Diwali: a festival of fun and philanthropy

publication date: Oct 29, 2013
author/source: Ranjan Khatri

Diwali brings a sense of joy and excitement to many people in Canada. Diwali is a time for “dana,” or charitable giving, and “sewa,” meaning “selfless service.” And as we all know, doing good makes you feel good!Ranjan Khatri photo

Diwali has been recognized as a highly regarded practice for charitable giving – on November 1, 2012, Prime Minister Stephen Harper remarked, “As good Canadians, you have brought and continue to honor the tradition of charitable giving that is such an important part of Diwali.” He also highlighted the bond between Trillium Health Centre Foundation and the South Asian communities in Mississauga who have raised over $5 million for various critical projects.

Light, colour, ritual

Diwali  is also known as Deepawali. It is one of the biggest Hindu festivals, and celebrated with great enthusiasm, happiness and joy in the South Asian sub-continent, especially in India and Nepal.

This incredible festival of light and colour is also celebrated globally among the Hindu, Sikh, and Jain diaspora. The festival has great symbolic significance, as it encompasses the celebration to mark the victory of light over darkness! The victory is displayed through a variety of lighting and colorful, captivating fireworks.

A number of myths are associated with this festival. Some Diwali rituals are common across most of the subcontinent, including placing small clay oil lamps outside people’s homes. It is also believed that during this festival the Hindu goddess of wealth (Lakshmi) will visit the houses that are lit, clean and beautifully decorated.

The gala – a perfect fit

Diwali fundraising is still in its building phase in Canada. A very few charities, including Trillium Health Centre Foundation and Toronto General and Western Hospital Foundation have adopted it as a platform to enrich their fundraising goals. They have been pretty successful in their endeavors so far – see their latest Diwali gala information here and here.

The Diwali gala has been the single most important fundraising method adopted by almost all the charities across Ontario that have reached out to South Asian communities. A gala event is an appropriate fit with this festival of fun and joy, gathering and eating. Besides a Diwali gala, charities can organize a Diwali consort, a Diwali appeal, Diwali sports events, a Diwali “Mela” (fair), or a “Deausi Bhailo” (a typical Diwali fundraising event) to generate revenues.

Trillium Health Centre Foundation CEO Steve Hoscheit told local media, “Word of mouth sells itself … we are blessed with wonderful volunteers.” He clearly recognized the immense importance of volunteers and community leaders to the success of his Diwali event.

Reaching out works both ways

Celebrating Diwali by raising funds for a charity in Canada is a win-win situation for both the charity and South Asian communities. The charity wins an exciting opportunity to raise immediate funds and reach out to a new group of donors. And the South Asian communities win a thrilling occasion to exercise their cultural and festive aura, and to feel a greater sense of belonging by playing an important role in Canadian institutions.

According to the 2006 census, the South Asian population in Toronto accounted for 13.5% of the city’s total population. There is clearly a great opportunity for charities and non-profits to get involved and work with the South Asian communities. In a multicultural society like Toronto, a Diwali Festival can open up a new fundraising avenue for charities and nonprofit organizations.

If you have not yet thought about or begun Diwali fundraising in your organization, start now to partner with South Asian communities. You’ll gain a new source of fundraising revenues, identify new prospects, and cultivate donors, as well as experiencing a new world of light, color and philanthropy.

Ranjan Khatri is a recent graduate of the Fundraising and Volunteer Management Program at Humber College. He has just completed his internship at St. Joseph’s Health Centre Foundation, Toronto. He is keenly interested in South Asian philanthropy, and his international experience includes working in Nepal as a program coordinator and university teacher. Contact him by email or on Twitter.

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