Going from Community Giving to Investing

community investment

Can you name five corporations that have excellent community programs? Do their efforts affect where you take your business or where you want to work?

Corporate Community Investment has evolved a lot over the last decade as companies look to leverage their brand with customers and in the communities in which they operate. This is why it is important that the charities that companies support align with their values and business profile.

When corporations invest in communities strategically they can drive value for both their brand and for the organizations they support. When you think about Tim Horton’s or Canadian Tire, you know that they support programs for kids. They both have signature programs that are run by their own charitable foundations. These foundations are supported by the company of course, but also by the company’s customers and employees.

Customers expect companies to give back to the community and will support these causes if they believe that the company is authentic in its support. This is why so much money is raised on Camp Day at Tim’s and Jumpstart Day at Canadian Tire.

It’s overwhelming each year to see how our guests come together to support the Foundation. On Camp Day, buying a cup of coffee and participating in the many activities helps contribute to a positive change in a child’s life. And that’s a good feeling. Bill Moir, President, Tim Horton Children’s Foundation

The role employees have in supporting community programs has grown significantly as well. Corporations encourage employees to contribute both money and time to charitable causes, either of their own choosing or for the company’s signature program.

Many corporations have an annual employee giving campaign in support of United Way or other charities. If the corporation’s signature program aligns with the culture of the company, this campaign can engage employees and provide something for employees to rally around.

Employee volunteering programs benefit the company with employee engagement and retention, the charity with needed hands and skills for projects, and employees with team events and building leadership skills. Such events further strengthen the company’s place in the community, and in some cases provides public or media exposure to both the organization and charity.

Charities have had to evolve with the increase of Corporate Community Investment. Instead of simply receiving cash or products they now work with the company to develop a meaningful, and potentially ongoing partnership; a partnership that has to meet the needs of both the charity and the company. This leads to more people understanding the charitable mission, while companies are able to draw an emotional connection to their brand.

There are a lot of great examples of Corporate Community Leaders in all industries. You can check them some of them out at Imagine Canada.


A little boy’s community

Emerson photo C18 conference 2014

“I have ants in my pants in my brain!”

This is Evan’s* very astute description about why he can’t sit still and focus in class. He is super-duper cute and turns eight years old this month.

Many organizations have helped him and his mother, Madison*, identify and navigate numerous developmental issues over the last eight years. You see, he was born with a chromosome deficiency called 18q-. Of course they didn’t know it at the time of his birth.

At the age of one, Evan started wearing hearing aids and going to speech therapy at the Canadian Hearing Society. But his therapist realized that his hearing wasn’t his only developmental issue. From two to four years of age, Evan went through a multitude of assessments going from specialist to specialist in neurology, psychology, behavioural therapy and genetics.

This is when you understand the true meaning of resilience. Developmental issues can only be identified as they emerge. As each developmental milestone was missed, the issues Evan faced went from “a whisper to a scream,” according to Madison. But despite the obvious frustrations he faces daily, he has a shining personality and great sense of humour with a laugh that starts in his belly and brings smiles to everyone around him.

When Evan was diagnosed with 18q- at the age of four, it explained his speech and language delay, why he is hard of hearing, his autism, his fine and gross motor coordination issues, and his sensory processing issues. Fortunately he doesn’t have any of the medical issues, such as heart and kidney problems, that other children have because of a chromosome 18 abnormality.

But what did this mean for Evan’s future? What could Madison expect in developmental achievements year over year, and how would she be able to support his needs?

The answers to these questions lay in their involvement in the communities of Holland Bloorview and the Chromosome 18 Registry and Research Society. I say communities because these two organizations provide an incredible support system that is like a family to them.

When you’re faced with something as obscure as a rare genetic abnormality it’s not always clear where you can go for support or who can provide service, as the challenges and needs are so varied.

Holland Bloorview’s vision is to create a world of possibility for kids with disability – so this includes Evan. This is where he had his initial developmental assessment and many therapy classes. But what makes this an important community for Evan and Madison are the things that are not covered by government funding like the accessible playgrounds and gardens on their campus, the inspirational newsletter to parents, and swimming lessons.

