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    When Business and Social Good Intersects Communities Benefit

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    Photo Credit: @ArupAccessible

    Annually, London Borough hosts the Camden’s Business Awards where a range of local companies, large and small, were up for recognition for their contribution to innovation, the local economy, design and the creation of new job opportunities.

    I was there to support the Accessible Environments team of the design and engineering company Arup who over several years have worked tirelessly to support our work as a small local charity – we were initially approached by this team because they were interested in doing some fundraising for a local charity that supported disabled people.

    We soon found further common ground, and the relationship has since led to Arup training service users and staff to carry out access audits and providing placements for young people with a learning disability in their high-tech, high performance and yet awesomely inclusive work environment.

    Our relationship with Arup really exemplifies a voluntary sector organisation and a business working together at its best. What I’ve learned is that when the corporate world engages with charities and voluntary sector organisations, some key elements determine the long-term value achieved. Below I identify 3 of them:

    Shared values

    One is around the importance of shared values, in this case focusing on a genuine commitment to pursuing inclusion and community participation.  The most effective outcomes come from working with businesses like Arup that embrace the same outcomes we care about and approach them with the same respect, rigour and commitment.

    That attitude is also demonstrated by the staff of John Lewis, Oxford Street, when they take our students on work placements throughout the store. They have a genuine personal commitment to helping young people with a learning disability succeed. That’s shown wonderfully when we have events at the store to mark student achievements and staff from all departments flock to take part in the celebrations – not because they are told to or have to but because, like our supporters at Arup, they care about the lives and progress of the young people their company hosts.

    Last year, I also spent an evening at the 15th birthday celebrations of The Front Yard Company a small social enterprise who share their beautifully designed building with a community of other makers and designers across the road from our offices. My invitation came about because, over the last few years, due to some wonderfully supportive and collaborative interactions with the Front Yard Company. They designed and supplied the plant lockers which decorate the road outside our building and provide places for cyclists to securely lock their bikes. Most importantly, they also worked with our students with a learning disability to place and fill them with bulbs and bushes.

    The celebrations were a wonderfully warm and vibrant evening with the diverse guests and speakers showing how deeply embedded this little company is in their part of North London. The company chose to mark their place and story in the community by highlighting organisations nearby, including Elfrida Rathbone Camden (ERC). The company is so physically close to our location they see our young people, families, and staff coming in and out every single day. They value all our stakeholders as neighbours and contributors to the local community too.

    Respect

    Secondly, it is vital to have respect for the skills that exist on both sides of the relationship – the partnership has been about mutual learning and especially a recognition that we all learn from the experiences of service users. It’s important to state that this is a learning process that flows both ways too. Arup’s Accessible Environments team tell me that working with our service users have improved their understanding of some of the day-to-day barriers that the built environment presents.

    Apparently, there is little in today’s building codes and standards which directly addresses the requirements of people with neuro-diverse needs. An added benefit of working with charities, it can help sharpen professional insights and skills on the side of the business partner too. Much as with the relationship with local authorities, it’s important that voluntary organisations and their service users are not just seen as absorbing resources. We want businesses to see their interactions with us as beneficialal opportunity as well.

    Pragmatic support

    Lastly, it has been really important for ERC that our corporate partners whose resources are so much greater understand the limitations and pressures on our side (such as having to prioritise the demands of service delivery over fundraising) to make sure the support offered is pragmatic and enables real change. Ongoing access to work placements like those described above has helped our learners build their self-esteem, and overcome barriers around access to academic qualifications, role models and confidence in the workplace.

    Practical support can come in other ways too like that given to us by Bikes for Good Causes (BGC) a Wood Green social enterprise that sells good quality, donated bikes and also provides a full bicycle repair and maintenance service.

    When I and 3 ERC colleagues committed to do the London to Brighton Bike Ride in 2016 the manager of BGC, Sue Wade kindly agreed to support ERC by making sure our bikes were in good condition ahead of the ride. What struck me when I contacted Sue was how quickly she had said yes (which is not to say that BGC can always do this – they have to raise income and be sustainable to meet their own objectives).

    Before my good fortune in coming across BGC I had been in contact with a national cycling chain with a Camden branch which two of us had actually bought our bikes from. That big company didn’t feel able to help us with our request which is, of course, their prerogative but I did think at the time that it was a slightly short-sighted decision on their part, bearing in mind all the local recognition and publicity we would have given them. But for BGC it was an automatic decision based on their community spirit and ethos regardless of whether it held any possible benefit for them.

