Convenience stores have been supporters of charities for decades, with a till space hardly considered complete without a fundraising tin planted atop it. But is there more that retailers can be doing in the modern day, and how can they go about it? The easiest place to look is your local community and shoppers, or even your own staff members. Many will have causes close to their heart that you can get behind. “When one of our colleagues does something, we sponsor them,” says Christine Hope, from Hopes of Longtown in Herefordshire. “My brother is doing a charity walk in May for St Michael’s Hospice and we are one of the sponsors for that.”

While social media can be a great way to find charities, it is often better used to get the word out about what you’re doing. “If you’re on social media, you get people to help you pick a cause,” says Natalie Lightfoot, from Londis Solo Convenience in Glasgow. “But be wary that you could have everyone come out asking for stuff. It’s better to keep it in house to start with.” Hope also recommends aligning charity work with target audiences for the biggest impact. “If your community is largely over 65, then prioritise doing things for the over-65s more than a preschool,” she says.

“But, if you’re trying to get yourself known to a different audience, then supporting them will help you.” Once you’ve decided on the causes you want to support, there are tactics you can employ to raise money – or indeed other things, such as clothes or food. “You can raise money by doing events outside the shop,” says Nico Ali, from Premier Scotch Estate in Jarrow, Tyne and Wear. “I’ve seen people who’ve raised 20,000 because they asked the cash and carries. They can back you. You could ask Booker for some stock to raise money for Cancer Research and they’ll often give you some.”

Look for causes to support

Rather than raising money from his customers, Nico Ali, from Premier Scotch Estate in Jarrow, Tyne and Wear, has instead raised the money from his own business and donates money to food banks and Can­cer Research from the takings of his own store. Last year, at Easter, he gave away toys to children, as well as 3,240 bottles of Ribena and 3,000 pens to front-line workers who needed them. 

“My approach is completely different because we just give the money straight from our business,” he says. 

He has written a book about his experiences and is selling it outside his store, with the profits going into a charity. When choosing a cause, he looks to social media to see if someone is struggling and often finds a good cause. “I’ve got a friend who works in the hospital who does charity events, and I always ask him if anyone needs anything,” he says.

Doing things as well as raising money

Susan Connolly has Marie Curie donation pots in her Spar Pennings Road store in Tidworth, Wiltshire, as a result of a partnership between Spar and Marie Curie. 

But she prefers direct action in her community, such as giving out meals on Christmas Eve. “On a local level, we do lots of charitable acts, rather than raise money for charity. You can see the difference locally and the recipients are your customers, as opposed to a national charity,” she says. Connolly recommends keeping an eye on supplierled opportunities to donate money to charities.

“I was a KP Local Legends winner, which enabled me to give 500 to a charity of our choice, which was Wiltshire Air Ambulance, and I was recently a finalist in Boost’s Local Legends campaign, but I didn’t win,” she adds. “They say the interaction rate is really low, so there’s a good chance of winning.”

Be there for the local community

Christine Hope, from Hopes of Longtown in Herefordshire, is involved with numerous local community projects. She is chair of the PTA at the local school, and sits on the Black Hill Communities Project, which offers counselling services to local people. She also donates regularly to the local church, which gets the store in the church newsletter every issue, and encourages voluntary work to improve the community. 

“Make time to have conversations. If you do that, you’re improving your business’ role in the community because people can talk to you in a different way,” she says. Hope sees her staff as a local cause and her store as a hub, where people can come for support or just somewhere to be. 

“People can be struggling in many formats. So, I let people know that we have an office at the back where they can sit down, have a cup of tea and get some privacy.”

Target your engagement

Natalie Lightfoot’s Londis Solo Convenience in Glasgow has registered as a place where people can drop off donations for local food banks, and she also drops off any excess stock as well. 

They do work in the community, getting Coca-Cola to sponsor their litter picks and provide equipment. They work with the local primary schools to provide the children with high-vis vests and education on road safety. As a store located near schools, supporting them is a no-brainer. 

“It makes business sense because there are a lot of customers in there,” she says. “We sell lots of chocolate and they’ll be coming into us because of what we do. We do stuff for the schools as a bare minimum, and then we reach out to staff and ask them what means the most to them. “One person’s mum went into the hospice, for example, and we raised money for that.”

Explore our comprehensive archive of advice and insight for independent retailers