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Anil Patel’s Timeraiser project has generated $710,000 for artists and 114,000 volunteer hours for not-for-profit organizations across Canada.JENNIFER ROBERTS/The Globe and Mail

Anil Patel has come up with a unique way to help artists and his community at the same time.

Timeraiser, the charitable organization he founded in Toronto in 2002, is designed as a live auction forum for emerging artists – but with a twist. Instead of offering money, the prospective art buyers bid chunks of time that they pledge to a not-for-profit organization in exchange for an original work. They get to take home the art after the time they committed is fulfilled.

"Timeraiser is like speed-dating for volunteerism," explains Patel, a 38-year-old former resident of Chatham, Ont. "People come to our event, meet with dozens of non-profits. Once they match their skills to their needs, people can bid."

Would-be volunteers meet the organizations, representing a wide selection of social causes, at large-scale parties – revels with a cause – spread over the year in 12 Canadian cities, including Montreal where the next Timeraiser (or Bénévotemps as it is known in French) is scheduled to take place Thursday. At any one event, there are typically 20 non-profits, 25 works of art and 200 people (artists, non-profits, potential volunteers and corporations interested in employee engagement) all vying to get one another's attention in support of a greater cause.

Patel came up with the idea as a way of helping artists, whom he says are among the least remunerated citizens in Canadian society. "They are constantly asked to donate their artwork to charity," he points out, "but many are the characteristic 'starving artists,' earning less than $20,000 a year." To help offset their penurious status, Patel pays each participating artist up to a $1,000 each for an artwork, money raised from donations by corporate partners, among them Toronto-Dominion Bank and the RBC Emerging Arts Project.

To date, Timeraiser has invested $710,000 in the careers of artists and has generated 114,000 volunteer hours pledged by 7,700 Canadians in support of more than 500 causes. Helping his community is a value Patel learned from his family.

Both parents, now deceased, were givers. His mother, Frances Byrne, helped to raise funds for a much-needed sports facility in her community while his father, Raj Patel, a native of Tanzania, was a physician committed to helping an underserved small town.

Following their deaths in 2000 and 2007 respectively, Patel, the eldest of four siblings, wanted to honour their example. He did so by drawing on, of all things, his degree in environmental chemistry from Queen's University in Kingston. His studies taught him that life is created from interconnections. "I understand the concept of feedback loops," he says, mindful of having created a new universe of charitable giving in which art, volunteerism and citizenship co-exist. "I see systems in my sleep."

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