Saturday, 27 October 2012

The Dirty and Untold Realities of Charitable Fundraising

            It is projected that within the next two years over 100,000 non-profit organizations and charities worldwide will fail and cease to exist completely. If that statistic makes you poop yourself a little, it’s because you need to work on controlling your bowels. Otherwise, it’s kind of really terrifying to understand just how many organizations like PARC are going under because of administrational issues. Not surprisingly, the main cause of this trend has to do with the lifeblood of any organization: funding.

            With public-sector financial support rapidly dwindling in Canada and budget cuts galore, the world of sustainability within charities is quickly transforming into a tumultuous sea of tidal challenges and rogue waves ready give your little non-profit and swift and deadly anemia. A tangled bureaucracy full of roadblocks that prevent access to effective fundraising methods can strangle the flow of capital that sustains the work of charitable collectives, preventing the scaling out of these initiatives. Big-name foundations seem to be the only organizations with access to these tools and outsource fundraising, hiring private groups to do the tough stuff on their behalf. I was once a part of this end of the scale, working as a professional fundraiser for a company that shall remain unnamed, and saw the dirty deeds incorporated into the realities of big-name charitable fundraisers. Get this:

1) Fundraising is a stressful, highly competitive and highly pressurizing job.

            So you want to be a professional fundraiser? Interested in raising money for an organization that does ‘good things’? Cool, prepare to rip out every hair in your body.

            Some fundraising organizations proclaim that you will work in a ‘low-pressure’ environment that is ‘not quota-based’ and allows you to ‘be yourself’ while doing your job. I call shenanigans.  Because large charities sign contracts with fundraisers to match a certain monetary goal by an exact deadline, the people who are actually involved with finding the money must meet a daily amount to ensure the company is staying on target. Where I worked, multiple failures to meet that goal put you on probation and/or had you fired. In fact, most new employees didn’t even make it past the first week before either giving up to the pressure or being laid off because they struggled with performance. I found it a minor miracle that I survived three months.

            At the end of the day, big, highly bureaucratized charities aren’t concerned about the well-being of the people who fundraise, which leads to some of the largest turnover in staff and the inability to work on the capacities of those involved.

2) Fundraising is expensive.

            Charities with extra capital to throw around aren’t too common these days. It takes a massive administration with loads of dependable financial support to be able to afford a fundraising organization. Here’s why:

            You are essentially hiring a private, for-profit company to do your fundraising. While you will see the money you invest return with significant inflation in the form of fundraising dollars, it still takes a serious amount to buy into this process. This is why you don’t see street fundraisers in Toronto collecting for organizations like PARC or SKETCH. It just costs too damn much.

            The inaccessibility woven into a system like this is just another reason why the flow of fundraising money is extremely uneven and thrown into massive foundations instead of going to support the community-based little guy.

3) Fundraising is a Business.

            However insurmountable the overhead costs of fundraising with the big guys may be, it’s the complicated system of ‘donorship’ that seals the coffin. Running a charity is a lot like operating a business, and the dismal amount of resources available to a grass-roots organization just don’t add up when competing with a foundation worth millions. Growing your little ‘save the bunny rabbits’ initiative can be hard when it’s being constantly smothered by other powerful animal rights groups who don’t properly reach out when dealing with smaller care providers.

            The misallocation of resources between the big business of dominant charities and smaller, community based factions equates to inadequate support on the lower end. When a small group needs help with raising money, the bureaucracy of their goliath counterparts effectively prevents access to the right tools for the job.

4) Fundraising can be Different.

            Big-name charities aren’t always life-sucking evil mobs as I may have lead readers to believe throughout the course of this post, but somewhere along the way its lost sight of the important parts of the initiative. The success of a community service provider, as I’ve learned, directly relates to its ability to create connections along a wide array of small and big organizations. We shouldn’t be in competition of one another, but instead envisioning a new system that facilitates collaboration and cooperation between all of its members.

