Running a charity, and ensuring there is enough money to keep going, is much harder than it looks.
Charities rely on donations. Company budgets and funds that give charitable grants are increasingly under pressure. Plus there is a natural reluctance for any organisation to find a charity over-dependent on their contribution, and hence – should they be unable to continue funding – to become the reason someone loses their job. Most company donors feel comfortable if they see a range of sponsors listed – but finding new sources of sponsorship can be really difficult.
In the current climate, with so many organisations tightening their corporate belts, hanging on to those who support you can be just as tricky. Of course good communications help, and at Reading Force we try to ensure every supporting organisation gets feedback on how we are using their money and the impact we are having, and a meeting to catch up in person, at least once a year (or as often as they would like to see us).
Reading Force also likes building relationships in the context of our particular goal – which is to encourage military families to read together in order to offset the impact of change (which is permanent for our Forces). So it has always seemed appropriate to offer our supporters a taster of the experience we encourage them to support. We are happy to offer this to all who back us (or are thinking of doing so!).
We are pleased to volunteer our services within whatever format suits best – maybe a company presentation, charities day – or perhaps a ‘lunchtime learning’ session (we have found these are becoming increasingly popular). We can of course talk about what we do, but also about the value of reading for pleasure and why it’s important for parents to read to their children. But with our long-term sponsor, Annington Homes, we have taken things a stage further – and now have a thriving book group.
Every couple of months Alison goes into their London offices and chairs a book group – which draws people from right across the organisation, from all levels of seniority. The common book is chosen by the group as a whole, from suggestions put forward. So far the range of titles has been really broad, from Martina Coles’ The Ladykiller to Mitch Albom’s The five people you meet in heaven – and our next meeting will talk about The unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry. What has been remarkable is how all ten members of the group have always read the book, whether or not it appealed to them, and how they turn up each time.
Just before Christmas, Reading Force charity founder Alison was very pleased to receive a bouquet of flowers and some chocolates from the group. What struck her as really significant was that the accompanying printed card featured all ten names; clear evidence of involvement and a strong connection within group members. From our point of view, not only have we found an effective way to give back to our major sponsor, we have also enabled them to experience just how connective shared-reading can be.
As Jane Harsham, Annington’s Corporate Responsibility Manager, reflects:
“Annington has been a corporate supporter of Reading Force for three years. In 2018, we invited Alison to deliver an informal lunchtime talk to the staff about the work of the charity and the power of shared-reading. Ahead of the session, Alison suggested that those attending might all like to read the same book – and it was a bit of a master stroke! There was undoubtedly interest in the charity’s work supporting Services families but for many who attended, the idea of reading the same book as a group and then coming together to discuss was a bit of a novelty.
The book, My name is Leon, centres around a child who is put up for adoption, and while not everyone enjoyed the story, it certainly prompted conversations that I doubt would ever have happened in the workplace, especially amongst colleagues who don’t normally work together.
After that initial session, we all agreed that a book club was a great idea and Alison has helped us enormously either by suggesting a title or by providing her time to come and lead the sessions. We‘re about to start on our 9th title and there’s no doubt that everyone involved has gained so much from the experience and for a number it has reignited a love of reading that started in childhood.”
If you would like a talk on why reading matters, or for us to help you establish an organisational book group, then do get in touch. Donations are always welcome, of course!