Michelle Wright writes for Talk Business about the Santander Breakthrough New York visit
Michelle Wright set up philanthropy and fundraising enterprise, Cause4 in 2009 to support charities and social enterprises to grow through its strategy guidance and hands-on fundraising support. Since inception, Cause4 has raised more than £27 million for its clients. Michelle lets us take a peek at a week in her diary.
KEEPING UP WITH THE YANKS
On Sunday 8th June, I arrived in New York with nine other entrepreneurs from the UK on the latest Santander Breakthrough trade mission, in partnership with The Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses programme.
A variety of fast-growth businesses from consultancy to technology to retail, as well our own social business, Cause4, were all looking to see whether a heightened presence in New York was both desirable and achievable.
I’ve worked in New York before, but it still took me a while to adjust to the very fast
pace of the city. This isn’t a place for shrinking violets, and as we heard stories from our hosts, Alexandra and Sam from Empire Global Ventures, it was clear that we were going to need to be able to perfect our 10-second elevator pitch. Thank goodness then for jet lag and an easy(ish) 4am start on Monday morning to help me prepare for the week ahead!
TERROR OF THE RED TAPE
We started the week at a UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) briefing, making sure that we had at least a working sense of the basic tax and legal implications of working in New York. A one-to one with the NYC Mayor’s office then helped me think through some of the essential connections that I would need to make, with a reminder that making friends with a lawyer was going to be essential. Business in America works across all 50 states, with the need to build legal resource in each one. To fundraise in a particular state you need to be
registered. This all makes for a rather terrifying bureaucracy.
The day then finished with an inspirational meeting with the Carbon War Room, an initiative founded by Richard Branson and other philanthropists to look at key issues in relation to sustainable energy. And, as we started to flag from a busy first day, an evening reception hosted by UKTI and Santander led to connections with the Clinton Global Initiative.
ONE MILLION DOLLARS
My first meeting on Tuesday was with Serena Roosevelt at Nations Well, an initiative to showcase projects across the US that are changing the face of health, community and education. There is much we could learn from here in the UK about how to encourage more people to take on life-changing projects across their communities.
A further meeting followed with Doctors of the World, a European-based NGO, to learn about engaging donors, before I headed off to a branding meeting. When we met for dinner, most of the group were exhausted, but there had been many good meetings, including a potential million dollar investment for one of our group – not a bad start at all!
On Wednesday I had the privilege of meeting one of New York’s foremost political fundraisers – Bridget Siegel. This was my biggest learning from this trip – that whilst philanthropy in the US is undoubtedly better established than in the UK, the Americans
face exactly the same challenges of finding fundraising talent, as well as recruitment and retention. As such, there seemed to be an appetite to explore translating our graduate talent programmes into the city, and links with New York University and Columbia University were made.
A great evening with IMG Artists and staff from the Met Opera followed, making other key links with organisations such as the Julliard School, before catching up with an old colleague, Stacy Margolis, who is now working at the League of American Orchestras. Stacy’s perception about the changing fundraising market in the US was invaluable, and it seems that many arts organisations are starting to struggle with next generation donors being drawn to other sectors, such as health and education.
FUN AND FRIENDSHIPS
By the end of the week I had made so many contacts that my hands were full with follow-up, including exploring partnerships with organisations that could work with us in New York. But the highlight of these two days was meeting our American colleagues from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses programme. I was paired with crowd-funding platform, Rocket Hub, and a firm friendship was made for collaboration, and to be able to provide digital training for some of our UK-based clients.
This was such a great trip from Santander. As well as learning about New York and making great connections, getting to spend time with other ambitious entrepreneurs meant that I learned so much, with good feedback and ideas for growing our business in the years ahead. I’ve even agreed to set up Corporate Foundations for five members of our group!
Running a growing business can be pressurised, but as one of the philanthropists that I met on the trip reminded me, business also needs to be fun, and with fun, know-how and a good business, it’s possible to change at least a little bit of the world.