2012-03-30 10.44.32I’ve just signed up for I’ve known about it for a while and like many, had a certain opinion until I met the founder Dave Wilkin. He’s an earnest entrepreneur who, in this world that is oversaturated with social network platforms, has momentum on one whose mandate is rather simple, creating opportunities over a cup a coffee.

Shaping What’s Next, One Conversation at a Time.  The Ten Thousand Coffees movement exists to bridge the gap and create an equal playing field for everyone by embracing the newest technology and the power of conversation.

I am looking at platforms for mentoring. Ways to bring people together, to self-manage the matching and support conversations that can be one-off or ongoing: students with recent grads; recent grads with those who found a good job; those who want to transition with those who have; and entrepreneurs with each other. I am looking at ways to connect lots of people, something that is less structured than traditional mentoring programs, more like “unmentoring”, borrowing from the concept of an “unconference.”

a loosely structured conference emphasizing the informal exchange of information and ideas between participants, rather than following a conventionally structured program of events. (Google)

LinkedIn is a leader but lacks representation in certain industries and doesn’t talk to passion. Graduway is a platform that many schools are rolling out for their alumni but while my alma matter is huge, there are interesting people elsewhere as well.

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Cindy, someone wants to meet you for coffee!‏

So after meeting Dave, I thought wanted to know more about his platform. I filled in the forms, was automatically categorized as an expert and the next day I had my first request for a coffee date. A young woman, a graduate from my university, and we had a common focus on nonprofit organizations. An interesting topic was put forward.

I mentor a lot of people. They come to me from my volunteer activities. Some are referred by people who know me or have benefited from my advice. And sometimes there are chance encounters as I wander around the globe. But never have I felt so exposed as when that request for coffee came in. If you Google me, my blogs and profiles are online. I don’t hide. But putting my profile on a social platform that is expressly to empower people, strangers, to engage in meaningful conversations seems a lot like online dating. This is not a passive profile but an open door for a coffee meet up.

I have replied. We’ll see what happens. I am fairly busy so if the requests become too much I can switch to group meet ups online or in person, or I can make my profile invisible for a while.

Go for a coffee date

For those of you that want some input, have a question, or are challenged by your situation, sign up and take a look at the many experts that are already on the platform. I was truly impressed at who is available to you.

If you think you have something to offer, think of as a knowledge-based volunteer portal. Put yourself out there and be surprised and delighted when someone approaches you for an unmentoring session.



The UN General Assembly proclaimed 10 December as Human Rights Day in 1950, to bring to the attention ‘of the peoples of the world’ the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.

I’ve had a few weeks of human rights events from film festivals, galas and write-a-thons, to meetings about fundraising and celebrations, and the odd flash mob and late night party. The focal point is Human Rights Day, and so in the days leading up to December 10th there is a flurry of related activities as each human rights organization contributes to the cause.

It’s been interesting to compare approaches of traditional organizations and newer Gen-Y driven efforts. Gatherings in cluttered spaces with crackers, cheese and soda versus those in grand venues with high end catering. There is deep knowledge etched in the faces of those that have been involved in this field for a while and youthful energy to tap into among some of the new recruits.

The field of human rights is tough

For many people, it’s dangerous to be involved in the human rights movement. For the victims of human rights abuses, it is probably life threatening. Human rights violations could happen anywhere and for sure are happening in Canada and the US, in addition to all those countries you hear about. The wins to resolve these violations can take years but they do come.

Collaboration offsets donor fatigue

When it comes to events there could be better collaboration between organizations, lessening the noise and increasing the impact. When so many events are booked around a pivotal date it makes sense to come together. Differentiation is possible even with a united call to action. With budgets constrained, a collaborative event offers economies of scale to the charities, while giving the attendees a richer experience.

The best of the old and new

Social innovation is transforming the human movement, just like with most other non profit sectors. This brings new methods, audiences and expectations. The differences were blatant as I attended two different human rights film festivals, one traditional and one of the new generation. Human rights draws in all ages and all backgrounds, and this would produce a rich conversation if we can get them talking to each other.

Early in the year I chose to take on a volunteer role with Amnesty International Canada. This is an important organization and a leader in the field. I am a newbie in this field and have lots to learn, but along with some of my Gen Y pals, I think we also have knowledge to share.

FacebookImage-HolyCowI can’t tell you how good I feel, but I’ll tell you why.  Today I purchased a community bond from the Centre for Social Innovation. The traditional return is modest but the risk is low and the social impact is huge. CSI is raising $4.3 million to purchase an additional building to meet the needs of its expanding membership of social innovators and entrepreneurs. It is raising the money through the sale of community bonds, something they did successfully before, with the bonds secured through the property. Within a few weeks 84 investors have contributed $1.8M.

So there’s a lot to feel good about by supporting this award winning organization that is generating social good in new and sustainable models. There’s good in knowing that your money is being used well for a few years and then will be returned.

