A personal blog by Debra Brunner
It was September in 2014 and I had been invited to a business networking meeting. The Together Plan was one year old, it consisted of me, my laptop, 4 trustees and my co-founder in Belarus. We were nowhere, no-one had heard of us, we had nothing other than our vision and few knew we existed. ‘Why would I go to a business networking meeting?’ I asked, ‘I run a charity, not a business.’ Ben Burman (of Bold Mountain Media), a talented young up and coming videographer who had travelled with me to Belarus as one of my young adult volunteers, persuaded me that it would be a great opportunity to tell 55 business people about the charity. It made sense. I committed. ‘When is it?’ I asked. ‘6am, Friday morning’. What? I retorted. But by then I had committed – there was no going back.
The meeting was in a restaurant in North Finchley in north London. It was at 6am and I had never seen anything like it before in my life. So much energy, vitality and business being done while the rest of the world slept! I won’t lie, it wasn’t easy getting up at 5am, creeping around the house, putting makeup on in the dark and trying sleepily to get into ‘business mode’. Walking through the streets of north Finchley at dawn, with only the sound of the birds and my footsteps, left me with some trepidation as to what an earth I was doing, as summer turned to autumn eight years ago.
I had been told I would have 60 seconds to say something about my line of business. Only 60 seconds! I had to make it count. At the end of the meeting I was asked if I might want to submit an application to join the illustrious Chipping Chapter BNI business network. I was told that every Chapter could have only one of any trade or profession and that included a charity. They explained that only one charity can be a member. It seemed like a brilliant concept. How wonderful would it be to be the one charity member, but I politely had to decline. This one-year-old charity was not in a position to pay the annual membership fee, tempting as it was. As I left the meeting, I was handed a business card. Michael Anvoner, Specialist in Wills, Trusts, Inheritance Tax Planning and Probate had left it asking me to call him as he wanted to meet with me. I wasn’t sure why but I duly made the call and set up an appointment. It turns out that my 60 second presentation had caught his attention and he wanted to hear more. By the end of our meeting Michael Anvoner had offered to sponsor me through one year of membership in the BNI Chipping Chapter. I left that meeting reeling. Did that just happen? What should I do? Could I get up EVERY Friday morning at 5am? Would I be able to bring referrals to the other members? The charity was just me. I deliberated for some time, should, I shouldn’t I? I, realised that it was worth a try, it was too good an offer to pass up and I had to give it a go.
The first week as a member of the chapter, I asked if there was anyone who might be interested in sponsoring a container of humanitarian aid to get to vulnerable people in Belarus before the snow arrived. Neil Ryner of Ryner & Partners, (specialist in mortgages and raising money on property), asked me how much we needed to raise. ‘Around £2500, give or take.’ I replied. A week later Neil passed me a list of pledges. All I had to do was reign them in, which I did. That winter 11 tonnes of humanitarian aid was loaded, dispatched and distributed to ghetto survivors, people with disabilities, single-parent families and vulnerable communities.
8 years on, I am now able to say that I have had 264 One-to-Ones, I have given 906 referrals to other BNI business members, I have received 2500 referrals, I have been thanked for £333,740 worth of business as a result of referrals I have made, and The Together Plan has received financial, pro-bono and humanitarian aid donations to the value of £43,518. The charity is now me, three trustees, my computer, an office in Bushey, Hertfordshire, 63 volunteers and we are launching a sister charity in the USA. BNI is an incredible network. My volunteers all know about BNI and when they need a business or service – they look to me for a BNI recommended service provider. Huge shout out to Sam Heller who is one our longest standing volunteers and my star referrer – always out and about proudly spreading the word about the work of The Together Plan and helping to bring referrals to the chapter.
Below is the list of just some of the members in BNI who have been so supportive to The Together Plan over the years:
Michael Anvoner, Michael Anvoner & Co Wills and Probate Solicitor – for sponsoring my first year of BNI membership and has contributed to subsequent years’ membership, sponsored the making of a film of a Holocaust survivor in St Petersburg and travelled to Belarus to see the work of the charity on the ground.
Ashley Winston – Palmdale Motors – donated the proceeds of the sale of a second hand car
Andrea Georgiou, ASAP Clearances – for the donations of humanitarian aid, for passing items to us that she knows we can rehome with our beneficiaries, and for the financial support.
Alex Lubel, The Osteopathy Centre – for humanitarian aid and donations.
Brian Larholm, IT Zero Ltd Business IT Support – for the donations
Charlie Perdios – Anthony Pepe Award Winning Estate Agent, made a generous donation on completion of a house sale
Chris Constanti – CTL Locksmith, has done jobs at our aid storage centre at vastly reduced prices and donates financially.
