Apr 28, 2013 / 5:00 am
When I tell people I grew up in West Kelowna, the question that often follows is, “You must have seen a lot of change, eh?” And indeed it’s very true. When I attended Westbank Elementary, there was no couplet highway, mega-stores or double-laned highway to the Lower Mainland. For sure, the one constant is change.
During 15 years working in the local charitable sector, much more has changed, and I regularly hear common sentiments and questions about donating; most frequently:
1. “How can you ask for money? I could never do that job!”
Contrary to what it may seem like, working with donors is actually one of the greatest delights of my role. I believe fundraising practices such as cold-calling, door-to-door solicitations, and point-of-sale fundraising at cashiers have left a bad impression about charity for some. When giving becomes associated with pressure tactics, guilt and arm-twisting, it is no longer philanthropy.
We used to think of philanthropists as very wealthy tycoons who invested large sums into community, such as the Rockefellers or Vanderbilts. However, philanthropy comes from Latin roots that simply mean “love for humankind”, so when anyone gives of their time, talent or treasure to make the world a better place, they are practicing philanthropy. In the past 50 years, we have seen a huge increase in the percentage of the population who practice philanthropy through charitable giving in all amounts, and it truly is an honour to work with them to facilitate their goals in supporting our community.
2. “Shouldn’t the government pay for these services? I pay enough in taxes.”
Certainly there has been a lot of change in recent decades with what used to be government programs now being operated or partially supported by the efforts of the charitable sector. There has been a huge rise in the need for services plus increasingly higher costs to provide expected service levels. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is in our hospitals, where the current costs of tests and treatments outstrips our tax base’s ability to pay for it all; thus the rise in fundraising campaigns to provide specialized equipment, research, and support services.
I once heard it said that charitable giving was the truest expression of democracy, and find this point very valid. We can vote with our dollars to invest in programs and services that we feel are most valuable and important for our society.
3. “What about overhead? How much of my donation is reaching the people it needs to?”
Today’s donors are gaining an understanding of how charities work and of fundraising practices, and they want to ensure there is no waste. This is completely understandable, especially when one hears rumours about the cut a professional fundraising agency takes off the top of a phone call campaign, or a charitable executive earning what seems like a staggering salary.
However, I would caution that simply looking at so-called “fundraising ratios” doesn’t tell the whole picture of what a charity does. For example, if a charity primarily offers speech language therapy to children, the vast majority of their costs are going to be in professional salaries to deliver those services. Is a speech language pathologist “overhead”? There are no strict guidelines or rules for how charities report their expenses, so some might report their professional staff as “administration” and some might classify them as “program expenses”, and this could give a very skewed view of that charity’s expense ratios.
On the other hand, our community is very accustomed to supporting charities through fundraising events and galas, when in fact these types of programs often have the worst return on investment going!
Remember that overhead is part of the cause; no charity would be able to fulfil its mission without basic infrastructure to conduct business. The vast majority of Canadian charities run very efficiently and strive to keep their expenses to a minimum (sometimes even to their detriment!). You can also inform yourself by visiting the Canada Revenue Agency’s Charities Directorate online to review any registered charity’s tax filing. Don’t believe or perpetuate outlandish emails and gossip about a charity; if you have any concerns about a charity’s practices, simply ask them.
Article submitted by: Marla O’Brien
Marla O’Brien started as the Executive Director of the United Way of the Central and South Okanagan Similkameen in August 2012.
Jan 20, 2013 / 5:00 am
In my last column, I talked about finding a rewarding way to give back to community. This week’s topic is choosing the cause you will support.
We all make careful choices about where we put our time and money. There are hundreds of causes and organizations saying “pick me!” and it can be hard to determine the best choice.
“One-off” giving tends to be instinctual; you automatically know you want to help (or that you don’t!). When my friend’s niece got leukaemia, there was no question about offering to help. We hear a lot about people using this kind of situation as a “scam,” but the actual incidence of that is very low. I like to err on the side of generosity, and trust that others will be there when I need help.
