Five Gifts You Can Give Your Favourite Non-Profit Organizations

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.


Fred Smith

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.


Zero-Carbon Fail

Or Why I Shall Hitherto Always Check All the Bicycles My Own Self

 The Plan

I had this concert in a small town about 70 km from the end of the commuter-rail line out of Toronto, where I live. Last year, for another concert at the same festival, I took the train to the end of the line and biked up the motherloving escarpment and did my rehearsal and concert. It was fun. The ride was pleasant and rural. I felt like a badass bicycling soprano.

Later that summer my sweetheart bought himself a good bike (finally) and joined me on a flatter weekend tour, with no singing. The bike ride went surprisingly well. He completed his first 100-km day, with minimal complaining (after I adjusted his saddle so that it wasn’t putting as much pressure on some delicate body parts). So I concluded that we could, in fact, tour together. This being so, when the concert gig came up this year, I suggested he join me on my zero-emission concert adventure.

The plan was to get up stupid-early on Saturday morning, take the train to the end of the line, bike up the motherloving escarpment, stop in the neareast reasonably-sized town, at about kilometer 50 for lunch, get to the venue in time to find our accommodations, and for me to get shower and get to rehearsal on time, have a nice dinner, I could sing the concert, and we’d bike back down the escarpment Sunday, leaving a bit later and stopping in the same town in for lunch with friends. Get to the end of the train line and hop the train back home.

Google Maps told me it would be a 4.5-hour ride, but Google Maps does not believe in water breaks, lunch breaks, or riding very slowly up the mother-loving escarpment. It also believes that all cyclists are magically at the same fitness level and cycle at a constant average speed of an entirely reasonably 20 km/h. So I allowed about 6 hours for the cycling part of the trip.

I love being able to get to and from relatively far away places without relying on the car-machine. I recognize the utility of the car-machine, and sure, a person could drive to the music festival in an hour and a bit, rather than taking all blessed day to get there on the train and a bike, but that person would not experience the joy of going through several rural Ontario towns, rather than blasting by them on the highway. That person would not stop under a spreading tree for a water break and enjoy the breezes. That person would not see a hawk sitting intently atop a telephone pole as crows circled nearby waiting to clean up the hawk’s leavings. They wouldn’t say hello to the cows and horses, or pass the world’s cutest union hall. Cycling lets me travel at exactly the right pace to go through the environment, rather than to passing it by, and so, when I have a concert conveniently on a Saturday in the summer and the rehearsal isn’t until 4:30 in the evening, and the weather cooperates, I really love being able to eschew the fossil-fuel burning machine for self-propelled travel.

The Actuality

 Last weekend on his first ride this year, the Fella’s bike blew an inner tube. He fixed it, but there was “one little thing wrong,” he said. He tried to describe the one little thing to me, and was all “the tube doesn’t appear to be seated properly, and it’s bulging out.” 

I should have paid more attention to that. But he said it wasn’t a big thing, and that the tire appeared to be okay. 

He didn’t check it on Friday night. On Saturday, he found his new inner tube to be flat. So as he was replacing the (newly replaced) inner tube, I looked at his tire and said, “Well, there’s your problem.” 

The tire wall had a hole in it.

The reason I had not checked his tire before is that, when he told me about the blown tire last week, I told him to do a thorough check of the tire before replacing the inner tube. “Eyes and hands,” I told him, “Look for anything that might have caused a puncture, and feel carefully around the tire to make sure it’s not hiding.” This hole went right through.

Now, if you don’t bike, you may not know that if there’s a hole in your tire, then your innertube will blow, and your tire will be flat. You can’t patch a tire. You can patch an innertube, but not a tire. If you have a hole in your tire, you need a new tire.

At 9:00 in the morning, there are no open bike stores in Toronto. I did not have a tire to give him, as my bike has smaller wheels.

I was a good sweetie. I did not pout too much. I looked at our map, and checked bike-store times and came up with Plan B: we would put the bikes in the car, drive to a bike store in the city just west of our planned starting point, which was open, buy a new tire, change it there, drive to the starting point, leave the car, and continue with our plans. We would still have fun, and I’d just have to square our non-zero emissions with my conscience.

