Jane Milton, food consultant: “Why we should give back”

07 September 2021, 07:17 AM
  • Small businesses need not be reluctant to shout about how they give back to their communities, argues food consultant Jane Milton
Jane Milton, food consultant: “Why we should give back”

I run a food and drink strategy consultancy, collaborating with businesses to bring a new perspective to their challenges and introduce unique insight and inspiration to their creative processes. In the last year I’ve been looking at how clear it is for others to see what my values are within the context of my business, as the clearer they are, the more likely it is that I will attract clients who align with them, and that makes it easier to work together. 

While doing an American workshop, they shared a statistic that small businesses in the USA give more $ to help others than larger companies do – not as a % of turnover but in cold hard cash – but they are far less likely to talk about what they give than larger multinationals and big brands. I have not been able to find an equivalent UK figure, but I am sure from what I see, this will be the case here too. 

So, I began to talk to clients, potential beneficiaries and to the wider food community about what they do. Businesses are often reluctant to talk about what they as businesses give – in money, food, our skills and time – for fear that it will look like they are blowing their own trumpet. A client, Dilmah PLC, who I have discovered give back a minimum of 15% of their pretax profits to support a number of initiatives on issues from climate change, preserving culture, wildlife support, training people with disabilities to enable them to work, bursaries to enable access to higher education and much more, said, “We don’t talk about it because we believe it is just something we should do, so it is not something we should draw attention to”. 

Younger Gen Z and Millennial consumers have in recent years led the way wanting to know about business values, how the money they give a business for their product is spent and the values that business has. 

During the last few years more consumers have become aware of the power of choosing where they spend their cash. If you don’t talk about your business values and how that shapes your business is there a danger that your potential customers will think you have not given it any thought or commitment? 

I had a conversation with Laura Winningham, the founder and head of strategic relationships at City Harvest London about this subject and she felt it was good if people will talk about who they have chosen to partner with and how they support charities through staff volunteering days, giving their skills in areas like IT, marketing and logistics, giving short shelf life or surplus product, or committing to give an amount of money, however small, for a period of time so the charity knows it can rely on that amount to cover a running cost, because by talking about it, other businesses may see how they could help in a way they had not previously considered. 

I think it is important too that you find ways you can give back and support communities that are relevant to your business. If there is an authentic connection between your business and the people you support, your whole team will find it easier to get behind that. Whether there is a personal link with someone in the business, a team member highlights a local group they have heard about or whether you identify clubs, associations, schools, holiday clubs, etc, you can support either local to your own base or in areas where your biggest customer groups are, it is important to involve all your staff in who you support and how best you can pair up to support these initiatives. 

I’ve chosen to share my thoughts on giving back because I want to help people realise that everyone has something they can offer and they can play a part in their community and give back too. To me, giving back is about using my skills and experience to give people who truly need it the support that could make a real difference. 

It’s not always financial; sometimes it’s the smallest thing, but being open to giving back can change lives, for both the giver and the recipient. If we all share how we’re giving back, maybe we can inspire each other to get involved, not for our benefit, but for the benefit of our communities and the businesses that support us all.

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