But what takes the feel good to an inexpressible level, is when you click “send” to confirm your purchase and within 30 seconds you get a call from the Director of Culture of CSI personally and genuinely thanking you for your support.

I was at an interesting event yesterday called Sharefest. The theme, as the name implies, was the sharing economy and most of the presenting organizations were there to explain how their exchanges worked. The sharing economy is the new word for an old concept called bartering.

You know or have something and are willing to trade it for a skill or product that you need. No money involved and no taxes.

In the hands of the generation that gave us social entrepreneurs and social innovators, these sharing organizations will provide a platform for sharing skills whether that’s teaching (Trade School Toronto) or repairing (Repair Café), and for sharing stuff like tools (Toronto Tool Library) and spaces (The Dupont), and you could even share a job (CoWorking Toronto). Then there’s the collective idea that we all give and all get, like the Salad Club, and general bartering platforms like SwapCity.

This was the inaugural ShareFest and yet there were nearly 30 organizations, a room packed with interested folks and nearly every table had a dozen or more people signed up. People in small towns might laugh at this as sharing is a way of life for them. But in our big city of Toronto this is a concept that is alive and growing and I’m sure we’re not alone.

To bring this back to volunteerism, which is my focus, I see the sharing economy as a flavour of volunteerism. You give and you get back. So for those of you with useful stuff or skills, look into the sharing economy for new platforms to be engaged. It gives you the engagement of volunteerism with the side benefit that you too can be a recipient.

I’ll do your books if you will fix my taps!

Pic-PostAs a volunteer I am focused on giving. I connect, mentor, take on projects, spread the word, listen and offer a point of view. I am always there and often with home baked cookies.

But maybe one of the greatest gifts I have learned to give is the opportunity for others to help me. I have been independent for so long and am such a good problem solver that no one thinks I need help and I don’t ask. Instead I spend hours trying to figure out how to get things done.

I think that my decision to go car-less has had the greatest impact on my independence. There are times, although few for an inner city dweller, that nothing beats individual transportation.  Sometimes transit and taxis just don’t make sense and renting a car for someone who doesn’t drive too often, doesn’t either.

So I have found the bright light in all this. I have discovered the joy of asking for help. I know the satisfaction of helping others and now I am allowing others to feel the same and to pay me back for the support I have provided them. It’s an exchange of equals.

And I have found a way to turn these favours into mini meetups where I can share my perspective, my city, my secret places and turn the task into an adventure. I make it fun.

I suspect that asking for help is what I needed to learn and it is with joy and appreciation that I accept the help whether that is a trip to the store, help carrying groceries or merely hanging a picture.

Came across coverage for this interesting Toronto-based start up that allows you to apply your loyalty points toward tuition. There are limited educational institutions signed up but congrats to the University of New Brunswick and Centennial College for being early adopters. And right now it’s only applicable to Aeroplan points, which is a big player and looking for ways to distinguish itself.

What’s most interesting is the concept that you can be a “Nice Person” and donate your points to any student. I’m sure this program will be used by parents and extends easily to other family members and friends but the concept that you could support a student that might not be within your family circle is what I find engaging.

So if you have student you want to support at one of the partner institutions and you collect Aeroplan points, you too can be a “Nice Person.”

boxI am moving. So are many of my friends. In fact, I am downsizing from a house to apartment style living. This means a lot of changes including the shedding of a lifetime of collections. Furniture, clothing, decorative items, gardening tools, linens, and lots of former treasures have to go. I have no space for them.

So this move has been an exploration on how to get rid of stuff. Some has gone to friends and family; things they need or find useful. A few valuable items have gone to a consignment shop or online to Kijiji and I may or may not get a few dollars for them. Some has just gone to the street and disappeared from there.

But what has been more interesting has been the many ways of donating these items, giving them a value as a donation. I did take some interesting treasures and donated them to an art exhibit. They became art. Books, of which I have hundreds, have gone to the local library to be used to raise funds. Some gardening tools and plants went to a teacher who runs a garden club for kids. He also took some old art supplies I’ve had for years.

Linens, especially towels and blankets have gone to the humane society to make a few animals more comfortable. Clothing to causes that put immigrants into the workplace. And furniture to an organization that sets up individuals and families in need with furnished homes.

We all have stuff to get rid of at one point in our lives and there are many ways to do this. But it feels good to take a little extra time and research to find a valued home for things you once treasured.

If you are in the Toronto area here are some sources.

Fundraising has been the topic of the week and in addition to my salon I took in a webinar put on by and called Stocking the Pantry: Fundraising in the community food sector.

What’s a good ask (for money)?

For corporations and foundations there’s usually a clear process so follow it. For major gifts – build relationships, ensure alignment, have a good plan and articulate what you’re about, do research on target, don’t ask on the first date, be ready with an answer; be clear about the impact the donation will make.

