Jo Ecroyd, customer service director at South West Water Customers, Strategy & management, Water, Water Excellence, Comment, South West Water, Innovate water, Customer service

Jo Ecroyd, customer service director at South West Water, explains why utility businesses have a responsibility to support local causes and how emerging tech can aid this process.

As the largest company in our region, South West Water has an opportunity to support the communities we serve and we’re always looking for new ways to make a positive impact locally.

But with so many worthy causes, smaller local projects – which are equally as important – can often get overlooked.

This was the premise behind our Neighbourhood Fund, launched in January 2021, which is a £100,000 fund to support community groups and initiatives which will improve the lives of residents in Devon, Cornwall and Dorset by inspiring physical activities, enhancing education, health and wellbeing and delivering positive environmental outcomes.

The local community groups which are benefitting from the Neighbourhood Fund have been struck by the effects of the pandemic due to a limited supply of cash and the inability to receive funds through typical methods of fundraising.

We’ve already supported more than 42 great local causes and recent fundees have included a charity for disabled children and an U13’s rugby club.

New tech enabling community outreach

Earlier this month, it was announced that South West Water had joined forces with ActionFunder, a new platform which makes it easier and quicker than ever for firms to channel funds to community grassroots activity that matter to their business, people and customers.

ActionFunder is a virtual funding agent for community groups and small charities enabling them to pitch, just once, for consideration by a range of organisations.

The platform provides a video pitching feature as an alternative to a written application form, enabling voluntary sector leaders to convey the passion and demand driving their charitable project.

ActionFunder will be a valuable tool in awarding grants as part of our Neighbourhood Fund.

Embracing new technology, such as this, provides us with a greater reach into our communities. This is essential, now more so than ever, as the vast majority of people in England have smart phones or internet access.

Furthermore, the platform allows us to be more specific and narrow down the types of projects we are looking to fund. It also means that projects which we are not able to support can crucially still be awarded funding by other organisations.

Community legacy a ‘mark of success’

ActionFunder’s ‘tech for good’ matching functionality helps us quickly find relevant projects that meet our giving preferences with attributes including geography and cause areas mapped according to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. As a result, we will receive an impact report, images and video content from the charities we support through the platform within weeks of project completion.

Supporting local causes can have a positive impact both for our business and local communities.

Funding from organisations is the lifeblood for many smaller charities and community groups which simply couldn’t operate without it. An important measure of our success must include the positive, lasting legacy we leave in those communities to ensure they thrive. ActionFunder will help us to quickly find, fund and follow the impact of this community action.

Every business is, to some extent, a custodian and champion for the communities they operate in. And, this is particularly important for utilities businesses who are providing essential services to the public.

Every business should champion the regions they operate in and creating strong ties with community groups is particularly important for utility companies. It helps create deeper relationships with customers, showing how we are active members of the communities we serve and increasing awareness of the work we do beyond providing water services.

ActionFunder allows us to continue to support our communities and the issues which matter most to them. As one of the founding members, we’re excited about the opportunity this will give us, along with other businesses, to match with fantastic charities and community groups.

With the Covid pandemic placing added pressure on charities and communities across the country, now is the time for companies to play their role in supporting charities across the country.

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