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Everything Old is New Again: Communication and Fundraising in the Digital World


At Going Barefoot III, a conference for faith-based communicators, Owen Charters, Chief Executive Officer of CanadaHelps, an on-line donations system for registered Canadian charities, used humour, anecdotes and statistics to share his insights about the future of fundraising in Canada.

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October 28, 2011
-Deborah Froese

Winnipeg, MAN. —  The third biennial  “Going Barefoot” conference for faith-based communicators took place on the campus of Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) in Winnipeg Man. on Oct. 14, 2011.  

The one-day gathering explored the challenges facing non-profit groups as they share news and information about their organizations in new digital age of communication.

“We have an abundance of data and information but a scarcity of time to take it all in,” said John Longhurst, one of the event organizers and Canada Food Grains Bank Director of Resources & Public Engagement. “Attention will be one of the most prized commodities in the future.”

The 2011 event featured Owen Charters, CEO of Canada Helps, a website facilitating online donations to registered Canadian charities. Charters discussed approaches to capturing donor attention in meaningful ways despite today’s frenetic consumption of  information.
“You need to know your market and appeal to their sensibilities – not your own,” Charters pointed out. “Donors aren’t going to spend much time thinking about you. You have precious little time to appeal to them.”

According to Charters, we need to find ways to make personal connections again.

Charters also noted that technology is changing the way people give. “Online fundraising appears to be leading the way sometimes at the expense of other forms of fundraising. People who fill out a coupon and mail it back with a donation are in decline. We’re increasingly fighting for a piece of the pie that is becoming more and more competitive.”

Bill Roberts, President and CEO of Vision TV shared his insights about the potential of tapping into the “Zoomer” demographic – people aged 45 and older.  Zoomers currently comprise about 57% of the adult Canadian population and according to Roberts, are the only segment that will increase over time as a percentage of our population.

Presenters at previous Going Barefoot events included Mike Tennant, the co-creator and co-producer of CBC Radio’s popular advertising show The Age of Persuasion; Gayle Goosen, founder and Creative Director at the communications agency, Barefoot Creative; and sociologist Reginald Bibby of the University of Lethbridge.

Approximately 120 people attended Going Barefoot III. In addition to John Longhurst, organizers of the event include Dan Dyck, Mennonite Church Canada Director of Communications, and David Balzer, Instructor at CMU’s Communications and Media program.