When you give your time, everyone wins!

Volunteer quote

 

“When you are healthy and have energy that is when you can give back.” This is what someone told me when we were talking about his involvement in designing, and volunteering for a patient peer support program. He had gone through extensive treatment for a chronic illness and wanted to help others who are just starting down the same difficult healing journey.

Volunteers are amazing people, they give so much of themselves without any expectations for something in return. They touch the lives of so many people, with a spirit that will be remembered by each person. But they do get something in return – a connection to others, the gratification of helping someone, and a sense of accomplishment.

According to Volunteer Canada, only 13% of Canadians have never volunteered and 44% of Canadians volunteered close to 2 billion hours in 2013. This is truly something to celebrate! Of course, this number varies by age group, as do the benefits and the reasons for volunteering.

With mandatory volunteer service for high school students, you may think that this group does the minimum hours to meet the requirements for their diploma. However, they are more engaged, doing 44% more hours than mandated. There are many reasons for this, from needing to develop skills and experience to networking. This is important in a highly competitive job market. However, when you look at the breadth of issues this group supports, it shows that they are active both in their community and are global citizens which could continue into their university years and beyond.

The promotion of lifelong volunteering has been aided by workplace volunteer programs which gives employees opportunities to support charities either with paid volunteer days off or during working hours. Many of Canada’s major corporations now have volunteer programs that encourage staff to volunteer for a charity of their choice or to participate in a corporate initiative. These programs aim to increase employee engagement and loyalty while supporting a worthwhile cause.

I would say that people raising families naturally focus on the needs of their families by volunteering for their children’s school or related causes – when they find the time! This has its own set of motivations and benefits including helping their children succeed, connecting with other parents and helping to build up the community.

Seniors are certainly a major force when it comes to volunteering, contributing 39% of all hours. They embody the spirit of volunteering, giving where they can to make a difference through their compassion and touch many lives with caring and kindness. You only have to look at your local hospital to see how much seniors volunteer. While most people only see them at the information desks and gift shops, what they don’t realize is that they provide support to patients in all areas of the hospital.

If you want to touch the past, touch a rock. If you want to touch the present, touch a flower. If you want to touch the future, touch a life.

— Unknown

Note: All statistics come from Volunteer Canada

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What do you support?

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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

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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!

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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.