Good for business

Many owner-managers run their business for reasons other than money and glory. We profile five business people who have put good causes at the heart of their social ventures.

Jon Penn, founder of ethical fashion brand Goodfibres, is committed to giving back to the artists behind its designs Goodfibres is an ethical fashion brand that uses crowdsourcing to select its designs.

We pay a royalty to all of our artists on every sale and match that with a donation in kind to communities around the world. I have been running a novelty gift company for the past few years but Goodfibres is the more social and ethical business model. Whereas artists who contribute T-shirt designs often lose the rights to their work, for every shirt we sell, our artists get more back. Also, once we’ve sold a product we’ll be making a donation to communities around the world. At the moment we’re working with Haiti; we’ll look at the end of the year at our sales and we’ll match what we’ve sold by giving away the equivalent in clothing to communities there.

In the past couple of years Haiti has had a lot of hardship, and we knew some people who have recently gone out there. The most important thing to us is not to present them with a cheque at the end of the year, it’s getting involved, going out there and seeing how the money is put to work.

Having a social conscience as a business is important, and a lot of successful companies have a reputation on the back of that. The most important thing is that it’s not just lip service. For example, some of the big corporates will say ‘look how much we gave away last year’, which is great but when you look at the turnover you see that they can afford.

Shane Mugan is executive director of consultancy firm Novo Altum, which set up a foundation to raise money for its staff’s chosen charities

When I did a course on consulting prior to setting up Novo Altum, I was disappointed that the focus seemed to be solely on what the partner was going to earn out of the firm.

I set up Novo Altum as a consulting business, but I also established an accompanying foundation to make sure that we didn’t replicate the money-driven ethos of other firms. The aim was to make a difference to local communities through donations and fundraising.

Our directors individually can nominate a charity of their choice that is personal to them, and they get £1,000 to give to these charities. The principle is that we only get involved in endeavours that are sustainable. At the moment, we are also working with a small charity in the North East that supports visually impaired children.

It was set up by a husband-and- wife team and they’re doing a great job but they need a lot of support. Outside London, there’s no real charity that supports families that have kids who are blind, and we realised that there was a huge amount of value that we could add.

We’re going to overhaul their website so it is more effective for fundraising. We have a team working with them, from web designers and copywriters to media people, and we’ve agreed to pledge about £20,000 over the next 12 months.

Quite simply, if you only chase profit as a company, you miss the broader picture: we owe it to each other to try and make everyone better off. It’s one of the biggest attractions for our staff; they are inspired by the fact that we support this so ferociously.

James Lapage, managing director of Hoburne Holiday Parks, explains how the company raises money for children’s cancer charity CLIC Sargent

Hoburne Holiday Parks celebrates its centenary in 2012, and to help mark this special anniversary we’re pledging to raise a minimum of £100,000 for children’s cancer charity CLIC Sargent. Everyone is getting involved – each of our parks is holding special events, a member of our team at Torbay is doing a sponsored skydive and I will be cycling between all seven parks, finishing at Hoburne Park in Dorset on 7 May. This is the very date and place that the Hoburne story began 100 years ago.

Lack of funds means that CLIC Sargent can only help two out of three children and young people with cancer. Our aim is not only to help more children and their families but to spread awareness of the charity so that more companies and individuals get involved.

The £100,000 we have pledged to raise could enable the charity to provide 588 care grants to families in need of financial assistance at the point of diagnosis, support 26 children through cancer or enable 1,000 children to be visited at home by a specialist nurse.

It is very important for businesses to have a social mission. It’s good for your brand and good for morale. Our business very much lends itself to helping charitable causes. We give away holidays as competition and auction prizes on a regular basis and offer discounts to charities staying on our parks or buying holiday homes with us.

Ratheesan Yoganathan, CEO of telecoms company Lebara Mobile, was inspired to help children affected by the Asian tsunami of 2004

I founded the Lebara Foundation in 2005 straight after being caught up in the tsunami while on holiday in Sri Lanka. I tried to help out in the communities however I could while I was there, but was concerned by the number of kids who had lost their parents and livelihoods.

On arrival home, I wondered who was going to look after these kids now and what future they had. So I put trustees in place and started building the foundation. We targeted small charities already running in Asia and looked to improve their structure, building websites for these foundations focused on getting funding through.

Also, many had land with potential for agriculture, so we paid for land to be fertilised. Self-sustainable foundations are important.

For the tenth anniversary of our company we launched a campaign whereby for every top-up our customers put on their phone we give 10p towards the campaign. The goal is to generate €1 million within three months; so far we have done €820,000 so we’re almost there.

People ask me why I am giving half the money we make to charity – that’s a lot, isn’t it? My reply is that the other half we hold on to is also a lot of money. We want to make a difference and ensure that these kids have as full a life as possible.

Bed manufacturer Warren Evans focuses its charitable efforts on the homeless, as managing director Dave Geer explains

I’ve been here for 15 years, and in that time we’ve always had links with The Big Issue. Warren [Evans, CEO] has advertised with them since he started the company.

We also offer beds to homeless people who subsequently find housing. In the past we have had emails from people who thought it was odd for a furniture company to offer free beds to people who are homeless in the sense that we’re rubbing it in, but we see it as nice for people who get housed to receive a bed as a present.

If a vendor gets housed then the Big Issue Foundation lets us know and puts us in touch with the person, who then chooses the bed they would like and we deliver it to them. We get letters back from people who appreciate the bed, and when we’re out and about we’ll approach The Big Issue sellers and we’ll always wish them good luck and tell them that if they get housed, they can get a bed from us.

Last year, we decided to raise money for Shelter and set a target of £20,000. We ran a Christmas promotion where we promised to donate £5 for every bed sold. We also had staff involved in doing sponsored events for the charity; we sent a team of guys to run up the NatWest tower and had three or four employees running the London Marathon.

It is important as a business to have a social conscience for two reasons. Staff engagement and teambuilding is one – sponsored events bring the staff together and create quite a buzz. The second is obvious: raising funds for a good cause is just the right thing to do.

Related: Groop raises £3m from socially conscious investor Hartham Group

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of and from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.