Giving back is generally heightened during the holiday season. We feel more moved to help others, to be a little kinder, grateful, and more generous.
It also tends to be a very busy time for charities. They’re running campaigns, coordinating an influx of donations and volunteers and, of course, delivering their much-needed services and programs to people in need.
And when the season ends for another year, their needs don’t.
“As a culture we tend to feel especially benevolent and wanting to give back during that Christmas period, and then January can be a bit quieter in contrast,” says Christine McCourt‑Reid, Communications Manager, YWCA Edmonton.
“It’s important to remember that for service organizations the needs don’t stop, and work is ongoing regardless of whether you’re giving or what time of year you’re giving.”
So how do you make helping others a gift that keeps on giving year-round? Here, four local charities provide ideas for business owners and individual donors alike.
5 ways to keep up the giving all year round
1. Use the new year to set your goals and plans for giving back.
McCourt‑Reid says many charities take advantage of the quieter period after the holidays to do their planning. She suggests business owners may want to consider a similar approach when it comes to mapping out their community support for that year.
“There can be a bit of donor fatigue after the big push for giving and holiday campaigns, and charities actually account for that,” says McCourt-Reid. “We use this time of year to steward our relationships with our donors. This can also be a two-way street, because from the donor perspective it’s also a really good time for that forward thinking about who you want to support, how you think you can give back, and to cultivate and nurture those relationships.”
Michelle Busa, Donor Relations and Fund Development Manager, READ Saskatoon agrees, noting this time of year is when their organization’s participants often set new year's resolutions for increasing their literacy. She says likewise donors can set goals for giving back, whether that’s monetary donations, gifts of their time, or skills.
“Harnessing new year motivation can be a great way to combat donor fatigue as people are looking to build positive new habits, set goals, and turn the page and start fresh,” she says, adding that when you’re making plans for how to achieve those goals or habits, to consider aligning your activities with what will be most meaningful for both the donor and the charity.
2. Align your giving to both donor needs and charity needs.
“There are several different types of donors,” says Scarlet Bjornson, Communications Specialist with Edmonton’s Bissell Centre. “For example, people who want that tangible experience when we do an urgent need or call-out. They want that experience of picking out the snow pants and bringing them down – that’s what feels good for them, that’s their wheelhouse. And then there are other people who are like, I’m going to set up automatic monthly donations because that’s what’s easiest for me and I don’t have to remind myself to do it. Or maybe it’s that act of doing something more tactile through volunteering that resonates most with them. Every person is different.”
McCourt‑Reid says at YWCA Edmonton they talk about the types of giving back in terms of “time, talent, or treasure”. She explains the start of the new year can be a good time to proactively get to know the organizations that sync up with your values and learn about this year’s needs and priorities.
“There’s all sorts of ways that people can give, as well as different things they can give,” she says. “And the best way to figure that out is to have those conversations with the organization and see how things line up.”
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3. Reach out to charities to learn what they need.
There’s generally always a way to align how a business wants to get involved with activities that will be meaningful for both the organization’s youth and the business’ employees and customers, says Alison Brodie, Covenant House Vancouver’s Development Officer, Corporate and Foundation Giving.
“If companies are looking to donate items, for example, be sure to get in touch with us because oftentimes around Christmas we’ll get a huge influx of things like mittens and toques. All those are really important, but we might have a stockpile of a certain item and maybe there are other items we really need right now that people might not be thinking of,” she says.
Brodie adds the same goes for volunteering, where there’s always a big need, and the formats of which evolved during the pandemic to create different opportunities.
“The pandemic resulted in new ways to make a direct impact through volunteering in a remote way,” she says. “We’ve had companies create really wonderful table banners remotely and bring them to our location to be used for our special community dinners. So the youth will have a nice spread of food and look down and see messages that say we’re thinking about you or you’re special. That goes a long way to making people feel a sense of home and that others care about what happens to them.”
Busa says the need to bolster READ Saskatoon’s virtual volunteer opportunities during COVID times has in some ways made it easier for people to volunteer and has broadened their audience of supporters. That’s because people can now give their time and talent from the comfort of their own home or business. “Technology, going fully online with our programs, has helped to increase our reach – and businesses have helped play a role in making that possible, too. Like donating their computers or tablets, as well as their IT expertise to help us get set up.”
Kelly Sysak, Development Officer, Bissell Centre says she loves when businesses reach out to ask if a product, service or skill they have might be useful to the organization. She says that can also work both ways, pointing to Bissell’s employment services program where they partner up with businesses to provide casual day labourers.
“The business benefits from a participant who’s really motivated to work and lines up at 6 a.m. in hopes of getting that job. And just that one day of working, that self-worth they get…for someone who’s accessed any of our programs, it can be a catalyst to keep going and get them thinking about what they can achieve tomorrow. Like, maybe that one day’s pay allows them to stay in a hotel for the night. And maybe that one night of safety and security inspires them to connect with our housing support so that later they’re successfully housed.”
4. Spread the word through your channels.
Businesses often have strong networks and deep reach, both in real life and on social media. This can have a significant impact on helping charities connect with new and larger audiences.
“Learning more about the issues and being an ambassador within your own network like your family, friends, business contacts, and on your social platforms is really valuable,” says Brodie. “Aside from donating, raising awareness of the issues helps people understand the reasons why youth are experiencing homelessness and the kind of support they need.”
Bjornson agrees, adding that in times of donor fatigue, by helping to take a message just a little bit further you may reach that one person in that new corner who has the means and ability to give back.
While McCourt‑Reid recognizes social media can be a double-edged sword if people are seeing a lot of asks on their feeds, she says it’s not necessarily about asking for something – it can be very much about simply sharing information about what charities are doing in the community.
“It’s more about maybe posting or sharing something and saying hey, we’re really big fans of YWCA Edmonton because did you know this is some of the work they do – and then listing some of those programs or services,” she says. “People might be like, wow that’s great, I knew about this organization but I didn’t know they did all this. Or maybe sharing something and saying we’re really proud of the work they do, we’re really proud to be partnering with them. So, it’s a soft sharing that is mutually beneficial for both businesses and the charities they’re supporting.”
McCourt‑Reid adds this also shows employees and customers what causes are important to a business and gives them ideas for how they can get involved too.
5. Leverage your giving to engage with your employees, customers, and industry.
Activities like donation drives or third-party fundraisers from sales of products or services are a great way to involve both employees and customers, says McCourt‑Reid.
Sysak agrees, noting businesses she works with will do team building activities to collect items or raise funds, like running a competition within their teams or across multiple locations.
She points out too that when you help those in need get back on their feet, they also become consumers.
“They can start purchasing things and participating in that economic cycle of the community. So in a way, by helping community you’re also helping to increase your customer base,” says Sysak.
Businesses might even take things a step further by thinking about their social footprint and how they can make a broader impact on a social issue, suggests Bjornson.
“Is there something else you can do – can you talk to your business association about coming together and helping in some collective way? Can you talk to your city councillor or any other level of government? Is there a committee you can get involved with? Think about turning your motivation into a mission.”
Give yourself options.
There are many ways to keep the giving spirit alive in mindful and meaningful ways throughout the year. As Brodie says, the most important thing to remember is there are always people in need, and there are many ways to make an impact even through actions that on first glance might not seem very sizable.
“Our youth are still here all year round. So even if it may leave top of mind after the Christmas season, it’s still a reality every day for youth looking for a safe space to stay,” she says. “Knowing there are people out there who care makes a world of difference to them. And showing you care can take so many forms – big or small, it all adds up.”