By Graham Storey
Before search engine optimisation (SEO) and long before the word Google was used to mean doing an online search for specific information, there was already another widely used source of information in the UK. Interestingly, that source was already expected to deliver an excellent end user experience because the delivered results were tailored to the searcher’s individual requirements. Now where have we heard that “mission statement” before? The original source of targeted information was the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, sometimes known as the CAB.
The good cause organisations that the Marketors work with to help improve their existing marketing activities come in many shapes and sizes. This Case Study illustrates a recent Marketors’ Outreach project working with the Three Rivers Citizen’s Advice Service.
As with all good marketing projects, the initial brief was all important and it included: “The Citizens Advice Service in Three Rivers (CASTR) is part of the nationwide 316 strong independent charity network that supports individuals with problems”. Its role is defined as follows: “The Citizens Advice Service provides free, independent, confidential and impartial advice to everyone on their rights and responsibilities. It values diversity, promotes equality and challenges discrimination”.
The service aims to provide the advice people need for the problems they face, and improve the policies and practices that affect people’s lives”
CASTR have offices covering three locations in Hertfordshire. These are Rickmansworth, South Oxhey and Abbots Langley plus South Bucks (Burnham, Denham and Iver). CASTR is staffed by 81 volunteers who each dedicate at least two days work per week. There is a need for a regular stream of volunteer applications. Volunteers need to be IT competent, intelligent, support the aims of Citizens Advice and like people.
CASTR indicate that in one year they raised over £1.5m in additional income for the Three Rivers residents with the demand for the services provided increasing annually. The top three areas of advice provided are benefits entitlements, debt and housing issues. CASTR is largely funded by local authorities however, there is a need to supplement this to both increase the service offered and also mitigate the risk of losing grants as local authorities respond to increasing pressures on their budgets.
The objectives of the Outreach project are confidential to those involved. Why? Because the Marketor volunteers who provide the Outreach support are always told more, and ask additional questions to get more answers, about the background and the situation in which they need to operate with a clients’ own people to make defined marketing improvements. An enviable client confidentiality track record is one reason why having helped and concluded one project for a good cause, Outreach has then been asked to address supplementary challenges for the same good cause, sometimes years afterwards.
Before looking at the Outreach project for CASTR, let’s put it in context with a look at the origins and background of the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, or should that be Bureaux for reason that will become clear? Back in 1924 the Betterton Report on Public Assistance suggested creating a nationally organised, but locally delivered, service offering advice to citizens. In 1938, when most UK public opinion agreed that some sort of war was imminent, the National Council of Social Services looked more closely at what the civilian population living in wartime conditions, in what was to be called the Home Front, would need. Apart from basics like food, water, shelter and heating it was clear that advice on individual problems would also be needed. One outcome was that ‘Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) should be established throughout the country, particularly in the large cities and industrial areas where social disorganisation may be acute’. What a prophetic statement, given what we now know about the social upheaval in Britain during 1939 to 1945.
One day after war was declared, on the 4th of September 1939 there were 200 civilian advice bureaux opened across the UK with a large proportion in the London area. The Manchester Guardian, of the 7th of September 1939 informed its readers “The function of the civilian advice bureau will be to act as a clearing house for information and advice for the benefit of civilians who are faced with special difficulties and problems as a result of wartime dislocation of normal life”.
The CAB staff were all volunteers, drawn from those people “of standing” in the local community. These would include priests, parish councillors, doctors, teachers from local schools and the like, even the bank manager who by then had probably known most of the adults in the community for many years. The bureaux were wherever was convenient, village halls, public buildings, private houses if necessary. And bearing in mind the daily hazards of life for the civilian population, at least one horse box was adapted and used as a mobile bureau. It was reported that it could be driven among the bomb damage and get closer to those who most needed the services of the CAB volunteers.
The personal value of the work done during the early years of the CAB for individual members of the public are probably best reflected in some brief notes written by a CAB volunteer at the time. “Rooms damaged by a blast and uninhabitable. Does she still have to pay rent as does not think landlord will do urgent repairs. She still goes every day to feed the cat.” And “Client lost husband and daughter in a raid and lost all money and badly needs spectacles. As husband was Italian she is affected by the Aliens Restriction Act so cannot travel to new location without permit.”
When 1945 arrived and peace was declared, the CAB was needed even more for advice relating to many things, including rationing, unrepaired housing stock, returning servicemen and women with no jobs and nowhere to live, rising divorce rates and “emergency” government measures. The end of the war also brought dramatic social changes and quickly changing government legislation. The 1957 Rent Act lead to a big increase in requests for help but the number of local offices were reduced by more than half. By the 1970s consumer protection was an important consideration, especially as private individuals needed to understand the many pages of legislation as it related to them personally. Now, asking about cyber security and environmental issues just add to the more traditional CAB questions.
In the 21st Century, the need for the CAB, now better known as the Citizen’s Advice Service (CAS), has never been more important for private individuals in the UK and that demand shows no sign of diminishing any time soon.
As is usual with Outreach projects, the suggested potential ways forward for the good cause to consider was presented in the form of a short but detail packed report. Detailing the suggestions in a document has proved important for many good causes, mostly because while Outreach works with one or two people within the client organisation, there is often a board or group of trustees who need to consider the recommendations in detail and jointly decide on the sequence of actioning the different recommendations. No good cause organisations are the same, interestingly if they ask for the same type of help the results are always different because the recommendations are tailored to individual needs.
You can get a brief idea of what Outreach delivered to the Three Rivers Citizen’s Advice Service from the main contact for the project who kindly provided the following words.
“As the longstanding CEO of a small charity, I was concerned that I was not being challenged to keep up with the times and opportunities available. One of our volunteer advisers put me in touch with Richard Bernholt, from the Worshipful Company of Marketors, and I was allocated Liveryman Adrian Gee-Turner to work on our project.
My experience to date has been one of great benefit in terms of how best to promote our service to existing and prospective funders, notably by specifically aligning aspects of our work to the objects of each individual funder. This has to date resulted in an increase of 21% in an annual grant from an existing funder.
Additionally, how to perceive how external funders see our service, and, as part of this, how to hone my presentations to demonstrate meeting funders' requirements. This tactic resulted in a round of applause given at the end of my recent annual funding presentation to the local council committee who award our grant (I've never had that before in the past 14 years of doing this job!). I am awaiting the outcome of this presentation. Adrian kindly appraised my presentation beforehand and made some key recommendations, which I adopted.
And finally, being given a huge range of ideas, all off the cuff from Adrian, to help develop and sustain the service going forward e.g. providing monthly stats to each main funder, engaging pro bono local help from other specialists to broaden the range and appeal of our service, how to improve our website using cartoon case studies for visual appeal, using anonymised case studies on our website to give prospective clients a better idea of the areas we can help them with, plus many others to think about.
Whilst I've not implemented all the ideas or had a chance to consider how most or all could be adapted to suit our needs, I really appreciate the insight that Adrian's expertise has given me and our service, with a view to strengthening our sustainability for the future in very straightened times.
With many thanks indeed.”
If any member of the Marketors reading this would like to find out more about why Marketors, from newly qualified to somewhat longer in the profession, really get an advantage from adding some Outreach project time to their already busy schedules please contact firstname.lastname@example.org