Starbucks Joins Marks & Spencer in New Charity Venture

Starbucks Corp. and grocer Marks & Spencer Group Plc are among companies signing up for Neighbourly.com, a Web-based startup seeking to connect U.K. charitable projects with corporate donors.

“It’s like a dating agency for community projects and corporates,” Simon Redfern, director of U.K. corporate affairs for Seattle-based Starbucks, said in a phone interview. “It can be surprisingly difficult to find projects. Neighbourly is pretty innovative in how it works. It feels very Starbucks.”

Neighbourly.com charges an annual fee in return for identifying charity projects clients choose to support, and for managing the commitment. It’s “the inaugural digital entry into the U.K.’s largely unstructured and unconnected corporate philanthropic sector,” the Bristol, England-based website said in a statement before an event today to mark its official start.

U.K. companies generally are laggards in charity support, according to Nick Davies, chief executive officer of the online startup. The Lottery Fund, supported by the U.K.’s state-franchised national lottery, gives more than all donations combined from large companies, said Davies, the former managing director of communications agency EMO.

The gap between corporate donations in the U.S. and the U.K. is “shocking,” Debra Tyler, leader of the Directory of Social Change, told a committee of the U.K. Parliament in January. U.K. corporate philanthropic support fell by almost a quarter between 2011 and 2013, despite corporate pretax profits rising in the period, according to the DSC.

Neighbourly recognizes that “those groups that are most organized generate the most noise, so it’s not always the ones most in need who get attention,” Davies said in an interview. To rectify that, the company intends to “democratize” the process by engaging large foundations and local councils later this year to help direct funds to other projects.

Neighbourly.com gives “an easier and clearer way of understanding what a project is doing,” Carmel McQuaid, head of responsible business at Marks & Spencer, said in the statement. “It gives us a chance of saying ’yes’ more often.”

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