The swimming lessons at Holland Bloorview serve as a type of physical therapy, without being actual therapy. The classes are integrated with ‘typical children’ which helps Evan feel like a typical child, and helps them understand children with special needs. Half of the instructors in this program are volunteers – the swimming program wouldn’t be possible without them.

The swimming program also provides an incredible support for parents. Consider that Madison is in hours of therapy sessions each week with Evan. Swim class is the only time that she can sit back and connect with other parents while observing Evan having fun in the pool. She has made many friends here who understand what she’s going through day to day; who are on a similar journey with their children.

I would like to thank the over 200 corporations and organizations, and countless volunteers that support Holland Bloorview. When you want to know the difference that your efforts make, think about the on-going impact you have on Evan’s life.

BMO Volunteers

BMO volunteers at Holland Bloorview

The other essential community that Madison and Evan depend on is the Chromosome 18 Registry and Research Society (The Registry)  located in San Antonio, Texas – the only organization in the world that specializes in helping children with the same disorder as Evan.

The Registry is dedicated to providing the latest in medical and scientific research on the syndromes of chromosome 18 with a goal to “making chromosome 18 conditions the first treatable chromosome abnormalities.” Despite its global reach, it really is a local community composed of the parents of individuals with a chromosome 18 abnormality.

Madison finds solace in knowing Evan is not alone. They attend the annual conference (hosted and organized by families) whenever possible and are in regular contact with over a dozen families across southwestern Ontario. Even though not one child has the exact same abnormalities, they can talk to different families about the one or two similar issues that they face. “We have the most accepting, non-judgemental comradery, where everyone cares for and accepts everyone’s kids,” she says.

This organization is supported by regional events across the US, including an annual golf tournament. There is one big difference with this tournament – many of the sponsors are the groups of friends and families of children with a chromosome 18 deficiency, not just corporate sponsors. In fact, a majority of the events are events organized by families: birthday donations, selling items such as baseball shirts, quilts, jewellery or nutcrackers, and fitness events. A truly community based support group with such extensive heart and reach.

Member driven fundraiser

Member driven fundraiser

We all have different reasons for giving, whether financially or through volunteering. We each do so for our own reasons, to act globally or build a community, or help an individual. Holland Bloorview and the Chromosome 18 Registry and Research Society are just two examples of organizations that rely heavily on charitable giving and volunteers; and the community they provide families is priceless.

*Names have been changed

The new B2C; Business to Community

Thank you photo

Blake students say ‘Thank You’ to sponsors of their Fun Fair

When we think about businesses supporting communities, it’s easy to think about large corporations, but it’s equally important, maybe more so to realize the contribution of small business. After all the owners usually live and work in the community, giving them a personal connection to what they support.

Local businesses contribute in a number of ways including donating money, products and services, sponsoring events or local sports teams, and contributing employees’ time. In fact, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), 75% of businesses donate money, products and services.

They also say that the sectors that gave the most back to its communities were retail and hospitality. This is not surprising, they are the most public facing businesses so the community relates to them the most.

I’m sure there’s no end to the requests that they receive, which is why I was so grateful to the businesses that were more than happy to donate money, gift cards or products to the Family Fun Fair at my son’s school.

Even before my son started school, when I saw a sign of support for a local school or charity, I was happier to shop there. I appreciate it when they post thank you notes from schools and charities that they support on their community wall. The value in the contribution isn’t purely altruistic, but serves to let you know they are a member of the community. When I approached businesses for the Fun Fair, I largely went to places I personally frequent. That being said, seeing all the different businesses that contributed will make me more inclined to give them my business in the future.

Thanks to the efforts of the fundraising committee, over 250 local businesses to contributed cash, products and services. This included restaurants, kids’ activities, and real estate agents to retailers and fitness studios. Combined with personal and corporate donations, ticket sales AND amazing weather, we successfully raised over $10,000 that day. Not bad for the school’s third year running the event!

We do our best to promote their support at the fair to give them the attention they deserve. This year I started a Twitter thank you campaign to show our appreciation for some of our sponsors. I even received recognition for being the ‘Lucky Twitter social’ winner from one of the sponsors. It was so much fun interacting with our sponsors on Twitter, I plan to do more next year!

What do you support?

