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New way to keep the war on poverty alive: Goar

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Toronto Star by Carol Goar | September 4, 2013

The Caledon Institute of Social Policy turns to crowdfunding to raise money and reach younger generations.

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Sherri Torjman of the Caledon Institute is hoping to tap into the compassion of the younger generation. Source: Toronto Star

Crowdfunding was created by the digital generation to capitalize on its technology, tap into its skills and cater to its attention span.

To use it, a promoter has to be fast, punchy and persuasive.

When the Caledon Institute on Social Policy decided to give crowdfunding a try this summer, its vice-president Sherri Torjman knew she’d be giving her 60-year-old brain a workout.

“You need to tell a compelling story in two and a half minutes or less,” she explained. “You need to say who you are, why you are launching a crowdfunding campaign, why your issue is of concern to viewers and what you would like them to do.

“You need to be authoritative but folksy. You need to be confident but relaxed. And you need to be serious but funny — or at least approachable.”

It was a stretch for a social policy analyst more accustomed to pondering complex policy questions than delivering 150-second sales pitches. But Torjman, who is nothing if not flexible, met the challenge.

Within the next week or so her video will be posted on Giveffect, Canada’s 4-month-old crowdfunding platform for charities. This will make the Caledon Institute the first think-tank in the country to enter the brave new world of 21st-century philanthropy.

None of this was foreseen. For most of the Caledon’s Institute history, it had relied on a core grant from the Maytree Foundation, supplemented by money its staff earned doing research projects for governments and other organizations and donations from public-spirited individuals. It never had any cash to spare, but it kept costs down, managed its resources carefully and produced a continuous stream of newsworthy studies.

This year, it took a bold risk. Torjman and her boss, Ken Battle, president of the think-tank, decided to revitalize the National Welfare Council, killed by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in his 2012 budget. They couldn’t let the country’s main repository of statistics on poverty, inequality and welfare rates disappear. They couldn’t allow the Tories to dismantle the social infrastructure past generations had built.

“Without comprehensive information, Canadians are susceptible to myths, misconceptions and half-truths,” they explained when they unveiled their plan in May.

At the time, they didn’t know how they were going to raise the $200,000 to pull it off. They just knew someone had to do it.

For more than a month, Torjman racked her brain. Caledon’s traditional donors were doing as much as they could. No government was likely to pitch in. Other social policy groups were stretched to the breaking point.

In late June, by chance, she read an article about Giveffect. The crowdfunding platform, created by three young Torontonians, had just made its debut. Its 26-year-old chief executive, Anisa Mirza, was busy recruiting clients, proving that her generation — approached the right way — was eager to make a difference. Torjman got in touch with her.

After hearing about Caledon’s goal, Mirza figured a crowdfunding campaign just might work. She became Torjman’s coach. Focus on theme or project, not everything the institute does, she said. Set a fundraising goal. And ask for a contribution of about $20.

Torjman chose her angle, narrowed her perspective, wrote her message and cut, honed and polished it until it was two and a half minutes. After taping it, she blogged about it, giving the campaign a face and voice and making herself digitally accessible.

Now she is busy spreading the word. She has given all of Caledon’s partners and associates a heads-up and asked them to distribute the video to everyone in their network, post news about it on Facebook, tweet about it and mention it to everyone they met. The campaign will run for 30 days.

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