Giving back has always been a part of my life; I used to save my allowance money as a child, and during the holidays every year, I would go with my sister to give money to the homeless. I always felt so grateful for my life; no matter how much or little I could afford, I felt it was my duty and honour to give back.
I think this is one of the reasons I love what I do so much; at NKPR almost everything we do integrates cause! I started the company in order to create a business that connected brands with causes and charities that are meaningful to their target consumers. Almost every brand we work with supports causes that matter: Kiehl's and Camp Oochigeas; Avon and Big Brothers Big Sisters; TD and MusiCounts; Jones New York and Dress For Success. There are so many worthy causes out there...it can be overwhelming sometimes to know how to choose the one you want to support.
Firstly, decide what matters to you. The environment, equality, animals, homelessness? Is someone close to you affected by something that you could donate your time/money to support (like breast cancer or gay rights)? Do you want to support a local, grassroots cause or contribute to a large-scale global movement? I wanted to help children's causes, so I support Camp Ooch, which offers meaningful programs in Muskoka and Toronto for kids with cancer. The camp gives them a place to feel joy and happiness during such a difficult time. It's such a magical place! Best Buddies is another cause I feel connected to because I really believe in the power of connection and friendship.
One of the reasons why I support Artists for Peace and Justice is because I value education. Award-winning director Paul Haggis told me about his trip to Haiti and I was so moved by it; that was five years ago and I have been supporting APJ ever since. It allows me to have a global impact and help support a country that's so close to us but so different in their quality of life.
I just couldn't believe how people were living in such an impoverished way only 1.5 hours from where people party in Miami. In Haiti, kids live in the slums, education is limited, and over 50% of Haitians live in extreme poverty, on less than $1.25 per day. Together with all the other donors and supporters, APJ has raised almost $12 million to date, and built our first free high school in Port-au-Prince that we opened three years ago.
And our celebrity advisory board have been donating their time and money to create a long-term commitment for the kids of Haiti, too. We have been so fortunate with support from celebrities like Penelope Cruz and Daniel Craig who've made long term commitments to the cause; it is because of initial support from them and many other generous celebrities that we had the money to buy the land to build the first free high school, which was the dream that started APJ. We now have 2,200 high school students enrolled at the Academy for Peace and Justice, 100 college students at the Cine and Audio Institutes and 1,500 students supported through local music schools. What I love about this country too is that people are so hopeful; children are eager and happy despite their circumstances. I feel what we are doing is helping this incredible community to help themselves.
Research groups involved with the things that move you. Start searching for charities that share your values or that are working towards a cause that you find meaningful. Look online, ask your friends, check out the websites of brands you love - they often have links to the charities they support. This can be a great way to 'dip your toe in the water' and learn more about certain charities. For instance, TOMS donates a pair of shoes to someone in need for every pair purchased. I love this! I like their shoes but I love this concept, and it keeps me a loyal customer. They've already given away 10 million shoes, and now they're building a factory in Haiti that will open in January and provide jobs to help reinvigorate the country.
Consider what you're able to give. How much time or money can you reasonably afford? Can you commit to monthly meetings, or would you prefer to donate a once-a-year lump sum? Today, crowdfunding is a great way to raise money and awareness for a cause. It's when a lot of people donate a little bit of money...but it all adds up to a great donation. Last year, Ed Norton and Google offered $50,000 in prizes to three environmental campaigns via CrowdRise. Crowdfunding (or crowdsourcing) lets you help causes no matter what you're able to afford.
I think it's important to do what you can, whatever that may be. It's not just about writing a cheque; it is about giving of yourself. We often have so much more to offer than just money, although most people don't think of that when they consider supporting a charity.
If you are going to give financially, know where your money is going. For APJ, because we are such a lean organization, we know how much and where the funds are going. A dollar goes a long way in a country like Haiti, so anything people can donate and give is meaningful. The support of all those that attend our TIFF event each September, plus New York City and Cannes events, help us sustain this initiative. Every dollar counts.
Once you find a charity that moves you, ask how you can help. Check out their mission statements and current projects and see what you can do. Then just do it! If you're hesitant about committing to something you can't maintain, try volunteering at one of the charity's events and see how it feels. I bet you'll be so inspired you won't be able to wait to help again! Being grateful and generous is so rewarding; it's not just about getting a charitable receipt come tax season. It's about changing someone's life for the better...and forever.
And chances are, changing someone else's life will change yours too!