Case study: Online move is paying off for Mencap

West Berkshire Mencap has attracted funding for a programme to teach clients with learning disabilities how to run online auctions on eBay.

Organisation: West Berkshire Mencap
Campaign: Online auctions
Agency: Mission Fish

Summary

West Berkshire Mencap has attracted funding for a programme to teach clients with learning disabilities how to run online auctions on eBay, teaching them IT skills while raising funds for the charity. The charity has secured £15,000 for the project from the local authority's communication education fund, and hopes to get the course accredited through the Open College Network.

The charity aims to train up to 20 people a year and expects to attract donated goods from the public that will raise up to £1,000 a year when sold on eBay.

Background

Two years ago, West Berkshire Mencap decided to close its charity shop and sell items though eBay instead. It developed an online auctions training course to attract funds to support its aims. Leila Ferguson, the organisation's chief executive, said: "Ebay is known to so many of our members and has created such an interest that we realised this was a course that would be of value for many reasons. It attracts funding and enables people to learn a subject of great importance to them, which also provides accredited qualifications."

Clients are informed about the programme through Link Up, the charity's sheltered employment training centre, which offers life skills and vocational training in partnership with Newbury College and the local authority.

How it worked

The first group of six clients started the programme in September. Fees cost up to £35 a day and clients generally attend for one or two days a week. The course includes 10 modules, which could run for more than a year, depending on people's needs. The modules cover subjects such as how to use websites and parcelling items that have been sold. Clients are taught by paid trainers.

The sellers use West Berkshire Mencap's eBay for Charity account and all the profits go back into the charity's services for disabled people.

Results

Six people are training on the programme, and more than 400 items have been sold through the scheme. Nick Aldridge, chief executive of MissionFish, which helps to run the eBay for Charity programme, said: "We'd love to see other charities following this example and involve service users in their fundraising."

<h2>Expert view</h2>

Alex Croft, senior copywriter, brand communications agency 23red

First, you have to commend a charity such as Mencap for taking the bold decision to shut down its established shops and make the leap into the virtual high street. I mean, imagine the brainstorming session that idea came up in? Whole mouthfuls of tea were probably violently exhaled across the boardroom table. There are undoubtedly underlying economic reasons for such a move, but it's one bristling with courage nonetheless.

By offering the opportunity for Mencap's clients to run a business themselves, benefiting them immeasurably, I am sure, it has reshaped its financial model and is paving the way for how this arm of charity work could be run in the future. In fact, it's genius. Clients pay Mencap to study and learn valuable IT skills, and the charity receives the proceeds from the sale of the goods on eBay. That's a 'win-win' in my book.

However, there isn't a Mencap shop within eBay, so customers either have to put 'Mencap' in their searches or just stumble upon their products. Surely there's a marketing job to do there in promoting this new shop window.

I've always wondered how charity shops could afford the rent in city centres. I may not have to wonder for much longer.

Creativity: 4
Delivery: 3
Total: 7/10

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