Having previously worked for the Probation Service, we have been referred to as 'do gooders' on more than one occasion.... we suspect it wasn't always intended as a compliment! We recently looked up the term: a well-meaning but unrealistic or interfering philanthropist or reformer. So what about kindness, commitment to something you believe in and just trying to take steps to honour that, even on a small scale? Is it unrealistic, a sentiment for derision... and what if you want this to be part of your business?
The end of our first full financial year felt like a good time to take stock and reflect on this aspect of our fledgling business; one which was very important to us but which we have noticed we haven't really done a whole lot to share. Maybe we were nervous about how this work would be perceived and interpreted, of coming across as worthy and try hard? Worrying what other people think can be so destructive and disabling to getting things done, can't it?! Anyway, we are biting the bullet now and just getting the information out there just as we did in committing to doing something rather than nothing at the beginning of our business. For one, you, our lovely followers have helped make this possible and we wanted to share (dare we say celebrate?!) what we have achieved and not feel self conscious to be open about this. If you've followed us for a while, you'll know how much we believe in the potential positive benefits creativity can bring to people's lives and well-being. Our aim at the very beginning was to find a way that we could spread this joy a little further. We were aware that the price point & set up of our workshops meant it would be difficult for some to access our feel-good modern crafting so were keen to look at how we could engage a wider audience and make it more accessible, especially for those who may normally feel excluded. We looked at other businesses and how they were 'giving back' and were inspired by work by the likes of TOMS. We wanted to choose an idea that was catchy and simple to help gain maximum buy-in and after considering a few options, the 'buy one, gift one project' was put into motion for a year's trial; although it has actually extended to one and a half years. So for every (luxury) workshop space sold, one would be gifted to charity.
What was the plan? How would it work?
After weighing up a couple of practical options, we decided that it would be most manageable to pool 'gifted' places and offer group workshops to local charities with established client groups. The deal worked as follows: the charity identifies & co-ordinates things their end to get a venue and of course guests; We offer a range of craft options for the charity to chose which they feel will be most appropriate and interesting for their clients so the gifted workshop may not end up being the same as the one initially bought. We set aside money from each workshop place purchased to buy craft materials and donate our time for the planning & delivery. We set about contacting some local charities close to our hearts. We also put word out amongst our workshop guests to gather contacts and hear suggestions of charities who we could also approach. We thought it would be easy to gift workshops - we recognised that budgets are tight in the voluntary sector for this sort of thing and we were offering a 'free' package. Due to our previous careers, we were police checked and experienced at working to engage groups. There was lots of research and evidence mounting in support of the benefits of crafting and art to promote emotional well being, self esteem and positivity. What could possibly go wrong?!
What has been achieved?
We are thrilled to say that our workshops have sold well. This has meant that we have been able to pool a significant number of 'gift' places. To date, we have been able to provide 6 workshops, offering 110 places to 5 local charities. The first charity to receive a gifted workshop was Changing Lives in December 2016. We worked with clients engaging with the Women's Services, who selected a lovely seasonal make to start the ball rolling - Peppermint Candy Cane Sugar Scrub. We offered 20 spots and although attendance was lower than hoped, it meant that the women each got to take away 2. We were off to a good start and were keen to get another charity lined up but this proved much more of a challenge than we expected. We have since made dream catchers with Wearside Women in Need (WWIN) at one of their hostels; block printing at Willowburn Hospice Day Centre that we then made into bunting for them and with the Young Women's Outreach Project (YWOP) who designed their own tote bags. We revisited YWOP at Christmas 2017, who also wanted to try the sugar scrub and had another Christmas themed make over at George Street Social with Road to Recovery - Santa pom pom tree decorations. Our next workshop is back with YWOP, who would like to give wirework rings a go in April. That's the detail and of course there are the other outcomes that are harder to quantify. Were the groups able to get involved in the crafting and learn a new skill? Definitely! Did they enjoy it and/ or did it temporarily relieve stress? It appeared so... feedback has been positive and there were plenty of smiles and action going on during the workshops. Has anyone used the item they made or carried on the craft afterwards? Now that we would love to know! Please do get in touch if you have the answers. We do know that Willow Burn have their bunting up on display at their Day Centre.
What have the biggest challenges been?
1. Getting the charities on board who are willing and able to support the roll out of workshops in this way.
2. Ensuring clients attend the workshops organised - their are lots of obstacles we recognise that people have to overcome to achieve this and most our outside of our control. It did mean that not all the places offered were taken up.
3. How to deal with a back-log of places. We currently have places to offer - enough for approximately 4 workshops.
4. Managing to fulfil this commitment alongside the demands of a new business.
Other Charity work and donations:
Our other big charity drive for 2017 was a Crafteve for Comic Relief with partners Thought Foundation and the support of Occasional Events NE for attending with their photo-booth and donations to a fab raffle from a number of local businesses (The Culture Vulture, Artventurers, Embellish, Vintage Vamped, Looper Kooper, The Green, Olive and Clay and The Creation Station). Together, we raised a whopping £515.90! We have also donated prints & prizes for local fundraising ventures: Smile for life, Macmillan via Keepers Brave the Shave event, WWIN, The Women's Institute, YWOP, Burnopfield Primary School. We also donated £50 of the door charge from the Thoughtful Night Market, which ran in November 2017 (again with the lovely humans at Thought Foundation) to The Peoples Kitchen Christmas Lunch Appeal. How lovely that there are so many other businesses and organisations locally with kindness at their core - discovering these have been another happy side-effect to our quest!
Lessons learned along the way
We are on such a steep learning curve with the business that there are always plenty of lessons to be learned along the way and our approach to this is no exception.
1. Thinking you are doing good feels good but don't let this cloud the reality of the situation.
2. You must have a plan and a back up plan for all aspects of your work, especially the things you won't get 'paid for'. This includes reviewing the facts often and be prepared to make difficult decisions about change on the back of this. A formal evaluation strategy may well have been useful.
3. Don't assume.... that charities will want or be able to accept the workshops; that the clients of the charities will readily put themselves forward when they don't know you; or that your idea is clear and everyone understands it. Be prepared to explain things and try hard to engage different audiences right from the beginning. Follow your gut when having turn down requests that don't fit the model you have created; this will sometimes feel difficult and awkward.
3. Try to have a named contact and phone number and speak with people - we found not all our e-mails were getting through and had gone straight to spam.
4. It's probably best to stick with one or a few charities and aim to build up a relationship with clients through attending more than once rather than trying to cover too many charities.
5. Join forces with other like-minded businesses - together you are stronger and can support each other's ideas to positive effect.
For a small self-funded start up, we are pleased with what this project has been able to achieve. We are keen to thrive as a business and benefit others in the process. The 'buy one, gift one' project in it's current format will finish on 1st April 2018. We will however be working hard to fulfil the workshop places still outstanding so please do get in touch if you know of a local charity that would be interested in receiving one. We will also be working to identify and establish a new project/ way for us to meet those initial charitable aims of spreading craft joy and making it more accessible. We are particularly interested in pursing some funding options and are hopefully going on some training soon to skill up with this in mind. We are also really interested to hear your take on this. Did you know we did charity work? Did it make any difference in choosing to book with/ buy from us? What other ways do you think there are to support local charities via our business? What have you tried and have found worked? Please do get in touch here to let us know directly.