Focus: Corporate Responsibility - Charity beats 'cuddly' rivals to law firm partnership

Anita Pati, anita.pati@haynet.com

Fairbridge has won a charity of the year deal with law firm Olswang after making its case to all of the staff.

Charities that don't deal with 'cuddly' beneficiaries have often felt badly treated when more obviously attractive causes are preferred to theirs in staff sponsorship votes.

But Fairbridge, which helps marginalised young people, says it has whipped the opposition and netted a much coveted £250,000 charity of the year deal with law firm Olswang, which was looking for its first-ever partner to celebrate its 25th year last month.

Instead of making Fairbridge pitch to a panel of senior staff or conduct an internal email vote, the law firm allowed the charity to make its case to all 500 of Olswang's staff.

The charity, which works with youths who have been excluded from school or involved in crime, or are unemployed, is convinced this helped it triumph over three other household names - a well-known homelessness charity, a big brand youth charity and a large cancer charity.

"Time and again we've got to the last round of a big charity of the year partnership and lost out because people don't know who we are," says Jennie Butterworth, director of marketing at Fairbridge.

"Staff tend to go with who they know and who they empathise with. With a charity such as ours, people don't normally say 'yes, I've had experience of being on the margins of society'."

Because Olswang asked all four groups to pitch to staff, Fairbridge found it was able to show people how their support could have an impact on the charity, even though only one member of staff had previously heard of it. Butterworth says this was the first time she had ever encountered this approach.

Each charity had ten minutes to speak to employees in their lunch hour.

"I think it was really enlightened of Olswang to give us an opportunity to explain what we do face to face," says Butterworth. "It created a level playing field."

But the unique selling point was that Fairbridge, which works with youths who have motivational issues, was able to produce a living case study from one of its projects in the shape of a young man who had woken up at 4am that morning to travel down from Newcastle for the presentation.

"The fact that one of our young people volunteered to come down and do his bit because Fairbridge had changed his life - he was quite raw and genuine - was a real vote winner," says Butterworth.

Jonathan Goldstein, chief executive of Olswang, says: "We invited four charities to present to the firm - hearing from staff and young people at Fairbridge, and seeing how their lives had been changed, really impressed everyone. Fairbridge won an impressive 77 per cent of the vote ahead of larger, more well-known charities."

KEY POINTS

- Fairbridge has secured a £250,000 'charity of the year' deal with law firm Olswang, which was looking for a partner to celebrate its 25th year

- The group believes it was successful because of Olswang's unique approach of letting the contenders pitch to all 500 members of staff

- The charity, which has 250 staff in the UK and a turnover of £8m, was up against a well-known homelessness charity, a big brand youth charity and a large cancer charity

- Its unique selling point was to produce a 'living case study' - a young man from one of its projects in Newcastle.

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