More from the experts

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask and be clear about what you want. But make it a two-way dialog, not just about your organization; ask what the donor wants to accomplish
  2. Persistence and stewardship of leads/donors is key. Expect it to take 1-2 years to develop major donors
  3. Alignment is important – what’s the connection of donor and cause. Long term relationships are based on trust and common interest
  4. Don’t forget the 80/20 rule, 80% your funds come from the 20% so focus on that – usually major donors and foundations
  5. Practice relentless storytelling (about talking about your cause) and be on the lookout for allies
  6. Your desk has a gravitational pull; schedule moments to talk to someone about the cause; be on the road
  7. Every board should have at least one member who will fill the ambassador role, you need at least 2 who will ask for money. Always be on the lookout for board members that will fill this. Committees good way to groom new board members.
  8. You need unrestricted funded in addition to program funding, diversified funding; flex money is like R&D money. Ongoing donors where you have earned trust may be open, and you can challenge “is this the best use of funds”?
  9. Funders come and go so you need to diversify; relentlessly be on the lookout for other folks; juggle, keep and find new ones
  10. Use volunteers in fundraising; for events they are a key work force; as ambassadors; volunteers are donors in another form and you need to steward them. Segment your volunteer list according to the roles they want to fill.
  11. There are probably more time/cost effective ways to make money than events. With successful events, what’s your goal? Getting donors, cultivate potential donors, build your profile, get more folks engaged…good reasons. Measure the results. A big part of the event is the follow up; capture names and then follow up 1-2 days after (say thank you, offer a tour, sign up for newsletter)
  12. 3rd party events are less effort. Need to be clear about what you are willing to do. The Stop has guidelines online with expectations and how they engage.
  13. Marketing platforms easier for getting corporate funding than programs. Businesses need to entertain clients anyway so an interesting event would work – it also makes them look like good corporate citizens. What are your assets to leverage? The Stop has chefs and farmers.
  14. Measure the costs of each campaign (all costs), measuring soft costs (opportunity costs, could we have raised more with less time/effort, event vs. grant proposal)
  15. Research shows that a big reason donors stop their support is because of a lack of effective communication with the organization

Cool thoughts

Strategic planning process might be a way to get funders involved – they talked of a senior exec at a bank who got involved in the planning process, offered great insight and ended up a lifelong supporter

Plan-passion-persistence:“Money grows on the tree of persistence”

You are the link between the needs of your organization and the philanthropic desire of the potential donor that wants to have an impact; needs to be aligned

They had a couple of cautions

  • Be cautious about social enterprise. Only do it when you have the other pillars of fundraising solid – it is not the quick cash answer for charity. (By this I presume they are cautioning traditional charities that are looking for a snap on business that generates funds, not the new generation of social entrepreneurs.)
  • There is a new breed of volunteer/funder, angel investors, that come with a big sense of how you should run your organization. The advice is to stay true to your plan, be strong – don’t let them take you off course.

Lots more info in this webinar which is available online at
Just register (it’s free) and you’ll get access to this session and many more valuable presentations.

So what did we learn?

Mostly we learned that everyone knows a piece of the puzzle and that coming together with open sharing of ideas and knowledge is good for everyone.

Questions: What’s the best technology for online donations, how do you best handle back office, how can you manage following up leads when your internal team is too small, how do you handle the new social media, what kind of pitches turn on a national chain, how do you inspire a community, how do you make it easy for a funder to say ‘yes’?

Answers: Yes, CSR is often a barrier; employee giving programs are often coercive; online donations providers take a big chunk but they offer a trusted environment; outsource cookies and chocolates as there are specialists that handle this well; work with millennials and participate in social media to understand it; draw the line that connects the business success and support of your cause; technology is an equalizer; everyone in the organization should be a cheerleader but you have to provide the brand message.

What did I learn? These types of salons are valued.

indiegogo-smI am hosting the last in the series of 3 salons devoted to issues facing non profits. The first looked at boards and was a valued and vibrant conversation with board members and non profit execs and staff at the table. The second examined my fav topic, volunteering. The results were a couple of key insights, and the acknowledgement that the topic was large and worthy of many focused conversations.

For the last in the series I am covering what would appear a natural 3rd topic, money. Specifically individual and corporate donations and sponsorships. And yet, the demographic of this last salon is decidedly mature. This salon caught the interest and commitment of the experienced set coming from more classically non profit segments.

And yet this is a topic that should draw the many emerging social enterprises as they need to rise above the bootstrap funding model. Is my terminology no longer relevant? Should I be specifically talking crowdfunding rather than donations? Is crowdfunding any different than passing the collection plate in church?

Of my 3 topics, this one might have the greatest need for a blending of old techniques and new methods. Positioning a pitch for a corporate sponsor, and keeping a loyal donor happy are age old concepts. Add the global reach of the internet and galvanizing power of social media and you never know where your next donor will come from.

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