community & events rants & raves

The Future of Charity

I was browsing through Kelowna’s shopping group on Facebook the other day and I came across a post from someone who was passing through asking for small jobs or handouts. Annoyed at first, because I didn’t feel like this was the proper forum for this kind of request, I assumed he was being lazy for not doing his own research on where to find cheap items and small jobs. I glanced down at the comments, sure to find some negative feedback. To my surprise people were offering yard clean up, asking what size of boots he needed and more. It got me thinking about the way I’ve come to view charity.

Recent reports suggest charity giving in Canada has hit an all-time low. Some attribute this loss to a more skeptical population, some say people are contributing more time and energy instead of money and still others argue that lack of marketing expertise is to blame. But as the Facebook group proved – it’s not because we don’t want to help.

So, what’s the real problem and how can charities work to solve it?

1.       Skepticism

I once gave money to a homeless woman crying on the streets in Vancouver only to see her change into nicer clothes in the back alley and get in her VW golf and drive away.

It’s hard not to think about the scams and fake stories I’ve seen on news feeds when faced with the decision to give. I can’t help wondering where my money is really going: to someone in need or to someone with an already inflated salary? In order to make a decision to give to a charity I need to be assured that the charity is going to make good decisions with my money. I want to see examples and read stories about the impact of this charity. Simple steps like ensuring their cause is explained well, easy to find on their website, and updated on Facebook with progress and celebratory events can have a huge impact on awareness.

2.       Marketing

Everyone seems to have their hand out these days and sadly it can lead to an uncomfortable thought: The problem is so big, how could I possibly make a difference? There are so many asking for so much it’s sometimes easier to tune it out. It takes some creative marketing to break through that barrier to help people understand the need.

The marketing world is an ever changing, complicated place. Sometimes charities can’t afford the resources to keep up with the advertising pace and their efforts suffer because of it. But charities need to dig deeper and rethink their strategy. Simply asking and stretching your hand out is not a tactic that works anymore. And traditional sales pitches turn people off. Before giving, people want to connect. They want to understand how their money is helping. The question charities should be asking is not how to get more money, it should be how can we connect with our community. Maybe charities shouldn’t be targeting individuals at all but partnering with socially responsible companies or groups like 100 Women Who Care to make a greater impact.  

Socially responsible companies with a ‘charity first’ focus seem to be popping up all over the place recently and I can see why. They create value for those who give by offering an easy way to help as well as providing a product to show their support. They connect with their community with a well explained mission and tie it all together with a souvenir that gives you a place in their community and helps to build awareness for anyone who sees it.

Follow the example of these ‘charity first’ retail companies like Ten Tree; they plant ten trees whenever you buy one of their clothing items. Or Toms who donate a pair of shoes to a needy child when you buy a pair for yourself.  Amazing charity-focused companies like Third Space Coffee, who provide counseling and coaching while working to uphold a rich and diverse community is a local example. There’s also Start Fresh who works to provide essential training about local and sustainable cooking and farming models. You can help provide families in need with safe housing when you buy recycled household and building items at Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

The man asking for handouts on Facebook got a positive response by being real and coming from another angle. He proved that people do want to help. (Most of us want to make a difference) Let’s take a lesson from some of the companies who have proved to be successful in this area and reignite our passion to get a bigger and more positive response so we can continue to make a difference to those who need it.

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