This year, we’ve been celebrating two major milestones at HOME – our fifteenth birthday and the fifth anniversary of HOME India. Our Joint Managing Director Dominic Will looks back at the progression of HOME from a start-up in London to an international fundraising brand.
From the very beginning, HOME was always going to be something a little different. Working with fellow entrepreneur and Joint Managing Director Neil Hope, we set out to develop a business that would not only connect charities with supporters, but one where we had a fundamental commitment to our people and to creating a completely unique culture.
How is HOME different?
Back in 2002, the door-to-door fundraising market had traditionally been led by companies whose business model was based on commission payments for fundraisers. There’s nothing wrong with this when done well, but we wanted to provide a service where the output – the conversations we had with supporters and donations raised – was exceptional and an environment where our people would really be nurtured.
For us, that meant building a door-to-door fundraising model where we wouldn’t just deliver, but one that relied upon us employing and training our people; a culture where we fairly rewarded our people and a place where we inspired them to stay and grow with us. A model that ensured we had full accountability for our staff - something that would set us apart from others in the field. And a model that was scalable; one that could sign up thousands of new supporters across the country just as easily as delivering smaller, localised fundraising activity.
Since those humble beginnings, we’ve partnered with a range of incredible charities large and small, including Marie Curie, British Heart Foundation, CRUK, St Mungo’s, Barnardo’s, Macmillan, ActionAid, Send a Cow, Sense, Care International, Oxfam and Diabetes UK. Over that time, we’ve signed up 1.7 million supporters and raised nearly three quarters of a billion pounds in charitable donations, set up offices across the UK and expanded internationally.
It wasn’t all plain sailing
Of course, it didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t all plain sailing. Starting out as the challenger brand in a busy marketplace, we had to learn to be nimble, to move with the times and react quickly.
The down-side to our business model was that we now carried the risk for all the people we employed. If large numbers of staff underperformed we wouldn’t simply offset this by not paying them commission. Poor performance at any level meant we would lose money; essentially, the buck stopped with us. But, we believed that if we invested in and supported our people, if we remained true to our principles and values, we could build a successful business.
Sure enough, the business went from strength to strength. As the global recession rocked the world during 2007-2008 and many firms were making cutbacks, we expanded from 7 to 11 regions, setting up new operations across the country. It is my firm belief that when a business faces tough conditions externally, it needs to have a firm plan to fall back on. Thankfully we made sure we had that and, while others were scaling back their operations, we continued to grow and support charities in what would be a crucial period in maintaining public support.
Our culture is the driving force behind our business
It’s been an incredible journey, but when I look back it’s having a positive and healthy culture that Neil and I see as our biggest achievement to date. This underpins our success in every way; it is the driving force behind our business.
At the very beginning, we knew we wanted to engage and develop individuals, no matter what their background. To me, it doesn’t matter whether you have a team of 2 or 200, it’s the people who make up that team that matter – and it’s no accident that the individuals we have at HOME make us very, very proud, with many marking their 10 year anniversaries with us and more this year.
There’s a lot of talk in the charity sector that we don’t look in the right places to find people to develop into leaders, and I agree. Evidence from the Charity Commission shows that the typical charity trustee is a white male in his 60s; but that doesn’t represent what is going on at the coal face of fundraising.
Our donors and charity beneficiaries are diverse, as are our fundraisers, and I believe that we need to nurture them to become trustees, CEOs and sector leaders of the future. HOME is leading the way in that regard, with 70% of our Board being female and a diverse range of cultures represented across our workforce. It’s also great to see HOME alumni in senior positions within the sector, we encourage everyone that works with us to develop and achieve their full leadership potential.
Where we’re going next
In September, we released our first Annual Review which looks at the importance of door-to-door fundraising and how - in an increasingly digital world – it has become more relevant than ever before.
People are still watching TV and listening to the radio, they’re just doing it in a different way – through their mobiles or tablets. Our job is to adapt the ways we power conversations, so we can still reach out to them in a way that works for them.
We can’t rely on donors responding to the information we broadcast (digitally or by any other means), we need to actively engage them, talking to them about their interests. And there is no stronger way to do that than having hundreds of people out there every day; a human network, talking to real people in their heart of their communities about the issues that really mean something to them.
That’s the power of conversation, and something we need to protect. There’s little that’s more donor centric than that.