I was brought up to be a charitable person, to always consider others and to always remember that I am very lucky and others are not so fortunate. I remember putting money into the church plate as a child and running after the fire engine going down my street to donate my hard-earned pocket money to a telethon.
That remembering others has not stopped as an adult but it is a lot harder given the constraints on my time and funds.
It’s even harder as a small business. I think as a business you have a duty to support the community that supports you but it is difficult when you have limited cash flow and limited time. And then there are all the phone calls—every day we are called by someone asking us to donate to this charity or that fund-raiser. That does add to the pressure as they are all good causes and groups. So how as a small business can you make a significant contribution without shooting yourself in the foot?
Here’s how IT Engine cracked it and in doing so formed a fantastic relationship with some awesome people.
As a company we have always donated money where we can, mostly to schools and events like the Special Children’s Christmas Party. We also have a lower hourly rate for charities and not-for-profit organizations. Examples include the New Zealand Citizens Advice Bureau and the NZ Stroke Foundation and UNICEF, all of whom are clients.
But I would like to tell you about our Charity of Choice: the Wellington After-Care Association (WACA). Their mission statement is:
To improve the lives of people with disabilities by supporting their choices of where they live, learn, work and play. www.wgtnaftercare.org.nz
They are a Wellington-based charity founded in 1926 and incorporated in 1928. Wellington After-Care works with people who have intellectual disabilities to help them realize their full potential as members of our community. They do this by running a day programme at their base, Ace House. This aims to help people to learn life skills and social skills and to experience many of things that we take for granted, like enjoying a cup of coffee at a café with friends. Wellington After-Care also have a supported employment service, ACEmployment. This assists people with disabilities or people who have recovered from mental health issues back into employment. They work with the person using the service as well as the employer by assisting with training and ongoing support. The aim is to make the placement as positive and as successful as possible.
WACA came to us a number of years ago—they were stuck. Their server was not working as it should and their IT provider was not very helpful. Things seemed to be taking a lot longer than they should. So we went in and had a look. What we found nearly made me cry! I felt ashamed that there were people like this in the IT industry who were clearly just taking a vulnerable company for a ride, in this case a charity with very limited funds. We had to fix their PC (that was supposed to be a server) that had illegal server software installed on it. It wasn’t server grade hardware and it wasn’t even new. It had secondhand hard drives and we know they were secondhand because they still had the name of the pub on them that they had come from! Because the software was illegal it kept rebooting and/or shutting down.
This all happened during the height of the recession when our time and funds were quite limited. But we could not in all conscience leave them like that and they could not afford to get it fixed (having spent all their funds on the original shonky system). So we ripped the hardware out and set it all up again. We also donated a secondhand server and moved the PC to a more suitable position in the office. We did all this at no cost.
WACA now had a working IT system, but they still required on going IT support. So we made an agreement with them. Any new hardware they needed to purchase would be at our cost, and every month they could have 5 hours of tech time at no cost. For anything larger than that, such as projects, we would negotiate. This has worked well now for four years.
So in terms of costs to the business—we might miss out on $500 or $600 worth of billing every month. But there are always down times where you are not as busy and you can always squeeze a bit more in and fit stuff between clients and that is how we have managed it. We always work the WACA projects around our quiet times and because WACA know they are getting a good deal they work in with us.
This arrangement means they now have a stable IT system with a team of people who can support it for them at a minimal cost. This allows them to spend the funds where they are needed most, on their family of clients.
Another way we have been able to support them is to gift them any freebies that we get from our suppliers. On occasion we are given secondhand good quality PCs that we clean up and pass on to them. This allows them to have good solid IT gear for their clients to use with their programs.
Also we love what WACA do and this has made the relationship between our staff and theirs a real team engagement. We are as a business committed to supporting them in their efforts within our community—what they do is FANTASTIC.
So how can you use this example to help a charity that you care about?
First and, most importantly, ensure that you care about the charity you are engaged with and that your team backs you
Make sure what you are trying to do actually fits in with the charity. It’s great you are trying to help but make sure you are helping and not hindering!
Start with baby steps—a little here and a little there. This helps both parties develop the relationship and you both get a feel for each other’s capabilities.
Make sure you communicate what you can manage clearly. Right from the outset we let WACA know what we could manage financially and what we couldn’t. You are not any good to them if you go out of business—and your business is your number one priority.
Last but not least, you may be giving them something for free but this does not mean they should be at the bottom of your priority pile. Make time for a catch-up coffee every few months and make sure they are doing OK. you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that your business is helping the charity to be successful.