    I think there is something in our experiences about how voluntary organisations and businesses, whether either is big or small, that can create meaning and sustained relationships based simply on retaining a sense of generosity and respect in giving support and in working with each other. When that happens we all become community workers no matter who pays our wages.

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    Alexis Keir has been Director of Elfrida Rathbone Camden based in North London, UK for 10 years. Prior to that he has managed a range of family support projects and worked extensively with groups led by Disabled people and other groups of service users. His social work and community development foundations are in work with the Deaf community both in the UK and New Zealand.

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    Business

    Network Successfully By Asking Five Smart Questions

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    The only thing I ever got from a networking event was a stack of business cards until I changed my mindset. When I was a new social worker, I underestimated the value of connections related to my ability to boost my social work income. I only thought that networking could improve my upward mobility. Now as a seasoned social work veteran, I understand that networking is a tool for building meaningful business relationships. Meaningful business relationships fundamentally increase opportunities to boost social work income using part-time jobs or second gigs.

    Trainings, workshops, or association meetings are the easiest venues for social workers to connect with other social workers. Social workers should also consider events that are not exclusively sponsored by or for the social work profession. Non-social work events provide an expanded opportunity to meet like-minded people outside of the profession. Plan to increase your chances for success. Begin by asking the following question.

    What networking outcome do I want to achieve by attending this event?

    Answering this question outlines your primary focus for participating in the event. Attending a training or seminar enables you to earn Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for licensure purposes and professional development. Earning CEUs, in this example is the outcome that you pay to achieve.  If you have thoughts of collaborating with other social work professionals, the training environment connects you with other social workers who have similar interests in that specific subject.

    A meet and greet networking event allows you to interact with professionals at various levels of their careers. Keynote speakers and experts attend promoting their products, services or theories. Hundreds of professionals exchange business cards and information about their ventures. These large events sound promising, but can also cause frustration. Many people try to speak to the headliners in an attempt to sell themselves. Headliners are those individuals who are extremely successful in their specific field. When their name is spoken, people acknowledge their expertise and work.

    At networking events, headliners are surrounded by people who want something from them. It may be an autograph, a picture, a job or a mentorship. They limit the amount of time they spend with those who are not at their level. They place a monetary value on their time and know how to preserve their time, energy and expertise.  This is a lesson social workers should learn. Your time has a monetary value and you can waste time and effort at networking events without research and strategic planning.

    Who are the influencers in the headliner’s circle? How can I build a connection with them? 

    This question can be answered with a little research. You almost always guarantee yourself an opportunity to meet and speak with a headline by building a business relationship with those in the headliner’s circle. Successful networking is precipitated on communicating win-win outcomes. Each person wants to feel they are gaining from the interaction. This is another reason that knowing your outcome and having a plan makes sense.

    How many colleagues will I approach?

    Once you are in the environment, the fourth question you should ask addresses how to achieve your desired networking outcome.  Set a goal for yourself related to the number of people you plan to approach. You are more likely to talk to others if you set a goal before you arrive.  You may also develop an estimate prior to arriving. Set your estimate using knowledge of the advertised business areas or topics. You may also reassess the goal based on your observations during the event. Do not underestimate the opportunity to talk with others while waiting in line.

    Estimating the number of attendees by business area or topic will help you establish a reasonable goal for interactions. Having a strategy for initiating interactions is also important. Start by talking to the individuals sitting near you. Beyond the basics, ask them how they plan to use the information or how they plan to integrate it into their current work. This moves the chatting from small talk to meaningful conversation.  Listen more than you talk to show your interest. Also, share your plans for using the information. Ask probing questions, as appropriate to help you decide if you want to explore connecting on a professional level.

    Does this information resonate with my professional vision, mission, and goals?

    While this question sounds self-serving, it saves time and effort. Social workers who want to boost their income using part-time work and second gigs know the value of time. They, like headliners, set a monetary value to their time. If the person with whom you are talking does not appear to have a congruent vision, politely move on.