 So, Plan B, You Say

For a wonder, we did not encounter traffic getting out of Toronto. For a wonder, we found the bike store. Getting out of the car, I said to him “Grab the wheel, so they can put the tire on for you.”

“Okay,” he said, “I’m also going to bring this inner tube, and i’ll buy a spare, because this one’s all out of the package.” 

As he was describing his inner-tube plans, I opened the back of the car. There were two bikes. Four panniers. Two helmets. Four pedals. Three wheels.

Three wheels.

He’d left the rear wheel of his bike in the back yard, an hour’s drive away in Toronto.

And Here’s Where We Just Become Carbon-Burning Monsters

So we bought a tire. Because he needed a tire in any case. And I had him drop me at the starting point for our ride, because I was now right on time for starting and doing the ride solo. I gave him the map, and we agreed he could catch up with me along the route, and we’d leave the car wherever probably in Guelph, and he dropped me off and kissed me goodbye and I only swore once (when I counted the number of wheels), and did not say anything mean. 

I made it to Guelph, no problem, and phoned him just as he was 10 minutes away. So I had lunch and he came to find me. We parked the car at the home of friends, and biked the last 25 km together, arriving 10 minutes before I had to rehearse. Spent a lovely evening, explored the Gorge and the local bike trails, then headed back 25 km, to have lunch with friends and retrieve the car, having burned over twice as much fuel as we would have if we’d just driven to the Festival door-to-door.

Good Council

Toronto friends, this weekend I canvassed for two excellent candidates for City Council: Idil Burale Ward 1 and Amarjeet Chhabra in Ward 44.

With the relentless media focus on the Mayor’s dog-and-pony show and the Chow-vs-Tory horserace to unseat him, it’s easy to forget that there are 44 votes on City Council, and that it took more than the Fords to get Toronto into its current mess. We have a dysfunctional, divided city council with several councillors committed to nothing more than their own aggrandizement. 

But there is hope! There are some hard-working smart people on Council currently, and there are some absolutely crackerjack people running to join them, all over the city. City councillors do more than organize Environment Days and movie nights: theirs are the voices arguing for your concerns at City Hall, and theirs are the votes that make things happen. And you can help make sure that the people representing you actually, you know, represent *you*, and that the people in your ward (or another ward) have a good idea of what their choices are, and who to support.

The mayor sets the agenda, sure, but it’s the Councillors who can make it happen (or, as has happened so often over the past four years, make things NOT happen). So let’s get some good people onto Council.


Ain’t No Party

I think I’ve managed to articulate why I’m all about “vote for the candidate, not the party leader.” 

Here goes:

In the best-case scenario, government is about a bunch of smart, passionate people working hard to represent their constituents and make society work better. Sometimes, they have to balance the demands of one against the demands of the other, and that can be really tough. So I want people in government that I trust to do the best job they can balancing those demands and coming up with smart plans. I want people who are numerate and honest and caring. I want people like Cheri de Novo (NDP, sponsor of Toby’s Law and other human rights legislation) and Eric Hoskins (Liberal,humanitarian) and Kathleen Wynne (Liberal, as Minister of Ed established the Minister’s Student Advisory Council) and Peter Tabuns (NDP, inveterate representative of his constituents and energy critic) and Jagmeet Singh (NDP, doing good work on religious freedom and police accountability). I don’t want people like Tim Hudak (Conservative, innumerate), or Arthur Potts (Liberal, “right-to-work” advocate) making laws, because I don’t trust them to have the best interest of the province in mind. I’m not really sure I think Andrea Horwath deserves to be in the legislature either. 

I believe that if we elect smart, principled people who are committed to serving their constituents (ALL of their constituents) and the people of Ontario, and to bringing all their intelligence, passion, and experience to balancing the demands of a large, diverse population, then we’ll have done well in voting, no matter who the Premier is. If, on the other hand, we elect self-serving power brokers or rampant idealogues because we want to see a certain party in power or want to prevent another party from taking power, then we’ll get a weaker government that will harm us all.

Man Up, Ladies. Also, Lean In. And Stop Being Such Girls

Oh my god this blog post from The Agenda just made my head pop right off my shoulders.

But we’ve also discovered there also seems to be something in women’s DNA that makes them harder to book. No man will ever say, “Sorry, can’t do your show tonight, I’m taking care of my kids.” The man will find someone to take care of his kids so he can appear on a TV show. Women use that excuse on us all the time.

