Increasing youth sector engagement with business

I was at a networking event with a difference earlier this week – an opportunity for youth sector organisations to talk to a range of private sector businesses about ways in which they might work more closely together. Whilst perhaps not normally considered natural partners – with some in the youth sector particularly being a little negative about dealing with business – the reality is that there is a huge amount shared between the two.

The event was organised by United Futures, a partnership between UK Youth, the National Children’s Bureau and Business in the Community. The Unite Futures programme is funded by the Dept for Education but, from what I gather, currently is not funded beyond this financial year This seems a real shame as it is just starting to gain traction with some real benefits to be had.

The session opened with an outline of the potential benefits to both business and the youth sector. For businesses this includes brand value and recognition, development of future workforce, increase, improve community relations and higher levels of employee satisfaction. Benefits to youth sector organisations were split into seven areas:

  1. Employee volunteering – eg mentoring
  2. Work experience
  3. Activities with young people (though it seems to me as though there is some overlap with 1)
  4. Training/expertise – eg businesses providing youth sector staff with specific knowledge
  5. Governance/management
  6. In kind donations
  7. Financial support

These go from direct through to indirect support for young people, with the later ones being more focused on supporting the youth sector staff or organisations. There is, however, real benefit to some of these later ones, however, with things like financial management, governance, health and safety etc all being just as much of an issue for businesses, so why not gain the benefit of someone else’s expertise and time to help run your youth sector organisation?

The presentation finished with an inspiring presentation from Jinx Prowse who runs the charity Music Fusion , working with young people in the Portsmouth area to use music as a way of preventing violence. Jinx outlined how they had received in kind donations of IT equipment and a day of a bid writer’s time (resulting in a £70,000 grant!) as well as financial support from local company Jobsite.

After this, there was a general networking session with the 20 or so people youth sector organisations having the opportunity to talk to around 12 representatives from businesses who were there. Businesses included large companies such as Intercontinental Hotels, ISS and Serco as well as a number of smaller regional and local firms.

A few general observations on the opportunities for the youth sector to work with business, based both on conversations and observations at the event and previous experience:

  1. If you don’t ask you don’t get: businesses are not as scary as we perhaps might think, and most have corporate social responsibility programmes
  2. Youth sector organisations should be prepared to think outside the box a little when they need resources (time, expertise, new equipment) and see if a local business might be prepared to support/donate it
  3. Start small and work up: for example, potentially start by seeing if a local business has any old computers/desks/other resources that they might donate and, if successful, then go on to consider asking for donations of cash, employees time etc.
  4. A personal connection in the business increases your likelihood of a successful approach – this might be a friend or relative of one of your staff who is able to suggest or introduce you to the best person to talk to
  5. A strong approach will be not only about the facts you put down or the need you demonstrate but how you put this across – having a charismatic person who can ‘pitch’ to a business for you certainly helps!
  6. When approaching a business, don’t forget to remind them what’s in it for them (see above, or the excellent resources listed below), tailoring this for what is most relevant for your specific project

Only problem now is that I met so many useful and interesting people with so many possible ways to work together that I need to find the time to follow-up with them all…


About Luke McCarthy

I have a background in sport and particularly its use for personal and social development. I also have extensive knowledge of the use measurement and evaluation approaches and requirements, particularly in relation to demonstrating impact of the work of the youth sector. Outside of work I do a lot of sports including cycling, running and adventure racing. I also struggle to find the time to keep my allotment under control.
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