Friday, June 14, 2013

Baby Steps to a Better World Part 6 - Adding A Personal Touch

This week’s post is for those who crave a more hands on approach to activism and charity support. When giving money and signing petitions aren’t enough there are ways to make it a bit more personal and solidify your determination to stay involved.

Activism and charity work are much easier when you have real victims in mind. Make the blunt-edged generalities sharp and poignant by spending time with the survivors or those directly impacted by a situation. In some cases that’s easier to do than others. If you want to raise money for things like medical research, opportunities abound among cancer, chronic pain or chronic illness groups. Most of them have annual fundraising events where you can meet survivors and their families. For those of you with physical limitations you can participate by volunteering at the event rather than walking, running or biking.

If human rights are your focus, you may still have that opportunity. If your passion is LGBT rights, marches and parades happen every year in most cities in North America. If you don’t live in one of them you can make it an annual event to drive over and spend the weekend mingling with the people directly involved in the battle for freedoms the rest of us take for granted.

If your passion is more along the lines of refugees, women’s rights, human trafficking or the like it can be more difficult. My suggestion is to keep in touch with local groups of human rights organizations in your area. Sometimes those opportunities pop up without much fanfare or warning. If your organization of choice doesn’t have a local chapter, check their website for national or regional events and get on their mailing list for future ones. It is well worth the time and expense to attend.  


Breaking out on your own

What if there isn’t a fundraising event in your area or at least not one you can afford? That’s not a problem. You can create one…and before you break out the excuses for why you can’t possibly do that let me assure you, you can.  Here is the opportunity to put your imagination to work. I’ve listed a couple of ideas to get you started:

  • Set up your own charity walk/run/swim/ride/dance. Pick a date and a place (high school track, treadmill at the gym, public swimming pool, community park, etc.). Pick an event (riding a bike, rollerblading, swimming, walking, running, skipping, galloping, jumping rope, ice-skating, etc.). Collect pledges from neighbors, friends, family and co-workers. Then run, walk, rollerblade, skate, swim or dance for as many miles, laps or hours as you can. Don’t worry if you’re not a marathon runner and your best effort raised $30. That’s ok. There’s no shame in $30. Do a little working out to get in shape for the next one or recruit friends to join in. The point is you did it. Be proud of yourself.

Once you’ve completed your event and sent your money to the organization, be sure to touch base with your donors and let them know how many miles, laps or hours you lasted and how much you raised. Get them excited for your next event.

  • Piggyback on an already scheduled community event. If there is a run or walk already organized in your area then collect pledges for your charity and donate it at the end of the event just like you would for any other charity walk/run. As an example, let’s look at the annual Vancouver Sun Run in British Columbia. A percentage of the entrance fees go to charity. Since you don’t have to collect pledges for the run itself you can pay your fee, support the Sun Run charity and support your own organization at the same time by collected pledges for every mile/km you run.

Only do this if the event you’re participating in is not already a pledge event. You don’t want to join an event for breast cancer and instead collect pledges to stop human trafficking. Respect the organization that spent the money to put together the event and support their cause while you support your own.

This next part might sound a bit ridiculous to some of you but it needs to be said. Do these fundraisers with integrity, people. If you only lasted ½ mile, be honest and only collect money for ½ mile. If your fundraiser involves renting space or equipment, traveling expenses, etc. and you want to use some of the money raised to help pay for it you have to say so in advance. Charity fraud is a real thing and can land you in a lot of trouble. I’m talking lawsuits and fines so always act with integrity. Collect only what you earned and donate exactly what you said you would.

  • Set up an online auction for charity on eBay. Gather collectables, sew things, knit things, crochet things, clear out closets and the garage and do an online “garage sale” for charity. For that matter, do a local garage sale for charity.

  • Have a bake sale at your church or school (with permission, of course).

  • Create a scholarship for local high school graduates or international students attending a local university. This isn’t something reserved for the wealthy. Anyone can do it without taxing the family budget.

How does that relate to activism and charity? It depends on how you set the scholarship criteria.

You can open it to all students or you could specify only the ones you want. For example, those with a specific major or personal history (from a particular country, foster kids, homeless kids, orphans, cancer survivors, diabetes sufferers, volunteer workers, etc.). If you want to help abused animals make it a scholarship for students studying veterinary medicine. If you want to support human rights make it for students with a history of volunteer work who intend to study law and become civil rights lawyers.

When you’ve set the criteria, contact the local school district or university and find out how to get on the list of available scholarships. Then create your application form. Don’t let that idea intimidate you. Your form can be as simple as student name, address, graduation date, current grade point average and a single essay question asking what they want to do with their college education. Believe me the hardest part is going to be choosing a single student from the stack of applicants.

How much should you give? That’s up to you. It has to be an amount you are absolutely sure you can afford when the time comes to pay the student. A minimum useful amount is no less than $350…the approximate cost of a semester’s worth of textbooks. Before you decide you can’t afford that much let’s break this down into something less intimidating.

If you start saving up for the scholarship a year before you need to pay it that comes to $30 a month. If you find a friend willing to pair up with you it’s only $15 per person each month. The more friends involved, the less money a month or the more you can give. By the way, offering to put the names of all contributors on the scholarship is a great way to encourage support. It could be The [your name]-[friend’s name] Annual Scholarship. It has a nice ring doesn’t it?

This doesn’t have to be a lifetime commitment. You can do it for only a single year. If it turns out to be more than you bargained for you don’t have to renew the scholarship. 

One important note: If you choose to have applicants mail you the forms rather than sending it via e-mail DO NOT give out your home address. Rent a short-term post office box somewhere and have the forms delivered there. You don’t want applicants showing up on your doorstep.

Next week: from a one-time donation to a lifetime of compassion, how to keep the fire alive

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