No man will say, “Sorry, can’t do your show tonight, my roots are showing.” I’m serious. We get that as an excuse for not coming on. But only from women.

No man will say, “Sorry can’t do your show tonight, I’m not an expert in that particular aspect of the story.” They’ll get up to speed on the issue and come on. Women beg off. And worse, they often recommend a male colleague in their place.

You have to understand: no producer sets out to book a show with five, white, 60-year-old, male guests. Think about it! Everyone in the current affairs business wants guests who are brilliant, but who also accurately represent the population they serve. For us, it goes beyond that. Many of us who work on The Agenda have kids. We want those kids to know that expertise doesn’t just come in a 60-year-old white male package. We want our daughters, in particular, to see that expertise can come in a female package too.

But still, despite our commitment, despite our efforts, despite EVERYTHING, there are too many days when it feels as if female guests are an endangered species.

Men will, apparently, prioritize appearing on TV over taking care of kids. How nice that some of them seem to have that luxury. So if you want female guests, why not have a roster of babysitters on call, that you can offer guests? Or offer child care? Or, when possible, give your guests enough lead time that they can arrange child care?

Men aren’t subject to the same beauty requirements as women are. So make it easy for a woman to appear on your show: try to book her in advance. Let her know that a hairdresser will help her minimize her roots. Offer her dibs on makeup artists. You can’t fix the beauty double-standard, so accept that this is a concern for women, and make it easy for them. Don’t tell them “the beauty myth don’t real, so come on my show with your roots showing.” The beauty myth is a thing. The sexual double standard is a thing. If I go on TV with my roots all showing, every stranger who disagrees with me is going to mention my hair, and also my mom will call and lecture me about my hair. More people will talk about my hair than talk about whatever points I was making.

Women are uncomfortable appearing in public unless they feel themselves to be experts. They usually undervalue their own expertise and defer. So prop them up: let them know the kinds of questions you’ll be asking so that they can swot up. Don’t make them softball questions—just give your woman guests a chance to become comfortable with the subject matter. Or, even better, run a boot-camp for women on TVO. Maybe ask your regular guests to each identify one possible woman guest (or guest who is a member of another visible minority) and to mentor or coach that person.

Improve your “binders full of women,” so that you know maybe more than one woman who feels herself to be an authority on a given matter. That way you won’t have to defer to a man the next time she can’t drum up childcare on three hours’ notice: you’ll have another woman you can call. Do this with all the underrepresented groups you want to better represent.

Sheesh. In 15 minutes, with my head having flown right off my shoulders, I came up with a bunch of ways to mitigate women’s concerns beyond saying, essentially, “Man up, ladies.” Maybe if you’d talked to some women about how to find solutions rather than how to be more like men, they might have come up with some other ideas I haven’t thought of.

Don’t tell women to man up. If you want women to come to you, then ask them how you can make that happen.

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Regarding Nice Things

Soon-to-be-gone (boo) landmark discount store Honest Ed’s recently sold off a bunch of its old iconic hand-painted signage. People lined up for up to ten hours to wait for a turn to buy a memento.

Predictably, the signs started to turn up for sale at a markup. Some people who waited outside, on a warm spring day, are dismayed that other people did so, for the purpose of capitalizing on the sale.

Look, I don’t have 10 hours available to me on a Monday to stand in a queue. If I had paid someone less employed minimum wage to stand in that queue, I’d have had to pay that person upwards of $100. So these folks went and queued up on spec, and are now capitalizing on their investments. Or should I have taken the day off work in order to deserve a nice thing? Or is it only people who have the luxury of leisure time who are allowed to have this kind of nice thing?

And that’s what I said about that.

Context: In reference to financing the Big Move transit project for the Greater Toronto Area:

[Premier Kathleen] Wynne accused the opposition Tories and New Democrats of mischief by insisting that the Liberal government planned to hike the gas tax and HST.

“I had said all along that funding has to be fair,” she said, adding “I am not going to ask the people in North Bay to pay for transit in the GTA . . . that has never been part of our plan.”

Dear Premier Wynne:

Of all the stupid things you may ever have said, that you’re not going to ask people in North Bay to fund transit in the GTA is a contender for the most mind-numbingly stupid and ill-informed.

