It’s been eight years since I launched my blog after moving home from the U.K., and as each new social media platform surfaced – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram – I started to amass a following. From there, I always knew I wanted to use my voice for good and help others in any way I could. Of course, there is good in being enthusiastic about discovering products I love and sharing with my friends, readers and followers, but I have always put an effort into making time to help charities and charitable initiatives that I believe in. Thankfully, my reach through my blog and social platforms can often offer far more than just the modest monetary contributions I’m able to make at this point in my life, and if I can use them to offer my support in a more impactful way, why wouldn’t I?
Over the years, two charities that I’ve worked with most often include SickKids and New Circles (although for the past two years I’ve also volunteered at The Corsage Project which is another initiative I truly love). The scale of these two charities isn’t really comparable, and for a much smaller not-for-profit charity like New Circles, I’ve offered my own time and in-person voluntary efforts to help them out for clothing drives like their annual Prom Boutique. To give you an idea, I’ve hosted multiple events where guests were required to bring clothing donations for entry, and hosted style segments live on Breakfast Television to help support their cause.
Working closely with a charity like New Circles over the years gave me an inside look and more of an understanding of how incredibly committed their amazing teams are, and just how much these (often) small teams are dealing with. In many cases it’s clear that there aren’t resources available, free hands, or even technology to help them do it all. I guess working in the world of blogging and social media (not to mention a four-year stint at a tech startup) makes it even easier for someone like me to spot some of the more obvious tech-related pain points that many charities face.
Being aware of this made attending Capital One‘s fourth annual Digital For Good Tech Jam and Summit all the more impactful. Spending a day at the Tech Jam allowed me to see first-hand how volunteer teams of talented developers, designers and coders were able to help 14 different Canadian charities create and build game-changing tech they need to help their charities run better, and ultimately make their social impact even greater. The full-day summit that followed took information to another level with panels of incredible leaders from both the tech and charity worlds, coming together to share valuable information that everyone in attendance was able to absorb and take back to apply to their own charity or business.
During the inspirational panel titled “Moving To A Digital Mindset,” Belinda Vandersluis who is the Executive Director of Toronto Cat Rescue, shared how difficult it can be to find time to focus on technology when your charity is already short on time in every aspect. Taking part as a participating charity for two years in a row, she expressed how powerful it is to not just receive help from Capital One and the tech talent, but the fact that it’s all concentrated into three heavily focused days.
“Toronto Cat Rescue is a virtual network of foster homes. We have 400 foster homes in the Greater Toronto area and the Kitchener-Waterloo area, and we have 1100 volunteers who rescue cats from shelters and humane societies that would otherwise be at risk of euthanasia. We rescue about 3000 cats a year.” Belinda shared, “It’s really tough for us in particular, and for lots of charities, because we just don’t have the resources, or even the time to think of digital solutions. We do a lot of manual work; a lot of keeping track of cats and other things on spreadsheets and smart sheets, and other options that the individual volunteers and volunteer teams decide on for their own needs. As an organization as a whole, our challenge is bringing all of those things together, and come up with a solution that makes things more efficient and easier for everyone.”
Incredibly, Toronto Cat Rescue was able to take part in Digital For Good two years in a row and build upon what was initially created with their designated tech team last year. “We’re actually using the central management system that was built at last year’s Digital For Good to create something that’s even more useful as a tool, –we’re calling it Tinder for cats, and we’ll be able to box it up and show it to other cat rescues across the country (who may not have the resources) so they can use it too.”
Big Brothers Big Sisters is another charity that I’ve been interested in getting involved with which made it all the more special to get to sit down with Jody Lundrigan, National Vice President of Communications and Partnership Development, to discuss how Digital For Good is helping their social impact. “We have 100 agencies in 1100 communities across Canada from coast-to-coast, and we really need to leverage technology in order to communicate with our agencies and to ensure that we have consistent programming for every young person across the country,” she shared. “Our team at the Digital For Good Tech Jam is really evenly balanced between marketing and tech, and we’re building a learning platform for our agencies across the country. I didn’t think we were going to get a fully finished product by the end of the weekend, but because of the amazing enthusiasm and the commitment from the people on our team we’re actually going to cross the finish line with something we can put to market right away which is incredible!”
Between the Tech Jam and Summit panels, it’s clear that so many charities in Canada share the same pain points: tech isn’t being leveraged in the way that it needs to be due to time and budget restraints. While not every charity may have access to Capital One’s Digital for Good Tech Jam (although I would highly recommend visiting DigitalForGood.com to apply for the next one!), even panelist Amber Mac reminded attendees that creating efficiency with help from technology doesn’t have to be expensive. She even shared some of her favourite free or low-cost apps and resources such as Lumen5 that can turn blog posts into videos, AI Hashtags to generate hashtags for Instagram using AI, Anchor.fm to to create and distribute your podcast with ease, and Magisto to help create videos in a few minutes for social media.
If you’re part of a Canadian charity or support one who could use help when it comes to keeping up with a digital future, please consider sharing this post with them to let them know about applying for next year’s Digital For Good Tech Jam and Summit! Visit DigitalForGood.com for updates.
(Story by Editor-in-Chief, Gracie Carroll)
*Please note that this post has been brought to you in partnership with Capital One Canada, all thoughts and opinions are our own*