We’re well into the Season of Consumer Angst, and the end of the calendar year looms just a few weeks away. A lot of people are feeling tapped out with respect to spending, just as a lot of our favourite charities and causes kick into their end-of-year fund-raising campaigns. It seems paradoxical that these organizations are approaching supporters with their hands out just as everyone’s wallets are empty and credit cards are maxed out, but for non-profits, this time of year can often see a huge upswing in donations for two reasons: people are in a giving frame of mind, because of the Season; and people are scrambling to make their charitable donations and get their tax receipts by the end of the fiscal year.
If you’re feeling tapped out, here are a few ways you can support your favourite non-profits without going any further into the red. Some of these do involve spending money; others involve spending time: I leave it to you to assess which you have more of.
1) Sign up for a monthly donation plan in the upcoming year. We love monthly donations. They’re like subscriptions: money we can count on and budget on. You won’t get a tax receipt for this year, but you will for next year, and your $10 or $15 monthly can really help us.
2) Donate points or bucks from your online rewards programme. I don’t know a lot about this, but the various rewards programmes like Swagbucks, Shoppers Optimum, and PetroCanada allow you to donate your accumulated points to charities. There are often restrictions on these gifts: PetroPoints, for example, allow you to give only to the Canadian Cancer Society’s Information and Support Programs or to the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Athletes and Coaches, while Shoppers Optimum points can go to a much broader list of charities.
3) Organize your own fund-raiser. CanadaHelps allows donors to set up their own fund-raising portals for any charity in Canada. The onus is on charities to collect the funds, but it’s relatively easy for charities to do, and CanadaHelps’s fees are pretty low: they take 1.7 percent of each donation, and an additional 2.2% goes to bank and credit card processing fees. You can ask friends and family to make a donation on your behalf for your birthday or a special holiday or hold a bake sale or come up with your own genius plan. Post the link to your giving page on your own Facebook or blog, and let the charity know. Do be careful about making sure that people know that your fund-raiser is your own thing and that you’re not an agent of the charity: some charities are really protective of their brands, but most are happy to receive donations.
4) If you have an employer, find out if they have a donation-matching programme. Some employers will match donations that employees make to charities. Ask your boss whether they match your gifts. This way, your small gift has a bit more oomph.
5) Let us know you like us. If you have no money, no friends with money, and no employer, well, you’re not unusual in my fund-raising experience. You can still help. Every programme an organization runs costs money. If an organization offers reduced-price services to students, the organization is eating the additional cost. If they offer a free programme, they are finding the money for that programme somewhere. If they’re maintaining an information-packed website, they have to pay the researchers, writers, and developers who create the site. If they’re distributing sandwiches to hungry people, they need to come up with the sandwiches, the delivery truck, and a database to coordinate sandwiches and hungry people. The money to do that stuff has to come from somewhere, and if we can’t raise it from you, then we have to convince other people that they want to help us. Testimonials that tell donors that a charity is doing good work really help. So if you’ve benefited from a charity’s free or reduced price tickets, or received a sandwich or sliding-scale counselling, or checked the organization’s website and found a job, maybe take a moment or three to write a letter or an e-mail telling the people at that charity how their program has helped you. You don’t have to be effusive, but it helps if you’re specific: state what the programme was and how it directly helped you.
Here’s a sample:
Thank you so much for setting up a super-informative jobs database for young people. I graduated last year, and finding work has been a challenge. I visited your website every week, and completely re-did my resume based on your advice. I also followed up on about 35 posted job opportunities, and eventually it paid off! As of next Tuesday, I’ll be starting a job with XYZ company. The best part is that I studied underwater rock cleaning, and the job involves cleaning rocks! I’m really excited about this opportunity and grateful for the support your website provided. I just wanted you to know that it made a difference for me in my job search.
It seems hokey, but these impact statements tell a better story than all the statistics that organizations can generate, and funders really like to know how their money is helping people. So if you can’t make a gift this year, send your favourite charity a card or e-mail telling your story. It may help, and it will almost certainly make someone feel good about the work they do.