Gavin Willis: Matching profit and purpose to boost staff engagement

When I founded digital marketing agency Search Seven in 2011, I was clear that I wanted to make money and do something positive at the same time. That is why I began the business with the simple pledge that we would match up to 7% of our annual profits as donations to charity.

What started as a way of making sure we kept a broader perspective than just the balance sheet has turned into a business ethos and a point of difference which attracts clients and staff alike. The results have been amazing. We have raised £50,000 over the last few years, far exceeding the 7% we originally pledged.

But it is what the move has done internally that bowls me over. It has had a huge impact on our cohesion as a team, as well as on recruitment and retention.

We never wanted the 7% pledge to be a gimmick, we wanted it to be written into our DNA as a business. So, we try and ensure that everyone in the organisation is involved, with each member of staff choosing a charity they would like the money raised to support.

Our internal surveys find that workers are proud to be working somewhere where they can make a difference. An accidental bonus for us as a business is that this engagement drives productivity; the more profits we make, the more goes into the charities chosen, and the more enthused our staff are about driving revenues higher.

Our team have diverse interests and passions, and we want to celebrate that outside of our main fundraising drive. That is why we have opened out our benefits policy to reflect our ethos, and what our staff find important: each new starter is encouraged to do a charity event, and given £250 match funding in the first year following recruitment, and £150 per year after that.

This has been brilliant in recruitment and also helps create a culture of collaboration and support. For our staff, knowing that we support their interests and encourage them to pursue the causes they care about is key. For us as a business, having everyone on board and behind our vision is fundamental.

To celebrate our 10th anniversary, Search Seven has set the target of bringing its charity fundraising total to £77,000 by 2021. We are calling this campaign #share77k, and seeking to raise significant funds to support the 10 charities we have chosen as a team.

With a major fundraising drive ahead of us, and business as usual thankfully booming, we are grateful to have satisfied, engaged and brilliant staff ready to rise to the challenge.

Gavin Willis is managing director of Search Seven