On a mission to ‘engage more professional people in meaningful volunteering’, alumnus Linz Darlington (BSc Business Management, 2011) tells us about his award-winning Social Enterprise Benefacto.
How did Benefacto come about? What inspired you to start the organisation?
Benefacto came about while I was working as a management consultant for Accenture. At the time, I was given three paid days off a year to do volunteering but found it a real struggle to find a local charity where I could make myself useful. At that point I just thought “How can I make this easier for everyone?”
What does the organisation do? What’s the idea behind it?
11 million people are given paid time off to volunteer. But a tiny proportion use it. Even if you value that at the UK Living Wage, that’s a billion pounds of time each year which never makes it to UK charities.
Benefacto is a web platform designed to make booking meaningful volunteering opportunities as easy as possible. We show exactly when and where our charities need help and volunteers from our corporate clients can book time slots to suit their schedule. We’re growing fast, now a team of four and recently won a Big Society Award from David Cameron.
Once you had the idea for Benefacto, how did you go about making it a reality?
I started Benefacto alongside my day job, at which point I was just organizing volunteering for my colleagues using the phone and an instant messaging system. This allowed me to test my idea with minimal effort and financial outlay.
Only when people I’d never heard of were contacting me to organize volunteering did I know I was on to a good thing and built the first website.
After a few hundred people had booked volunteering, my employer supported me to leave my job and set up full time. The rest is history, as they say.
Did you face any resistance, or was the idea/organisation well received by businesses?
I think when trying to create any new innovation, you’re always going to face a lot of resistance from people. “It won’t work” “It’s not necessary” “Why should I pay for this?” were all standard responses initially until we built up a bit of momentum.
My advice is start small and try to find an easy way to build up inertia. This is what I did through the support and backing of Accenture. Once I had backing from one big company, it was more attractive for other companies to come onboard.
Could you talk us through what a typical day looks like? What do you spend your time doing?
Essentially my job in the company revolves around 4 key elements. I’m still responsible for looking after our 25 corporate clients. A lot of this is utilizing my experiences from my former job and I do it with the support of our volunteer coordinator Lucy – who actually does most of the work in that department these days.