David Jacobs – SRJ Accounting Services, has brought sponsorship to our events, raised money outside of BNI and sponsored subsequent years of my BNI membership
Emma Phillips – Houseman Properties – has raised money through personal fundraising, support at events, and helped big time with the humanitarian aid drive for Ukraine.
Jonathan Bennett, Boots Opticians, Cockfosters – for donating all the RayBan sunglasses for impromptu raffles, raising money through the ‘The Shirt That Hurts’ challenge , donating his 10 minutes to The Together Plan and for being an advocate for the work of the charity.
Geoffrey Jacobs – Unidoor Kitchens, Bedrooms and Media Units, for being a whizz with the charity card reader whooping up a room to donate.
Greg Newman – Dor 2 Dor (leaflet distribution) – for the humanitarian aid and donations
Hak Huseyin – Absolute Print, an absolute hero – leading the way for members to do a charity skydive which raised over £14,000 and together with his business partner, buying and constructing a specialist machine during Covid to produce full cover face screens for care homes and then selling the machine and donating the proceeds to The Together Plan. And of course creating and printing beautiful materials for the charity.
Jeffrey Finegold – Howard Schneider Spiro and Steele Conveyancing Solicitor, for pro-bono services with empty space charity leases so that we could store our humanitarian aid.
Josh Leitner –Evertex Events Linens, for all the help organising the charity Skydive, for writing articles and for donating.
Lakhmi Bhambra, Angelic Soul Healing – for the humanitarian aid and for donating
Lewis Miller, London City Drainage Ltd – for humanitarian aid and for donating.
Pamela Okechukwu, Dublcheck Cleaning – for humanitarian aid and for the donations.
Matthew Lloyd-Winder, Stained Glass Artist – for the regular gift aidable donations
Mike Segall, Money Collectors Ltd, for becoming our latest trustee
Mitchell Harris, Aquasmith Expert Bathroom Installation – for the annual support and the money raised outside of BNI
Slavi Todorov – ST Professional Car Repairs (firstname.lastname@example.org), for always having a donation on hand
Stuart Falconer – Morgan Thomson, Human Resources for the pro bono advice
Sharmila Hume, The Holistic Hub London for the regular humanitarian aid donations and support over the years
Neil Ryner, Ryner & Partners – for finding £2000 worth of pledges, and for going through the pain of training to do the Hyrox Global Fitness Race in November 2022 as a sponsored challenge for The Together Plan. PLEASE SUPPORT!
Adrian Dayne, Beecrofts Loss Assessors – for the donations, the humanitarian aid, attending our events and helping to load our aid lorries.
Adam Woolf, Airwoolf Air Conditioning – for helping load humanitarian aid and for raising money through the Hendon Golf Club events
Matthew Mulvany, Sterling Surveyors – for the generous donations
Mark Herbert, Goldcrest Insurance – for raising over £1000 by jumping out of a plane
Matthew Andrews, Andrews Gas & Heating Plumbing, for the donations of humanitarian aid
Justin Pierce, Just the Man Handyman – for all the humanitarian aid donations and for sourcing a projector for us.
Joanna Koushi, Urban Comms – for all the humanitarian aid donations
MarioTheodorou, APNM Web Design – for helping with our website emergency at lightning speed
Michael Marks, Graphic Designer, copywriter and illustrator – for the humanitarian aid and donations
Fred Ciccone, AA Ciccone Cabinet Maker for the humanitarian aid donation
Heera Singh, All Kinds of Blinds – for the humanitarian aid
Simon Gordon, Signet Financial Services – for the donation
Zena Nairi, Refurb-It-All (Buidling Services) – for the humanitarian aid and donations
These are the current member heroes of the Chipping BNI business community who continue to champion the work of The Together Plan. There are also many past members who have brought us so much support such as Hema Chauhan (Curlicue environmentally friendly giftwrap), Emma Ziff (photography), Lindsey Jacobs (Creative Cuisine), Martin Caroll (Fitness Coach), Davut Unsall (Not Just Travel) and Warren Lipman (Storm IT).
On Oct 19th The Together Plan is holding a special event where you can come and mix and mingle with the members of the BNI Chipping Chapter. Come and meet them, thank them and know that they are honourable, committed professionals who play a valued and dedicated role in supporting the charity sector. The evening will be fun, friendly and informal. We have a special guest speaker, Gary Italiaander, and there will be food – of course! Come and be part of the community because together we can really make a difference. Click here to book!
PS Yes there is a PS! If you are reading this article and you are on the other side of the world – of course I know you won’t be able to come to our event in London on October 19th. BUT – if you have a need for a business be it a plumber, an electrician, a printer, a lawyer or anything else, reach out to me at email@example.com. BNI is a global network and I can refer you to a BNI accredited business in your locality! And that way you get a recommended service provider and we get more people to know about our charity work! It’s a win-win all round. Supporting a charity is not just about donations, although of course they really do help!!