In 2008, North Bay got a new hospital. A large amount of the funding for that hospital came from the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. Did the MHLTC carefully designate only taxation revenue from North Bay in order to build that new hospital? No, it did not, because that’s not how taxation and funding works in this province. The MHLTC received a portion of the province’s revenue, which is largely derived from transfer payments from the federal government as well as the province’s portion of the HST. It designated some of that money for North Bay’s hospital. Further funding may have come from other agencies, and the North Bay Regional Health Centre did a lot of fund-raising.

The NBRHC’s fund-raising notwithstanding, this means that people in the GTA, which forms a significant portion of the province’s taxation base, what with all our density and concentration of businesses and commerce and whatnot, paid for that new hospital in North Bay. Most of us will never need a hospital in North Bay. And we weren’t asked about whether we thought there should be a hospital in North Bay, because that’s not how government works.

The Liberal government decided to fund a hospital in North Bay out of all the money that all the people in Ontario put into the healthcare pot. I presume the government did this because people in North Bay needed a new hospital.

People in the GTA need transit.

So you’re saying that people in the GTA should fund things in North Bay, but you can’t ask people in North Bay to fund things in the GTA. Which is nonsense, poor governance, and Tim-Hudak levels of stupid.

I expect better from you. The province deserves better than this. This isn’t governance. this is just cowardly pandering. Grow up.

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On Why Feminism Doesn’t Need “Re-branding.”

Feminism doesn’t need re-branding, because feminism is not a product.

The radical notion that women are human beings is already pretty darn simple, accessible, and recognizable.

If that idea, and the word that names it, is not received with universal positive regard, then we need to fix the world, not feminism.

Gone Fishing

String, magnet, tape, and the retrieved key.

Always keep magnets, string, and tape handy. They’re more useful than a Swiss army knife!

The fourth-floor washrooms of the building in which ChoirCommandCentral is located are locked. We have a key for each of the women’s and the men’s rooms, held on rare earth magnets on the filing cabinet by the door, so that you can grab whatever key you think is appropriate on your way out (the rest of the building, incidentally, has gender-unspecified washrooms. Up here on the fourth floor, they didn’t renovate to un-segregate the facilities. We’re sorry about that, but since the men’s room smells bad, we’re happy for you to use the ladies, whatever your plumbing or gender identification.)

Someone invariably takes off with the key to the ladies’ room. Oftentimes people forget it in the ladies room, and we have to ask the FringePeople next door to let us in.

Today, I washed my hands, dried them, and threw the key into the wastebin, holding my used paper-towel in my key-holding hand. Fortunately, I realised what I’d done before I closed the ladies’ room door behind me, because it was after office-hours, and I was pretty sure the FringePeople would have gone home.

Black shoe on a shelf

Cute and useful both for protecting your feet from the floor and holding open doors.

This is one of those integrated paper-towel dispenser, garbage-bin units that goes really far down (farther down than my arm is long), and doesn’t take a garbage bag that you can just haul out. There’s a locked door preventing people from taking entire stacks of paper towels and I don’t know using them for papier mache, and incidentally preventing anyone who has dropped her key in the garbage, where, being heavier than all the used paper towels, it sank to the bottom of the can, from retrieving it.

Guys, using a bobby pin to pick the lock on a paper-towel unit is not as straightforward as Burn Notice would have you believe.

Bobby pin

Not useful to the untrained hand.

Fortunately for me, and for all the other users of that bathroom at ChoirCommandCentral, Burn Notice is not the only TV show I have watched. I kept the washroom door open by the cunning expedient of sticking my shoe in it, then hobbled back into ChoirCommandCentral, where I snagged the rare earth magnet used to hold the key onto the filing cabinet, some green painter’s tape, and a bunch of string left over from I don’t know what. I taped the magnet to the string, and lowered it into the garbage.

Whose walls, of course, are made of brushed steel, against which the magnet lodged itself with a decisive “thwak.”

Undeterred, I continued to lower my magnet key-fishing line, reaching farther and farther into the waste bin, and tossing the magnet with more and more force, until I heard a quiet, tiny “clink!”

The key has been washed off, just in case there was anything nasty in there (I don’t think there was), and returned to its magnet on the filing cabinet. Both my shoes are back on my feet. They’ll never know how close they all came to having to use the stinky men’s room.