Charitable giving-word-cloud

Did you know that there are over 170,000 charitable and non-profit organizations in Canada and 85,000 of these are registered charities? (source: Imagine Canada.) This means there are many organizations looking for support and many more ways to support them.

But why should we support charities? They are part of our social fabric providing programs and services that are not covered government. They give us the chance to give back to our communities, show compassion for those in need and support causes with which we have a personal connection.

So what speaks to you? Why do you give?

My charitable giving has changed over my lifetime and the ways in which I support charities. And it is always a reflection of my involvement in my community. From participating in fundraising in my youth; to attending events early in my career; to payroll giving; and coming full circle to fundraising once again.

There are organizations that encourage greater involvement in the charitable sector including ‘Giv3.’ This is a foundation that is encouraging Canadians to be more giving by volunteering, donating to charities, and inspire friends, family and community to get involved.

According to Giv3, our financial and volunteering support to charities is on the decline, however this is based on information from the CRA on the number of tax receipts submitted and may not reflect total giving. They also note “the average level of giving is 0.8% of income. Wealthier Canadians give even less (relative to their income) than average Canadians.” This is why they are encouraging everyone to give a little more and become more involved.

They are involved in The Great Canadian Giving Challenge alongside Canada Helps to encourage more giving during the month of June. Any charities that receive donations through this campaign have the chance to win $10,000. The winning charity will be announced on Canada Day. I’ll be watching to see if my charity, Humber River Hospital wins this prize! And next year I’ll see if it’s possible to include my son’s school in this campaign!

I also love Giv3’s Granny’s Club initiative. It is based on the experience of the founder, John Hallward. His grandmother gave him money for his birthday with the instructions to donate all of it to charity as he explains in this video:

I’ve seen different versions of this in action with younger children. I attended a child’s birthday party and was offered the opportunity to contribute money instead of a gift. Half the money went to a charity of the family’s choosing and the other half went to a gift for the child. I also encourage my children to donate a portion of their birthday money to charity so that they understand the importance of giving back to community and helping those less fortunate.

No matter what you support, it is the fact that you support your community that counts.

We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.

– Winston Churchill 

The great divide

the great divide

When I first saw my son’s school, I was disappointed to see an unexciting playground (and I still am), but refurbishing it is such a huge endeavor that is not within capacity of the school at this time. However, I am proud to say that the fundraising efforts of the parent council has made it possible to support the most immediate needs of the school beyond what the school budget can cover.

The Toronto Star recently published an article about the increasing fundraising gap between have- and have-not schools. The article cites public concerns of a two-tier education system, discusses ‘model school’ grants, and raises questions about what should be considered essential school assets such as libraries and playgrounds – and what should not.

When the Star article came out, it started a conversation on Talk 1010 radio about whether or not fundraising levels should be equalized in some fashion. Concerns were raised about giving money to your child’s school, only to have it go outside the ‘community’ and how to ensure that have-not school continue their fundraising efforts if they are given money from other schools.

What the hosts of Talk 1010 failed to realize when talking about communities in Toronto and local schools, is that there are a number of local schools in each community. The school my son attends is a five minute drive away from our home and there are about six other schools between our home and our school. So when talking about community giving and fundraising for schools, you can’t just talk about the most immediate school. This means that our community includes all these schools, and local businesses are approached by many of them to support events with cash or in-kind donations. Their generosity speaks volumes for the community spirit in our area.

The concept of the larger community is not lost on the local schools, students attend activities at other schools to share experiences. This is easy because the schools are within walking distance of each other.

Jazz in Schools photo

Four local schools came together to listen to an awesome group of student musicians from Humber College. Credit: Blake Beat School Newsletter

The Star mentioned that some schools which raise significant funds do support other nearby schools in need. This is a great idea. But how do we address Talk 1010’s concerns about schools slacking off on their fundraising efforts if they know they’ll be getting money from another school? Match only what the school in need raises itself first. It doesn’t make it equal, but it supports all schools and children in the immediate community, and ensures that all schools do their part in fundraising.

They also raised the question of the capacity of parents in low income areas to contribute money and if they have access to work colleagues to buy raffle tickets or other fundraising items. These are valid points but there are other factors to consider as well: is there a culture of volunteering at the school and do they have the knowledge of how to run a fundraising event or campaign?

