Perfect partners

As competition for funding heats up it’s time for charities to form meaningful and creative partnerships with the private sector, says Eleanor Youdell.

Read this article in DDN

In May this year East Midlands-based drug and alcohol recovery charity Double Impact marked its 20th birthday with our Spirit of Recovery Awards – an awards ceremony that celebrates the transformative power of recovery and recognises service users, staff, volunteers, and partner organisations for their various achievements and support over the past 12 months.

The event received support and sponsorship from a wide range of private sector companies, including Nottingham’s Park Plaza hotel, which hosted and catered the 150-person event at no cost.

One of Double Impact’s wider goals as a charity – beyond the direct support it provides to those in recovery – is to help break down the societal stigma of addiction. Reaching out and making connections to businesses and employers is an important way of achieving this, as well as raising awareness outside of the third sector.

With public sector funding shrinking and competition for grants increasing, charities are being forced to focus on a wider range of potential funding sources, and we are no exception. Support from the private sector is more important than ever, but how do smaller organisations compete against the plethora of local and national charities with more popular and media-friendly causes than addiction – something that can still be perceived by many to be a lifestyle choice rather than a health issue.

Double Impact has responded to this challenge in a number of ways. Firstly we have embedded employer engagement into a number of our grant-funded projects, such as Recovery Recruitment, a Big Lottery funded initiative that has operated in Nottinghamshire for a number of years. The primary vehicle for this is free drug and alcohol awareness training for local employers, angled towards meeting their needs and addressing issues within their own workforce, and building in participation from volunteers in recovery. The volunteers are able to directly challenge preconceived ideas about ‘addicts’ or ‘alcoholics’ and deliver a powerful message that people in recovery can make as good – if not better – employees as anyone else.

Fruitful relationships have developed with Primark, HMRC, Cineworld, Games Workshop and most recently local confectioners The Treat Kitchen, and several employers have given their support through hosting mock interview sessions that help to prepare people in recovery to re-enter the workplace.

The charity has also raised its profile through our Café Sobar social enterprise, a high street café and alcohol-free venue that is always bustling with city centre shoppers and workers. Set up in 2014, again with the support of a Big Lottery Fund grant, this provides a safe social venue and space for business meetings, community and recovery-focused groups, as well as volunteering opportunities for people in recovery. While the challenge of creating and sustaining a successful business is not to be underestimated – especially for a smaller charity such as Double Impact – we believe it has reaped many benefits in terms of the charity’s ability to engage with the private sector.

Café Sobar literally acts as a shop window for the work of the charity. There is always a mix of people in the café and it’s never obvious who is in recovery and who isn’t, which in itself helps to challenge stereotypical ideas of what addiction looks like. The café provides a way for us to attract business people in a very low-key way, for example through hosting business breakfasts, offering affordable meeting room space or just providing a pleasant place for people to come to have a meeting over coffee or do some work. This means business people are exposed to our cause in a non-threatening and positive way, and can feel good about supporting us through the cost of their usual cup of coffee. Often this then leads on to us being offered other kinds of support.

There are several good examples of this – contact with The Treat Kitchen was initially made through the café, with both businesses planning and participating in a Halloween event together. After becoming aware of the positive impact we were having locally, the company expressed an interest in taking on some Recovery Recruitment participants as volunteers, and then took even greater strides in their support by naming Double Impact their charity of the year.

‘With the volume of collaboration we do with Café Sobar it seemed only natural to pick Double Impact as our chosen charity,’ says The Treat Kitchen’s owner Jess Barnett. ‘We admire what they do and would like to support it and the service users as much as we can. Offering placements within different parts of our business is a great way to do this.’

The relationship is now thriving with several volunteers having successfully gained work experience in various parts of their business. The employers also generously ran an open competition to design a Double Impact sweet, and the winning flavour (chilli and chocolate) is soon to hit the shelves, with all profits going back to the charity. Four of their staff are also raising money by running in the Robin Hood half marathon.

Similarly, a local business club that held an event in the café then invited our CEO to speak at its Christmas lunch – as well as the cash donations generated as a result, the real opportunity was in being able to reach out to so many business people at once, and so far it has resulted in several people committing to run in the Robin Hood marathon for us and sponsor our Spirit of Recovery Awards.

Our current 20th anniversary fundraising appeal has also provided a focal point for businesses to do something for the charity. Over the course of the anniversary year, CEO Graham Miller has been raising funds and awareness through undertaking to run 20 half-marathons in one year.

Combining a popular fundraising activity like running with a story that has caught the imagination of the local media has enabled us to attract support from many people in the private sector, who may have come into contact through the café or heard Graham speaking at a business lunch event. The appeal has also meant we’ve needed to brush up our social media skills, and having a longer-term appeal that generates regular news and updates has enabled us to connect into businesses’ social media networks in a meaningful way.

‘All this is common sense stuff really, but it still feels quite new for us, as it’s easy to shy away from this sort of fundraising due to the sense that it’s an “unsexy”’ cause – perhaps being guilty ourselves of succumbing to a kind of stigma,’ says Graham. ‘In fact, what this year has shown us is that there are many supporters out there, including forward thinking individuals within the business sector, who aren’t afraid to do something different and show their support. Often you find out that there is a personal connection to the cause – as we know, conservative estimates say that one in ten people experience addiction and that this in turn directly affects another seven – so there are plenty of people out there who are affected by this.’

How does all this reduce stigma? The increased willingness of employers to give people in recovery a chance has a huge impact on the individual, and can help to restore confidence and self-belief. Among those employers, HMRC has played a big part in helping service users to take that big leap into the job market by holding mock interview sessions.

‘My colleagues and I were impressed not only by the fortitude and resilience shown by the interviewees, in the face of what have clearly been very difficult circumstances for them, but also particularly by the enthusiasm and positive attitudes which they all demonstrated during the interviews,’ says Julian Bentley, who was involved in the process. ‘We hope that HMRC have been able to contribute, if only in a small way, to helping the interviewees obtain employment.’

‘I was fearful about interviews because the atmosphere is uncomfortable and the spotlight is on me,’ says Tom, one of the interviewees, who is now working full time as an administrator. ‘The mock interviews held at Double Impact with staff from HMRC were a great opportunity to practise being in that atmosphere, have a go at answering questions that I don’t usually get asked, and most importantly get feedback on how well I performed.

‘Interviews have been few and far between for me so I gained a lot from the mock interviews, and I felt more confident going into a real interview a few months later. The experience and tools helped me to secure employment earlier this year.’

‘It’s hard to measure something as intangible as a reduction in stigma, but we believe we’re contributing to a larger movement and the response we’re having locally is very encouraging,’ says Graham. ‘It’s great to have support from businesses that aren’t afraid to lead the way, do something different and make a statement about it – like most things in life, where one goes, another will follow. The willingness of the private sector to demonstrate support for recovery from addiction is worth so much more that any actual financial contribution.

‘It might not be normal yet for a big corporate to choose an addition charity as their charity of the year, but the response I’ve had from the general public and from the private sector to my running tells me that the tide is beginning to turn.’

Eleanor Youdell is business development manager at Double Impact

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