You’ve decided that it’s time to give something back as a retailer and want to get involved in raising money for charity. Well done, there’s nothing more worthy than helping out others in need. But for retailers there are added bonuses to backing good causes: the benefit of publicity for your store; keeping your customers onside; and engaging with the community. However, if you think it’s a case of placing a tin on the counter and watching the money roll in, think again.

To maximise the benefits of charity work you’ll have to come up with a money-spinner that gets the full support of locals, and with so many good causes shouting for attention that’s not always easy. With more than 180,000 registered charities in England and Wales alone, and another 23,000 in Scotland and 12,000 in Northern Ireland, all organising eye-catching events to raise cash, there’s a lot of competition. And woe betide you if your fundraising is a flop, as a badly run event could lead customers to doubt your ability to run your business, too.

Susan Connolly of Spar Connolly believes that if retailers do get involved in charity work, they have to throw themselves into it wholeheartedly. Says Susan: “It’s essential that retailers get involved in their local community, but it has to be done right. Retailers need to show that they can organise professional events for local causes that engage with their customers.”

Since taking over the role of business development manager for four stores in the Wiltshire area in January of this year, one of Susan’s main priorities has been engagement via charity work. To tie in with the national Sports Relief fundraising campaign in March, she decided to do something different to raise money and the profile of the business. Looking to boost the camaraderie of the staff, she organised a netball and football tournament between her team and a team from a nearby Tesco store.

It wasn’t all plain sailing as the Tesco team pulled out at the last minute, but Susan managed to salvage the day by making up the teams from within the business, raising more than £400 for the Sports Relief.

A lot of the success was down to support from manufacturers, and Susan believes that retailers are in an ideal position of being able to galvanise both members of the public and manufacturers to help drum up support for a charity event, and that they should take advantage of this.

“We had some great support from Weetabix for our netball and football event,” says Susan. “They provided snacks, drinks and uniforms for the day. They are usually happy to help retailers out when they can, but you have to ask. Having support from manufacturers can help make your event more memorable, and all it takes is a question.”

Susan also had the backing of an enthusiastic team, something that Clare Surgenor, manager of Scotmid Barnton in Edinburgh, believes is essential for an event to work. Clare encourages her entire staff to do their bit for charity. “The staff are part of the store so they need to be involved with charity events,” she says. “With a larger group of people working on an event, there becomes more enthusiasm for it and more ideas get bounced around and then it becomes really different to other charity events out there.”

Earlier this year, her team held a charity bike ride with a difference to raise money for ‘Our Place’, a campaign to create a playground in the local area. What made the static bike ride stand out was that their pedal power was used to run a smoothie maker, providing refreshing drinks for everyone. What’s more, Clare decided that to make the event extra special staff should dress up as their favourite superhero as they pedalled. The event involved local school children and was a real talking point for the community for weeks afterwards.

Clare points out that what you do after any charity event is also important in order to maximise the impact. “We put photos of all the children who got involved on our community wall so their parents could come into the store to see the pictures,” she says. “It’s important that people know what work you’re doing to help charities.”

For Raaj Chandarana of Tara’s News in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, a major benefit of his fundraising for charity has been making his store the hub of the community. As a relatively new retailer, Raaj realised how important this was and set out a plan to organise two big events a year, as well as smaller events in between.

Raaj acknowledges it takes both time and effort to run the projects, but believes the benefits outweigh the downside. “Organising charity events can take up a lot of your time but it’s worth it,” he says. “It creates a positive message for your customers and the wider community. You become remembered for the events and causes you support, and that helps your standing in the local community, as well as making you the centre of the area.”

Last December he held a ‘Let’s Make Disraeli Christmassy’ event at his store in aid of the Amber’s Wish charity, which was set up for a local girl who suffers from Infantile Battens Disease. Raaj and his team put a lot of work into the event and despite a 16ft Christmas tree being stolen just a week before the event, the day was a huge success. A Santa’s grotto, music, replacement tree, face-painting and stalls attracted more than 3,000 people and helped raise a substantial amount of money.

Raaj advises any retailers looking to do something special for a charity to back a local cause rather than a national one if you want your efforts to chime with your customers. “There are plenty of charities on your doorstep that really need your support,” he asserts. “Of course, working with any charity is good, but if you get involved with one that resonates with your customers then they’re more likely to get behind it and support it.”

Working with local causes also gives him a point of difference from the competition. “The multiples obviously do some great charity work, but they can’t give it that local touch that independent retailers can,” says Raaj. “Retailers need to look locally at the causes in their area and build links with them to see how they can help. Sometimes it’s just a case of picking up the phone to the charity and introducing yourself. Once the link has been established, you can come to them with ideas for events and they’ll know that you can offer them support.”

As well as the altruistic benefits of organising charity events, Raaj says that doing his bit helps to vary his working day in the store. “Retailers shouldn’t be behind the counter 365 days a year; they need to mix things up a bit to get some perspective about the business,” he explains. “Over the course of a week I take about a day to work on events for charities and local causes. It gives me a change from the day-to-day running of the store, while still working on something worthwhile for the community and growing the reputation of the business. When I’m done with that, I find that I can focus better on the store.”

All part of the job

Henderson stores in Northern Ireland view their staff’s involvement in charity work as so important that they appoint community champions to organise events to raise money for charity, making the role part of an employee’s job description and including it in their performance review.

Gregory Cochrane of Spar Binnian Fresh Foods in Kilkeel says: “We have a community champion whose role it is to organise charity events on a monthly basis,” he says. “It then becomes something we measure the staff member on and it’s reviewed on a regular basis. Obviously, this is something less tangible than say fresh food sales, but we look at the overall impact of the events when assessing them.”

He adds that the system has the benefit of encouraging staff members to get more involved in the business. “It becomes their project to work on and they then have responsibility for it,” says Gregory.

“It gives them a say in the business and helps them become more invested in it as they feel they are contributing to something greater, rather than just coming in and collecting 
a wage.”

Charity events

Ideas to get you started

Looking for some ideas when it comes to fundraising? Take a look at what these retailers are doing to raise money while increasing the profile of their stores.

Premier retailer Mandeep Singh scored for a local children’s charity after organising a football tournament at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane football ground. The event, which was supported by Booker, Mars, Kellogg’s, Molson Coors and Cadbury, raised £10,000 for the Bluebell Wood children’s hospice. You don’t have to hire a stadium to get going, though. A local playing field and a tournament involving staff and other local businesses could work.

A Spar in Carnoustie, Angus, has been raising money without working up a sweat by charging 2p for each single-use carrier bag handed out, using the proceeds to donate £450 to the Carnoustie Panmure Juniors under-16 football team to buy kit. Store manager Murray Ferguson says: “Supporting teams helps encourage more local kids to get involved, have fun and get active”.

Smaller stores in Wales have a bit more flexibility on plastic bag charges which could be used to your advantage. Try polling customers about which charity they think deserves the funds.

Some retailers are able to raise money while lying down. A group of Glasgow retailers teamed up with wholesaler JW Filshill and JTI and slept rough on the streets in support of homeless charities Shelter Scotland and Simon on the Streets, raising more than £1,000.