Changing the realities of how fundraising is conducted and who is involved will be no short order. The values and morals included in this process must be rearranged and a completely new and radical perspective embraced. But a world where charity is becomes a monopoly just doesn’t seem like a good idea, and this revolution is a necessarily one. So let’s chew on a new stick, because in the end, we’re all in it for the same core reasons....aren’t we?

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Canmore: Tourist for a Day

            It’s damn hard to travel and not be labeled as a tourist, but some of us are better at concealing our voyeurism than others. Sometimes, it’s just better to hide your camera pack and pocket the ‘Welcome to Lagos’ guide you picked up in the airport for $34. Sticking out like a dirty welt in the middle of a city that wants to steal your money and use your passport to smuggle 400lbs of cocaine overseas isn’t always a great idea, but luckily there are places that tend to be much less brash when trying to rip you off. All of Canada can be included in this list.

Looking down on Canmore from the Bow Valley
            Bottom line here is that there are times when it’s okay to be a tourist. Take the small city of Canmore, for instance: nestled in the very Southeastern edge of the Canadian Rocky Mountains and only an hour and a half due West of Calgary, Canmore offers a little oasis without digging an endless hole into your bank account. Last spring, while en route to a job in Northern BC, my partner Nikki and I decided to vacation in Canmore instead of emptying our wallets in nearby Banff National Park. Mixed in with a little creative thinking, we found we could have just as much fun being tourists in a place that didn’t want to rape us of our future mortgages and unborn children. Here’s how it went down:

1) The Grizzly Paw Brewery

Main Street Canmore. In between the litter of tacky souvenir shops there exist some pretty great bars offering a diverse range of your favourite fermented beverage. Front and square is the famous Grizzly Paw Brewery, Canada’s oldest brewpub and a common meeting place for locals and visitors alike. Now a microbrewery, the Grizzy Paw bottles and sells three of its own home brews outside of its establishment. Still, your best bet is to experience for yourself the many seasonal and in-house selections, including six different ‘sodas’ perfect for mixing into your favourite brew to add a unique personalized twist.

The Grizzly Paw is a must see while staying in Canmore, if only for its significance to Canada’s rich history in beer crafting. Don’t forget the ‘Paw’ also offers a full menu with a large patio to enjoy great food and drinks during those gorgeous summer nights that don’t happen anywhere else but the Canadian Rockies.

2) Grassi Lakes

          Minus any encounters with the four legged furry type, Grassi Lakes is an easily accessible and unforgettable destination within the Canmore city limits. Hire a cab or drive yourself up the short jaunt just beyond the Canmore Nordic Centre to the trailhead parking lot, then leave your car and your worries behind as the old growth high mountain forests envelop you along the 4km uphill trail to the lakes. Two options for hiking are available, but I suggest the ‘more difficult’ route as it is not very difficult anyways and offers incredible views of the Bow Valley and Ha Ling Peak.

            The payoff is at the summit where two pristine lakes await your arrival. Both lakes are fed by a fossil reef resting high above the site, adding a magnificent emerald and clear colour to the water. Rock climbers can be found traversing the cliffs behind the lakes while the less adventurous explore the trails that weave around each reservoir. Grassi Lakes ended up being the nature highlight of our trip and is pure paradise for the outdoorsy type.

3) Policeman’s Creek

            The great thing about being in the Bow Valley/Banff area is how constantly accessible nature becomes. Forget about taking long drives out of the city for some solitude with the untamed; in Canmore you don’t even have to look beyond Main Street. Policeman’s Creek flows right through downtown and is complete with boardwalks and small beaches for your enjoyment. For those less able bodied, the creek also includes a paved trail and plenty of benches, bridges and look outs to the towering mountains above.

            Policeman’s Creek is an excellent way to see Canmore as many interpretive signs identify popular locations and attractions. Wildlife viewing is also common along the creek, especially when spotting birds and waterfowl. Whether you’re going for an afternoon stroll or looking to link up with the other network of trails in and around Canmore, Policeman’s Creek is the place to go. Mother Nature never looked sexier.

