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Top 10 charities to donate to this holiday season

The holiday season can bring out the best in all of us — but there is always more people can do. Sure, you can give your friend another pair of socks or a book they probably won’t read. But, this year why not make a real difference in someone else’s life?

Women’s Post spoke with Greg Thomson, director of research for Charity Intelligence, an organization that analyzes charitable investments and provides donors with information about their return. This essentially means they do the work for you — they review each charity and find out which one makes the most positive change for their clients. “There are over 86,000 registered charities in Canada. Some of them are doing an excellent job at helping people, helping society, and changing lives.  However, some charities are not,” Thomson says. “Some charities provide programs that are costly and accomplish very little in terms of making change occur in the lives of the people they work with. If donors do not want to have their donations wasted, they should do a little research to understand just how the charities they are working with are changing lives.”

Thomson also wanted to remind holiday shoppers that gift giving is a very personal experience. If you donate in someone else’s name, make sure it is a charity or social organization that does work they care about.

“It can certainly be a good thing to give a small gift in the name of a child and provide some background information to the child to get them to think about charity. But if you’re giving to an adult, I would recommend a CanadaHelps gift card so that the person can choose their own charity and make it more personal,” he said.

If you are looking for some options, here are the top 10 charities in Canada, according to Charity Intelligence, to give to this holiday season.

Aunt Leah’s Place: This BC-based organizations helps children in foster care and mother’s at risk of losing custody. Over 700 young people in British Columbia “age out” of the foster care system when they turn 19. These people don’t get any social or financial support from the government and often are forced to live on the street. Aunt Leah’s offers support housing as well as programs for mothers and people who have been left behind by the foster care system.

Calgary Urban Project Society: This charity helps people overcome poverty through a variety of education, health, and housing services. The educational services are especially important for children, who enter the program about 1.5 grade levels behind their peers.

Doctors without Borders: This charity is probably the most well known disaster response organization specializing in medical care It is a “first in” and “first out” response team that provides medical assistance to those injured in war or natural disasters.

Eva’s Initiative: Eva’s provides shelter and programs for at-risk youth. They have three shelters that can each host 123 young people a night. They also host training and education programs that help youth complete high school credits and gain access to post-secondary institutions. They also offer mental health services.

Food for Life: This organization, based out of Burlington, is distributing fresh and nutritional foods to to local agencies. Staff collect extra perishable goods from grocery stores and food agencies to donate to those in need. Food for Life helps over 4,000 people in Toronto, most of whom live on $4 a day.

Fresh Start Recovery Program: This agency helps treat men with alcohol and drug addictions. Fresh Start offers temporary housing during the 12-week abstinence-based program as well as counselling and financial support.

Indspire: Indspire helps Indigenous students across Canada complete their post-secondary education by providing financial support and education mentorship programs. Only 10 per cent of Indigenous students complete university degrees. Indspire is hoping to change that.

Jump Math: This organization runs math programs for children and elementary school students (up until grade 8) with the goal of encouraging more young people to love science and math. It also provides coaching and professional development programs for teachers and educators.

Moisson Montreal: Moisson Montreal is the largest food bank in Canada. It collects food donations and distributes it to local charities throughout the city. It also runs a food recovery program in which excess food supplies is collected from supermarkets.

At the end of the day, remember that giving is not restricted to the holiday season. Often charities experience a lull in donations in the New Year, making it difficult to maintain service quality year-round. If you are able, instead of making a one-time donation, make a smaller, but monthly donation.

Celebrating Women: Entrepreneur Dyana Biagi

Building a business from the ground up is no laughing matter, but it doesn’t mean you can’t do it while smiling all your way to the top. Founder and CEO of Aji Gourmet Products Dyana Biagi is one of the friendliest and most charismatic people out there, and she really defines what it means to build a business with an affirmative attitude.

Biagi sells a Colombian hot sauce commonly known as Aji and it is positively sizzling with popularity along the west coast. She began the business when her family migrated to Canada in October 1999. “I wanted to keep a little piece of Colombia. When we had our own little place, I made Aji. It is a typical condiment in all of Latin America and I thought this would be my little bit of Colombia at meals,” Biagi says. “When parent get-togethers started happening, someone said you bring the guacamole. I told them ‘I’m not Mexican, but okay!’ and I decided to put the Aji in it. The people at the party were blown away. They thought it was delicious.”

From there, Biagi began selling the product at farmer’s markets in British Columbia around the Lower Mainland and quickly noticed that Aji was a hit. Her husband joined in to help sell the product at markets, and after her son, Nicholas Gonzalez, graduated, he joined in as well. Now a family business, Aji has expanded exponentially and is in over 100 stores, including Whole Foods in B.C. and Save on Foods. The next step is to launch into the United States.

Biagi believes family is imperative to the success of her business. “I wouldn’t be where I am without the support of my family,” she says. “Starting a business on your own is really tough. If you start a business, I think that it would have a greater chance of succeeding with family support.”

