My Cause UK is empowering people to raise money for a charity of their choice – while attending festivals for free. Stuart Wood investigates.
“This hi-vis breaks down barriers. You’re here to reflect people’s happiness, and be the best version of yourself.”
Rob Wilkinson, founder and director of My Cause UK, is delivering his morning briefing to a team of volunteers at Lovebox Festival, in London’s Gunnersbury Park. The majority of those listening are in their teens and early twenties, but all are wearing the same bright pink hi-vis vest, emblazoned with My Cause’s heart-on-hand logo.
Across the course of two days, these volunteers are giving up their time for a charity of their choice, assisting as stewards at the various entrances to the site. Once their shift ends at 6pm, they’re given a day pass and a meal ticket, and are free to enjoy the remainder of the festival.
“It’s a win-win business model for everyone involved,” says Wilkinson. “Young people who have plenty of spare time but not much spare money choose a cause they care about. We charge the festival organisers a staffing fee for their time, and donate the money directly to each chosen charity. In return, the organisers get to tell a positive story about affecting sustainable social change.”
My Cause’s goal is to bridge the gap between charities and a younger generation that is increasingly switched on to social and environmental issues. It seems a match made in heaven – and one that has already raised £150,000 for over 700 charities across the UK.
“I’ve worked in the charity sector for a long time, and some of their fundraising methods are quite out of date,” says Wilkinson. “A tombola at a festival isn’t going to raise a whole lot of money from a young audience – but monetising their time will.”
My Cause was founded in 2015, after Wilkinson had spent eight years working with charities including Cancer Research UK and Oxfam, while moonlighting as a festival steward manager. He realised that the insight he had into these two worlds had opened up an opportunity to connect charities and festivals together, solving fundraising and volunteering problems for both.
Wilkinson spoke to the directors and ops team at Boomtown festival, and in 2015 took a team of 50 volunteers to steward one of the festivals gates. They raised nearly £3,000 for 35 charities, and have gone from strength to strength since.
In it together
The bright pink hi-vis vests which My Cause volunteers wear are a deliberate choice from an organisation that puts a special emphasis on community. Wilkinson wants his volunteers, above all, to be approachable advocates for both My Cause and their chosen charities.
“Many of our volunteers come to the festival alone, and make friends with the people working their shift. We encourage that, and try to create a community atmosphere around our work – we want our volunteers to have fun, but also to be engaged in the causes they’re contributing to. If volunteers are working for a cause, and for the people around them, they are more invested in fulfilling their duties properly. Our drop-out rate is incredibly low compared to other organisations that offer volunteer staffing, which is another way we can set ourselves apart.
“Everyone always talks about having paper straws, but do they have free range humans?”
Access sees this method working first-hand as we sit in on the morning briefing. After Wilkinson’s charismatic and finely tuned briefing, his volunteers gather for a pre-shift cup of tea, and are already making friends. During the festival later in the evening, we spot many of them still in groups with the volunteers they met in the morning.
Natasha is one of the volunteers giving her time at Lovebox. Speaking at the event, she said: “I’m volunteering for MIND, the mental health charity! There is a huge stigma associated with mental health, and in particular you can see this within the music & events industry.
“There’s been a lot of high-profile press around big performers such as Avicii and Stormzy and their struggles with mental health. For me, a chance to volunteer with My Cause UK was not just for a free ticket to Lovebox, but a chance to raise money for MIND, and to help raise awareness about mental health.
“Volunteering brings me outside of my comfort zone, and it gives me a sense of purpose. I’ve met so many new friends through volunteering, and I love that we get to enjoy all of the headline acts after our shifts!”