I encourage you to donate to the Hero Work Program’s crowdfunding campaign. Please bear with me while I explain; if you’re short on time, just skip down to “The Pitch”.
According to Statistics Canada, Canadians donate about $10.6 billion per year to charity. The average annual amount per donor amounts to $446, with British Columbians the most generous at $543. For better of for worse, a large portion of Canadians’ charitable giving occurs in the Christmas period. Whether you chalk it up to guilt from the holiday overconsumption, a last-minute attempt to maximize the year’s taxable write-offs, or simple old goodwill, it happens. Many service-based charities such as food banks struggle with and adapt to this pattern because the demands placed on their organization are distributed throughout the year. In any case, the Christmas season presents an opportunity for non-profit organizations to highlight their causes and power up their bank accounts into the next year.
Whenever I can, I donate to or volunteer with organizations whom I feel are in need, or supporting a good cause. Simply put, it feels good to give. Additionally, it is an opportunity to ask yourselves and those around you some important questions, such as:
Should charity really start at home?
If I am really concerned about poverty in my community, should I focus my giving on education initiatives or the food bank?
Will my donation to causes supporting Syrian refugees really make a difference, or am I merely tossing a dime into the darkness?
There are no simple answers to these questions. Last year, in an attempt to instigate such discussion and make the world feel a little smaller, I tried something with my family scattered at ten spots around the world. In each of their names, I donated to a charity in a location other than their town. Read about it on this blog post. I called it “wrapping the world”:
Each arrow represents a donation from some of my family to a cause somewhere else in the world.
The causes I selected represent a broad cross-section of the social inequalities facing the world, ranging from troubled youth in Montreal to Filipinos struggling with the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. I didn’t even delve into the equally vast and (arguably more) needy array of environmental causes. This was an exercise that I enjoyed tremendously, and it did lead to some good conversations with my family.
This year, I am asking my family, friends, colleagues and clients to consider one particular cause for their hard-earned donor dollars.
Exhibit A: All Hands Volunteers
In the fall of 2010 I spent a few months working in Haiti with the inestimably excellent All Hands Volunteers. All Hands was focussing its efforts in the community of Leogane, where the earthquake had killed an estimated 70,000 of its 200,000 residents, and destroyed or rendered unsafe 90% of the buildings. I was struck by the extremely thrifty approach to their work, the genuine relationships with the community, and the commitment to leaving a legacy of increased community capacity rather than mere bricks and mortar. This set of values was embodied in the founder, David Campbell, one of the finest individuals I have had the pleasure of meeting. David was motivated to create All Hands following the 2004 tsunami that killed an estimated 230,000 people- he recognized a need to organize the many people, locally and around the world, who wished to volunteer in the response to the disaster.
Exhibit B: The Canadian Red Cross
Following the Haitian earthquake, a number of my colleagues in Fort McMurray passed the hat around and we donated the sum to the Canadian Red Cross. To my great dismay, in the community of Leogane the Canadian Red Cross held a reputation near opposite to that of All Hands. Rather than using local drivers and trucks to transport workers and materials, Canadian Red Cross workers paraded about in new air conditioned Land Cruisers. Their base and office was renowned for hosting the wildest parties in town- a very stocked patio bar was visible from the streets, poking just above the razor-wire adorned perimeter wall. Their initiatives in the community were ambiguous, and their concrete contributions difficult to account for. And yet, on charity ranking sites such as Charity Intelligence or Money Sense, the Canadian Red Cross ranks very highly for its seemingly low overhead expenses and its governance. I surmise that such a large organization has many initiatives- while some of them may well be better managed than their Haitian efforts, it is not difficult to hide a few bottles of Grey Goose or fleets of Land Cruisers in the program costs. Needless to say, I have ceased my donations to the Canadian Red Cross.
[Note: I found the Swiss Red Cross to be exemplary in their initiatives and their relationship with the community.]
Exhibit C: Hero Work Program
Do I really need to justify the organization’s worth with an awesome name like that? Sure.
