Every Lidl helps: helping charities can be super marketing for businesses

2 Sep 2015 Ryan Miller    Last updated: 2 Sep 2015

Paul Gibson (left) with the Lidl Community Works judges

Following the announcement of a new Lidl scheme to fund community groups across Northern Ireland, Scope asks whether partnerships between the voluntary and private sectors are a world of untapped potential.

Discount supermarket Lidl recently announced Community Works – a funding scheme that saw 32 community groups across Northern Ireland receive a total of £200,000 in support.

Generally third sector groups – both big and small – rely on some personal donations and funding from the public purse or other dedicated funding streams. Here in NI the latter plays an especially important part.

It should also be noted that many businesses, and supermarkets in particular, devote a certain amount of time and energy to fundraising for charities, so the private sector does of course already play a part in third sector support.

However, with public resources increasingly stretched, could greater collaboration between the sectors help fill in some gaps?

The Community Works model is a simple one: Lidl earmarks some money, identifies a number of local projects and distributes its money to a number of these projects and in return it – rightly – gets some very good publicity.

However, the supermarket also gets an extra benefit, albeit one that might be more difficult to measure for its bottom line – the healthier a local community is, the better for businesses in the area generally.

Speaking exclusively with Scope, Paul Gibson, a sales operations executive with Lidl, said this was indeed part of the reasoning behind the supermarket’s community support.

“This is part of our commitment to Northern Ireland and giving something back to the community we have been part of since 1999, when we opened our first store in Cookstown.

“Ever since then we have wanted to give something back to the customers who shop with us.

“It’s also important to provide a sustainable amount of support to the local community and by doing this we look to future proof certain community initiatives – some that have maybe stalled, or ceased to exist, and through our support some have been able to continue or start up again.”

Lidl received 2,000 nominations for the groups to be funded. A panel including famous faces like Ulster and Ireland rugby star Rory Best, TV presenter Zoe Salmon and news broadcaster Pamela Ballantine whittled these down to 250 groups – all of which received some support from Lidl – before the final 32 were selected.

Organisations across Northern Ireland received the financial help, including: 180 Degrees in Portadown, which provides training for young adults with learning disabilities; Melmount Community Forum in Strabane, which looks after the safety of local elderly people; Riding for the Disabled in Ards and others.

This is obviously great news for the community groups involved, but it begs some questions:

Can the third sector work more frequently with businesses? And just how close can this relationship be?

Scope wrote previously about a partnership between Start360 and Cool FM, where the privately-owned broadcaster received Big Lottery funding and in turn provided a training course for young people.

We put the question to Paul Gibson, who said Lidl has not made any decisions about the coming year, other than committing to continue its support for local communities.

“Community Works came off the back of a scheme called Lidl Surprises from last year, where we did a number of random acts of kindness for local groups.

“Although nothing is confirmed for next year, we will certainly be doing something to carry forward our momentum – there will be a continuation of it. What that will be and what it will look like is yet to be decided.”

Lidl’s commitment to supporting local communities is great news, however they choose to proceed, but the third sector would be advised to look at more work with businesses.

There are opportunities there for not just more funding but, looking at the relationship between Cool FM and Start360, working together for everyone’s benefit.

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