I talked to Amanda about her work with a small community group in the local area.
Didsbury Dinners is a not-for-profit community interest company that makes it easier for people to save money and ‘eat green’. We produce and distribute a fun educational resource called Didsbury Dinners: The Low-Carbon Community Cookbook.
We work in Didsbury, Burnage, Old Moat and Chorlton to create more community food gardens, orchards and landshare opportunities. We also offer free 6-week ‘learn to cook’ courses, teaching people to cook in a way that saves them money, improves their health, and also helps the environment. We give priority to people in financial need.
How did you get involved in Didsbury Dinners?
I started out as a volunteer for Manchester charity Action for Sustainable Living, who were looking for people to set up new projects in their local areas. Before I knew it, I’d published Didsbury Dinners: The Low-Carbon Community Cookbook [I have a background in editing] that was generating funds for the community.
What do you do on a day to day basis?
As Didsbury Dinners’ project director I help to set and meet the organisation’s goals. This involves:
- planning, organising, recruiting volunteers,
- directing (leading people in a way that achieves our goals),
- controlling (detecting deviations from our plan)
I get involved with everything, from planting trees and working in the community gardens, finding land to grow on and venues to teach in, through to writing funding bids, media releases, interviews and social media. I even personally door-drop to over 6,000 (of 12,000) homes when Didsbury Food Trail comes around!
No two days are the same, but project management and community engagement are constants. A recent project involved recruiting 12 committed volunteers with a specific skill set, devising a weekly training syllabus for them, and finding trainers and funding so that they can go on to teach in the community.
It’s amazing. You know that you’re in the right job when you’d happily do it for free. Being your own boss is truly liberating and varied, if hard work.
What was involved in setting up and getting funding?
With any new venture, I think that networking is key to success.
Introduce yourself to lots of people – social media makes this easier than ever – and chat enthusiastically about your plans. Try to see things from their point of view: what’s in it for them and how would they benefit from what you have to offer? There are people out there, be it the local Council, individual residents, volunteer-supporting organisations or businesses, that will be chomping at the bit to buy your services or to help you on your way.
This is what I did to get funding for our first project, producing Didsbury Dinners: The Low-Carbon Community Cookbook, which generated an income stream for our community growing and ‘learn to cook’ projects.
- I approached businesses and organisations that I believed would be potential sponsors, and applied for a cash grant from the local Council.
- Since then we have sought income from other sources, including other grants and sponsorship, trusts/foundations, major donors, membership, events, trading, corporate giving and advertising.
GMFunding.net is a free service to help you search for sources of funding. For free or subsidised training for small charities or not-for-profits, try the FSI (Foundation for Social Improvement) or KnowHow NonProfit.
What are the financial realities of working for a small charity?
Obviously we’re in a tough financial climate, but it’s one that’s in favour of going back to basics and taking action against climate change, which is what Didsbury Dinners is very much about. We’re all about saving people money and helping them to ‘eat green’. As such, there’s a growing demand for our services, and lots of funding is available (though of course it doesn’t come to you, you have to go and find it).
Self-employment means that you can’t rest on your laurels about your income. But it does reward hard work.
Have you worked or volunteered for other charities yourself?
I’ve worn many volunteer hats over the years, from a Saturday job at a charity shop in my student days and 4 years as a citizen advocate for a lady with MS, through to helping to set up and run a few community groups, and being a trustee of a national charity.
You learn such fantastic new skills through volunteering that I can’t recommend it highly enough.
In your experience would you have been able to get a paid position in a charity or voluntary organisation without having that voluntary experience first
Doing voluntary work for a charity that you love is a great way of demonstrating your skills and enthusiasm to employers. In 2005, a national charity held a roadshow in my nearest city, which, at the time, was 22 miles away. I volunteered behind a stall for the day and had lots of fun. A few months later I received an email from the charity’s director, saying that the perfect vacancy had arisen for me, and inviting me to apply! Needless to say I got the job (and moved over 100 miles to take up the position).
What do you look for in a volunteer?
Key qualities in volunteers are a passion for the cause, willingness to learn new (or to share existing) skills, reliability, and hard work. With that, you can move mountains.
What do you think people thinking about this sector should know?
- The not-for-profit sector is full of some really dedicated, hardworking people, who’re pulling together to make a real difference to society.
- The realities are long and often antisocial working hours, and it can be easy to burn out because your belief in the cause compels you to act!
- Starting salaries are often relatively low, and don’t expect the huge perks associated with working in the corporate sector. But in terms of feeling like you’re doing something worthwhile and making a difference, it’s second to none.