We were fortunate to be in the 2018/19 cohort of the Allia serious impact incubator, which provides support to social enterprises. Although the programme finished earlier this year, the benefits we received in terms of advice and support have been invaluable.
In particular, we were supported by the Social Starters programme, which connects staff in big businesses with social enterprises like us to provide mentoring and advice.
Through the scheme, a social enterprise gets the benefit of staff’s years of experience in marketing, sales, finance, and business strategy, to name a few, to help solve particular problems they may face or to help improve different aspects of their business.
At the same time, big businesses are able to help a small start-up social enterprise to launch their product or service and help grow to achieve maximum positive impact on the problem they are working to solve.
It is an interesting and innovative approach for businesses to do good, going beyond the traditional approach of fundraising for charities and instead seeking to use the immense human resources these businesses hold to help grow a social enterprise from seed to tree, and perhaps even into a forest; as the social enterprise grows, so does its impact, so a small amount of help early on could lead to massive impact further down the line.
In our case we were assigned mentors from Pernod Ricard UK to help us develop our marketing plan and enhance our sales proposition to businesses to help us grow as quickly as possible and raise vital funds to protect wildlife.
While a business selling alcohol and a social enterprise selling board games may seem to be very distinct activities, many of the underlying principles are very similar; there are brand images to build and enhance, value propositions to present to businesses to convince them to stock your products, sales forecasts and business plans to prepare, and stories to tell to engage customers emotionally with what you do.
Having a team of professionals with between them decades of experience in all these areas is invaluable to a small start-up like ours, especially a social enterprise; trying to do good and be good in a very competitive marketplace often makes being an ethical business even harder than running any other business.
That is where human resource is so valuable; mentoring and advice from people we could not afford to hire ourselves but who have a wealth of incredibly useful advice and are able to offer their time for free as their employer gives them paid volunteer leave to work with us.
For us, that time has been invaluable. We had enduring support from our primary mentor, with weekly phone calls and monthly sit-down sessions for several hours at a time. She helped us improve elements of the design of our game to better bring the experience to life for players and helped us develop our marketing strategy for launch.
But we also had the support of a team of ‘trouble shooters’ from Pernod Ricard UK, who spent a day working with us to work out how best to expand beyond our consumer focus and find a way to sell to businesses so we could expand our reach; with just a few bulk orders from businesses we can raise massively more money for our conservation charity partners.
Although they were only scheduled to work with us for a day, that team has continued to support us with advice and reviews of documents and presentations we have created, and which we’re now successfully using in our approaches to businesses.
And more than that, thanks to Pernod Ricard UK offering their staff more volunteer days, one of that team dressed up as an elephant for an afternoon tour of London in a fairly literal take on the tactic of ‘gorilla marketing’ (we’re calling it elephant marketing!).
While we have benefited enormously from the Social Starters programme and the support Pernod Ricard UK staff have provided, it has been great to hear that it is not just a one-way street. For staff it has been a chance to apply their knowledge in a slightly different context and go back to the basics of their trades and use their skills in a different context, with much smaller marketing budgets and reach than they are used to.
More than that, everyone has said how much they have enjoyed working on a project for a cause that they care about; helping to save wildlife. As we keep hearing, people want to have meaning in their jobs and know they are doing good for the world, but there are not enough jobs in the charity sector and the pay cut people need to take is often not viable. By taking some time from their work for big business to help social enterprises like ourselves, they are able to achieve that purpose while remaining in their current role, getting the best of both worlds.
The Social Starters programme offers a new and potentially game-changing approach for big businesses to do good. While fundraising for charity will and should remain part of corporate responsibility, the amounts that can be raised will always be limited. But providing volunteer time for their staff to help social enterprises grow offers the potential for unlimited support and costs the business little; time is much easier to offer someone than money, and actually a programme such as this is in investment in staff morale, productivity and creativity.
And who knows how big an impact it could have; maybe we will raise a few thousand pounds for charity, but maybe more. For example, if just 1 in 10 households that watched the Netflix Our Planet Documentary bought a copy of our board Game Conservation Crisis, we would generate more in revenue from sales than WWF UK receive in an entire year. That’s the scale of the impact that a programme like this could achieve.
We hope more businesses will follow in the footsteps of Pernod Ricard UK’s support through the Social Starter’s programme; it is a great programme for staff to be involved in, it is a massive help to social enterprises trying to solve problems, and you never know what it could lead to and the impact it could have on the world when social enterprises succeed.