Is now the right time to prioritise charity work?

homeless kitchen charityDespite being in the middle of a pandemic, Mark Topley explains why working with a charity is more important than ever.

The pandemic has brought so many social issues into sharp focus. It can feel overwhelming and so many people struggle to find a response.

But what would it be like if you could put the resources of your practice to work for the greater good? What if philanthropy as part of your CSR could be something that makes a genuine impact, whilst remaining manageable? Could it even help build your business in the process?

My work with my CSR clients during lockdown has been inspiring. I have seen so many of them rise to the challenge and serve their communities meaningfully, intelligently and sacrificially.

Failure in this arena is more than disappointing. If we get this wrong then we raise less money. We don’t help people who need us as much as we could. And we end up frustrated and numb.

A bad experience could even switch us off for good.

Some of the most successful approaches I have seen throughout the pandemic all match up with the principles I use in my work. I’ll highlight a few of them here.

Choose a cause that fits

All the evidence suggests that you should choose a cause that fits. Rather than simply one that you are personally passionate about.

Personal passions are great, but if they are unrelated to the business sector or your community, evidential wisdom would suggest you should support them personally, and not in the business.

And so the key is to choose a good cause that makes sense to your stakeholders. For many people reading, that is dental charities and local groups or causes.

If you have to use too many steps to explain how the cause fits with your business, you risk confusing people and losing both impact and buy in.

Look to your community. What are the main issues that charities address locally? Who is doing great work that you can support? Are they big enough to make a difference, but small enough for you to engage with?

If so, engage with them. Some personal reflection, combined with asking the right questions led Hap Gill from Richmond to come up with a fabulous lockdown idea.

Feeding the hungry

‘I heard through the grapevine that a local restaurant I know was struggling, like a lot of businesses during COVID,’ Dr Gill points out. ‘One day I was walking around Richmond, and noticed a lot of people begging for food. I could not believe how many people were hungry, in such a “wealthy” area.

‘Then, I had an idea. I approached that restaurant and asked them if they could cook and deliver food to the needy on a night that they were not busy. I approached the charity Glass Door, and asked who in the area needed feeding.

‘So, for a while now I have been paying the restaurant to cook and deliver food to a local community centre. They have a fantastic set up there. I popped in the other night to see what they do…the volunteers are amazing.

‘I negotiated a price for boxed hot food, freshly cooked and delivered to The Vineyard Community Centre in Richmond.’

Hap plans to continue this to the end of the year and beyond.

Be realistic and commit to the long term

For your contributions to make a difference, building slowly and doing little and often is better than a big splash.

It’s also important to build partnerships with charities in the area that meet the needs of the people you want to help – week in, week out.

Find out what the ‘felt needs’ are, and prepare to have your perception challenged and changed by the people working on the ground.

Use your CSR as a learning opportunity as much as a means to help others. In doing so, you’ll not only help, but you’ll build trust as well.

Building trust and respect

Town Hall Dental in Yorkshire work in partnership with local homeless non-profit charity, Focus4hope.

As lockdown started, the practice was quickly converted into a food and supply distribution centre for those most at risk in West Yorkshire. Including the homeless, elderly and those in hospice care.

Rachel Dilley from Town Hall Dental in Yorkshire explains: ‘We don’t set out to work in the community as a way of generating new business. But I think it goes to show that being there for people in need goes a long way to building that trust and respect in the local area. And in an industry like ours that’s really important for patients to see.

‘Patient care doesn’t stop once someone leaves the surgery. For us, care doesn’t stop once we leave the practice. It’s been really rewarding helping those who needed us over the past few months.’

Imagine your practice as a place where you not ‘only’ care for patients and provide great dentistry, but as somewhere with a purpose beyond the core business. To make a difference, to help, to be a resource. What would it feel like to work there?

When owners, teams and business give back to their communities in this way, not only are they more fulfilling and enjoyable places to work, they’re actually more successful.

As Hap Gill says: ‘What I have discovered is that helping others is contagious. I hope we can infect a load of people to do good.’


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