The moral of the story is “Always keep lengths of string in your office. You never know when you’re going to need to go fishing.”

Keys back in their proper places

“Don’t lose the keys!” we’re always saying.

Pro-Social Approaches to Anti-Social Personalities

Audra’s really happy that someone wrote this article:

23 Signs That You’re Secretly a Narcissist Masquerading as a Sensitive Introvert:

Let’s clarify something here: Narcissism is definitely not the same thing as introversion.

Have you ever met someone who constantly tells you how “sensitive” and “introverted” they are, but all you actually see is selfishness and egocentricity? I’m sure you have, because these people exist in spades.

So am I, not least because it provoked discussion, some of which was defensive, and some of which was thoughtful, about the extent to which individuals and communities can and should be expected to accommodate those whose pathologies make them … hard on communities or contribute to anti-social behaviour.

Should people who are less narcissistic simply expect that some of those with whom they interact will show a certain amount of disregard for the needs of other members of the community, and accommodate this self-centered behaviour? Let’s say, for example, that we plan a community event: say a pot-luck picnic, and we ask everyone who comes to the event to bring a contribution to the food or drink, help with transportation, and help with set-up or clean-up. Most people bring a contribution roughly equal to or greater than what they’ll consume, and do one or more “chores.” Some people do more chores, because they like doing chores. Some people bring more food or drink, because they like feeding people. And some people arrive late, without a contribution, eat, drink, and leave early, leaving their mess behind. Maybe they also request a lift home, because they don’t drive.

So at the next picnic, do we say “Oh, well, so and so is just like that, and we should include them anyway?” Or do we ask them to commit to a specific contribution/task, and then prompt them to follow through, the way I would have to with a group of 8-year-olds? Or do we decide that we prefer interacting with people who enter into the spirit of collective enterprise without prompting?

For the record, my preference with people whose anti-social but non-harmful behaviours* affect me negatively follows roughly this process:

1. Assess whether this is a person with whom I wish to maintain an association. If the person is a near-stranger, or not a member of my immediate community, then I have the option of simply ignoring them. But if the person is a member of my community, a co-worker, or someone whose presence I value for some reason, then I have to make another decision.

2. Determine how gravely the anti-social behaviour affects me personally, affects the people I care about, and makes the community less functional. In the picnic example above, if the organizers of the picnic are prepared to suffer non-contributing guests, then it’s not my place to tell them not to, though I may choose not to invite this person to my events. However, if someone’s behavior affects me personally: if, for example, they come to my home a lot, eat all my food, drink all my tea, and never offer to clean up or replace what they’ve used, then I choose to act on my own behalf.

3. Find a way to communicate to the offending party which behaviour I found offensive and to gently, constructively suggest other ways of behaving. It’s not fair to expect people to change if they have no way of knowing they’ve done something wrong. So I may explain that when someone comes to my home, they are welcome, but I need to kick them out in time to get an early night, and it would make me feel better if they offered to help with the dishes or asked if they could bring something with them.

4. Present opportunities to do better. Self explanatory, I hope.

5. Provide feedback. Tell people when I notice and appreciate their efforts. Thank them. Let them know when their behaviour has inconvenienced or hurt me or other people.

If, after all of this, and a considerable period of time, I find myself still consistently bothered, hurt, inconvenienced,  or disappointed by someone’s behaviour, I adjust my expectations of that person accordingly. This may look like reducing contact with that person, or only seeing them in situations that won’t be affected by their anti-social behaviour. If someone is chronically extremely late, for example, I won’t do things that require me to be on time with that person. If someone habitually eats me out of house and home, I’ll meet them at a restaurant. If someone habitually complains, I’ll try to see them for brief periods of time and only when I’m feeling good to begin with. If someone habitually flakes out and doesn’t show up for commitments they’ve made, I won’t depend on them for anything. If someone really hurts me, I don’t see any reason to keep associating with them.

I feel like this approach balances my desire to include people in my community with my desire not to be run roughshod over and reflects  how I hope the people in my life might treat me if at any time my behaviour were to cause them distress.

*If a person has actively harmed members of my community, then I am far more concerned with ensuring that nobody else gets harmed than I am with the personal development of the person doing the harm.