I wonder why one month on, lots of people still ask me “How did that event go at the bank in the city?” In the last week, I’ve been asked this 6 times! Well here’s how it went ….
When I got invited to join a panel with CEOs from two charities at Commerzbank’s “Inspirational Women” workshop series chaired by the London Women’s Network at Commerzbank, I was flattered but I also really wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
The event was held in Gresham Street in the city. Prior to the event women working across the bank had been invited to donate designer fashion they no longer wore which would be sold on the night with proceeds to the two charities represented (Research Autism and the London Community Foundation). Jackie and I arrived early to prep and price fashion we were selling on the night.
My favourite pieces were a unique Dries Van Noten sleeveless silk shirt, a Fendi bag and some Boss shoes. All in pristine condition. Some sold and the rest we will be selling at our 1st birthday party fundraiser on 20th June 2013 or on our website with the proceeds going to Breakthrough Breast Cancer!
Around 6pm, staff started gathering in a large conferencing facility. Shortly after that the event commenced. I was joined on a panel by two very impressive female charity CEOs: Deepa from Research Autism and Sonal from the London Community Foundation to share our motivations for working in the charity sector and to highlight any challenges we face.
After the panel discussions we moved into the adjoining room with fashion and jewellery by Astrid & Miyu (our partner at glamgiving events), to shop and continue the discussions we’d already started.
Our short speeches had had an overwhelmingly positive response from the women present So why were women in the finance sector interested to hear, and inspired by, what the charity sector had to say given that, let’s face it, they seem like polar opposites.
I’ve now had over a month to reflect on the reasons which I feel breakdown into 3 key themes.
While hats off to Penny for the timeliness of this event (held on the eve of International Women’s Day this undoubtedly encouraged attendance and support), by timing I mean the era we are working and living in and the economic and political environment that frames it. I believe it is a time when commercial businesses are more open and willing to help charities whether it is for purely altruistic reasons or otherwise
I was impressed to hear that many of the women working in Commerzbank were already giving their time and skills to a range of charities. And that some of the usage of resources was permitted during working hours.
Increasingly too I see businesses are matching fundraising efforts of individual staff by doubling the money they raise from running a marathon, holding a cake sale etc.
It is likely that businesses are starting to see the wider returns from giving to charity e.g. staff development when the worker is sharing their skills outside the organisation, employee retention, employee attraction etc.
A final point on timing, corporate and public favourability towards charities seems to be at an all-time high – a recent Ipsos MORI survey reported a significant shift in the proportion of UK adults who saw charities as “essential” from 30% in 2010 to 37% in 2012. But unfortunately this does not take away from the fact that there is higher demand on their services as well as a downward trend in the proportion able to give to charity. Two thirds, 67%, said that in the current recession the amount they give to charity has stayed the same, perhaps worryingly twice as many, 18%, say that it has decreased with only 9% reporting an increase.
So while it is clearly difficult financially for charities, the corporate giving landscape may present more opportunities upon which to capitalise on. But driving awareness of the range of ways to get involved, and the wider benefits to organisations, will be key.
2. People and businesses want to give but are they confused?
And this brings me nicely onto the 2nd reason people are interested. Our lives are busier than ever and our choices about which charity to give to, and how to give to them, are increasingly complex. Amongst the women I meet I get asked should I give to small or large, or somewhere in the middle? Should I give globally or should we be helping ourselves and looking closer to home?
There are also some who say “I’d love to volunteer for a good cause but I can’t commit time on a regular basis, what can I do?”
And now traditional forms of giving are competing with newer ways of giving. One of the ladies who’d been to one of our glamgiving parties went on to donate her car to www.giveacar.co.uk when upgrading to a newer model? She says she’ll continue with her direct debits to charities for now, but it does make you wonder what will be the longer term impact of this will be.
This makes me think that some people are finding the decisions about who to give to, when to give, how to give and how much to give overwhelming. Perhaps this can lead to inertia.
3. People love hearing stories about other people, and it’s no different in the workplace
Stories sell papers, stories sell brands and the stories shared on the night from the charity CEOs clearly had an impact. Each speaker drew upon their backgrounds including their personal and work experiences to draw a picture of why they worked for their cause and what made them committed to it.
Video clip of Lou speaking at Commerzbank
Deepa was impressive when she talked passionately about Research Autism and you could hear the sharp intake of breath in the room as she reported some of the stats surrounding autism, such as that only 15% of those with autism have full-time jobs, according to research by the National Autistic Society (Nas), while 9% work part-time.
Video clip of Deepa speaking at Commerzbank
Sonal is a very bright, articulate CEO at just 35 years old. With her strong academic background, she could have chosen any career but she chose to work in the charity sector where she enjoys her demanding and varied role , as well as the strong sense of fulfilment she gets from the social change her cause effects.
Deepa and I have kids and we talked about the demands this places on home life and how to best achieve a work/ life balance (which of course anyone with kids knows there is no easy answer and this is always work in progress!). However, we both agreed that there is no one size fits all when it comes to how you decide to carve out your career post kids and that it’s a very personal decision.
What I guess “the shared stories” might mean for charities is the importance of stories to engage with supporters and corporate organisations, and while they can be told online and there is some fantastic online video content there is no accounting for hearing the pin drop in the room!
Reflecting further makes me wonder if there is a norm in giving? I don’t believe there is one. I guess I think in an ideal world we might work towards creating a better culture of giving so that there is almost an expected level of financial and time-based giving to causes, both in the workplace but also as a nation. Is that possible? It’s not something that can be tackled by charities alone … But perhaps the event held at Commerzbank and similar events taking place are paving the way to achieving this in the future ….