4) Spray/Kananaskis Trail

Peter Lougheed Park
             Speaking of connecting to the ‘great outdoors’, why not rent a car and spend some time in the jaw dropping bounty of Kananaskis Country? A mere 45 minute drive South on the Spray Trail takes you into the heart of the Spay Lakes Reservoir and Spray Valley Provincial Park, part of the Kananaskis Country Park System. Endless low impact activities are available including hiking, camping, canoeing and sightseeing. Use restrictions in the area were imposed to preserve the ecological integrity of the parks, allowing for complete protection of all things non-human and awesome. But the adventures aren’t over yet.

            Drive the Spray Trail to its Southern endpoint and link to Highway 40, or the Kananaskis Trail, for more encounters with wild things via the Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, Elbow-Sheep Wildland and other ridiculously named yet beautiful places. After all, you aren’t visiting CanLESS. 

Saturday, 13 October 2012

How Many Words are 10,000 Pictures Worth?

Photographs capture a unique moment in time and provide a still-life of some distant memory, thought, action, event – your brother’s Bar Mitzvah, that time you suggested that Uncle Lou could win in a cage fight – the list goes on. But for some, a photograph is more than just a flash and click; it represents a reflection of one’s character and emotion. As I’ve come to learn over the past month and a half as an intern at the Parkdale Activity and Recreation Centre, a photograph has the capacity to show great wisdom, courage, strength, insurmountable challenges and insufferable pain. For many of the members there, photos are the only evidence they have left of a life once lived and the struggles they are defined by.

The job of a Media Archivist, or so I have come to understand it, would be to find an objective understanding of someone else’s attempt to immortalize something personal. I do not have previous experience at PARC nor have I known any of the members and staff for more than six weeks, but I too feel something stirring deeply as I file through close to 10,000 photographs of people in various stages of physical and mental health. Although it is not clear to me what the significance of the picture is for those involved, I already have a connection with it on a different level because I sense it poignancy to the lives of its subjects.

Book launch for 'Let's face It!'  (Feb 2012)
As it turns out, objectivity here is key as I filter through the more usable photographs for the purpose of incorporating them into art projects led by PARC members. My job moves beyond just sorting and digitizing as I collaborate with Artistic Director Michael Burtt (founder of Making Room Community Arts) to challenge how we will appropriately get these artifacts back in the hands of members who will use them for display in an upcoming open house in December. The goal here is not to merely show and tell a bunch of old photos but make the observer feel what is behind the picture: the individual lives, stories and struggles of Toronto’s most marginalized and stereotyped citizens. Talk about building a ‘living machine’ and showings at art gallery expos have created buzz at PARC, and no one is more nervous about finding the right material than its lone Media Archivist.

Other branching projects that will use PARC photos include a special page on the website ‘The History of Madness in Canada’ and new organizational publishing’s to follow the minor legacies of ‘Kiss Me You Mad Fool’ and ‘Let’s Face It!’.

More details to come as we make ‘progress’ on this project.

Safe Travels,

Aaron Turpin

Thursday, 4 October 2012

4 Gross Misconceptions About University

Welcome to university, where the wild winds of intellect collide with the stupidity of first years who think that the Triple Entente is a keg stand marathon. Whether you are aware if it or not, that knapsack strapped on tight during the first days at University is carrying more than just books; it’s also filled with silly thoughts and pictures of things that don’t actually exist within the four walls of degree-obtaining torture. The assumptions we have about post-secondary education are so fat and ill informed we might as well have taken them from the Mayor’s office in Toronto.

Fun fact: his IQ also matches the amount of chins.
Now, I’ve spent a little too long in university to not a) identify these absurd notions of the realities of students and 2) correct them using every sarcastic joke I can find in my arsenal while also probably being a little offensive. Consider that a forewarning.

