Every time an over-sized cheque is handed over to Davina McCall and her over-sized smile on the night of comic relief, a philanthropy fairy dies.
It’s not that I am against charity, or Comic Relief or even the gushy McCall. What my business and I can’t engage with is the drop-in-the-ocean style, straight-off-the-bottom-line, value-less, £20-in-the-garter type donations so the charitable behemoth can dance for a few more seconds. Philanthropy needs to be smarter.
Comic Relief, Sport Relief and Red Nose Day are in fact pretty impressive brands (or for that matter Pudsey Bear and BBC’s Children in Need). Their reach, their product and their output are all well-loved. There is no doubt that without them, many projects simply wouldn’t happen. Plus I remember back in 1988 that Red Nose Day was genuinely an exciting event. Alongside the Blue Peter Bring-and-buy sales it was the first charitable engagement for many kids – a good thing for the collective consciousness. But that was then.
When I see that the Leicester branch of Big Bank Plc or CoffeeCup Inc has donated £1500, raised by allowing otherwise professional employees to dress like idiots while somewhere in a London boardroom, financial fixing and tax avoidance is rife, it doesn’t add up.
When brands cash in on corporate partnerships with supermarket store managers humiliating themselves in baths of beans – it’s not for me. And I’m not sure quite how ‘proud’ my people would be of me if I did.
Hold your rotten tomatoes for a second, I just think there’s better ways of giving for SMEs. What if, in philanthropic terms, you made less of a song and dance, gained more and added greater value?
As a small business we can’t do stunts like Red Nose Day and we rarely get to donate a giant cheque but instead we give our time to worthwhile, local causes.
Such as the fabulous mental health organisation Norwich Mind, for whom we’ve helped at events and recently provided design for an annual report free of charge. Or our ongoing support to Hospital Radio Norwich (I admit it – there was a biscuit-based kick back on that one) all the marketing and graphic design for Norfolk Dog Day (ironically no biscuits involved) supporting Help for Heroes. There’s more that we do, professionally, through the local Business in the Community’s Pro Help.
The naturist philanthropites at Naked Marketing also give their time to talk at schools, colleges and universities on subjects such as careers in marketing or how to start a small business. The Directors also are heavily involved in local networking groups. And our David, one of the founders is a governor of a school for children with complex needs.
The common denominator to all of this is these are organisations that are close to our heart, with whom we can connect personally while retaining relevance to our business. I don’t want to be chugged – charity mugged – in the way you get stopped and emotionally searched by fundraisers on Gentleman’s Walk. Not even through my telly. I am weak and it works. And I will probably be texting a few quid over in a few Friday’s time.
Comic Relief argues that employees feel proud that their company is supporting the cause. I’d question what that pride amounts to. Reduced sickness absence? Net promoter advocacy? I suspect there’s little evidence of a direct return on investment unless you are a supermarket.
But for SMEs, to support a relevant cause, one that ignites the fires of the soul – that’s when you get more out of giving. The right kind of partnership is also more sustainable.
There’s no question I believe that the £600m Comic Relief cash is spent well (10,000 UK projects in total, the local ones administered through the Norfolk Community Foundation here) we just choose to give in our own way – and the resonance is all the greater for it. And I don’t feel bad for that.
If you are looking for a meaningful partnership without the middlemen then look up the right firms who can broker this for you and keep it strategic (search for Business in the Community or Prohelp Norfolk or even ask your marketing agency).
And think of all the beans you’ll save.