By John Grainger, Business editor
What have Charles Dickens, Muhammad Ali and Tony Blair got in common?
It may sound like the start of a bad joke, but the answer – or at least one of them – is a Harrogate-based social entrepreneur called Clair Challenor-Chadwick.
She’s the brains behind Cause UK, a fundraising and marketing support outfit that specialises in helping charities, and since starting the agency just two years ago, she’s pulled off some remarkable coups.
She convinced Tony Blair to record a broadcast to promote Buglife, the invertebrate conservation trust.
For In the Rings With Ali – a major exhibition celebrating the boxer’s 70th birthday – she flew his brother, Rahman, from the States for the launch of the project, which runs in tandem with a boxing outreach programme to help disaffected young people through sport.
Having achieved coverage on BBC Breakfast TV and in national media such as Esquire magazine and the Mirror, she is now in talks with the Qatari Olympic Committee to take the exhibition to the Middle East.
And Dickens – well, more of that later.
Impressive powers of persuasion she may have, but it’s all backed up by some very sound business credentials.
She worked in the City of London for a number of years, including spells at Cater Allen Private Bank and as a marketing analyst for a consultancy that counted the likes of Goldman Sachs and UBS Warburg among its clients.
Having jumped ship in favour of the voluntary sector, she put in stints at NCH Action for Children and Yorkshire Cancer Research, where as head of marketing and fundraising she led a team that raised £6 million in a year.
Cause UK is her way of combining these two strands of experience – making her City know-how work for an increasingly impoverished third sector.
“Our role is to reinvigorate a compassion-fatigued public and struggling Third Sector battling with public sector cuts,” she says. “It’s about creating a Fourth Sector to survive – by using business expertise and using it for charitable ends.
“The social enterprise sector is a growing economy. There’s fragmentation in the public sector. A lot of social care agencies had funding from the public sector, but a lot of that will be going by April 2013, so now they have to become a lot more business-savvy and not so reliant on the Government.
“Charities have to rely on themselves now – it’s really survival of the fittest.”
In line with this new way of doing things, Cause UK’s own business model is unusual. It’s a non-profit social enterprise that reduces and de-risks charities’ expenditure by charging according to results.
“What we want to do,” says Clair, “is advise charities on how to survive and move forward. We offer skillsets and advice, much like BusinessLink used to.
“And you don’t have to be in London or Leeds to have an impact. Harrogate can be a place of creativity and entrepreneurship.”
A typical fee structure might see Cause UK take 10 per cent of the money delivered by a campaign – which may be £50-60,000. Any net profits – which last year came to just £17,000 – are ploughed back into the business.
“It works out to around £30 per hour, which isn’t expensive for what we do,” says Clair.
“We’re not in it for the money – we’re in it for the social aspects. That’s what I believe in. I’d call it moral capitalism.”
“We” for the most part means Clair, who works full-time, and her triplet sister Ann, who works for Cause UK two days a week.
They work from home, increasing flexibility and reducing overheads, and are free to manage their own time, rather than working strictly nine to five.
“You’ve got allow people the space and time to be creative,” she says. “You’ve got to be human about it.”
Perhaps predictably for a social enterprise, humanity features strongly in Cause UK’s work.
Clair has worked with former newsreader Selina Scott, using the goat hair socks she produces to promote and raise funds for Age UK’s Spread the Warmth campaign.
She also persuaded Marco Pierre White to front an appeal to fund an artisan bakery, providing homeless war veterans with training and a new vocation.
That’s not to say there’s no room for more frivolous ventures, as the Dickens project proves. For this, Clair is working with Selina Scott again – this time to raise funds to buy at auction in New York a rare, signed edition of A Christmas Carol that has connections with Malton. The project aims to kick-start Dickens-related tourism industry, providing a fillip to the local economy.
The agency has a very proactive way of working – so much so that the team sometimes creates its own campaigns, rather than waiting to be asked to support someone else’s.
A prime example is their On Ilkla Moor Baht ’At campaign. When Clair heard last year that only 10 per cent of local schoolchildren had heard of the song, she issued a press release stating: “It’s been Yorkshire’s unofficial national anthem for around 150 years. But there are real fears that On Ilkla Moor Baht ’At is in danger of dying out.”
The One Show filmed a segment on it, John Humphrys discussed it on Radio Four, and the Yorkshire Post ran it on the front page.
“It really captured people’s imagination,” says Clair.
A month later, she seized the opportunity and pitched to tourism body Welcome to Yorkshire to commission Cause UK to produce a remake and music video with a “21st-century twist”. The brief: six months to deliver a promotional viral film and song.
From there, the idea snowballed beyond anyone’s wildest expectations.
First, Clair roped in her old friend, Eliot Kennedy, to take charge of the production. The Sheffield-based Grammy award-winning songwriter has worked with the Spice Girls, Bryan Adams and Lulu, is an X-Factor talent-nurturer and Gary Barlow’s best friend.
Eliot soon convinced Mexborough-born actor Brian Blessed to rap on the track to fulfil the brief, Doncaster soprano Lesley Garrett was also recruited and local rock choir Rock Up And Sing joined to swell the vocals.
Filming took place on the moor itself – no mean feat of event management, given the negotiations necessary with Bradford Council (access), Natural England (nesting birds) and St John’s Ambulance (health and safety). They even obliged a last-minute request for a PA system on the moor.
“The whole thing was very, very professionally done,” says Kennedy, “but that’s what you expect from Clair.
“She’s unique. I’ve never come across anyone with the energy she has for working with charities.
“And she doesn’t just work with one – she sets up her own company and tries to work with them all!”
The song has since been played at the Royal Albert Hall and will be released for sale sometime next year, with proceeds going to the benevolent fund of the Yorkshire Regiment, whose 4th battalion has the song as its quick march.
“There’s no financial success to it,” says Clair. “That will come later, with the single.
“Cause UK didn’t make any money from it. The success came in other ways. For example, we galvanised more than a thousand volunteers to take part. We project managed the whole thing, but we did it purely through networking. Everyone who took part did it for free.
“We see it as a badge of honour – to prove our mettle: this is what we can do, and to a very high calibre.”