Making Money, Making Jam

1st August 2023

Ruth Bentley (left in the image above) is an accountant and business owner. She is Director of CFG's long-standing corporate partner LAKE, a supplier of cloud-based financial management solutions. Ruth is also a passionate volunteer and fundraiser. Here, Ruth explains how her financial skills are being put to good use in turning fallen fruit into vital funds for RSPCA York.

Hello Ruth! Please can you tell us how you got into fundraising for your local RSPCA branch?

I have been a volunteer dog walker for 16 years. There is a crab apple tree at the RSPCA home in York. And each autumn I would see apples on the ground and think "what a waste!" So, one day, seven years ago, I decided enough's enough, gathered up the apples and made crab apple jelly. My brother also gave me some Victoria plums. They became Victoria plum jam. That's how it started.

Now, when I put out a stall there will be as many as 24 different jams, 24 different chutneys, and 15 or 16 flavours of marmalade. The range of what we sell has also grown somewhat. I make gift bags for the jam and a variety of animal-related gift items. I recycle fleece to make tug toys - they are very popular. I also make bow ties for dogs. We recycle soft toys, give them all names, and rehome them. It's become quite a range.

How does it make money?

I don't like waste. I monitor my stock and stock turnover. I know what I've got, and which ones are selling. I suppose that's the financial controller in me.

A jar of jam sells for £2.50 all of which goes to the RSPCA. I absorb any costs; that's my donation. The single biggest cost is the jars and I get through a pallet of those each year. A pallet is 1,640.

I won't make a jar of jam or chutney if the ingredients are expensive. So, for instance, raspberry jam. I will only make raspberry jam when I can pick raspberries. There's a community garden near the RSPCA home. Andy, one of the other volunteers, and I will go there to pick raspberries and blackcurrants. And they are free, donated by nature if you like.

So, if you went to Tesco and bought me 10 packs of raspberries at a cost of, say, £15, then gave them to me to make jam, we would be losing money. Your 10 packs might only make seven jars. But it would have cost you £15, and it would have cost me more again in sugar and the electricity. That I wouldn't do.

How do you mitigate the risks associated with a venture such as this?

I started out with a stall at RSPCA events held at the home. Since those early days I have branched out and am now attending public events around York. For that reason, I am registered, and I am insured. I am registered with York Council and meet the standards set down by the local authority. I also have public and product liability insurance.

Why do you do it?

There are two reasons. One is, I enjoy it. I enjoy making things and selling what I make. I enjoy communicating with people, telling them about the work of the home and about the animals. And, finally, I enjoy giving money to the home. That's a lot of enjoyment.

The other reason I do it is to be different. It is important that customers get something of real value in exchange for their donation. And jam is something that appeals to everyone, young and old, wealthy or not so well-off.

Do you seek out new recipes?

I receive a lot of fruit and vegetable donations. And when I get something new, for me it's like Christmas has come. The other day someone bought me some Howarth rhubarb and Howarth rhubarb is the best. Donations like that inspire me to do something different.

In the early days, customers would simply ask for strawberry jam or maybe caramelised onion chutney. Nowadays, I offer a much wider choice of jams and chutneys, inspired in part by those kind donations. If you were to visit my stall tomorrow you would be encouraged to try Quince, Mulberry, and Jumbleberry jam, alongside the old favourites.

How do you maintain a balance between the two roles?

Volunteering is usually concentrated to evenings and weekends, although both volunteer and work hours can spill over at times. There isn't much conflict between the two activities, just time, they both require the same care and professional approach.

At LAKE, we actively encourage colleagues to give back to the community thorough event sponsorship and time off. I believe volunteering helps enrich both our understanding of the charities we work with and our individual wellbeing.

Making jam has certainly helped me better understand the effort that goes into fundraising. And reminds us at LAKE, we are not just installing financial management systems, we are helping organisations achieve their goals.

About LAKE

Financial and business management solutions based on Infor SunSystems, Proactis and SAP Business One. LAKE has been a corporate partner of Charity Finance Group since 2007.

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