Offering charities a helping hand can foster franchise success

Supporting charities can be a great way for franchises to boost their brand identity and bring their networks closer together whilst doing a lot of good in the process

Offering charities a helping hand can foster franchise success

Successful franchises are no strangers to changing the world for the better. From providing children with fun pastimes to assisting the elderly with their daily chores, franchisors and franchisees alike are intimately involved in every stage of most Britons’ lives. And many do so not only through their product offering but also by setting up charities to help people in need. One of them is Rebecca Robyns, franchisee at InXpress Hull, the delivery franchise, who founded the charity EyeSeeMe in 2014 to help impoverished children in developing countries learn to use cameras in order to document their lives.

The inspiration to found the charity came during a sabbatical Robyns had taken from her regular job to follow her passion for photography. She was helping a charity by taking pictures to raise awareness at an orphanage for children with HIV in Thailand but she was startled when the kids lined up to get their medicine. There was one boy who Robyns couldn’t take her eyes off. “He looked just like my son,” she says. This boy didn’t just have HIV but he was also visually impaired. However, despite these disadvantages, he still tried to help the other blind children with their medicine. “I had to put my camera down and have a cry because it really affected me,” says Robyns. “It was one of those things that goes right through your heart like a knife.”

The next day she sat down at her computer and created EyeSeeMe. And it didn’t take long before her franchisor took notice. In September this year, InXpress announced that it would support EyeSeeMe through its charity programme InXpress Gives Back by first helping Robyns set up an exhibition of the children’s photographs and then in November pledging 10p to EyeSeeMe for every shipment made. “It’s unbelievable,” says Robyns. “This support means everything to me because it ensures that 50 children will be able to go to school next year. It’s enabled us to really make a difference.”

Close to home

While franchisors can help important causes by assisting charities franchisees have set up, they can also find ways to support franchisees’ fundraising efforts more broadly. The Northwood Charity Foundation provides an excellent example of this. The organisation was founded by Northwood, the property franchise, after it lost its managing director Nick Cooper to pancreatic cancer. “He was good fun, full of energy and always in a hurry,” says Nick Harris, franchise sales director at Northwood. “He was the life of the party and there were plenty of nights where he was the last one out but still the first one in the office the morning after.”

But Cooper wasn’t just well-liked in the franchise network: he was also respected across the property sector in general after campaigning to raise the industry’s standards. This only became more apparent after he died. “After the funeral, there were many people who came to us because they wanted to do something to support pancreatic cancer research,” says Harris.

In a bid to assist franchisees who wanted to raise money, Northwood’s leadership decided to set up the foundation. “We take care of the administration,” Harris explains. In other words, the foundation does all of the paperwork whenever franchisees want to run a marathon or set up an event to raise money for the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund. It also takes care of the admin if franchisees would like to raise money for other causes too.

However, setting up the foundation wasn’t something that was done in the blink of an eye. “We had to register with HMRC, which was painful, and have lots of discussions with the charity commission,” reveals Harris. The foundation also had to appoint trustees, of which Harris is one, and set up dedicated bank accounts for it. “It was all very time-consuming,” he continues.

Since launching the foundation, the franchise has raised over £45,000 for the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund by doing things like cycling from London to Paris and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. An unforeseen benefit of these efforts is that the franchise network has grown closer than ever before. “People who wouldn’t normally come together were suddenly hanging out through these events and they were having fun,” says Harris. “They created an amazing community spirit, generated good PR for the network and raised a lot of money along the way. So it was a huge win all around.”

Making a splash

Jo Stone, co-founder of Puddle Ducks, the prenatal and child-swimming franchise, has definitely noticed how doing charity work can boost the profile of a franchise. Through its pyjama parties, the franchise raises money each year for different causes and charities chosen by their clients. “And in return we get a good PR story,” says Stone.

The pyjama parties were founded through a class where the kids are encouraged to wear pyjamas in the pool to learn how to swim if they fall in water with clothes on. “It’s an essential life skill,” explains Stone. When Puddle Ducks heard that the Children’s Trust, the charity dedicated to helping children with brain injuries, also had an event referred to as a pyjama party, Stone decided to see if the two organisations could do something together. “It sounded like a good match,” she says.

So when the franchise first organised an event around the country in 2012, all franchisees collected cash for the same charity and this collaboration continued for three years. “But because the Children’s Trust is based down south and isn’t in everyone’s back garden, our franchisees wanted to pick their own charities,” says Stone. In light of this, Puddle Ducks began allowing local communities to choose which charities they wanted to support and it quickly proved a huge success. “We raised £26,000 in 2014 and we doubled that in 2015 by raising £55,000 for local charities,” says Stone. But the franchise also supports causes outside of its pyjama parties, such as the National Childbirth Trust and the National Deaf Children’s Society.

It’s safe to say that franchises certainly can do a lot of good by supporting or setting up charities of their own. However, it’s not something that should be done lightly. “It’s a really personal decision,” says Harris. “Sure it can have really big benefits for companies to have relationships with charities but don’t do it just for the sake of doing it.”

While admitting that launching and supporting charities is a lot of hard work, Robyns urges other franchisees and franchisors to take the plunge and support the causes that matters to them. “Don’t leave it until it’s too late,” she concludes. “Just do it.”

Eric Johansson
Eric Johansson