When giving money or time to a specific charity, the decision can be tougher, unless one organization is close to your heart. Some questions you may want to ask are:
“How does your organization ensure clients receive the maximum benefit from donations?”
Note that this is not the same as asking “what percentage of the money goes to help clients?” A lower expense ratio does not mean that clients get more help; in fact, the opposite can be true. If an organization is not spending enough money on administration, they may be inefficient and ineffective in helping people in need.
Think about it. Do you want to be able to trust information you are given about finances and client services? That means the organization needs a bookkeeper and a professional audit, and a way to keep statistics. Do you want someone qualified to be able to answer your questions in a comprehensive way? That too is an expense. Do you want to be able to find information on a website? You get the idea – less spending does not equal better services for donors or clients.
That being said, certain types of spending may not feel right to you as a donor. For example, if the charity sends you too many letters or gifts, you may want to specify the amount and type of communication you prefer. The charity should respect your wishes around this with regard to how they communicate with you; if not, look elsewhere.
What services or programs can I donate to?
A charity should honour your wishes around where your donation goes, and present you with some options. They should also be able to tell you how your donation has made a difference.
Be sure to confirm whether your donation qualifies for a tax receipt, and ask when/how you can expect to receive acknowledgment and documentation. Donors are sometimes surprised to learn that the cause they have given to does not have registered charitable status with the Canada Revenue Agency (which gives the ability to issue tax receipts) or that they have donated something that will not be tax receipt-able (such as a gift card for a client).
Do you have a volunteer program, and how do volunteers contribute to your work?
An organization that can offer volunteer orientation, training, interviews, multiple ways to volunteer, volunteer recognition, and job descriptions is one that is “volunteer ready” – which increases the chances that you’ll be matched to a role that really fits for your schedule, interests, and abilities. Don’t assume and opportunity doesn’t exist, just because the charity hasn’t listed it on their website– people find unique opportunities all the time just by sharing that they have a particular skill set or interest.
Check out the Community Information and Volunteer Centre at www.kcr.ca to search for existing opportunities and create your own volunteer profile. This is one of the many community services funded by United Way.
United Way invests in organizations that are effective and efficient, and is a great way to support many charities with one gift. To find out how you can support change through United Way, visit us at www.unitedwaycso.com
Jan 6, 2013 / 5:00 am
In this column and the next one, I will share ways of ensuring a satisfying experience when giving back to community. This week, I focus on important questions to ask yourself. Next time, we turn our attention on questions to ask of the causes and organizations you may give to.
Giving back to community is one of the most common New Year’s resolutions, and flows from gratitude about the blessings in one’s own life. If you have been inspired to get involved and help others, congratulations - you have made the first step!
One of the things I have experienced myself (and seen with many other people) is disappointment from reaching out to help the cause that came to mind first, and then not having expectations met. In most cases, this can be avoided by doing a bit of self-inquiry before choosing the when, where, why, what and how to give back. While we cannot always avoid disappointment, or know when someone else is being deceptive, clarity will improve your odds.
There is an optimal way for each individual to give back, one that makes the best use of the resources you can contribute (which may include sharing your time, money, abilities, ideas, or connections) and is rewarding for you at the same time. It is not one-size-fits-all, however; what constitutes a “good” giving experience is very personal.
The most important parts of the self-inquiry process are firstly being open and curious to unlock opportunities you may not be aware of, and secondly trusting your instincts about what feels right to you. I have one friend who absolutely loves driving seniors to their appointments, while another friend is deeply rewarded because she set up a scholarship fund in memory of her son. Your way of making a difference is as unique as you are. Asking yourself the following questions will help.
- What kinds of people would I most like to help? Or am I more interested in supporting animals, the environment, research, or another type of cause?
- How will my community and/or world be different because of my contribution?
- What causes have influenced my life the most?
- Am I likely to donate and volunteer with the same cause, or do I prefer to give money to some things, and time/skills to others? Do I involve other people in my life?
- When I picture myself getting involved in a cause, what kinds of things am I doing?
- If I imagine myself giving money to a person or organization, what is important to me in that investment? What kinds of results am I seeking? How much involvement do I want, and for how long?
