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October 12, 2006

Sweet charity: the motivational power of a good cause

Jesus was a carpenter by trade. But now it seems he’s doing quite a bit for charity… as are internal events. Yes, a number of companies are waking up to the motivational power of the good cause.

Not sure what I’m on about? Then I’ll let Gary Hollins, head of people and culture at Emap Advertising, take up the story.

“For five or six years now we’ve been holding a major annual event to celebrate success, review the year and communicate future strategy,” he explains. “It used to be a more traditional affair, where we’d go to Nice and Paris – your typical media conference with an awards dinner at the end.

“However, three years ago we changed this following the launch of the Rainbow Trust, a small charity that looks after terminally ill children. The charity had a target of raising several million pounds and asked for a number of companies’ help in doing this. It inspired us to rethink our annual event.

“We were aware that corporate social responsibility is playing a bigger and bigger part in successful companies and thought it would be good to show staff that we’re giving something back to the community. Better still, we thought we could use our annual event to make our employees part of this, using it as a way of raising money for the Rainbow Trust.”


Raising money, boosting morale 

Not only did Emap Advertising raise thousands for the charity, but it has also transformed staff moral creating better employee retention and boosting motivation. In fact, the company enjoyed a particularly successful 1995, and this was down in no small part to the initiative. “Performance has been excellent,” says Hollins, “and we’ve won a number of industry awards. To be honest, we have been stunned by the results.”

Of course, moving from a major jolly to something much more practical was a big step for Emap Advertising employees. In the first ‘charitable’ year, instead of jetting off abroad, the company held its annual staff event in sunny Bristol! It was a big change in strategy, but because employees had been consulted at every stage, including which charity should benefit, it came as no surprise.

Apart from a half-day review of the year and a future strategy meeting, the event was a fundraising initiative based around a teambuilding exercise. In the first year, this involved the various teams coming up with sponsored ‘risky’ tasks they had to complete with just a £100 budget. One team abseiled off Cheddar Gorge, another had to get to Bristol from Edinburgh. All in all, £65,000 was raised for the Rainbow Trust, from an initial target of £20,000. The only real similarity to the previous jollies abroad was that the event culminated in an awards party.


Healthy competition

“The atmosphere at the first awards party was incredible, so much better than previous years,” recalls Hollins. “Although each team had been competing to see who could raise the most money, there was a real sense of togetherness that everyone was working for the same goal. Plus a great sense of achievement and satisfaction, as well as pride, about working for such a good cause.

“We’d created a real sense of belonging and community. Our company has many departments and the teams consisted of a mixture of people from different ones. If just one person from each team had struck up a new relationship the event would have been a success, but six or seven people out of an eight-strong team were doing this. It has broken down barriers between departments and helped everyone realise they are working towards the same agenda.”

Employees leave the event with a great story to tell – and this is exactly what they do to their family and friends. “The father of one of our employees was so impressed that he sent in a personal check for £15,000 for the Rainbow Trust,” says Hollins. “We also get feedback from customers about how positive and enthusiastic our staff are about the company. It’s great to have your own people evangelising about your business.”


More than just great PR

But what else has the shift in internal event strategy achieved other than great PR? Well, statistics prove its success.

“An average of 27% to 32% staff churn three years ago has been reduced to just 13%, which is phenomenal for a sales-oriented company,” enthuses Hollins. “What’s more, churn of star performers is just 5%.”

Encouragingly, Emap Advertising’s annual internal survey now has an 87% response rate with the majority of people positive about company culture. “Recruitment has also been boosted,” says Hollins, “with agencies saying candidates want to join us. Six years ago we couldn’t recruit people.”

So why the transformation?

“I believe the key factors in the success of the event are that it has a real purpose, which builds team spirit, and that it is taking place in a non-work-related environment for a non-work-related goal,” answers Hollins. “A lot of team-building exercises focus on a business-related topic.”

Also getting input from staff really helps to get their buy-in, which is essential for any strategy, particularly if it relies on employees’ willing participation.”

Emap Advertising has also set out to create a distinctly different annual event every year – making each one special in its own right. In the second year, the company took its staff up to Newcastle to refurbish different elements of a Rainbow Trust respite home. This year, after a particularly strong business performance all round in 2005, they travelled to Barcelona with Guiness World Records, each sponsored team with a specific record they had to try to break.

Amazing though it may seem in this ultra-competitive, money-driven, fast-paced business climate, but one of the biggest motivators is actually making money for someone else. Someone who really needs it.


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