New to Victoria this summer, and seeking ways to connect to the community, I heard about Hero Work while they were midway through their most recent project in support of the Threshold Housing Society. I showed up one sunny Saturday morning in September, sporting my best impression of a carpenter’s helper rather than a desk-dwelling engineer. I have difficulty expressing just how impressive of a scene met me at the corner of Oak Bay and Davie, where Hero Work was transforming a dilapidated four unit townhouse into a home in which to cradle, support and inspire at-risk youth. A clean, organized site was crowned by cheery people of all walks of life, buzzing about and preparing for the day. As the work progressed with intense yet amicable folly, I saw a community- contractors, musicians, hardware stores, photographers, restaurants- uniting around a cause and creating something so much greater than the beautiful and high quality building that resulted. Paul Latour is the founder of Hero Work, and as the project came to a close, he captivated me with the following notion:
Small businesses are the foundation of our community. When residents support small businesses that support our community, great things can happen.
Hero Work identifies the contractors and businesses who support its projects with some cunning marketing. This is merely one aspect of the phenomenally functional model that Paul and the Hero Work team is committed to developing. When Hero Works renovates a piece of charity infrastructure, the benefits extend far beyond the recipients of the charity’s work. The sense of community that develops from hundreds of volunteers dancing around each other in a symphony of concrete, paint and topsoil is invaluable.
Hero Work is competing against countless worthy causes. I urge you to consider donating to them. All Hands is a great organization that, prompted by David Campbell’s phenomenal vision and the hard work of many people over the last decade, is in a strong position to continue to respond to communities recovering from disasters. I’ve described my experience where a “conventional” charity- the Red Cross- may actually amount to a significant amount of bluster and not much blow.
Here are a few reasons why you might hesitate to donate to Hero Work:
- “They are only in Victoria. Shouldn’t I focus on my own community?”
- “They are not a registered charity, so I’m not going to get a tax credit.”
- “They seem to have a large social media presence. Shouldn’t a non-profit organization be focussing its efforts on the nuts and bolts rather than the image?”
All reasonable causes for query. And my answers:
- See “Wrapping the World”. The world isn’t that big; to help someone in a community or country other than yours is still to help someone. For my fellow British Columbians and Canadians, Paul has matched his incredible passion with tremendous diligence, developing a plan to scale this model across the province and the country in the decade to come. I am helping Hero Work by further developing the model for its relationship with its contributing contractors. With your help, 2015 will see two more projects in the Victoria area. Hero Work has Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland in its sights for 2016.
- In 2014, Paul and the Hero Work board displayed great foresight by employing significant efforts to develop a business plan. They engaged mentors and strategic planners to ensure that their vision could be attained. Hero Work has completed $1 million worth of renovations without a single fundraiser. It was not until a month ago that their application for charity status with the Canadian Revenue Agency was filed. This important status should come into effect some time in the New Year. But as Paul so eloquently stated in a recent appeal, NOW is the time to donate and ensure that this momentum is maintained.
- I was initially caught off guard by Hero Work’s nice website, and its incessant photo and video updates via facebook. Paul is a passionate and visionary individual who also happens to be a marketing guru. He is leveraging the vast exposure to be attained through such channels to spread the good word, and inspire others to contribute. Simple as that.
In closing, please consider donating to the Hero Work via their crowdfunding campaign. Just as All Hands has grown over the last decade to become a world leader in the efficient, transparent and innovative delivery of volunteer aid, I see a Hero Work program a decade from now that is renovating charity infrastructures across the country, leaving empowered communities in its wake. All Hands grew with the vision of David Campbell; Paul Latour is an individual I hold in equal esteem and with your help, great things will happen. It is a cause which I wholeheartedly endorse. Feel free to contact me with any questions.
In any case, I hope that you take some time during this holiday period to value the health, safety and wellbeing that you enjoy. So many of us are in a position of abundance in these categories; any effort to assist others that are less endowed is an effort that you will not regret.