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A unique approach to volunteering: backing charities through crowd-funding

19 Jul 2020

We’re always looking for new and exciting ways to help people at Octopus support organisations and causes they really believe in. Through our partnership with The Funding Network (TFN), Octopus volunteers have been empowered to pledge company money to help innovative charities.

Since it began in 2002, TFN’s unique crowd-funding events have raised more than £13.5 million in funding for 2100+ organisations. Their events run every quarter and Octopus volunteers have loved attending and pledging.

The pressure coronavirus has put on the sector means charities need this sort of funding now more than ever before. Knowing this, TFN worked hard to, for the first time, run its events online, with more than 200 attendees joining the virtual event in June.

And another first: two Octopus employees, Mackensie Dyer and Niki Graham, were part of the pre-event selection process, helping to decide which not-for-profits would pitch for funding.

Choosing the most impactful charities

Mackensie and Niki were both a part of a TFN judging panel, debating to whittle down and select the charities that would pitch on the night. This part of the selection process used five pillars of suitability to assess the charities: impact, sustainability, needs, COVID-19 response, and personal preference.

Unsurprisingly, Mackensie and Niki both found it incredibly hard to pick between the charities. For Mackensie, the five pillars helped him work out which companies could most easily stand up to questions from donors at the event, as well as which could show they were ready to use funds for something specific. It also showed him he was drawn to a certain kind of organisation.

“With the issue of coronavirus,” he explains, “my personal preference was to support companies that were involved in education and empowerment, so not as conventional but in my opinion, far more impactful given the current situation.

“COVID has really highlighted some pre-existing disparities in the UK, especially in terms of wealth and access to resources. The socioeconomic impact of the pandemic has been far larger on low-income households. I feel that empowering people through education is one of the best ways to tackle this imbalance, creating opportunities for them to improve their standards of living.”

After rigorous pre-screening and debate to select the pitching competitors, the June event saw three charities, Pump Aid, The Lightyear Foundation and The 4Front Project, take to the stage.

How the charities will use the money

According to attendees, the TFN events are so well run that switching to virtual hasn’t affected the fun. “Live fundraising is incredibly enjoyable!” explains Niki. “With such a diverse range of charities bringing life to impact, everyone comes away so energised. Every time I attend, my heart feels like it’s going to burst – I cry tears of joy at most of them.”

Between them, the three charities pitching in June secured £53,000 in donations. Convincing the panel, donors and audience to put their money behind worthy causes is a great achievement. Even more important, though, is the work the charities do and the difference the money will make to them and the people they support.

Pump Aid

Fighting to improve access to water in Malawi, Pump Aid have found that water challenges aren’t necessarily caused by lack of supply, but by a lack of maintenance. Up to 52% of water pumps in the country are currently in a state of disrepair. The COVID pandemic has yet to take its full grip on Malawi, but predictions are dire and further prove the need for preventative action, now.

Michael is the director of Pump Aid. In his TFN pitch, he explained that Malawian communities have stopped spending money on pump repairs because they’re worried about food shortages in the face of coronavirus. Unfortunately, this means the people there can’t wash their hands to protect themselves against the spread of the disease.

Pump Aid’s pitch at June’s TFN event saw them raise an incredible £23,000. “This money will enable our mechanics to fix more than 75 broken water points, seeing tens of thousands of people regain their access to water at a time when they need it most,” explains Michael.  “And, thanks to their maintenance agreements, they will continue to have access to that safe, clean water for the next ten years or more. The impact that will have on their lives and life chances is incalculable.”

“To have raised such an incredible sum on that night, given the circumstances the UK is currently in, did much to reaffirm what makes TFN so special,” he concludes. “My team and I could not be more grateful or more pleased.”

The Lightyear Foundation

The next successful pitch was heard from Lightyear Foundation. Their range of innovative science-led ‘immersive and creative sensory workshops’ are used to get more disabled people into STEM. Their practice teaches life skills to special needs schools, children’s hospices and hospitals across 53 UK locations.

Lightyear’s project manager, Rhiannon Kearns, led the pitch that raised more than £14,000 at TFN’s June event. “We are so grateful to TFN, their hard-working team and of course their members,” she says. “They are one of the most progressive funders and they help make it possible for small charities like us to have a big impact. The fundraising events themselves are exhilarating and unlike anything else, we love taking part. You can’t help but leave feeling inspired!”

This much-needed funding will allow Lightyear to keep supporting the people who rely on them. Rhiannon explains, “With the money raised, we will be able to continue to support families with disabled children in lockdown, and importantly, in the stages coming out of lockdown. We will be able to get disabled children moving and learning with our online workshops, helping with home-schooling and getting that all-important exercise in.”

What’s Next?

Partnering with TFN has allowed Octopus volunteers to support a wide range of organisations and causes, and have fun doing so. If you’d like to watch the pitches from the June event, check out the event recording.

We’ll be continuing to support TFN and are looking forward to their Autumn Funder, which will take place on Thursday 24th September 2020. Registration will be open soon via the TFN website.

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