At the end of this month, Carluccio’s will celebrate raising £1m with Action Against Hunger since it teamed up with the charity in 2007.

When we started Carluccio’s and I was working with founder Priscilla (Carluccio), we had this idea that it was right for the team to do something together as a team-building or fun exercise that wasn’t anything to do with the commercial element of the business. This was very early days when we had only one store.

Choosing a good cause
We looked around for a charity and, at that point, my children were much younger and I was interested in children’s charities, so we worked with WellChild, which is a national charity for sick kids. We raised a bit of money and Priscilla then suggested Macmillan, but we couldn’t really get engagement with the team.

In the end, I tried to get them into things we were interested in. I was keen on a children’s charity but most of our staff were 25 and under, so it didn’t strike a chord with them. Equally, when we looked at Macmillan, the majority of young people haven’t been touched by cancer, although everyone is frightened by it.

It was only when we started working with Action Against Hunger as a spin-off from its annual fundraiser that there was suddenly an engagement and I suspect we owe Bono and Bob Geldof something for that connection with young people and the things they are interested in.

Immediately, there was much more of a connection and we started working with Action Against Hunger on an initiative where £1 was added to the bill during October - we got a big push-back from our customers who didn’t like the mechanic.

The charity was right, we got some engagement with the team, but as soon as customers push back, the staff didn’t like it. At that point I decided to do something PizzaExpress has done for a million years, and we put 50p on the price of a penne giardiniera: we bought 25p of it, the customer took the 25p price increase and all of a sudden it was our best-selling dish and we generated proper money.

There is now £40,000 a quarter coming in via that mechanic. Customers think it’s fine, they don’t even ask whether it is coming from us or them, the truth is it doesn’t matter.

It is embedded in our economics now. And, as we grow, that number grows a bit and that is the main mechanic for driving the fundraising. We also do stuff around it. A cycle ride last year raised £45,000. People in the office do other stuff too.

One guy, Marcus, has raised between £15,000 and £20,000 doing marathons. And what we say to the team is that we will give all the support we can.

We are about to celebrate raising £1m with Action Against Hunger since 2007. The rate at which we can raise money is accelerating as we go.

Last year’s bike ride was planned to celebrate raising £750,000 but we actually got to £812,000. After we celebrate the £1m, we will push on even further.

Following a couple of trips with Action Against Hunger to Africa, we chose to work with its project there over others as it felt right for us. We have had the opportunity to go twice to see the charity’s projects, which includes taking members of staff and our photographer, and then beaming pictures back to our team.

The first trip we made to Liberia, West Africa, was pretty horrific, with c.70,000 people living close together in corrugated huts. It was a bit scary. This was our first charity trip, my second to Africa. It was harrowing. The country has suffered from civil war tied into ‘blood diamonds’, and some of the soldiers are children.

The capital city (Monrovia) has a population of 900,000 people, which is as big as Birmingham, but there is no mains electricity, no proper sanitation and no running water. It is a sort of privilege to go to these places, but it is also pretty depressing.

This year we went to the south-east corner of Burkina Faso, which is a much more rural project. It is one of the poorest countries in the world. We saw lots of different intervention work that is taking place there.

One thing was helping people to get ‘microbusinesses’ going and another was the running of a clinic for malnourished children.

It’s become an important thing that we do. It also has this nice team-building side to it.

Action Against Hunger is very keen to put the charity donation on a high-margin dish or a dessert and we might sell a few more. I always say “don’t do that because the customer will see through it straight away, put it on your best-selling dish”.

And the thing we also learnt at the beginning is the engagement comes after you find a way of raising the money - staff are proud when we print on the menu that we have raised £1m.

I am always saying to the guys at the charity, “look, we need the restaurants to do this because they want to, because they think it is the right thing to do, not because you’re telling them they will sell more desserts, or make more margin or it is good for PR purposes. I think those things do happen but the consumer sees through it unless you do it genuinely”.

Action Against Hunger will always ask me where we want to spend the money raised and I always say the same thing - that I have a feeling we should be spending it in Africa because we have started work there. Other than that, I want them to tell me how to spend it.

The charity sometimes puts the name of the company that has raised the money over the project it has helped.

Action Against Hunger asked me whether I wanted Carluccio’s name put over one of the projects we had helped. I said: “Are you mad? Why would I want you paying someone to sign-write Carluccio’s in the middle of Burkina Faso when he could be doing something more useful?”

I know that, when we send back images of the trips to Africa, everyone is engaged and interested in what we are doing.

Once, we were in a corner of Burkina Faso - where my words get translated from English to the local dialect - and this woman starts shouting at me.

However, once it is translated, it turns out she had said: “God bless this man and his family, so he can carry on this with work.” I was knocked out.

I think that there is something very interesting about a company that earns its money by selling food to affluent ‘First World’ people that is also helping the hungry in the Third World. It is a really nice connection.

If you would like to get in touch with Action Against Hunger please go to the website at