    Meet and greet networking events are very similar to speed dating events. Smart questions, smart answers and strategic planning facilitate getting the outcome you desire. If you are not hearing things that resonate with your vision, mission or goals, then move on. Always remember that just because you want to build a relationship, it doesn’t mean the other person reciprocates. Recognize and respect the signs and signals you receive.

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    How to Turn Your Social Media Followers into Active Donors

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    In marketing, we know that carefully curated and compelling content moves people.

    We see this every day on social media, where viral campaigns compel people to take action every day.

    There’s no doubt that well-crafted social media content can turn followers into active donors. Nonprofit fundraising campaigns have raised millions of dollars, such as Charity: Water with $1.8 million and the ALS ice bucket challenge with $115 million.

    The good news is that powerful content can be harnessed to activate a nonprofit’s social media followers to take action and give.

    The not-so-good news? Creating and curating compelling content isn’t always easy.

    But it’s important—even critical—for nonprofits to maintain active and engaging social media accounts not only to raise awareness and build brand, but to also drive donations.

    Social is Everywhere and Everything

    Experts project that there will be three billion social media users by next year. That’s close to half the global population.

    A good chunk of social media users are known to check in sometimes by the hour or even the minute on top sites like Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter.

    While people of all ages use social media, there’s no doubt that younger generations are typically the first adopters.

    This is important for nonprofits, because younger people use social media to support and donate to their favorite causes. According to this blog post, 43% of millennials made charitable contributions through social media compared to other channels.

    Nonprofit Source also finds that 55% of people who engage with nonprofits on social media take some sort of action, such as donation.

    Knowing this, how can a nonprofit fundraising team turn social media followers into active donors?

    Tips on How to Activate Donors to Give to Your Nonprofit through Social Media

    Build
    You gain followers by posting content consistently daily or twice a day.

    Your content should include a healthy mix of inspirational videos, photo features, donor spotlights, action alerts, motivating statistics, memes and more. Your content can include direct appeals for donations too. Just make sure to balance them with other content.

    To build your following faster, consider devoting some budget to sponsoring content, including boosted posts on Facebook and Instagram. Boosting posts can cost as little as $25 for a campaign and can allow you to target specific users, ensuring that your posts wind up at the top of the right people’s feeds.

    Activate
    You accomplished the seemingly impossible: you built a following of engaged fans on your social media pages.

    But they’re not giving.

    How do you convert these loyal social media followers into active donors ready to give?

    Awaken and engage your social media followers with calls to action. Create content that tells your story through video and animated gifs. Suggest they give even a small amount to your campaign to help solve the problems you’ve illustrated. Remind them that every little bit helps. Most importantly, make it as easy as possible for them to give.

    Make Action Easy
    If you’ve succeeded in moving your social media followers to take action, but then made it impossible for them to donate easily online, you’ve lost a big opportunity to raise funds.

    Make the process of donating in a few clicks safe, secure and seamless. Add an easy-to-use, secure donation management plugin like DonorBox to your website and directly link to your donation appeal on your social pages so your followers can donate in a couple clicks.

    Make It Shareable
    Understand the psychology behind social sharing and tweak your content to see what your followers are most likely to share. You’ll not only increase your following, but also inspire your new fans to follow their friends’ lead and also make donations to your cause.

    Coming up with a creative campaign with inspiring events, videos and strategic hashtags around a moving theme can also turn those lurkers among your followers into active donors ready to share and give.

    Maintain
    The shelf life of a social media post is only a few days or weeks at best.

    This means that even if you’ve had a huge success, it’ll just be a matter of time before your viral campaign is a distant memory for most people.

    Try to maintain your followers’ interest by creating different types of social media campaigns that can be run seasonally. Think strategically and make data-based decisions. Test different ideas to see what works best. Study the analytics made available by the different platforms to see who is engaging and sharing.

    This Medium blog post offers some helpful tips for strategic ways to maximize fundraising through social media.

    One not-so-small caveat: while it may seem like raising more than a million dollars via a viral social media campaign is the be all, end all of fundraising, you may be cannibalizing other fundraising efforts in your success. The best thing you can do is weave a social media component into an omni-channel campaign. Social media may be just one element of your fundraising strategy, and that’s okay.

    Want more? These five successful nonprofits got it right using social media to drive donations.

