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Building our identities, individually and together

Building our identities, individually and together

Trevor Eggleton, 
Manager, Communications, Marketing, Fundraising 

I have two daughters quickly approaching adolescence. It’s interesting to watch them play with their developing identities. This is normal for any child of this age, in any culture. The questions of “Who am I?” and “Where do I fit in in this world?” may not be something they articulate but you can see these questions permeate nearly everything my kids do.Trevor Eggleton participating in Feeding Our Communities Ottawa (Photo courtesy of Ashley Fraser, Postmedia)

Modern technology in the form of social media and games has both altered and enhanced this experience beyond anything I knew as a child. Platforms like Snap Chat and House Party allow them to play with their identity not only within their minds, but also in connection to their culture in a completely new way. Their phones are a constant link to the culture of youth that I myself engaged with in the hallways of school or by watching MuchMusic (yes, I am dating myself). As they grow and explore their identities and their culture, you can see how the two are inextricably linked. You can’t have one without the other, but which comes first?

The same is true in organizations. Is an organization’s identity born from its culture or vice versa? And is there a difference? I believe there is. Identity is how one sees him or herself; culture is how that identity aligns with the identity of those within a group. The collective ‘I’.

Carefor staff know that the work they do is essential to the people and families we support. Staff have an identity of themselves as professionals and see their work as valuable to the clients and the larger community we serve. But as an agency that offers nearly 40 different programs and services across Eastern Ontario, that collective ‘I’ is more of a challenge to create when there’s such diversity of service and geography. 

To help our staff connect their professional identities to one another we have been sharing stories internally of the impact of their work with the goal of creating a collective identity as an impactful healthcare organization. The hope here is that even if the story isn’t about them or their program, each staff starts to feel a sense of connection between their own identity and their colleagues’.

Creating a culture is a deliberate activity and involves connecting the dots between staff, programs and geography. Historically Carefor has operated in three distinct but connected regions: Pembroke-Renfrew County, Ottawa and Eastern Counties, each operating  fairly independently of one another. Over the past few years, Carefor’s leaders has been taking great strides to create a one-Carefor approach where we speak more often, both internally and externally, with one voice. From this is born a sense of connected identity, which aims to create a cohesive culture.

Carefor is a not-for-profit. It is also a charity. Many don’t know us as either. If you ask our clients many might assume that we’re a government agency. The path that brought most of our clients to us is that they saw a doctor who contacted the Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), who in turn contracted us to provide them with a PSW, nurse, OT, PT, adult day program, meal program or transportation service, etc. When Carefor enters a client’s life, we want them to know we are different. We are a not-for-profit home and community care organization that raises funds to help fill needs within our communities. We want them to know we are here for people, and use donations to adapt, strengthen and extend our programs and services to those who need them most.

To effectively raise money an organization must create and promote a charitable identity. This identity is similar to a company’s brand but goes further and deeper, asking people to make their relationship supportive in nature, rather than transactional. To in essence join the organization in achieving its goals. Effective brands and organizations do more than just tell the what and the how of that. As Simon Sinek says, they “Start with why.”

An organization’s charitable identity promotes the ‘why’ an organization raises funds and how it will use those funds to benefit the lives of others. Successful charities do a great job of drawing the line between the donor and the beneficiary. They also do a great job of promoting that line so the donor sees themselves as an active part of the story and solution. I believe to be successful at fundraising, an organization must do more than build a relationship with its donors, it must also cultivate a culture of giving inside the organization, at all levels.

Having worked for several not-for-profit organizations in my career, I’ve seen first hand the discomfort that programmatic staff often have with being part of the fundraising process. Many bristle with the idea of going out “cap in hand” as that’s not part of their job description. Although they may see the benefits of donations, they tend to view fundraising as someone else’s responsibility.  

My goal as Manager, Communications, Marketing and Fundraising at Carefor is to evolve this mindset and help our team see that everyone in the organization has a role in fundraising. Whether it be passing along stories of clients whose lives were changed as a result of our work, sharing with clients and future donors the good work Carefor does in the community or simply allowing fundraisers to fundraise.  

By sharing and imbedding our charitable identity within our program and services teams across Carefor, we will start to feel the collective impact of our fundraising success, and thus organizational success in achieving our mission. We will see nurses volunteering to tell the story of their work and its impact, directors seeking our support in developing new programs to service those in need and board members picking up the phone and thanking donors. To take fundraising to a place of culture it has to exist within each employee and volunteer’s identity in some small way.

On December 10th, Carefor will host a celebratory Virtual Safe at Home Gala in Ottawa and Eastern Counties and a No Show Gala in Pembroke-Renfrew County. With in-person fundraising events being canceled this year we, like many organizations, have turned to technology to tell our story. The concept is exciting and daunting for an organization that has often found it tough to sing its own praises from the roof-tops. Well, we are ready to change that.

In one evening we will put our collective identity in front of our communities in hopes that our work will mean something special to people. We can only control so much about how people react, but like my children using their technology to promote and define their identities, we’re excited to be building and sharing ours – individually and together.