Small charities are challenging graduates from The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) to work with them to develop innovative business solutions to help their charity grow.
The scheme was devised by the charity Pilotlight, which brings together business leaders with small charities to mentor and coach them. This is the first time a bank’s graduates have teamed up with charities in this way.
During the six-month challenge RBS graduates worked in different teams with six charities, including Reading Quest, the British Youth Council (BYC) and New Choices for Youth. The tasks have included developing and launching a new numeracy app to help children aged five to nine who are struggling with maths, a new marketing campaign to attract funders and scoping out the creation of a social enterprise.
Pilotlight’s Chief Executive, Fiona Halton, explains:
‘We know the benefits for small charities and senior business leaders when they work together to tackle some of the toughest social problems in our communities. We felt it was important to get City graduates involved with charities right at the start of their career so that they understand, in a very practical way, the challenges facing charities and see the impact they can have by working with them.
‘The graduates I speak with tell me this completely changes the way they think about charities. As well as developing the graduates’ business skills we hope this unique programme will help transform the way corporates engage with charities and lead to a lifetime of philanthropy for these young people.’
Tonight the six graduate teams will showcase their projects in front of a high profile judging panel which includes Stephen Hester, Group Chief Executive of RBS Group, Marc Sidwell, Managing Editor of City AM, Elsa Critchley, Head of Group Culture at RBS and Jackie Barnes from the charity, It’s Your Life.
Stephen Hester, RBS Group Chief Executive, says:
‘The tangible results our graduates have been able to achieve for these charities illustrates the benefits of partnering with our local community. Our graduates have gained invaluable on-the-job skills to bring back to their work at RBS. Part of the culture change for us is about doing the right thing by our communities, starting with our new recruits right up the organisation. This initiative with Pilotlight is a great example of how we are collaborating with local communities for the long-term.’
For many of the charities involved, the challenge has enabled them to develop business ideas that they would never have had the resources or expertise to do on their own. Jayne Lacny from Reading Quest, a charity which helps children improve their literacy and numeracy skills, says the development of a new app for children struggling with maths opens up an exciting new future.
‘As a charity, we want to create a trading arm to reflect the work we are doing and make us stronger financially. The Pilotlight/RBS project has taken us a huge step closer to this dream with our team of graduates proving inspirational. We are so much closer now to being able to create and sell our numeracy and literacy work through the production of apps. Alone, we would have struggled. Together, we have achieved above and beyond our expectations.’
RBS graduates like George Moore say the experience has not only improved their own business skills but has given them a better understanding of the charity sector.
‘When you work for a big organisation it’s easy to take a lot of things for granted, but when you see the daily battles small charities face it makes you really appreciate what you have. It’s also made me understand how hard small charities work and how much they manage to achieve with very little resources.’
Teams of graduates from RBS worked with small charities as part of a new programme marking a real shift in the way companies engage with charities in their local community. The RBS graduates were challenged to create practical solutions to real issues faced by six small charities in a scheme devised by the charity Pilotlight, which brings together business leaders with small charities.
The six charities involved this year are: Reading Quest, British Youth Council (BYC), Prospex, Isle of Dogs Community Foundation (IDCF), Bromley Y and New Choices for Youth (NCY). Pilotlight/RBS previously ran two pilot projects, so to date 126 RBS graduates have worked with 16 charities, dedicating 6,300 hours of their time.
Like many small charities, It’s Your Life started 2012 uncertain about what its future would hold. As a charity working with disadvantaged young people and their families in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, it knew its services were needed more than ever but funding cuts had hit it hard. Young people like Tony really rely on the charity to help them cope with difficult and life-changing situations. Having been his mum’s main carer and looked after his younger brothers since the age of 14, Tony found he was unable to cope with all the pressure. He started acting up at school and was constantly being excluded. The charity supported Tony and his family through a very difficult time. ‘The mentor from It’s Your Life became a true friend to me and I felt that someone really understood my whole life and what I was going through,’ says Tony. ‘With their help I’ve been able to do my GCSEs and get an apprenticeship. I’ve learnt so much and now I’m using my experience to help other young children by mentoring them.’
