The Right Way to Give? That's Up to You

An image of Echidnas reenacting the window scene from A Christmas Carol

When it comes to charities and promotion, how much is too much? What, as an individual or a business should you do? And where is the line between self-glorification and using one’s sphere of influence drawn? There may not be a right answer -- it’s just something you’ll have to reconcile for yourself.

As we enter December, you’re likely to hear the appeals for support. Organizations far and wide are in need and the need is real. We’ll likely be making a few of those appeals on organizations’ behalf ourselves. Just today, we participated in the Business Cares Food Drive kickoff. Echidna’s long been a part of the organization and I’m a member of the steering committee.

In fact, we’ll be at the Sobey’s on Fanshawe and Adelaide all day Sunday collecting donations for the Business Cares Food Drive. We hope to see you there!

But I’ll be honest, when it comes to talking about charitable endeavours, it’s a hard thing to reconcile. Where do you strike that balance between promotion and self-promotion? I don’t know if we’ve figured it out -- I know I sure haven’t.

At Echidna, we’ve earned the Caring Companies designation through Imagine Canada. We believe in working with causes and lending our support to issues in which we have a personal interest. And that aligns nicely with my personal beliefs. We also strongly believe that we shouldn’t be the focus of anything, rather it should be the organization or the cause that gets all the attention. Again, that’s right in line with what I believe.

But then there’s the other side of the argument that states that any promotion is good for the cause. There’s the idea that we should use our voices to promote our involvement, so that we can encourage others to get involved.

That’s a noble thought -- but too often, it seems that this type of promotion devolves into self-gratification and spending more time showing what a great person you are, rather than actually making a difference.

I do agree, though, that those who have the luxury of opportunity should not only take it, but promote it wisely. I know how lucky I am to work for a company that affords me the opportunity to sit on a few boards and roll up my sleeves and do some work that I believe benefits the community. I try not to be obnoxious about it, but sometimes I wonder if I share too much -- or too little -- about what I’m involved in.

I mean, you can easily find out some of the things in which I’m involved just by looking at my LinkedIn. However, there are other things I support, financially and through donating time, that I don’t talk about publicly. Some are personal attachments; others represent things that friends and family are involved in. But by not talking about it, am I doing a disservice to them?

It’s a question every business must ask themselves. For me, the ones that inspire me the most are the companies that use their reach to promote the cause and try not to make it about them. It’s the difference between saying, “Look at the great work this group is doing. Come out and support them,” and “Look at the great work we’re doing by supporting this group.” It’s a difference -- and not a subtle one at all.

Maybe there’s no wrong way to give. If your motivation for charity is 100 per cent altruistic or 100 per cent self-congratulatory, then this may be the rare case where the ends justify the means.

But if I can give any advice as to how to make it work, it would be the following:

  • Choose a cause or causes that resonates with you -- If you have a personal investment or belief in a cause, you’re going to enjoy the experience so much more.
  • Find somewhere that you fit -- Charity doesn’t have to be financial. Some of the most valuable contributions you can make can just be your time and skills. From fundraising to communications to project management, many organizations need talented people to help them along. If you can be one of those people, please do.
  • Try to make it about the organization -- Again, this is my personal view. I’ve done a fair bit of ghost writing over the years and it’s extremely rewarding when people don’t know that something hasn’t been written by the attributed author. After all, it’s about their voice, not mine. I take the same approach to charity -- if the focus is on the organization and not me, then I’ve done my job.
  • Use your influence. Wisely -- If you can amplify the message, do it. If you can get more people involved, create new opportunities, or further the efforts of the organization, then by all means use your influence.

I’m not going to be a hypocrite here. We have been recognized as a company -- and I have personally -- with awards for our CSR efforts. And it is nice to be recognized for the work we do. But I also know there are a lot of people out there -- even within the organizations we support -- that work far harder, far longer, and with far less recognition. To me, those are the people we should celebrate -- but those are also the people for whom recognition isn’t even a consideration. They give and do the work because they want to give and do the work. And because they can.

To me, that’s the true spirit of giving. And it’s one we need to emulate.

So this holiday season -- and beyond -- I will ask you to support organizations like the Business Cares Food Drive with everything you can. However, I’ll also encourage you to think about where you fit and what’s important to you -- and find someplace to share your talents.

Because that’s truly the gift that keeps on giving.

The Imagine Canada Caring Company logo


Questions Answered

How much should we promote our charitable efforts?