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Giving Diaries

Giving Diary 1: Michael Stark

Young boy walks through forst. Older sister looks on.

First Giving Memory

My first memory of raising money for a charity was when I was about 10 years old. I was selling boxes of chocolate-covered almonds door-to-door for a children’s cancer charity. It was a fundraiser through our school and I remember quickly selling all my chocolates and then helping my classmates who were not as comfortable knocking on doors and asking for money.

I also remember having to cut lawns in my neighbourhood to pay for some of the chocolates that my friends and I ate, which led to a job cutting grass and landscaping in the summers. The people in my neighbourhood came to know me quickly. I had several other fundraisers and ventures that required me knocking on their doors and asking for donations.

Young Mike (about age 10) and his dog Shags - both wearing baseball caps

Mike & Shags

Cause Connection

I have been involved in fundraising and volunteering ever since those first chocolate sales around age 10. Growing up, there were always fundraisers for sports teams I played on and events through school. I took fundraising as a challenge and wanted to raise as much money as possible. I remember going door-to-door to the point where my parents would come looking for me because I was gone so long or it was too late and the street lights were on.

I have always been supportive of fundraising and volunteering for charities that support cancer because I have friends and family members that have been affected by it. I have also been very passionate about environmental issues from a young age, remembering not being able to swim in certain areas because of pollution and what was called “acid rain.” This led me to learn more about environmental issues and what the causes were. I also recall reading the children’s book The Lorax by Doctor Seuss. I remember the images of clear cut forests and the Lorax standing on a stump having a strong effect on me.

The Lorax says "Save the trees!"

In my teens I got a job fundraising on the phone and on the streets of downtown Toronto for Greenpeace. I had written speeches in school about deforestation and pollution and surprised some of the senior members at Greenpeace with my knowledge of environmental issues and my willingness to get on the phone and ask people for money. It was a fun office to be in, located in the Kensington Market area. I liked hanging out there as much as possible and spent a lot of time “socializing.” The mission and workplace culture at Greenpeace created a strong team atmosphere that was united behind a cause. It motivated me and everyone else to make a lot of calls and raise a lot of donations.

I would stay late in the office, making calls during the evening to reach people once they got home from work. Sometimes I would sleep on the couch and call them in the morning before they left for work. This is now highly frowned upon but at the time was an accepted practice. I had a real feeling of purpose and community working at Greenpeace, which gave me the motivation to keep going when I may have gone home in other environments.

There were frequent highly-energized events and fundraisers that engaged and motivated everyone to get involved and give more, generating creative new ideas and fundraising strategies. It helped me understand from an early age how workplace culture, community involvement and support of a cause can transform a workplace to do things beyond expectation.

Giving Mindset

My concept of abundance is having a feeling of gratitude and joy as your default sense of being. The best way I have found to achieve this is by focusing my attention on other people’s needs and happiness, creating a personal mission to help. I do this by using my business experience, relationships and creative abilities to build long-term strategies, partnerships and organizations that can reach far beyond what a single person could do.

Giving Strategy

My current and long-term giving strategy is to use all of my business and life experience to create ventures that are dedicated to giving and supporting giving initiatives. I am currently 100% focused on creating new ideas, technologies, and strategies that are dedicated to improving and advancing giving technology and culture. The entire industry is going through a transformation and I want to help lead. I am personally financing the launch of givngrow and givngo in the process of bringing on strategic partners and investors.

At the moment, I am entirely focused on creating solutions that will improve the charitable sector as a whole. In the near future, I will focus more time on a few personal causes and charitable projects I am very passionate about.

Giving It Forward

I believe that the future of giving will rely on businesses integrating giving, community engagement and support into their mission, technology, operations, marketing strategies, employee job descriptions and brand. Done properly, business can grow and help charities create steady streams of monthly donations. Helping them with predictable income is important in growing and expanding donations, services and community supports.

With e-commerce technology, payment processing and social media constantly evolving, we can now get very creative about starting the next giving trends and strategies. As an example, we now have the ability to create frictionless donations with cash back and round up programs during POS transactions that empower the consumer, helps businesses and creates more loyal customers.

I believe that as the economy comes back, it will be a chance to start a new culture of giving where businesses can build a solid foundation and culture of supporting the community and causes that fit their mission. It is my mission to help make this happen and is where I will focus, helping others give and grow.

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