When was the last time you tried to look up a business online and you couldn’t find them? Maybe you wanted to find their address or contact info, or maybe you wanted to browse their selection to decide if the trip was worth it. In COVID-times, you probably wanted to order for delivery or curbside pick-up. The store without a web presence, or the one with a cumbersome ordering process probably got less of your money than the businesses that made it easy. Even those deeply committed to small, brick-and-mortar shopping are looking for easy ways to interact with businesses online. All around us the world has become digital, and when everything we do is online — from shopping to tax filing to now work and education — we expect charities to be online too.
The fast growing trend toward digital was there before the pandemic — enabled by increasing consumer confidence, convenience, and expectations, especially in younger demographics — but Covid has accelerated this transition.
The trouble is, especially with smaller charities with small budgets, there is also a persistent and damaging expectation that charities shouldn’t invest too much in their own operations, staff, or equipment, so that all the money raised can go directly to programming. This makes keeping the lights on and achieving impact in the digital economy incredibly difficult.
In a nutshell, that is why CanadaHelps exists: to make it possible for tens of thousands of charities to participate in the digital economy with access and use digital tools that they need to survive, and to help donors give easily. It is what we have been doing for 20 years.
Now, on the occasion of our 20th anniversary, I am thinking about three idealistic teenagers starting a technology company as a charity, and it seems pretty outrageous! Running a tech company on a charity’s budget is not easy — I’ve written about it before — but I think it also says a lot about the culture of CanadaHelps — from launch and to this day — that we’re up for the challenge.
In addition to offering a convenient and trusted website for easily supporting any charity in Canada, we have a whole other side of what we do that most people probably aren’t aware of. We’ve built a full suite of fundraising tools for charities that are low-barrier, and based on charities’ needs. These are the forms you see when you go to a charity’s website and click “donate” or the tool you used to purchase a ticket for a charity’s gala. And every donation made through CanadaHelps, whether on our website or through one of these tools, helps us invest in doing even more for charities. Every dollar we make gets reinvested back into our charitable mission!
We are a Canadian charity, and our software is built by Canadians to support Canadian charities and their missions and causes!
But it wasn’t until COVID-19 hit Canada and forced the cancellation of every single fundraising event overnight did I really appreciate the significance of the work that we had been building for 20 years. We were able to help thousands of charities in a short period of time start taking donations online, and offer critical infrastructure for the tens of thousands of other charities, including those experiencing a surge in donations like food banks and hospitals.
Seeing all we’ve been able to do for charities this year only makes me more excited about what we can do in the future. The pandemic accelerated the digital trends we were seeing in all areas of our lives, and CanadaHelps can play a role in helping bridge the deep digital divide between charities and the business sector, and helping charities transition successfully become digital organizations.
We rely on a set of skills and talent on our team from the for-profit technology space to be successful in what we do for charities. But our dedication — as a charity ourselves — is to the success of the entire charitable sector in the digital era. What we do matters because the ability to operate effectively using technology will be one of the determining success factors in the future of charities.
As a technology executive that spent 20 years in the for-profit sector, I can say that running a technology organization — which is a charity and does not have typical investments behind it — is incredibly challenging. Because of it, our team is innovating, problem-solving, and being brilliantly strategic, smart and resourceful every single day — which is why we can offer high-quality products at a fraction of the typical costs. We are proud of our ambition to build and offer the best value to charities, and to be a steadfast and committed partner to every single charity in Canada.
But why does it all matter? Of course, technology is the means to an end. But that end is ensuring we continue to have a thriving charitable sector in this country. One thing this pandemic has done for many Canadians, is open their eyes to the work of charities in their communities. The food banks, the shelters, the seniors care services, the pet rescues, the community organizations and so much have all played a role in supporting Canada during this time. But even after this crisis is over, if we can support charities through it, they will be there for us in our places of worship, education programs, our arts sector, and our healthcare. Charities are all around us and they touch our lives every day. We would miss them dearly if they were gone. No charity should be left behind the digital barrier!