1) ‘You can’t slack off at University’

Yes you can. In fact, many a student are rewarded for slacking off because often professors are often too damn busy to enforce every single missed deadline or skipped class. Although the end result may not be honours material, the common sloth-like student is still well suited to skim through university while exerting less than half of the effort of everyone else, taking full advantage of the fact that barely meeting requirements is good enough to get you that degree.

The key thing to remember here is that it shouldn’t matter how hard or easy it is to do well in university; what should be important are the reasons you’re here in the first place, and just how in tune you are with those personal motivations. Yes, we’ve all wanted to club the slacker in the eye like the weak seal who just wasn’t fast enough to escape the end of a stick with a rusty hook on the end, but at the end of the day that’s just a side effect that doesn’t really matter. Working hard at something is a learning process and skill in itself that will help you immensely after you graduate. Oh, and that pot head that never left his room next to you and blasted Bob Marley all day? Well…

Now all of his songs end with 'would you like fries with that?'
2) ‘You’re just a number at university’

Universities can be scary things if only for the fact that many of them are absolutely massive institutions that seem to fart out millions of graduates a year after steamrolling through a system designed to slap a number on your chest and force ideologies into your face. The intimidation factor is there and often terrifies students out of actually involving themselves in the community of post-secondary education. Indeed, you are assigned a number and thrown into a system BUT that’s the job of some penny-pushing sorry excuse for an assistant who lives somewhere in the upper rings of administration and wipes the golden butts of higher ups. In the meantime, you’ve gotten yourself into a place that embraces things like sexual experimentation, and there’s more than enough people your age that are ready to explore their Grover fetish.

Grover likes bathtime.
University will be the only time in your life that you will be exposed to an indefinite amount of unique people who form open groups designed to support your personal interests. You have an opportunity to try things you’ve never tried, go places you’ve never gone and completely change who you are. Seriously, when is the next time you can just say to yourself ‘self, today I want to begin a journey as a NERF warrior’, and then immediately find people who want the same thing because there’s a NERF Club that meets twice a week and costs nothing to join? The answer is probably never, and you only have four years to do awesome shit like this, so why the hell aren’t you yet?

3) ‘Bachelor’s Degrees won’t get you anywhere these days’

We’ve been hearing all the fear mongering over how useless university degrees are these days: how hard it is to get a job in your field and the crazy rate of unemployed post-grad students who are stuck living at home under buttloads of debt. While I am not working to delegitimize this phenomenon, I also have a hard time understanding why students who do nothing with their time in university except go to class and play World of Warcraft have the right to complain about joblessness in adulthood.

We no longer live in a world where a piece of paper automatically gets you that dream job. The harsh reality is that, although you may be working your ass off for top grades in all of your classes, you also have to allot some time to apply that into the real world. Luckily for you, university is also a place that gives you umpteen opportunities for this (see above). Volunteer for a political party, join a human rights advocacy organization, do an exchange overseas – whatever your deal, make sure you graduate with a resume that doesn’t just say ‘I went to school and on my spare time I watched German porn’.

4) ‘You can’t party all the time and be successful’

If there’s one absolute summary of what every first year university student is thinking during the days leading up to Frosh Week, it’s this:

Party time.
University and drinking go hand in hand, just like Teletubbies and crack, minus the creepy talking baby sun and swirling multicoloured bellybuttons. So maybe Teletubbies and university have nothing in common, except for the fact that after ten beers you start sounding like one.

It is said that 80% of your learning happens outside of the classroom, but I would say it’s closer to 99.999573%, because statistics taught me how to math. A large part of this learning is going to come out of getting insanely drunk and dancing naked in the university courtyard (and other related activities). Young students have a natural urge to go buck wild, and it’s really only during this point in their youth that it becomes somewhat socially acceptable.

Take it from the man who was once crowned the funneling champion of his first year residence: get that party phase out of your system early on and you’ll avoid becoming that thirty-something year old who can’t handle their whiskey and hits on construction workers.