On the up · 25 February 2016

Benefacto: Engaging UK professionals in meaningful volunteering

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Benefacto: The lastminute.com but for booking volunteering

Linz Darlington was inspired to create Benefacto whilst working as a management consultant for Accenture. With the help of co-working space provider and startup incubator Bathtub to Boardroom, he has set about creating a platform which gets more UK workers involved in meaningful volunteering. Business Advice spoke with Darlington to find out more about his social enterprise.

With three paid days off a year from Accenture to spend volunteering, Darlington found it hard choosing a local charity where his skills could really make an impact. Realising that volunteering developed the skills of those involved and encouraged new and innovative ways of thinking, as well as strengthening the stretched charity sector, he created an engaging way for professionals to get the most out of volunteering.

(1) Who are you and what’s your business?

I’m Linz Darlington, founder and CEO of Benefacto. My business is like lastminute.com but for booking volunteering. Did you know that 11m people in the UK are given paid time off to volunteer by their employer? Well, a tiny fraction actually uses it and Benefacto is on a mission to change that. Benefacto makes volunteering meaningful for charities and makes it so easy for professionals to get involved that they have no excuse not to.

The business is comprised of a team of four: myself, Lucy Haim, who actually runs the business, and Ben Darlington and Caitlin Wilkinson, who are responsible for getting new corporate partners involved.

(2) How long have you been around for?

Benefacto is three years old this February. For the first year, I incubated the project alongside working my day job as a management consultant for Accenture. I then persuaded my employer to give me some paid time to focus on Benefacto. By default, Accenture became the company’s first client.

As it grew older and became more established, Benefacto has definitely gone from being a startup “baby” to a screaming toddler-type venture. The team is constantly kept on its toes.

(3) How do you make money?

Corporate companies are keen to get staff volunteering because it develops their skills and boosts their confidence, as well as it promoting the brand. Firms pay us to get more staff participating and to manage the process from start to finish.

(4) What makes you different and why should people take notice?

The problem with business is it tends to make rich people richer. The problem with charities is that you need to keep feeding them with cash. Benefacto tries to offer the best of both worlds – we’re a social enterprise. We use a commercial model to perpetuate the organisation’s social mission. Being one of the UK’s founding B Corps means that Benefacto is committed to ensuring we look after all of our stakeholders during our business activities as well.

(5) What was key in terms of getting started?

There is a sign in the Benefacto office which reads: “Commitment is doing the thing long after the mood you said it has left you”. To get your business to the point where you are running a going concern, you need a lot of commitment, often in the face of adversity.

(6) What’s your biggest achievement to date?

David Cameron was recently quoted saying some pretty rosy things about Benefacto. We don’t tend to always see eye-to-eye with the prime minister, but that left a fairly warm glow.

(7) What setbacks have you had along the way?

Benefacto once had a client commit to a negotiated deal, confirm the terms via email and then come back to negotiate another deal after we’d already started delivering the service. That was frustrating. Also, our booking system once decided to eat itself. Like I said previously, Benefacto can be a screaming toddler at times!

(8) In five years’ time, I will be…

Running Benefacto nationwide, strengthening the UK community by helping hundreds of thousands of people volunteer. We hope.

(9) What one tip would you give to others starting out?

The advice often given when planning for a holiday is to take half the things you were going to take and twice the cash. Starting a business, you need twice as much of everything. Time, money, energy and enthusiasm. So to keep that up, be patient and pace yourself. Invest all the above in careful and sustainable growth.

(10) Who are your business heroes and why?

John Bloor, and not only because he is a billionaire that no one has ever heard of, but also because he built half the homes in Derbyshire and revived the great British motorcycle brand, Triumph. In my eyes, he is an entrepreneur that has always focused on building great products, sustainable growth and medium-term returns.

Corporate social responsibility can benefit small businesses as well as larger ones. Read on for ideas about how your firm can add more value to the local community.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Fred Heritage was previously deputy editor at Business Advice. He has a BA in politics and international relations from the University of Kent and an MA in international conflict from Kings College London.

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