By Jesse Snyder
Gena Rotstein, owner, Dexterity Consultations
Gena Rotstein knows that charitable organizations weren’t meant to last forever. That’s why she’s trying to create a sustainable approach to the not-for-profit sector, one that emphasizes wealth creation rather than dependence on charitable donations. Her Calgary-based company, Dexterity Consultations, has been following that same mantra since its revamping in 2008. “Our whole belief system is that you can make money and do good at the same time,” Rotstein says.
Dexterity Consulting has been connecting donors to charities for years. Since 2008, the company has facilitated in $3 million dollars worth of donations, mostly from large financial institutions looking to fund organizations and communities that fit their overall message. The company employs four marketing people, and works with around eight separate businesses to find meaningful candidates to receive there donation money.
The not-for-profit business is nothing new to Rotstein. She’s been volunteering all her life, and remembers putting in time with United Synagogue Youth while attending university. But the industry has changed dramatically since then. The not-for-profit sector is suffering from an identity crisis of sorts, she says, as the public grows more skeptical of charities. “We’ve seen in North America over a billion dollars in fraud in the charitable sector. Donors are starting to ask questions around: ‘really what is my money doing?’”
The idea that the not-for-profit sector could in fact be profitable isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. The attempt to hinge charities on social change instead of hand-outs has been ongoing, as a recent article in the Globe and Mail points out. The question is how to make donors comfortable with their investments while building stronger communities, she says. For Rotstein, that means opening up the not-for-profit sector to “entrepreneurial philanthropy,’ which makes organizations more self-dependent. “My heart is in community,” she says, explaining that there’s no reason people can’t make a profit from so called non-profit organizations. “But that doesn’t mean there’s no place for charity,” she says. “People will (continue to) give emotionally.”
Anil Patel, organizer, Timeraiser
There’s one thing almost every university graduate has in common; they are far from wealthy. Anil Patel quickly came to this realization just after his university days ended, as many young people his age were having trouble making ends meet. He knew these economic woes were putting a serious damper on young peoples’ ability to donate to charity, so he devised a way for young people to donate without spending money. That is, for them to donate time rather than dollars. “They might not have a ton of disposable income, but they might have a little bit of time,” Patel says.
Eventually he started Timeraiser (read our Unlimited explainer piece here), an annual event where people can give volunteer hours rather to support local artists. It’s held in eight major cities across Canada. The various corporations involved in the event pay local artists a market price for their artwork, which is then sold in a silent auction where the winning bid goes to the largest offer of donor hours. Heading into its ninth year, Timeraiser has offered up over 100,000 volunteer hours to a number of corporations and organizations. It’s become one of the fastest-growing donor-based initiatives in Canada, providing about $500,000 in investments for emerging artists.
Timeraiser continues to grow. Major cities in the United States and Europe have expressed interest in hosting the event as it begins gaining worldwide attention. Though, Patel mostly takes satisfaction in helping people help others. “We hear a good number of stories where someone’s just finished college, they’ve got their first job, they’ve moved to a city and this becomes a great way to get volunteering again,” he says. The most effective part of the Timeraiser idea, however, is that volunteers are getting physically involved in community events and are encouraged to interact, Patel says. “It becomes a good way to find good work/life balance.”
Jocelyne Daw, owner, JS Daw & Associates
Jocelyne Daw has been called “the mother of cause-marketing.” She earned her reputation in 1988 while working as the Executive Director of Canadian Parks Partnerships, a national park preservation group. The idea that non-profit and profit organizations could partner up symbiotically had been floated around for some time, but had yet to be used successfully. Daw eventually partnered with Post Cereal, by creating a nation-wide competition that won participants a tour of a national park, to advertise the benefits of healthy eating and outdoor living. The promotion gained massive attention, and the idea has been replicated many times over.
23 years later, the original idea of cause marketing still exists. And after 30 years in the business, Daw uses those same techniques today. As the owner of JS Daw & Associates, she helps donors market themselves in a way that not only raises awareness, but raises capital. “It’s to help them build a crystal-clear message,” explains Daw. The main pitfall of not-for-profit organizations tends to be that they convey a cloudy message as to what exactly they stand for, explains Daw. “It’s not that they aren’t doing good work, it’s that they’re not clearly explaining why they are the group that is doing the work better than anyone else,” she says.
Daw has done extensive work with the YMCA and Calgary Counselling Centre, as well as Cenovus Energy Inc. and Enbridge Inc. She has authored two books on marketing and building community, including: Breakthrough Nonprofit Branding: Seven Principles to Power Extraordinary Results and Cause Marketing: Partner for Purpose, Passion and Profit.
Daw says her work is only becoming more relevant as not-for-profit organizations rapidly grow in number. As donors have an increasingly wide selection of charities to choose from, many groups are being elbowed out of the market. That’s been one of Daw’s central messages. Community can’t be built, and money can’t be raised, unless there’s a message lying underneath it all. “It’s what people think about you when they think about your organization.”