- What skills, knowledge, interests, and connections do I have that might be contributed to a cause?
- If I prefer to give overseas rather than in my own community, what beliefs or desires cause this preference?
While giving back is altruistic, ignoring your own interests does not equal selflessness. A more satisfying experience of giving means you are likely to give more and/or repeatedly, and to promote giving to others in your circle. Next time, I will discuss how you can also ensure that the cause you are giving to is aligned with your interests and preferences, in terms of their impact, and how they manage volunteers and donors.
One of the unique features of United Way (and the reason many of us choose to work on behalf of this cause) is that we are an umbrella organization through which many causes are supported. One great investment that United Way makes is funding for the Community Information and Volunteer Centre at Kelowna Community Resources at www.kcr.ca. Through the website, you can find hundreds of community organizations and volunteer opportunities, and even set up your own volunteer profile to receive e-matches.
To find out how you can support change through United Way, visit us at www.unitedwaycso.com
Dec 23, 2012 / 5:00 am
This time of year, many families struggle with expenses. It’s not just being able to buy presents and serve a turkey dinner; with utility costs going up, many families fear they won’t get through the winter. Every little bit of help can make a difference, and when families feel supported by their community, all kinds of holiday fun and joy becomes possible.
Last year, my husband and I participated in a group sponsorship of a senior citizen who was all alone. Some of the items on the wish list were heart-breaking. The lady receiving the hamper needed things like a hot plate to cook food, and undergarments, and haircuts and food. She was someone who had not received a lot of Christmas presents in her life, and it was very touching to help her.
The Bridge Youth and Family Services has been providing Christmas hampers for its families for the past 15 years. This years’ campaign coordinators are excited to provide 23 families with Christmas hampers.
The success of the hamper campaign is mainly due to loyal sponsors who have been part of the Christmas hamper campaign since it began. One of the long time sponsors was able to sponsor three of the families this year, due to generous donations from his employer and their staff; 9 children and 5 parents will benefit from the care and compassion of this one sponsor. This level of generosity is common from all of community conscious sponsors that include; local businesses, corporations, and numerous individuals.
The families that receive these hampers are often overwhelmed with emotion when they realize the level of attention and care that was given to fulfilling their Christmas hamper needs. One of the long-time sponsors provides whole foods, organic turkeys, organic products, environmentally friendly cleaning agents and Christmas treats for 12 families.
One family who received this organic hamper was identified as having food allergies and specific dietary needs for their children. Specialized foods can be very expensive and not something that most families can afford.
The mother of this family was completely overcome with tears as she received her hamper. She could not believe her good fortune, “This is the best Christmas present ever!” This year we have a number of single parents. One 19-year-old who is five months pregnant wishes for diapers and “any baby donations, no matter what, would be amazing.” Her only request for herself was pajamas and a few pantry items.
The families who will be receiving hampers are identified by The Bridge Youth and Family Services’ Counsellors and Parent Education Facilitators. The campaign is coordinated by Susan Foisy and one volunteer, Darleen Nowell. The Bridge Youth and Family Services are honored to provide the Christmas Hamper Campaign to families again this year.
Since 1969, The Bridge Youth and Family Services Society has worked to promote the development of healthy children and healthy families in our community through counselling, support and parenting education programs. The Bridge also supports successful transitions to adulthood for vulnerable young people in the Central Okanagan. The Bridge is an accredited, registered non-profit organization governed by a volunteer Board of Directors.
Change starts here, because people are reaching out to each other in tough times. If you would like to support families in the New Year, the Bridge also has a wonderful program around Summer Memories. There are many other charities also providing these kinds of resources and opportunities for families as well.
To find out how you can be part of change, visit www.unitedwaycso.com
Read more Change Starts Here articles
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- Inn from the Cold Nov 25
- Those who serve Nov 11
- Community Living Month Oct 28
- 'Hope' Oct 14
- Essentials for women Oct 6
- Reducing stigma Sep 16
- Campus community Sep 7
- Getting involved Sep 2
- Medwatch miracles Aug 19
- Give a memory Aug 5
- No hungry children Jul 22
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