Last Thursday night it was snowing pretty heavily. Begrudgingly, I had to stop and pick up a few groceries on the way home. As I rushed into the store to get out of the cold I saw a family doing the same. The mother was putting on a happy face, the tween looked miserable, as kids that age tend to, and the toddler and baby were a bit dishevelled and dazed. The baby’s clothes were soaked through, obviously from a leaky diaper. None of them had any coats on. It was a shocking sight and I politely tried not to stare as I suggested to the mother that a grocery cart from inside might not be as cold for her children to sit in.
While shopping I crossed paths with that family several times. Each time we met I observed something different:
As I started checking out I reflected on my shopping choices. Why did I buy THREE bags of chips if I was intending on starting another diet? Should I really get an $18.00 bottle of Canadian maple syrup that I had no immediate plans to use? AND what on earth could I do to help that naked baby? After all it was the week of Giving Tuesday and in spite of all the prompts for me to donate I had not been motivated to give anything…until I saw raw need right in front of me. “Could I please get a gift card as well?” I asked the cashier.
Over my shoulder people were circling like hawks and staring at a woman with three cold tired children, one new, dry set of pyjamas and a small pile of groceries – no chips. The store was tense. Everyone was looking away, pretending not to see what was obvious.
When I finished my shopping I bashfully cut across onlookers and approached the family. "I hope you don't mind,” I said to the mother as I met her gaze head on “I wanted to buy you a gift card." Her response: "Are you just...are you just..." (This is where I thought she would punch me.) "Are you just so nice? "
She quickly told me that her family had fled their home five hours north and just arrived in our town with only the clothes on their backs. I was speechless. The best I could do was wish her well, and tell her to buy chips or something fun or...diapers. Whatever she felt she needed most. And I quickly left before she could see the tears welling up in my eyes.
My heart is full for the family who let me help them in this small way. I still cry when I think of the feeling I had when I walked away – full of emotion and unconcerned about a tax receipt.
What is the point?
We could use this story to talk about any number of issues. How effective is Giving Tuesday? What really motivates us as donors? Are we truly connecting people with causes? Honestly I wasn’t sure I would share it at all - until today.
2014 Giving Index
Today I read that the 2014 Giving Index measures acts of kindness to strangers as one indicator of how philanthropic a country is. Around the world approximately 2.3 billion people have helped a stranger in the last month. WOW!
The 2014 Giving Index states: “The number of people who helped others grew again by over 200 million in 2013, following a similar increase in 2012. This now equates to approximately 2.3 billion people worldwide having helped a stranger in the last month. Amongst the fifteen countries with the largest positive gap between their 2013 giving score and their five-year average score (many of them ‘developing’ economies), helping a stranger is the behaviour showing the greatest improvement, with an overall average increase of 12 percentage points.”
The fact that more and more humans want to express their philanthropy by directly helping strangers in need emphasises the importance of personal interactions with the cause.
If a 15-year fundraising veteran and charity junkie like me is not motivated to give online during Giving Tuesday, but is motivated when a family in need is right there in front of me, we really must ask ourselves: How might we help our donors to feel the same way as they do when they help a total stranger in need? How can we keep embracing technology and engaging donors in a more meaningful way with our beneficiaries?Canada is currently ranked in the top ten around the world for giving of money and time and is 11th in the world for helping strangers. Perhaps together we can raise the bar a bit on all fronts for next year and increase our ranking to number one? That is the kind of world I would love to live in. How about you?
Kimberley is deeply passionate about building the capacity of the charitable sector. When she is not sourcing out excellent content to share via Hilborn Charity eNEWS, she works with organizations to advance a culture of philanthropy among staff and senior volunteers, and ultimately raise more money for their missions. Contact her via@kimberleycanada, email her, phone her at 289-231-1339 or visit www.kimberleymackenzie.ca.