‘Donate, Don’t Destroy’. Robin Boles, LVO, Former Chief Executive of In Kind Direct, delivers speech on 2 October 2018 at Returns Revolution

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ReBOUND: Returns Revolution Conference

Former CEO Robin Boles, LVO, speaks at the Returns Revolution ReBound Conference at London’s Skyloft on 2nd October 2018

For those of you who don’t know us, In Kind Direct is a charity founded in 1996 by HRH The Prince of Wales. We make surplus consumer goods donated by manufacturers and retailers available to charities and community groups across the UK. They desperately need these goods to run their services and to provide them to their beneficiaries. It may be cleaning supplies, toothpaste, razors, small appliances and tools to homeless organisations, clothes, soap, nappies, cosmetics and toys for a women’s refuge or essential clothing to young carers, or vulnerable, young people trying to get into employment. The charities in our network, request what they need from our online catalogue, paying a small charge and we deliver the goods to their doors.

The Prince’s original vision when he asked me to start up In Kind Direct, stemmed from the realisation that so much usable product was going to waste. 22 years on and the issues of waste, pollution and poverty often dominate the news. The need for businesses to align their purpose to addressing these challenges has never been more relevant, and In Kind Direct is in a unique position to provide its product donor partners with a solution.

Graham and Phil have been friends and advocates of In Kind Direct for over 10 years. During that time they have provided us with a great deal of practical and logistical support. Most recently, they pledged the core funding for our annual Big Community Picnic, after Graham attended this year. The Picnic is an occasion when we bring hundreds of children living in poverty, or with life-limiting illnesses from more than 30 of the charities in our network together with our donors and funders. The powerful effect that our donor companies experience, from spending a day with the beneficiaries of their generous support is incalculable. Until you see, hear and feel how a donation of clothing, toys or essential toiletries can change someone’s outlook on life, it’s hard to imagine for yourself. Graham and Phil understand this and I am delighted to be here today, to talk about the work we do.

Since we started operations in 1997, In Kind Direct has made a powerful impact on communities through the distribution of almost £200 million in value of products to 9,500 charities so far, every size and focus all over the UK. We’ve saved 25,000 tons of products from landfill, with product donations from over 1,100 companies. We help over 2 million people every year. We also have a second charity, In Kind Direct International licensing our IT and IP so far in Germany, France & Singapore and we are continuing to expand. We have shared over £10 million in value of goods between us in the last two years which were surplus in the country where originally donated.

But we know there is so much more to do. Last year, as we celebrated our 20th anniversary of successful operations, we took the opportunity to build our authority and look to the future.

With a grant from The Prince of Wales Charitable Foundation, we commissioned PriceWaterhouseCoopers to undertake the first, independent review of the product giving market, its scope for growth, and the social, economic and environmental challenges to be faced in the future.

The 2 most important insights from the research were:

  1. That whatever the future may hold, and for a variety of reasons, there will always be an element of surplus, and
  2. The current estimated value of surplus, in just 6 selected FMCG sectors is just under £2 billion in value each year

So, surplus is a reality but what’s happening to it?

  • Despite the potentially low financial returns, many companies still choose to clear their surplus through discounters and liquidators which often compete with their major customers, without considering non-financial benefits and the social value donating their products could deliver.
  • For many of those involved, product giving is often not considered systematically or strategically. For many more, they are simply unaware of the possibility of product giving as a simple, sensible option

Add to that, results from our recent survey of 100 CEOs of FMCG companies, which revealed, unsurprisingly, that over 90% of them agreed their company had a responsibility to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill. 75% said their company should pledge to donate stock to charity as part of their future business planning.

It’s clear, that 22 years on, we’ve put product giving on the agenda, but to meet the challenges of the future, we need to create an even greater imperative for companies to get involved.

To address these challenges, we wrote and launched our manifesto – Join the Product Giving Revolution – which you have in your conference bags. It sets out why product giving is so important; demonstrating our commitment to donors and charities, to make donating product easier to do, creating even greater impact.

With consumer loyalty and expectation a key driver for manufacturers and retailers, we want to build greater awareness of the work we do. At the start of 2017 In Kind Direct committed to a consumer-facing, PR campaign, designed to help the general public understand the valuable contribution our product donor companies are making. We’ve started using consumers’ influence to encourage greater participation by more companies.

And last year we identified ‘Hygiene Poverty’ as just one of the hidden issues that vulnerable communities face, and made it the focus of our on-going and very successful media campaign. By highlighting the issue and demonstrating the scale of the problem, which affects tens of thousands of people every year, we were able to make a very real call to action to both businesses and charities, that more needs to be done. Setting a new agenda amongst consumers and the media has provided us with a broad platform to talk about the importance of product giving in a new way. Our cause-related campaigns have focused our calls to action on donating specific products to help address specific challenges.

