Last week, I stood in my kitchen sorting through the empty containers, dirty sock (singular), torn pieces of paper and other various pieces of riffraff that sat in my daughters school back pack. I came across a form from her class.
“BRING $2 IN TO SCHOOL TO SUPPORT AUTISM & GET A CUPCAKE!”
I, of course, jumped on this opportunity to teach my 9 year old about philanthropy. We don’t give for the reward, we give because we are moved to change or help something – and THAT is the reward… I shared some of my idea’s and concerns on my Facebook page where my #starwars gal pal Rory Green contributed some really insightful thinking which has amounted to the below blog post. Have a read…
E is for Empathy…
We all want children to learn Philanthropy, and the joy of giving. We want them to grow up to be the kind of people who give of themselves to help others. But the truth is, a lot of our efforts aren’t cutting it. The madness has to stop. Enough cupcake sales, pancake breakfasts, chocolate almonds, toonie auctions.
These are events whose heart is in the right place but are really missing the mark. Some of them are just dumb.
Why? Because it isn’t the act of giving money that matters, it’s the desire to help another person.
That starts with empathy. The desire, and ability, to understand and share the feelings of another.
As the band Reed says: “Run your fingers through my soul. For once, just once, feel exactly what I feel, believe what I believe, perceive as I perceive, look, experience, examine, and for once; just once, understand.”
How beautiful is that? When you can empathize, you give, you volunteer, you protest, you care, you forgive, you love, you learn and you change.
That is what we need. Empathy first, and giving second.
When I was 14, I lost a friend to Leukemia. My school did an annual bike-a-thon for juvenile cancer research, and I stepped up as the student organizer. It had been run very similar to the Jump Rope for Heart event in the past, with lots of incentives and prizes, and very little focus on cancer. It was a lot of work, and only raised around $2,000.
I made some changes.
- We stopped talking about “juvenile cancer research” and started using words like “helping kids with cancer”
- I asked a mother to come speak to the School, to talk about losing her son to cancer. What it felt like. How much she missed him.
- We started asking the community to get involved in helping kids with cancer – not just our parents. We asked our families, our neighbours, our friend. We ran a story in the local newspaper letting the community know why we’d be at their doors, and where the money would go.
- We went to CHEO and interviewed a cancer researcher about the difference our past donations had made, and what was next for cancer research.
- We had a childhood cancer survivor come in to talk to the students about what cancer is like. He spoke our language, and we related to him.
- We had a professional fundraiser come and talk to the School about a world without cancer – who challenged us to dream big and be a part of the solution – followed by a training session on how to ask for money.
Looking back, my strategy was this – get the school to care enough to say “I want to help” – then make it easy to help. Kind of like, well, real fundraising.
The result? One student donated his allowance for a year. Another raised over $2,000 from door-to-door asks – none of her donations were larger than $5. Several students grew, cut and donated their hair. Others volunteered. Everyone got involved, in their own way. There was 100% participation.
Our total that year was over $12,000, $15,000 the next.
But more than the money raised, my School community had been transformed – to one that understood and cared about others, and had a desire, and opportunity to help. We still had some incentives. The biggest one was a new TV. The winning student donated it to a women’s shelter.
Maybe the call to action isn’t even money – maybe it’s writing cards to cancer patients, maybe it’s singing at a senior’s home, maybe it’s playing video games with kids in the hospital, maybe it’s planting a tree. It isn’t the money that matters – it’s the desire to help. The money will come later.
We always need to ask “why am I doing this” – and the answer isn’t a love of baking and selling cupcakes. It’s to create a world where people look outside themselves, and try to understand, help, support and care for one another.
Cupcakes have nothing to do with it.