The cynics have been silenced and sceptics have been converted: the Olympics were a roaring success, not only for Team GB but also for the athletes, the organisers and all of us watching. A somewhat unexpected contributor to the undisputed success of London 2012 was the vital support offered by the vast army of volunteers and the invaluable goodwill they created. If David Cameron ever wanted a case study for his ‘Big Society’ idea, he could not have made it up if he tried.
He does have a point about encouraging people to take an active role in their communities though. Thanks to the Olympics, everyone now realises the importance of this and we may even feel inspired to ‘do some good’ ourselves. Such sentiments are often short-lived so I would like to convince you to make a resolution that you can not only keep, but also enjoy fulfilling.
Have you as a marketer ever considered volunteering some of your marketing experience to a charity or small business? Donating money will always be much needed but imagine if charities or small business could access your marketing experience. Think of the untapped potential for those who need it most.
In addition to my ‘real’ job of marketing a set of barristers, for the last 2 years I have worked with two organisations: Blue Sky Development & Regeneration and Hideaway. The first is a not-for-profit company established to give paid work (in the waste management and public maintenance sector) to ex-prisoners, enabling them to move successfully into long-term employment and thus reducing the risk of re-offending. The second is my local live jazz-club, set up by one of the most energetic and gutsy entrepreneurial women I have ever met. At the beginning I did an audit of their marketing programme, target audiences; questioned what they were trying to achieve; looked at their website and materials and made recommendations. Now I meet with them at regular intervals to discuss their progress, any ideas they have and what we can do to further improve their marketing.
How can we make a difference?
Small businesses and charities are often extremely stretched both in terms of their time and budgets. Because of their limited resources they have less or no access to the banks of knowledge held by the private sector and professional organisations. Volunteering a few hours every few months opens the door to that much needed expertise and knowledge.
The owner of a small business or charity can be a solitary figure, helped by a small team if he/she is lucky. Your occasional presence can provide him/her with a sounding board to discuss any ideas they may have. They have no time and money to waste so getting a different/confirming point of view can be extremely helpful. We have already learned from our mistakes (mistakes, us?) so we tend to know what works (and what does not) and when.
Not knowing their sector can be a plus: it made me ask questions which often focused them on issues which they had not thought of before or had taken for granted.
The majority of their employees possess the skills vital to their core business, whether it is hairdressing or waste management, but often have limited marketing expertise. We can offer that missing link in the chain.
We can also provide focus. I often found that they go from ‘we need to do marketing/PR/BD’ to ‘let’s write an article or talk to this journalist’ but miss out the step of identifying their target audiences and how they can be optimally reached and influenced. In Blue Sky’s case, for example, using one of their trustees with connections in waste management to open doors, enabling them to pitch, can be far more effective than going on Radio 4’s Today programme. We can facilitate the thinking process so they realise that streamlining their pitch material could indeed be more effective in winning business than a scattergun PR approach for example.
In preparation for this article I asked John Chesters, Blue Sky’s Commercial Director how he thought marketing volunteers can add value. He explained that by volunteering small amounts of time, the benefit for organisations such as his can be positively exponential as they often know what they want but do not have the depth of understanding to know how best to achieve the results doing justice to their work.
He says: “Blue Sky was in such a situation – aware that our marketing was not good enough, but not really knowing why. After a few sessions with Silvia, she was able to guide us towards producing material which was of a much higher quality and which also linked all the parts together to provide a consistent Blue Sky feel - though crucially, this did not cost more to produce, nor take more resources than we were using before.”
Are you warming up to the idea yet?
So how to get started?
I had set my mind on doing charity work but, not being a sporty person, running marathons or climbing Kilimanjaro to help fundraise were simply not an option. Not being a good cook, I was definitely not going to raise any money baking cakes. One of the Managing Directors at Advent International, my previous employer, is Chairman of Blue Sky. I offered my help over a coffee in the staff kitchen and with one phone call a meeting was set up with the Blue Sky’s Chief Exec.
Friends invited me to join them at Hideaway and I was wowed by this amazing jazz bar offering a combination of great food and music but… lacking bums on seats. I wrote to the manager saying how impressed I was with what she had achieved and that I would be glad to provide any marketing advice at no cost to her. I also explained that I was not mad, nor a marketing stalker but that I thought it was important for our local community that people like her would succeed. A phone call later we were talking strategies on how to get locals into the club and how vital it was for her to convey the nice ambiance of the club (achieved through adding photos to the website evoking the club’s atmosphere and style).
You may be surprised how many of your colleagues are involved with charities. Some of your senior management may be charity trustees. Ask around and spread the word. Look at local shops, restaurants and businesses and see whether they would benefit from a bit of marketing TLC.
An alternative is to approach venture philanthropy organisations who invest with the aim to obtain a social rather than a financial return. Impetus Trust, for example, does not only offer funding but also management support and specialist expertise to their portfolio charities. "Through our pool of over 150 pro bono experts we create significant value for the charities we support, helping them scale up their operations sustainably and thereby dramatically increase the number of people they help," says Meredith Niles, Investment Director at Impetus Trust. You can volunteer your professional skills in key capacity-building areas, such as business and financial planning. For more information, see www.impetus.org.uk.
So what is in it for us?
It is difficult to describe the satisfaction you get from helping a charity or small business. What they do is very inspirational and self-less. To help them achieve their goals is immensely gratifying. Although I love the day job, it is incredible rewarding to be able to think that I made a real difference and did some good (however cliché this sounds). Meredith supports that thought: “Our pro bono experts consistently tell us that they appreciate the opportunity to contribute in such a transformational way to the development of charities doing truly impactful work."
When I asked John what he thought was in it for us he said: “The benefit to the volunteers extends way beyond personal satisfaction. It is increasingly being recognised that supporting charities provides benefits to the volunteer's employers by increasing job satisfaction and improving staff retention. It also provides the chance to extend their skills and gain new inspiration in the fulfilment of their existing roles.”
This brings me to the last point in this article: how to fit your good intentions within your employer’s CSR framework. As John mentioned, it can be a motivator so potentially HR departments could become involved in the process of formalising how to make this a firm policy.
How can we contribute to our firm’s CSR programmes?
Depending on the size and vision of your firm, there may already be a well-developed CSR programme. Often this involved fee-earners only. Why not extend it to other support staff? If there is no established policy, a chat with your immediate boss could get the ball rolling.
Support can be supplied in a variety of ways. Apart from the obvious donation of funds I hereby think of:
The marketing crusade
Let’s not wait another 4 years before being reminded what volunteering can achieve but get marketing crusading now. As the three musketeers told their friend d’Artagnan: "all for one, one for all".
Silvia Van den Bruel is Marketing & BD Manager at a leading set of Commercial Chancery barristers.
Add a Comment