We understand that for our donor companies, the business case is equally important. In Kind Direct provides them with a different choice when dealing with surplus or unwanted stock – one which is good for businesses, good for the environment and good for communities –  ensuring companies’ products are put to use, exactly as they were designed and originally intended.

  • Product giving boosts Social Responsibility programmes and brands – It’s a simple way to build brand association with positive social impact, and can enhance your strategies by focusing giving in specific areas of social need which reflect a company’s vision and values

Ø Our research indicated that 87% of consumers would purchase a product because the company advocated for an issue they care about and it’s no surprise that 90% expect companies to operate in a way that benefits society and the environment.

  • Product giving has a powerful effect on employee engagement:

Ø We know millennials, in particular, look at a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work

Ø Product giving benefits a wide variety of causes, populations and geographies. The benefits can easily be communicated to staff with case studies, data, photos, videos, and quotes.

Ø And product giving makes an immediate, tangible link between the products that employees produce and sell, and the social impact their companies make by donating them.

  • Product giving can mean cost reductions

Ø By working with an intermediary charity, companies can clear unwanted inventory quickly, saving on warehouse, disposal and landfill costs.

Ø And it can be more cost effective than marking prices down and down which uses expensive staff time or selling on to clearance houses and discounters which can have a long term impact on future sales

In Kind Direct tracks and monitors all donations we distribute, to ensure goods are only used for charitable purposes. This gives our donors peace of mind in the knowledge that their brands are protected.

Alongside the business case, for many, the most important motivation is that giving products to good causes has the power to change lives:

Ø The truth is, long before families visit a foodbank, they will stop buying essential products like deodorant, shampoo, washing up liquid and detergent.

Ø This form of hygiene poverty has a huge impact on confidence, wellbeing, and ability to move forward in life.

Ø Receiving quality products saves charities money, allows them to improve and enhance their services and most of all alleviates hardship, boosting recipients’ confidence and self-esteem.

Ø Many of those who can’t afford basic essentials turn to charities for help – and that means that demand on charities is rising. The charities in our network tell us that beneficiaries are expecting to be given products even when that wasn’t a service they had previously offered.

If we look at the fashion industry specifically, we know that the fashion sector in the UK has really woken up to the issues of waste/fast fashion and the circular economy; with manufacturers and retailers, developing initiatives and working hard to reduce waste and re-imagine the way that clothes are designed and produced, as well as looking at what happens to them when they are no longer wanted.

The Ellen McArthur Foundation has taken a lead with its ‘Make Fashion Circular’ initiative – powerful, important work, but there remains a significant opportunity in the sector. One that exists between developing more efficient ways of producing clothing at one end of the supply chain, and ensuring product can be remade, recycled, or resold, at the other.

In Kind Direct plays an important role in this space. We provide a different opportunity. In Kind Direct is committed to making surplus or unwanted stock available to charities and their beneficiaries, before the stock becomes labelled as waste.

We all know the clothes we wear, day in day out, play an important part in who we are, how we are perceived by others and how we feel about ourselves. We have work clothes, casual clothes, sports clothing, holiday clothes. Each defines an aspect of our lives. They form part of our identity and express who we are. We all talk about, ‘power dressing’ and ‘looking the part’. What we wear can have a transformational effect on our lives. A new suit, new dress or new shoes – we all know these give us confidence and make us walk a little taller. But there are many people with little or no access to new clothing.

Through ReBOUND, Graham and Phil also intend to support the work we do by providing another choice for returned products. Together we will be able to make a huge difference to organisations supporting many thousands of people in need of new clothing; transforming and expanding their existing programmes, and by using ReBOUND’s expertise we can support these charities’ growth, to deliver exponential impact.

This is an important moment for In Kind Direct to both underline our authority in the product giving sector and to actively demonstrate our leadership. Your companies can help us by donating your products or increasing the volume of products donated. And if you are wondering where you start, I’ve also handed out to you the first ever Strategic & Operational Guide to Product Giving which I co-wrote with PWC. It goes through the steps of ‘how to do product giving’ starting with finding out where surplus arises in your business and what it costs to handle it. Don’t be discouraged by the summary decision flow chart at the front. It’s just a very condensed overview of the guide, which examines in more detail what the alternatives are and strategic reasons for a company to optimise and embed product donations into their operations. It directs  you to look at  who needs to sign off at each step of the process, how to incorporate product giving into your systems, and it also discusses topics such as barriers caused by staff bonus dis-incentives and reminds companies they can apply for customs duty refunds on donated products. The guide can also be used as a health check for more sophisticated product donors for reviewing their strategy and processes and for measuring and communicating the impact.

Your company can develop a fundraising partnership with us or make recommendations or introductions. We’d love to meet to explore how we can work together.

I’m happy to take questions but I want to first close by saying In Kind Direct is all about partnership working so I’d like to give the final word to one of our major donor partners, Andy Rubin, Chair of Pentland Brands, video here.