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A Recipe for Successful Corporate Philanthropy


Our charity, the Muir Maxwell Trust (MMT), is a small Scottish charity raising funds for children in the UK with complex epilepsy and also their families. In 12 years we have raised over £8m for our cause so we 'punch way above our weight'. I am personally extremely proud of that achievement but it has not been easy and our observation would be that it is easier to win the private donation than the corporate donation which often eludes us.

How is it so when Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is the new catch phrase? Almost every company has a declared CSR policy because that's the politically correct place to be these days if you are running a business. It's a tool that achieves a number of things for companies, not least the opportunity to give something back but also to endear employees who are often the driving  force behind corporate charitable giving, incented by matched funding perhaps or even the opportunity to influence the choice of charity.

 A CSR policy can be used as a tool in another way as well. How often do my fellow fundraisers of other charities hear the words - 'we have a CSR policy - we have our chosen charities' ? Sadly, all too often, particularly for the smaller charities who, perceived as less significant, are turned away.

Of course there are literally thousands of charities to choose from in the UK and some are more worthy than others, some are bigger, some are smaller, some are well run and some have excessive overheads, some are reinventing the wheel and some have admirable aims and objectives whilst others less so. Your opinion depends on your perspective. We all know that all of these charities come knocking on the corporate donor's door regularly, including our Trust. Companies are inundated with requests. It is a daunting prospect for anyone responsible for determining a company's CSR policy and to make a choice of beneficiary thereafter. It is hardly surprising that the bigger charity is often chosen over the smaller unknown charity, the former being a safe bet.

Over the years our Trust has successfully hosted numerous fundraising events. Companies have supported us by buying a table and hosting their own important clients. Funds raised have mostly come from an auction of wonderful prizes and a prize draw featuring covetable prizes too. Our most successful event was held in the Dorchester Hotel in London in 2007 and raised £1.1m in a single evening. Amongst the prizes was a diamond ring, a car and a fabulous holiday abroad, including flights. There is no doubt that getting prizes like these today is nigh on impossible and not appropriate any more. What made it possible at the time was that our guests were the very people the companies donating wonderful prizes for auction were targeting in their own marketing. Those days are almost gone now as marketing strategies like this are much less affordable for companies.

So what recipe makes for successful philanthropy between companies and those small lesser known charities, assuming that a company wants to make a worthy choice of beneficiary that is also approved of by its customers and staff?  In my view the companies that have this right are the ones who invite the general public to do the due diligence and present them with a short list for consideration. Behind the great causes are committed people. A company can narrow down their sector by providing a brief but essentially they are looking for people who are driven to achieve on behalf of worthy causes, however small - and there are many of them. Some have dedicated their life to a cause but it is only at the coal-face that their immense contribution is observed.

MMT has been the lucky beneficiary of two such relationships. In 2008 I was nominated Clarins UK's  Most Dynamisante Woman of the Year, an award named after Clarins's best selling fragrance.  In 2013 I was nominated Tesco Charity Mum of the Year.  For 15 years now, in 15 countries the skin care company, Clarins, has searched for women driven to make a difference for children through their charitable work. Each year they invite nominations from the general public and then scrutinise the shortlist, choosing a winner whose charity then receives a donation of £30,000. I was presented with my award in Downing Street to an audience of 150 media representatives. The exposure for MMT was outstanding. It's a winning formula with a worthy cause in each instance that they might not otherwise have found. Another charity is added to the portfolio every year and the best bit is that the relationship thereafter prevails.

 "We are proud not only to celebrate these women, but also to be able to make a significant contribution to ensuring that their vital work continues." Clarins.

On the 10th anniversary of the Clarins Most Dynamisante Woman of the Year awards Clarins invited its winners back again to an awards ceremony in Claridges, London and each received another cheque for their cause and renewed publicity. Last week our Trust launched a new fundraising campaign and Clarins donated Eau Dynamisante for our goody bags. They didn't hesitate to support us along side other sponsors including the Hilton's Caledonian Waldorf Astoria Hotel and 3D Cakes.

It is a similar story with Tesco. Their Mum of the Year awards were broadcast on Channel 5 on Mother's Day. Celebrities and celebrity bloggers attended in abundance. Winners received a donation of £5000 for their charities and a meeting was arranged with Prime Minister David Cameron to help each further their work on behalf of their cause. For me that resulted in a meeting with The Right Honourable Norman Lamb, Cabinet Minister for Care and Support to discuss the need for epilepsy alarms for families struggling to cope with their child's night time seizures and also the desperate need for high quality long term residential care. These matters are ongoing and one day I expect resolution for both, as discussed in earlier blogs.

There are others too. The Sunday Mail Great Scot Awards have acknowledged our contribution to childhood epilepsy not once but twice and since the first award in 2003 we have always felt that the Trust was firmly in their sights and wherever possible they have supported us with relevant publicity. 

Of course someone has to nominate the people for these awards and the general public are quite good at that. Some awards even allow you to self-nominate but most are too focused on their cause with little time for self-aggrandisement. In my view identifying an award winner for the benefit of a charity  is a refreshing and enlightened grass roots approach to philanthropy by companies who want to reach out to smaller, lesser known charities and uncover their achievements for the wider world, whilst also supporting them in their future endeavours and enabling them to achieve things they might not otherwise have done.

I will conclude with one final observation - why are so many award winners women?

A question for another blog I think!



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