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Governor-General David Johnston at Rideau Hall on Oct. 9, 2013. Mr. Johnston has enlisted several of the country’s biggest companies to help lead a new marketing campaign designed to get more Canadians participating in charitable giving.Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press

Governor-General David Johnston has enlisted several of the country's biggest companies to help lead a new marketing campaign designed to get more Canadians participating in charitable giving.

The program, called My Giving Moment, will try to spur people to donate even small amounts of time, money or expertise to worthy causes. It will incorporate traditional advertising and marketing, some of it donated by companies, as well as using social media to get the message across.

The four-year campaign is being launched Monday at Rideau Hall, the Governor-General's residence. It will operate through a newly created entity called the Rideau Hall Foundation.

The idea, the Governor-General said in an interview, is not to divert money from existing charities, but to get more Canadians to do more for others, through whatever means they have. "It is giving in all its manifestations, not simply money, but talent and time [as well]," he said. The campaign will do this by publicizing examples of what some people are doing to help others.

Mr. Johnston said it was clear early on in developing the program that it would work better with partners, especially those with lots of resources. The biggest five Canadian banks have signed on, as have other corporations such as Procter & Gamble Canada, Home Hardware, Manulife Financial Corp., CGI Group Inc., Target Corp.'s Canadian unit, Tim Hortons Inc., Shaw Communications Inc., Rogers Communications Inc., Telus Corp. and the CBC.

Some of these – such as CGI, which has helped set up the My Giving Moment website – have brought skills that the Rideau Foundation would not have been able to tap on its own, he said.

Mr. Johnston acknowledged this is an ambitious project that goes beyond the traditional function of his office. "This may be pushing the [role of] the governor-general a little bit, but we believe that this office – which has to do with the fundamental values of Canada – appropriately should be reinforcing the sense of giving and helping one's neighbour, because it makes for a better country," he said.

The campaign will be similar to the long-running ParticipACTION campaign that tried to get Canadians off the couch, but applied to charitable giving, said Ian Bird, the president of Community Foundations of Canada, who has been seconded to lead the new program.

It will tell stories of ordinary Canadians and their charitable work, Mr. Bird said. A website will provide links to a wide range of charities, but people will also be encouraged to do charitable works that don't involve organized groups, he said.

The campaign has a startup budget of $2-million, mainly raised from companies. Corporate donors will also provide marketing support, media and other in-kind products and services. "Across the board everyone has brought additional value," Mr. Bird said.

Toronto-Dominion Bank, which, like the other big banks, is committing $1-million to the project over four years, was drawn in by the Governor-General's enthusiasm, said chief executive officer Ed Clark. Mr. Clark said getting people started with charitable giving is crucial, and this program could help. "There are people who never give back, and people who cross the bridge then give back continuously. The earlier you get someone to cross that bridge, the more active a participant they are going to be," he said. "It is smart to reach out and say to young people: 'This is your country, make it what you want to make of it.'"

Thom Lachman, president of Procter & Gamble Canada, said the program is a good "unifying umbrella" for the company's range of charitable programs. On top of that "the concept is very inspirational and the fact that the Governor-General is personally leading it makes it particularly meaningful for Canada." P&G will be donating money to the program over three years, and will lend its expertise to the marketing effort.

Mr. Johnston noted that giving is not only good for the recipient, but also for the giver as well. "Study after study has demonstrated that a spirit of giving or volunteerism ... plays a central role in our happiness and sense of well-being," he said. "I would love to see in Canada a renewed and deeper spirit of giving in everyday culture, where helping out is second nature."

Follow Richard Blackwell on Twitter: @blackwellglobeOpens in a new window

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