The social climate of the farmer’s markets are also like a big family, according to Biagi. Instead of the typical competitive cut-throat attitude that exists in many business markets, the grassroots approach in the farmer market community in Vancouver is very inclusive and accepting. “At the farmer’s market, we are a family. We see each other every Saturday and Sunday, and there is always a little bit of time to talk to each other,” Biagi says. “We are all there rain or shine and I’m open to helping anybody who needs. I don’t doubt in helping them find jars, labels, information, or grant money.”

Despite the obstacles of building up an organics product in a competitive market, Biagi is a mentor to other women on how to never give up on your dream. “Persistence is definitely important. You need to keep going and not give up after the first mishap,” Biagi says. “I’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs, but I believe in my business. I want Aji to become a staple in North America and I believe in it.”

Aji regularly gives silent auction items to several charities, including the Parkinson Society B.C. Ronald McDonald House Spinal Cord Injury B.C. CBSA UBC Land and Food Systems Society, Crossroads Hospice Society, and JDRF Rocking for Research Gala for diabetes. Biagi and her family also foster exotic birds from a rescue called Grey Haven in the Lower Mainland area. They have had one of their Macaw parrots, Hobbes for seven years, something that reminds Biagi of being back home in Colombia.

In her spare time, Biagi loves to horseback ride and has a degree in Equine Studies. She is also an avid photographer and loves to cycle. Biagi is an example of a female entrepreneur that has embraced her culture and passions and fused them into making an amazing product that is becoming successful. She also reminds us of the power of family and persisting through obstacles with a winning smile. Aji truly is an inspiration for all product entrepreneurs working hard at farmer’s markets across Canada. Follow your dreams, you never know what can happen next.

“The day I walked out of that store with my supplies when I first decided to make Aji, I never thought I’d get to where I am, but yet here we are.”

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How to successfully market your non-profit online

It can be challenging running a charity or not-for-profit organization in the digital age. With so much information available on the Internet, how do you get your message across? How do you make people care about your cause?

Last week, Women’s Post attended Digital Leap 2016, a digital marketing conference for non-profits. The one-day conference was hosted by Stephen Thomas, a Canadian agency that produces and develops marketing campaigns for charities and not-for-profit organizations. The focus of the conference was three-fold: how to embrace the digital realm, how to be brave enough to think outside the box, and how to optimize and brand your work.

For not-for-profits and charities, the concept of a digital campaign can be difficult. Even more questions arise: Where do you start? How do you drive people to your website? How do you ensure people take more than 30 seconds looking at your work?

The first thing to remember is that it is all about content. A banner or square advertisement on a webpage doesn’t get nearly as many hits as marketed content. Peter Coish, founder and lead strategist of Toronto marketing firm Kuration, asked the following question at the beginning of his keynote speech: “How many people actually click on a banner advertisement…on purpose?”

The answer was almost no one. Curated and original content is the key to a campaign’s success. The content must be entertaining, but it also must inform and activate. Make a plan that outlines your organization’s goals, target audience, and campaign themes so that content isn’t being created in the last minute. Digital marketing takes time and if you don’t plan accordingly, it won’t be successful.

Fifty per cent of your content should contain relevant information about your cause or organization, but according to Alice Ferris, founding partner of GoalBusters Consulting, “sometimes, you just need a picture of a squirrel.” It’s important to make sure your content is entertaining and interesting. If you don’t, people won’t follow your work on a regular basis.

Now you have great content, what’s next? Getting your message across to the general public is the next challenge. There is so much noise on social media nowadays that organic reach is not really possible. It is necessary to spend some money pushing out your content on the Internet. This may mean buying Facebook advertisements and creating sponsored posts to bring new readers and donors to your cause. Knowing your audience is key: do they consume media on their mobile phones or do they watch a lot television? That will make a difference on how you spend your advertisement budget.

At the same time, Coish says that email is your biggest resource. Contacting your supporters directly — or people who are interested in your organization’s work — is the most productive and effective way to reach your audience. Don’t completely rule out traditional media as well. Mail is now considered a novelty, so if someone gets a personal letter with information about a specific cause, there is a higher likelihood they will actually read it.

Lastly, it’s important to be authentic. As Simren Deogun, Director of Digital Innovation at Stephen Thomas, says: “These are real missions and real causes and we are trying to create real change. Be real and authentic. That is almost more important than anything else.”

“Digital is not the future,” Deogun said in her panel. “It’s happening around you. From the small charity with three employees to the multi-million non-profit, it’s the fight. It’s not size that drives their bravery.”

It takes a lot of courage to approach your CEO or charity founder and propose a digital campaign. It requires a lot of creative thinking, knowledge of the return, and an ability to take a risk. While making your proposal, remember to take your audience into account and tailor your content to their interests. If you plan, write informative yet entertaining content, and drive your cause out on the appropriate social channels, there is nothing you can’t do!

Do you have any tips for digital campaigns? Post them in the comments below!