Waterloo Region Record by Lyndsey Butcher and Cameron Dearlove 08 March 2017
From the announced closure of HopeSpring to the shortfalls in United Way Kitchener Waterloo’s fundraising campaign, it’s been a challenging few weeks for Waterloo Region’s charitable sector.
Much has been written in these pages about what charities should be doing to succeed. As two emerging leaders of small-sized charities, we wanted to lend our voices to this conversation, and challenge our community — and our sector — to do better.
Here are a few things our charitable sector can do to succeed:
- Fail. In the tech sector, known for rapid innovation, you’re expected to fail. It’s an important part of making the best product. Charities — and those who fund us — rarely have the same expectation. For our organizations to do better, we need to be willing to try something new, fail, learn, and try again. Funders, whether government or foundations, should be driving innovation across the sector by funding charities that iterate and embrace change.
- Come together. Each organization is unique and provides something different to our community. That uniqueness doesn’t make us better, it just makes us different. What might make us better is greater levels of co-operation and, where appropriate, mergers. We saw our United Ways announce a merger so that a single, strengthened organization, United Way Waterloo Region Communities, can provide support for charities throughout the region. This is a forward-thinking step to prepare for a more uncertain future. Is a merger always the right move? No, but it should be considered with the focus on what is best for our community and those we serve.
- Embrace changes in volunteerism. Millennial volunteers don’t want to come in every Tuesday afternoon to answer phones or stuff envelopes. They want volunteer opportunities where they will be challenged to grow their skill set while making a visible impact. This requires greater flexibility and creativity on the side of the charity to offer meaningful, shorter-term volunteer opportunities. If our sector ignores this challenge, we risk losing out on an entire generation of engaged supporters.
Here are a few things our community can do to support the charitable not-for-profit sector:
- Value our work. Working at a charity is not a hobby, it’s a career. There are incredibly talented and dynamic professionals giving their heart and soul so we can all live in a stronger, more vibrant community. They lead lives of meaning and accomplishment and deserve respect and a living wage. Children in our community should know that dedicating themselves to serving their community is just as valued a career choice as working at the next big tech startup.
- Focus on impact, not overhead. A persistent myth among donors is that you should invest in organizations with low overhead. When buying your next smartphone, do you determine whether Apple or Samsung has the lowest operating overhead, or do you determine which phone is the most innovative and best meets your needs? Charities should be no different. Why support an organization with 5 per cent overhead that isn’t meeting community needs over a well-run and innovative organization that is making a strong community impact but has 20 per cent overhead? Let’s focus on impact first.
- Build a donor culture. The Kitchener and Waterloo Community Foundation’s Vital Signs report finds that fewer people in our community are making charitable donations. The great recession, rising consumer costs, low-wage work; there are many contributing factors. But let us ask: in the last year, have you had $20, $100, $500 of disposable income? If you have, you should be a charitable donor. Donating isn’t the most fun thing to do with your money, but it’s the price of admission to live in a caring, compassionate, and vibrant community. How much should you donate? Figure out how much will hurt a little, then give a little more.
At some point in your life, you or a loved one will desperately need and rely on a charitable organization in our community — just ask the users at HopeSpring. The only way to ensure these charities are there when you need them is to give today.