Every week, thousands of volunteer door-to-door fundraisers trudge the streets of Britain, collecting donation envelopes from their neighbours. But Leukaemia Research has discovered a unique labour force to do the same job, thus doing away with the need to recruit any volunteers at all. It uses milkmen.
The approach has proved remarkably lucrative. The partnership was, at first, ad hoc and informal. It used Dairy Crest's 1,500 milkmen and raised £230,000 in its first year, wildly exceeding the initial target of £50,000. Since then, the partnership has been extended to other parts of Dairy Crest's business and has raised £1m in four years, making it Leukaemia Research's most successful corporate relationship by far.
The two organisations came together by accident. A Dairy Crest milkman from Kent, whose daughter had leukaemia, started raising money for Leukaemia Research on his round in 2003. The idea spread around the country and, before it knew it, Dairy Crest had its first ever charity partner, although a formal agreement was not signed until 2005. "It was done from a human instinct point of view and grew to become the company charity," says Nicole Lander, head of communications at Dairy Crest.
Milkmen delivered Leukaemia Research donation envelopes to their customers twice a year. "It's fantastic for the charity," says Kate White, director of fundraising at Leukaemia Research. "Raising awareness is as important as fundraising. To reach 1.2 million households means we are getting our message to a huge number of people at no extra cost to the charity."
The partnership has prospered in other arms of the business, too. A golf day at Davidstow Creamery in Cornwall, which makes Cathedral City cheese, raised £12,000 last year. The Cathedral City brand produced a cookbook, with the proceeds going to Leukaemia Research. Former cricketer Ian Botham has also raised money for the organisation on one of his charity walks, where he was joined by milkmen dressed as cows.
According to White, the success of the partnership lies partly in the willingness of the charity to work with the company at a local rather than a national level.
"We worked hard to build relationships with the small depots," she says. "We'd attend regional meetings and the annual company conference so we could meet people, present to them and tell them where their money was going. It's important to do some face-to-face presentations, rather than just send bits of paper."
Dairy Crest has recently selected a new charity partner to succeed Leukaemia Research. The as yet unnamed children's charity will also benefit from door-to-door fundraising by milkmen, but because the number of Dairy Crest milkmen has increased to 3,500 after the recent acquisition of Express Dairies, they will deliver only one fundraising envelope per customer each year.