the value in something that you do day to day… And if it’s simple, why not get involved…

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