    About DonorBox
    Used by more than 20,000 organizations from 25 countries, DonorBox is a donation platform centered around the fundraising needs of nonprofits by offering a state-of-the-art, recurring donation plugin that can be seamlessly embedded into a website or with a popup widget, allowing nonprofit organizations to accept monthly recurring donations managed by the donors themselves.

    View a live example and sign up for free at donorbox.org.

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    Business

    Corporate Social Responsibility Is More Than a Marketing Ploy

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    For-profit companies traditionally operated within a set of rules dictated by the government, such as collecting and paying taxes or meeting state and federal regulations. Everyone accepted profit maximization as the goal, and it didn’t really matter how companies managed to achieve that mission.

    Today, many judge companies based on their broader impacts and whether they contribute to beneficial change. It’s definitely a positive shift, but new businesses must strike a delicate balance: Too much of a focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR) for a new brand over the effectiveness of the product or service can actually damage brand appeal. Researchers at North Carolina State University found that consumers view new brands as less enticing when their key messages focus on CSR more than the benefits of their products, even if they donate money to good causes.

    While consumers want to support brands that give back to the world, they are more concerned about the efficacy of new products. And who can blame them? Nobody wants to spend hard-earned money on a subpar product. When product quality is equal but one item comes from a company with a social mission, customers are more likely to choose the company with a focus on CSR, though.

    Patagonia stands out as an excellent example of effective CSR. The company aggressively incorporates environmental causes into its corporate DNA — and its customer base is just as aggressively loyal. Volkswagen, on the other hand, went out of its way to greenwash its corporate image by promoting “clean diesel” while flagrantly violating federal emissions laws with nitrogen-oxide emissions (a smog-forming pollutant linked to lung cancer). The disparity between VW’s mission and its actions had steep consequences.

    Finding the Right Fit

    CSR should be authentic to the soul of an organization — it should not be an add-on or a marketing ploy. Before committing to CSR, brands need to survey potential customers and brand ambassadors to ensure they focus on the right initiative.

    For smaller companies and startups, this could constitute a more informal process of casual interviews with a few dozen people coupled with the founders’ personal goals. Established companies will want to undergo more extensive research that includes surveys and in-depth focus groups with employees, customers, and potential customers. In both cases, companies must confirm that the CSR initiative resonates with potential customers while identifying any concerns that could alienate critical groups. Without genuine authenticity, it’s only a matter of time before an initiative fails — it’s imperative that the CSR mission resonates with the company, its staff, and its executives.

    Patagonia earned plenty of attention in 2016 for donating 100 percent of its profits from Black Friday sales to environmental groups. By literally putting its money — more than $10 million, in fact — where its mouth is, Patagonia proved its dedication to protecting natural resources. Considering a large swath of Patagonia’s clientele is environmentally conscious, that single day of sales truly resonated with brand loyalists.

    Once a company pinpoints the CSR initiative that meshes with its identity, its leaders must articulate the CSR mission internally and externally. That mission will likely evolve, but it should be authentic to ensure long-term success. A genuine effort at CSR initiatives can be a great way to motivate and empower employees.

    Internal CSR messaging focuses on culture and creating a universal message across the company. Everyone should understand the overlap between the CSR initiative and the company’s mission, as well as how the initiative affects every employee’s role. Externally, brands must simplify this messaging into an easy-to-understand version for consumers.

    I’ve had to tackle this challenge with my own company, 2920 Sleep. We have boiled down our CSR focus to three elements: a commitment to product quality, excellent customer service, and 1% for the Planet. We aspire to make high-quality, long-lasting products that will have a reduced environmental impact with lower return rates; take care of our customers with great service; and stay financially successful so we can channel one percent of our revenue to support organizations that protect the environment. Our commitment to product quality and customer service enables us to support our CSR initiative. This mission is driven by everyone at the company — from our leadership and marketing teams to our customer service department and our brand ambassadors.

    More than anything else, brands should ensure the CSR narrative is a part of the corporate culture. Think again of the difference between Patagonia and VW. Patagonia’s founder, management team, and employees all actively support its mission. VW, meanwhile, has lost brand integrity and market share, and its executives face significant fines and possible jail time.

    Consumers can spot the difference between pretenders and companies that are committed to a mission. CSR offers an opportunity to pivot a business from a purely financial operation to an organization that recognizes its ability to help a wider community in addition to meeting financial goals. With a balanced approach to CSR and business goals, companies can truly shine.

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