How to use your helpline’s expertise to diversify your charity’s income – learning from Blue Cross

Annika Howard
Helplines Partnership | Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Services | Diversifying Helpline Income

At Helplines Partnership, our members support people across a whole range of subject areas and topics. While the helpline’s service and remit might be different, there is a lot members can learn from one another.

At our Annual Conference, our Member Showcase speaker is a fantastic way to get an insight in to how another organisation operates, their challenges, successes and opportunities.

In 2019, at our Annual Conference, we learned about Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service, from Diane James, Helpline Manager.

History of Blue Cross

The Blue Cross was started in 1897, in a small office in south west London, by a group of people who were worried about the welfare of animals, particularly horses working on the harsh streets of London.

They formed a society to encourage kindness to animals, called Our Dumb Friends League, opening the world’s first animal hospital in 1906 and since then their doors have never closed to sick and homeless animals.

Today, the charity, now called Blue Cross, has rehoming and fostering services, clinical services, behaviour support, delivers education, charity shops and offers pet bereavement support.

Blue Cross’ pet bereavement support service has been going for 25 years and they have been a Helplines Partnership member for 19.

Pet Bereavement Support Service

Blue Cross offer a free phone support service 365 days a year from 8.30am – 8.30pm, as well as an email service. Both services are run by fully trained, home-based, volunteers.

Last year, the service answered 8,500 support calls and 4,500 support emails.

The whole charity is self-funded. Diane talked about being inspired to think about how she could use the expertise and knowledge that already existed within the organisation to generate income and support the helpline.

You are the specialist – use your expertise

“You are the specialist” Diane says, you need to think about how you can use your expertise and to get out there and spread the word.

In the case of Blue Cross, Diane developed a one-hour long webinar for vets on the topic of pet bereavement.

Diane admits that the production values on the first webinar weren’t what they are now, it was delivered from her bedroom, but it did generate £1,000 income.

Invest in your product

Following the success of the initial webinar Diane and her colleagues spent time thinking about making the webinar in to a more formal course.

They worked out what they wanted the course to cover and set out to find a programmer to develop it for them.

Diane acknowledges that the £8,000 they had to spend on getting that professional help was a lot of money for the organisation and felt a bit scary.

In the first year, the new online course generated £75,000 revenue. Over nine times the amount of money it had cost to create.

Finding your market

Think about organisations and professionals that you already work with either through your helpline or your charity.

For Blue Cross, they had a whole range of organisations they worked with for example, the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS), specialised veterinary hospitals and pet crematoriums. These were all potential customers that could buy the training.

“I’m always thinking, ‘who else’ can I talk to about our training” Diane explained. All the members in Diane’s team have now been trained up so that they can deliver, verify and moderate the training.

It’s given them additional skills and development opportunities and increased the capacity to deliver training.

Don’t stand still

It’s four years now since that initial webinar, from Diane’s bedroom, and Diane talks about the constant need to evolve.

“You need to look for new people and organisations to work with and grow your market. But also, you need to develop what you do because if you’re doing something good people will copy you. You need to make sure that you stay ahead of the competition.”

More information

Thank you to Diane for being our Member Showcase speaker at the 2019 Helplines Partnership Conference.

If you would like to know more about The Pet Bereavement Support Service, their work or online courses, you can visit their website.

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