As It’s Your Life started working with the graduates from RBS it was facing the challenge of having to move buildings, set its annual budget and it needed desperately to rebrand. ‘Our old name ‘Globetown’ just didn’t work anymore,’ says chief executive Jackie Barnes, ‘we needed help across our whole communications and marketing – it was a huge challenge.’
At first Jackie was unsure about what it would be like to work with the RBS graduates. ‘I was worried about how honest we could be with them – would they think it was too big a challenge? But when we met them and talked about our services they were really keen. They took the time to meet the adults and young people we work with and really got to know the charity. We were matched really carefully with people who brought all the skills we needed: fundraising, communications, website development and marketing, it was all there.’
For the graduates, working with a charity in such a hands-on way brought home the tough challenges small charities face on a daily basis. George Moore was on the graduate team working with It’s Your Life:
‘When you work for a big organisation it’s easy to take a lot of things for granted, but when you see the daily battles small charities face it makes you really appreciate what you have. It’s also made me understand how hard small charities work and how much they manage to achieve with very little funding.’
After six months the results were impressive. With a new name, website and brand new marketing materials the charity was able to expand its services across a wider community. It also gave staff back some of their confidence after a very tough year.
‘As a small charity, you face a lot of rejection and it can make you feel quite insecure,’ says Jackie. ‘It was refreshing to have a team that came in and were able give us the ‘outside view’. Their enthusiasm about our work was catching and really gave us back some of our confidence. They came to work with us at a very tough time but left us with a renewed sense of purpose and a clear plan of action.’
For George and the rest of the RBS team it has also helped them develop their own skills:
‘One of the biggest positives was working in such a diverse team. I learnt so much about dealing with different people, team-working and how to motivate people. All the skills that I’ve gained as part of the Pilotlight project I have been able to take back into the workplace and use every day.’
Epic Arts is a disability arts charity that works across the UK, Cambodia and China. It reaches out to people with physical and learning disabilities of all ages and backgrounds, through workshops in dance, drama, visual arts, crafts, photography, music, and storytelling.
The charity was going through a period of change when it started working with the RBS graduates and wanted to address issues around fundraising, its website and general communications. The new UK director, Lorraine von Gehlen, was also keen to use the graduates’ skills to help her develop a strategic five-year business plan: ‘It was very helpful to have people with a range of expertise and ideas come into Epic Arts and help us plan for our future. Each graduate brought different skills and they were very committed and engaged. I always felt that we really mattered to them, and nine months on we have put in place many of their suggestions.’
Working as part of a seven-strong team of graduates from RBS, Bhavish Shah found the project challenged him in many different ways: ‘When you work in a corporation you see charities from afar and although you might donate money you never really get a feel for the challenges they face. It’s very easy to be in a bit of a bubble and a bit detached. When you work on a practical level with a charity like Epic Arts you realise how much they rely on people’s goodwill and how difficult it is – itcertainly helps to break you out of that bubble.’
The graduates’ work enabled Epic Arts to reach out to new funders through changes to its website. They were also able to engage with more volunteers and built relationships with other organisations such as Action for Children. The impact of these changes helped the Epic Arts graduates’ win the challenge after impressing the judges with their achievements.
Bhavish says the experience enabled him to develop his own skills as well as learning a lot about the charity sector.
‘I loved engaging with a charity in a very practical way and using the skills I have to benefit the organisation and make a real impact. I learnt a lot and developed my team-working and leadership skills which I have taken back into my work life. We had a lot of strong characters in our team but we became very united and focused which I think was crucial to our success.’
The impact of the graduates’ work with the charity is still ongoing, as Lorraine explains:
‘Their ideas have already been incorporated into our communications strategy, which is especially important when it comes to attracting donations. Although they were all busy people I felt the graduates made a real commitment to Epic Arts and have had a significant impact. Some of them are still involved with us and have gone above and beyond what was expected of them. This partnership is an excellent example of how a business can engage with a charity, for mutual benefit.’