Youth Canada

Change for a Change

8-08-2008 by Jacob Bayless

Change for a Change

From my own experience in student clubs and from talking to people who have been involved in them, I've consistently found that the number one hurdle they encounter is apathy from other students. Since you're here at Youth Canada, it's likely that you've faced this challenge before: You're engaged in a problem - raising awareness of global issues, organizing a can drive for the food bank, helping to run a talent show - but your peers seem more concerned about getting their homework done.

A sheer lack of interest has brought down many otherwise brilliant and well-organized events, and for those who have invested so much time and effort in bringing the plan together, this experience can be extremely discouraging. Asking afterward why so few people came, there are a few honest responses: "I was busy", "I forgot", and “I thought attending wouldn’t make a difference, because no one else is going”. The first is inevitable, and the second can be improved with more publicity. But what can be done about the last?

The Dollar Project is a new initiative that's starting at the University of British Columbia which aims to tackle this apathy directly, by demonstrating how small contributions from many people add up to create significant change. The basic idea is this: if every one of the 40,000 people at UBC donates only $1 to charity, then a very petty and otherwise forgettable contribution on the part of each amasses to accomplish a significant goal that everyone can notice and be proud of. Not many groups would turn down larger donations, but the Dollar Project's goal isn't simply to raise as much money as it can - it aims to raise money from as many people as it can. In doing so, it also hopes to get rid of the notion that "not taking part wouldn't make a difference", because an initiative like this simply can't be done by just a few individuals. (However, generous donors are encouraged to contribute to charities directly).

It's an unusual idea, but it's the kind that can easily grow beyond the UBC campus. In fact, its founder Tiffany Tong envisions Dollar Project branches in high schools, community centres, and other universities. If you're interested in setting up a Dollar Project, you can contact the UBC chapter at ubcdollarproject@gmail.com, and visit our website at www.ubcdollarproject.blogspot.com.

Setting up a Dollar Project brings its own challenges. First, how do you pick which charities to donate the money to? We've found that it's best to pick a small but well-known charity. While larger charities are also worthwhile recipients, it is usually harder to show that your group's contribution was important to the success of an organization with a large budget. This is important, because it's vital to demonstrate that Dollar Project donations enacted a real, concrete change. For the same reason, local charities are usually a better choice than charities that operate on a wider scale.

Next, how do you encourage people to take part? Like the first years of any kind of charity, when you're just starting and aren't well-known, this can be enormously challenging. One way is to contact businesses and ask for support. Many businesses donate a fixed amount of money to charity each year, so you can ask if they are willing to set aside part of this money to match the dollars that you collect. This is a good approach for several reasons: first, if even one business agrees to match your donation, in whole or in part, then you can encourage participants with the fact that every dollar they contribute becomes two (or three, or four!). Secondly, if they contribute directly to your sponsored charity, you don't have to worry about finding tax receipts or being listed as an official charity - two conditions that companies will often require before they give you money.

Another way is to plan special events to get noticed. As an example, the UBC Dollar Project is holding "Dollar Day" on March 19th. Among many events, we're hand out a sticker to anyone who donates on Dollar Day, which entitles the holder to discounts and free stuff from participating businesses. It's a good deal for the companies because it's a chance for them to attract new customers, and it's great for us because it's a chance to attract people who need a little extra motivation. Focusing fundraising efforts into one day lets you structure your efforts much more effectively than distributing them year-round.

When starting a project like this, it's very important to be recognized as being trustworthy. This can present a chicken-and-egg problem; you have to demonstrate trustworthiness in order to accomplish anything, but you also have to show your accomplishments in order to prove that you're trustworthy. Planning an event to 'get your name out' helps to solve this problem as well. You gain a lot of legitimacy just by being known.

On one level, the goal of the Dollar Project is to raise enough money to create an impact - help children go to school in impoverished areas, or to protect an endangered habitat, or create an animal shelter. But on a deeper level, the project aims to change the way people think about these small contributions, so that they might make them more often in other places where they're also needed. And for me, that's the most exciting part.



JACOB BAYLESS graduated from Point Grey Mini School in 2006 and is now an Engineering Physics student at UBC. He has worked for the Sierra Youth Coalition to plan a summer retreat focusing on global issues awareness, volunteered in an optics research lab at UBC as an undergrad researcher, and currently is a co-op student with Burnaby-based D-Wave Systems. In high school he chaired the Global Issues club, and was also active in several other student clubs. He is a recipient of the provincial-level Millennium Excellence Award, and with other members of the Dollar Project, won third place in the BC Hydro Innovation Challenge last year.

Image courtesy of user "MDV" on Flickr.com, via Creative Commons License http://www.flickr.com/photos/m_d_v_c_a/324952851/