Website puts donation in the hands of voters

The simple sound of the click of a computer mouse is music to Heather Shaw’s ears this month after her website — www.whatgivesyyc.com — is slowly making its way onto the computer screens of Calgarians.

Shaw, marketing director at Antosz Orthodontics, is amazed as she logs onto the website that she dreamed up as a marketing initiative just six months ago. Featuring three local non-profits, the website allows Calgarians to vote for the organization they feel most deserves the top prize — an $8,000 donation from the local business.

The What Gives YYC homepage displays a banner featuring the Kids Cancer Care Foundation of Alberta. Photos of children hugging and smiling at Camp Kindle quickly fade into a mosaic of the faces of Calgarians who have received help from The Alex, a local organization providing health care to the poor and marginalized. Finally, the Agape Hospice is showcased by scenes of families finding comfort in the final stages of their loved ones’ lives.

“One little click of a mouse or tap on a track pad will matter,” says Shaw, who thought up the idea after admiring similar campaigns put on by Pepsi and Target.

“They offered people a way to feel like they were a part of something without having to offer a financial or time commitment,” Shaw says. “They put the power of giving into the hands of their stakeholders.”

From now until June 30, Antosz Orthodontics is doing just that by providing Calgarians the opportunity to research the work that all three featured non-profits are doing in the community. People can vote for whichever organization they feel most deserves it.

The three charities: Why should you vote for them?
What we do: We provide palliative care for individuals that are facing end-of-life situations. Our focus is to provide them and their families a way through that period of life that will provide them comfort and support, and help them to close out their life’s journey in a meaningful way. – Harold Aitkenhead
Why you should vote for us: “Someday each Calgarian may need this service and their support will help us better our services for the future.” – Harold Aitkenhead
What we do: Through finding innovative solutions to address health and social problems, we provide marginalized Calgarians with the tools to break down barriers in our society. – Kylie Toh
Why you should vote for us: “The Alex is making a huge difference in the lives of Calgarians, especially the ones that are often invisible or marginalized. By voting for us, Calgarians are showing their support for the work that we do and the impact that we are making in the lives of infants, youth, seniors, the mentally ill, and people suffering from homelessness or poverty. These are all major social issues facing Calgary and we make a difference in all areas.” – Kylie Toh
What we do: We focus on several areas that support children with cancer and their families. Camp Kindle provides kids the opportunity to have fun in an atmosphere where people understand what they are going through, hospital programs provide support and resources and scholarships allow cancer survivors to flourish after their battle with the disease. – Lauren Ellis
Why you should vote for us: “Kids Cancer care helps kids who are going through every stage of the cancer journey. Cancer affects the lives of almost everyone and we all know someone who has been affected by it. People are helping these kids who have gone through so much, most of them have dealt with more then any adult I know, if there is a tiny thing we can do try and make that better, I say get out there and vote.” – Lauren Ellis

The charity that has the most votes by the end of the campaign will receive an $8,000 donation, with second and third place receiving $3,000 and $1,500 consecutively. The business will be holding another contest between three different charities for a donation starting in August.

“For me, it is not the importance of winning or losing, it is the opportunity to participate and reach a different body of the community than we normally would,” says Harold Aitkenhead, executive director of the Agape Hospice.

Providing the non-profit organizations with the opportunity to gain exposure is really the key benefit that this campaign provides, Shaw says. As a marketing initiative, it is intended to increase business for Antosz Orthodontics in the long run, but also allows the non-profits to benefit by tapping into the business’s strong marketing presence within the community.

Peter Elson, a senior research associate with the Institute for Nonprofit Studies at Mount Royal University, credits popular television shows like Canadian Idol for initiatives like this one that allow people to get involved.

“It is certainly a blending of social media engagement with corporate and philanthropic branding,” Elson says. “The sponsor is building their own social capital by affiliating themselves with organizations that have social capital themselves.”

Antosz Orthodontics has used this tactic several times throughout the 20 years they have been doing business in Calgary. In the early years it began by simply donating expensive electric toothbrushes to clients who were hosting their own silent auctions but in the past few years it has become a key part of the business’s identity, Shaw says.

“Those of us who work here realize how lucky we are to be in this industry that provides us with a high quality of life,” Shaw says. “I believe that when that happens in your life you have an obligation to do something with it and that’s what this is for. It is a true ethical and moral responsibility to help because we are in a position to do so.”

“The thing about donations is that it doesn’t really matter how much it is, it matters that people care,” says Lauren Ellis, community initiatives co-ordinator of the Kids Cancer Care Foundation of Alberta.

 “It is a true ethical and moral responsibility to help because we are in a position to do so.”
— Heather Shaw, Antosz Orthodontics

Kylie Toh, a public relations associate from The Alex, agrees, noting that the organization has noticed that there is more of a conversation taking place around what they do since their participation in the campaign.

“It is a cool way for Calgarians to make an impact without having to do a whole lot,” Toh says. “All they have to do is go on the website and vote and they can make a huge difference in terms of people’s lives.”

Shaw, who was raised by parents who valued the power of volunteerism, says that providing people with a simple way to make a difference is really just the start of something that could lead to a greater change within the entire community and that is ultimately where she would like to see the campaign go.

“If you give people an opportunity – a small way to make a difference – those sort of things plant a seed and they grow,” Shaw says. “It’s a win-win for everyone when we step up in the smallest way by making a click.”

tbrown@cjournal.ca