Volunteering with Raising Futures Kenya

17th December 2018

Number four in Studio Republic's sustainability targets is for the team to volunteer 200 hours each year. We give the team 2 days a year to volunteer in the community, as they see fit. They can give community talks, run workshop sessions, help out at a foodbank, whatever floats their boat. The challenge that our Head of Brand Strategy took on when she volunteered with Raising Futures Kenya was an exploration of how faith fits into their brand story. Dee shared an article on LinkedIn about her experience and has expanded on how she used her 16(+) hours to support Raising Futures Kenya below.

I didn’t have a clear idea about how I’d use my volunteering time. What I was clear on was I that I wanted to use my professional skills to help someone who wouldn’t be able to afford them commercially.

Being part of a few charity groups on LinkedIn and Facebook has enabled me to connect with fellow professionals who are working in the field of brand, marketing communications, and income generation in the third sector. Since I made the move to work agency-side, I felt somewhat fraudulent keeping my place in those groups but I am pleased that I chose to stick around because that’s where the inspiration for volunteering came from. I spotted this plea in a comms group that I am a member of,

“Hello all, are there any Christian charity comms people out there? Or, any charity comms people with experience working in Christian organisations?”

I’m a christian (small c) and a charity comms person. I also have experience at Board level for both a Christian charity and a church. This qualified me to at least respond to ask how I could be of assistance.

The challenge that I took on through my volunteering hours involved exploring the ways that a charity can articulate how faith fits into their story. In rebranding, Vision Africa were clear that they did not want to lose this integral part of their history and story. They were equally clear that their approach and work meant that there was the possibility that they were not a Christian charity. I worked closely with the UK Director, Vic Hancock Fell, to bring a Christian perspective and to deliver a strong position that would be received well by both Christian and non-Christian Board and Leadership team members.

I had previously worked in two charities who had Christian roots but who have both become secular for various reasons, including funding purposes. In both cases, they nod to their roots unashamedly in their history but do not claim to be faith-based organisations. I also sat on the Board of Trustees a charity that was very definitely Christian in ethos. The faith informed the work, but was not deemed to be prohibitive in terms of people accessing services. That charity took the opposite approach to the other two, and became Christian in their service delivery.

Through volunteering with Vision Africa during their repositioning, I brought my branding skills to the fore. I drew on my previous experience and delivered a presentation for the Board of Trustees that outlined how the charity were not a Christian charity, but a charity with Christian roots. My presentation opened with the question, “are we a Christian charity?”. It went on to introduce me as a person, my faith, and the professional and personal experience that qualified me to help them answer the question. I drew on a relatively well-known bible story of Jesus’ encounter with an outcast woman at a well to make the theological point that it is not necessary for Christians to announce their faith, and that they can follow the example given in how Jesus acted in the story. I concluded this section by stating that it is reasonable for a charity to carry out its activities rooted in compassion and love without mention of faith until an interest in that faith is outwardly shared. The presentation then went on to consider two case studies of charities with Christian roots that had taken different approaches to the declaration of faith, and the reasons why each course of action was appropriate for the charity concerned. Before making my recommendation I focused the presentation on the charity’s founders, and on the charity’s refined values.

My recommendation to the newly rebranded Raising Futures Kenya was:
For Raising Futures to retain, and make a feature of their Christian roots as an integral part of their story. The charity’s founders, their personal faith, and the heritage of Vision Africa enable Raising Futures to;
• express ethos and values
• share experiences, stories, passions, commitment
• connect with supporters and donors
• have credibility in the field
• see lives transformed, giving children and young people dignity, opportunity, and hope.

The Board and full team were behind the recommendation so, beyond the presentation, I have worked closely with Vic to deliver guidelines for how staff and volunteers can present Raising Futures Kenya’s story with confidence. I will continue to work with Vic to establish brand and tone guidelines so that she will be in the best possible position to achieve consistent implementation of the charity’s refined message and new look.

Vic and her team secured the entire visual brand and new website all with pro bono support. Without individuals and agencies like Studio Republic being prepared to give time like this, Raising Futures Kenya would not have been in a position to afford their new brand and website. I enjoyed working with a charity who would have found our commercial rate prohibitively expensive.

Any business that can afford to offer staff the opportunity to volunteer to support their community should give it consideration. There is obvious benefit outside of the workplace – in my case Raising Futures Kenya, and Vic herself were enormously grateful for the support. Beyond that though, there’s benefit to the individual. The wider benefit is to your employees individually, and as a team.

For me, volunteering my professional skills was a fantastic exercise in time / stress management as I prepared a presentation to meet the deadline of a Board / team away day, on top of my usual workload. The charity had encountered such historic sensitivity that no decision to move forward had ever been made before. It was an empowering experience to deliver a presentation that included recommendations and to have those recommendations wholeheartedly accepted.

It was challenging to physically take the hours required to volunteer without sufficient downtime at work, so I would certainly book time away from the studio to deliver my volunteer hours for 2019.

Volunteering time and skills with Raising Futures Kenya required some input from colleagues at Studio Republic. The team were interested in the challenge that I was taking on and were keen to support me in my areas of weakness. Special thanks must go to Dan who offered to hear my presentation so that I could deliver confidently, to Han for making a video introduction (as I was delivering remotely), and to Halina and Chris (and Dan / Han again) for taking the time to listen to my explorations as to whether or not the charity is a Christian charity.

Do you have short volunteering opportunities that individuals within our team could be involved with? If you have a specific need, why not put it to us on hello@studiorepublic.com?