For my son’s school, we have been developing a culture of volunteerism which takes time. With the increased diversity of mixed income entering the school, the knowledge of running successful fundraising events and expanded reach is certainly helping on the fundraising front. We enjoy taking advantage of our diverse cultural, language, even our socio-economic backgrounds to ensure our community is truly reflected in our school and in our adventures together.

Enriching schools; building communities


Credit: Blake Beat School Newsletter

It takes a ‘community’ to raise a child; and it takes a community to support our schools. So how do we do that?

If you had asked me over 25 years ago why I was raising funds by selling cookies, chocolates and magazines, I would have simply said “my school.” It was just something we did; it was a part of our school spirit … and we got prizes for being a top fundraiser. But my experiences instilled in me a civic duty to be involved in the school community that grew beyond the walls of the school.

My son is attending a school that is not our ‘home’ school; we wanted our kids to be educated in the French immersion program and this was the school that was open to us. Truth be told, we were apprehensive about the school at first. Judging from the outside, it didn’t look very promising – it is a small school with limited playground equipment – but the principal impressed us. She has built a community inside that is full of energy and spirit. And that community spirit is needed, you see, about 65% of the children who attend this school have family incomes of less than $30,000.

You can appreciate now why our fundraising efforts are so important. The school has programs to address various needs including breakfast programs, and enriched programming like extra-curricular activities and field trips. The school receives ‘model school’ government funding and other grants to help with some of these needs. However, it is not ideal to depend on this additional funding that other schools do not receive. They want to be able to raise the funds required to reduce their dependency on the extra government funding. The school population is growing year over year (they are expecting 100 kindergarten children next year) and is expanding its catchment area with the French immersion program which will help reach this goal.

Fundraising will not only address these immediate needs but it will also teach kids to be aware of their environment and create a very important culture of community. My son loves the Fun Fair and pizza lunches among the other events made available for the kids. He even learned the first principle of fundraising – to personally support the cause first. He purchased a raffle ticket with some of his birthday money. The students also support external causes such as the Terry Fox Run, Plan Canada, and disaster relief for Nepal.

Plan Group fundraising

Fundraiser for Plan Canada Credit: Blake Beat School Newsletter

Parent volunteers get to know each other while supporting these events and let’s face it – it takes parent volunteers to organize and execute these events. For example, we approach local businesses to be sponsors, and help the school apply for grants. We do this to help enhance school programs but the real reason is very simple: we are making a difference in our community and the futures of the kids.

What speaks volumes about the community that exists in this school is that my son skips to class every day and he is becoming proficient in French. Despite funding and socio-economic challenges, it is providing excellent education in an enriched student environment.

Let’s celebrate community giving!


What I’ve enjoyed most about working in various Community Relations roles throughout my career is connecting with amazing people who are out there creating opportunities to build up communities. These people and the organizations they support or work for are catalysts for hope on a never ending journey to improve their community and the lives of people around them.

This year with my son starting Senior Kindergarten, true to my nature, I volunteered for the big fundraiser of the year, the Family Fun Fair. It’s been a while since I’ve approached people and companies for donations so I was surprisingly feeling a little daunted. After being on the other side of the request for so long, my first thought went to corporate policies, knowing how businesses try to focus their giving, and for large corporations, their desire to demonstrate impact with community investments. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, a lot of good can be done with long term, collaborative partnerships.

In the case of the Family Fun Fair committee, we were a small but dedicated group of volunteers. What was needed the most was simply the people to take the time to make the requests of local businesses. I thought this would be difficult for a working parent like me, but after some on-line research in the evenings, I headed out with request in hand on a few Saturdays and started pitching to restaurants, dance studios and other companies in the area.

As Torontonians, we are proud of and appreciate the many different and distinct areas of our city, each one being a little community within itself. This concept of community in a big city became more apparent to me in my conversations with the employees, managers and owners of these businesses. Most were more than happy to support a local school and in many cases, support more than one of the local schools.

I’ve always believed that every little bit helps, and that is what drove me to repeatedly knock on doors on my paper route to sell cookies, chocolate covered almonds (by World’s Finest Chocolates – they’re still around today!), and magazines to support my school when I was young.

Getting involved in fundraising for my son’s school has given me more people to celebrate. All donations, no matter how large or small help make a difference.