About ten years ago, I was sitting in a room with twenty of my peers from the community foundation movement.
Mike, formerly a member of the Royal British Navy, was standing at the front of the room. He usually wore a blue suit and tie, but on this day, he was wearing jeans, a rugby shirt and a navy blue windbreaker, embroidered with the logo, Random Acts of Kindness.
Mike said, “Random. Accidental. Spontaneous. Strategic. Deliberate. Whatever,” his face was getting pinker. “Look, I tell my staff and board members, I don’t care what you call it. Just go be kind.”
His blue eyes were blazing as he sat back in his chair, crossed his legs and spanked the palms of his hands in conclusion. “It is that simple. Go be kind. Just do it, I say.”
The group was discussing how to raise the profile of the work being done in our respective communities across the nation. From Niagara Falls to Saskatoon, from Vancouver Island to St. John, from Brandon to Banff, we were sharing our experiences as community grant-makers, working with board members, telling stories of our donors, and how to do meaningful work in our local contexts.
It is a common dilemma shared by all, no matter what the sector – how to gain the attention of and communicate with busy people.
When I returned home, my supervisory board of directors were discussing the idea of a "kindness day."
I had suggested “Let’s make cookies and hand them out,” when one of the board members asked, “Isn’t that an oxymoron? If we plan a program about ‘random acts,’ aren’t we actually talking about ‘deliberate acts’ of kindness?”
I could hear Mike’s voice bubbling and I responded, “Random, deliberate, whatever. It’s never a bad idea to be kind. What could be a kinder Canadian gesture than handing out cookies?”
We passed a motion and I made cookies at home in my kitchen using the supplies in my fridge. That's how we often work in the kindness sector – no receipts, no time clock, no expectations except for those we place on ourselves, which isn’t necessarily a sustainable way to operate.
Two years later, in 2012, Canada’s National Philanthropy Act was assented to by Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate as well as the House of Commons. The Act states: “Whereas philanthropy is the spirit of giving without expectations of reward”… and “Whereas Canadians continue to be inspired by the dedication of volunteers who devote themselves to improving the lives of others”… and “Whereas philanthropy helps build strong communities and active civic participation by bringing people together to serve a common goal." This Act declared that “throughout Canada, in each and every year, the 15th day of November shall be known as National Philanthropy Day."
Which brings about the question – who pays for the cookies?
Acting with kindness, even without expectation of reward, needs dedicated resources. Sourcing the raw materials, investing time, energy, human, intellectual and social capital incurs real costs.
If we are using butter and eggs and flour to make the cookies and taking time to give them out to others, even if the butter and eggs are "free" and the time is donated, there are costs being incurred.
Call it what you will, the philanthropic or the voluntary or the community sector cannot be served by volunteers and voluntary organizations unless they have access to dedicated resources.
Who pays? Who benefits? Everybody and all sectors – governments, businesses, community groups and individuals. Hand outs? Hand ups? Hands down. Kindness is key.
Nov. 11 is Remembrance Day and Nov. 15 is Canada’s National Philanthropy Day. This year, let’s celebrate both – with intention and with spontaneity. Take time to be kind.
Between 1980 and 2017, Lorraine Widmer-Carson worked for Parks Canada, The Whyte Museum, The Friends of BNP, The Banff Centre, and most recently, as Executive Director at the Banff Canmore Community Foundation. Her husband and family just celebrated 40 years of owning and operating their family restaurant in Banff. The views expressed are her own and she can be reached: [email protected]