Volunteering contributes over £22 billion to the UK’s GDP each year. According to the National Council of Voluntary Organisations, 60% of people volunteer annually through clubs and organisations, with 34% doing so at least once a month. To recognise these efforts, University of Bath alumnus Harry Long has founded Gesture, a social enterprise which enables local businesses to recognise and reward the efforts of local people. In this interview, Harry talks to Dr Johanne Grosvold, Deputy Director of CBOS, about the thinking, ethos and intent behind this new initiative.
“The whole idea of Gesture came from a throw away line to a friend. Having just sponsored him via an online giving platform for an upcoming bike ride, I said:
'Wouldn’t it be great if there was a button I could press to buy you a pint afterwards?'
I was proud of my old mate for slogging his way through a 350 mile bike ride and wanted to acknowledge his effort. That then raised the question, how do you buy a beer of everyone out there who has put in the effort to help others?”
Harry explained that this idea has been four years in development and over that time he has been steadily making the social enterprise a reality. Harry is keen to emphasise that Gesture seeks to acknowledge and celebrate genuine effort - he sees this as distinct from ad hoc donations such as popping a few pounds in a collection jar. “Anyone who gives up their personal time and energy to do something for someone else is amazing in my eyes and welcome to join Gesture. Be that giving up time to create money which goes to charity i.e. fundraising, or giving up time directly to an organisation or individual, i.e. volunteering."
"For me there is an education piece here as well. Most people think of volunteering in ‘formal’ terms, such as via a charity or a local hospice, but I want everyone to realise that organising parents' meetings, coaching a local kids' team or mowing your neighbour’s lawn are all the things that prop up society."
'Informal volunteering is often made up of everyday acts of kindness that tend to go unnoticed.'
Gesture’s model is to create a network of local independent business who are prepared to create small offers -"gestures" - which are are designed to be little up-lifts in service. The aim is simply to put a smile on the faces of those who give up their time and energy to volunteer or raise money. It is important that these are value-added gestures, and not discounts or vouchers. Harry believes that discounts drive a bargain hunting mentality, whereas an additional something on top conveys a message of thanks and appreciation. “The types of thing we are talking about might be buy a slice of cake and get a free coffee, or get a free conditioning treatment with your hair cut. Not flamboyant or flashy, just enough to say well done and we appreciate your effort.”
Gesture’s users are sourced from their relationships with regional and local charities, voluntary organisations, as well as marketing at the types of events that attract fundraisers, such as half marathons and adventure races. Users have an App which displays and controls the offer process as well as allowing them to leave feedback.
In return for delivering new custom to its businesses, Gesture charges a 5% commission on transactions; however 50% of the company’s profits are donated to its members' selected charities. In this way, every time a user redeems an offer they are also supporting their favourite charities. For the businesses there is no subscription or sign up fee: Gesture simply bills 5% of whatever trade they deliver, the details of which are captured via the user App.
“The idea is really quite basic: we simply want to give people a little pat on the back. The upshot of this is that we can also help out independent businesses and give charities an outlet to thank their supporters at the same time."
Gesture is signing up businesses across Bath this November and December with the aim of opening to users in December or January. To help him accomplish this, Harry is working with five students from the University of Bath's School of Management who are learning about social enterprise and start-ups. “I was fortunate enough to be able to work with some students from the University last year. They were terrifyingly capable and seemed to get a huge amount out of getting stuck into business away from a screen and theories.”
'If, in a few years, Gesture can legitimately say we have help boost participation in voluntary activities and created hubs where good local businesses support good local people - well, how cool would that be?'
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