For years, administration costs have served as a key measure that Canadians use to evaluate the charities they contribute to, but a new offering by Toronto-based online donation platform developer CanadaHelps aims to change that.

Last month the organization, a registered charity itself, released a new online impact tool that other Canadian charities can use to measure – and market – the results of their work.

Marina Glogovac says...
CanadaHelps CEO Marina Glogovac believes charities can use her organization’s new impact tool to market themselves more effectively than before.

“Saying ‘I only spent 30 per cent of your donations on admin…’ is not a sufficient way of presenting a charity’s achievements,” CanadaHelps president and CEO Marina Glogovac tells ITBusiness.ca. “There has to be the other side that says, ‘this is what we’ve done, this is what we’re doing, and this is where we’re going next.'”

The tool, which CanadaHelps released on May 30 alongside a 130-page PDF guide from European non-profit consulting firm Phineo, is already being used by participating charities such as the Calgary Zoo and FoodShare Toronto to keep track of goals, strategies, programs, and results for prospective donors, which are then displayed under an “our impact” tab on the charity’s profile page on CanadaHelps’ website.

A snapshot of the Calgary Zoo's impact page, courtesy CanadaHelps.
A snapshot from the Calgary Zoo’s impact page, courtesy of CanadaHelps.

To increase the tool’s effectiveness, CanadaHelps will also be programming it to automatically display whatever revenue and expense information a given charity has reported to the CRA over the past five years.

Charity administrators can access the tool by logging into their organization’s profile page and answering four questions that Glogovac estimates will take approximately one hour to complete and, once answered, can be converted into a base impact page.

For additional support, staff can download the guide, which provides step-by-step instructions for implementing what Glogovac calls an “impact-oriented” approach – planning, executing, tracking, and publicizing projects in a way that both encourages continuous improvement and, she says, highlights successes that have nothing to do with a charity’s expense report.

“Why should a shoe manufacturing company be able to invest in itself, so that it can grow in scale, and a charity cannot?” she says. “We really wanted to enable that conversation, and to help charities communicate their impact in a better way.”

The youth factor

The impact tool’s release isn’t simply a timely way for CanadaHelps, which has facilitated over $600 million worth of donations to more than 16,000 Canadian charities since launching in 2000, to bring Canada’s charitable sector into the 21st century: Although Canadians donated almost $13 billion to charity in 2013 (the most recent year for which data is available), fewer hands are contributing, and 35 per cent are aged 55 and older, resulting in an industry-wide soul search for how younger Canadians can be encouraged to donate, Glogovac says.

“I can tell you, every single charity in this country is thinking about how we can engage younger people,” she says. “We see crowdfunding, so young people are giving – they’re just not cutting big cheques to charities.”

Jasmina Zurovac says...
RBC’s Jasmina Zurovac believes CanadaHelps’ impact tool could be a boon for charity marketing staff.

Jasmina Zurovac, senior director of corporate donations at Royal Bank of Canada, which contributed $100,000 to the impact tool’s development, says that she believes it could help charities influence donors of all ages in a positive way, by helping them use data to craft more engaging marketing materials – a standard practice in the corporate world.

“Our intention really is to help move the charitable sector forward,” she says. “We want its people to think about impact measurements and reporting, and CanadaHelps is a neutral platform on which to do that.”

It’s not about administration costs

For the bulk of her 20-plus year career, CanadaHelps’ Glogovac held sales positions in the magazine and publishing industries, and says she never faced anything comparable to the level of scrutiny she sees in the charity world before starting her current position three years ago.

Since conventional wisdom blames falling donations on an industry-wide reputation for poor oversight, she says, few charities have the technology, infrastructure, and leadership resources they need to grow.

“They just don’t spend any money on themselves, and it shows,” she says. “Sometimes I walk into a charity and wonder how they’ve survived.”

Glogovac also believes that many Canadians don’t contribute as much as they could to charity because they fail to realize how much the charities mean to their communities – partly because she herself didn’t recognize the scope of their impact until her teenage son was diagnosed with diabetes.

“Leaving [Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children] the first time, we were like, ‘now what? Who’s going to help us?” she tells ITBusiness.ca. “It turned out there was a charity run by an ex-Olympian who also has [diabetes], and you cannot put a price on that organization’s value to me.”

CanadaHelps’ own research supports Glogovac’s theory: over the past 18 months the organization conducted a survey that was completed by more than 5,500 Canadians who donated using its platform, and 73 per cent of respondents said they would be likely to donate more if they had access to a charity’s impact results from the previous year.

She notes that the largest charities and non-profit organizations, such as universities and hospitals, figured out this lesson a long time ago, and pay professionals their smaller counterparts can’t afford to frame their efforts in a compelling, but transparent, way.

“We have to think of each donation as an investment,” she says. “I think if Canadians, especially young Canadians, understand that better, we’ll start to see real change not only in how we give, but in how we understand the real impact that charities have in our lives.”

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