Centraide 2009. Now more than ever.

360° of action…  Centraide isn’t about fundraising, it’s about social action.

By Don McLean

For those members of the McGill community who may be, as the Newfoundlanders so aptly put it, “from away,” Centraide is the parallel to the United Way organizations that are found in more than 100 locations across Canada, some 1,300 communities in the U.S. and 45 countries worldwide. There are 18 Centraide organizations in Quebec.

McGill is part of Centraide of Greater Montreal (www.centraide-mtl.org), which serves the island of Montreal, Laval and part of the North Shore, and communities on the South Shore in the Montérégie region. The area represents more than half the population of Quebec. As a key member of the Montreal community, McGill joins other Sociétés d’état et organismes publics (Hydro-Québec, the Caisse, universities, hospitals, etc.), along with numerous other sectors of business and government, to leverage support for Centraide.

The mission of Centraide is “to maximize financial and volunteer resources in order to promote mutual aid, social commitment and self-reliance as effective means of improving the quality of life of our community, and especially of its neediest members.” This happens “by funding community agencies and working in partnership with them.” Centraide is a leveraged affair: “people helping people who help people.”  360° of help.

Last year Centraide raised more money than ever before, but it fell slightly short of its announced goal, overtaken by the economic downturn – a downturn that ultimately has affected its recipients more than its donors. This year the Greater Montreal Campaign goal is an ambitious $54 million and the campaign slogan is: plus que jamais – more than ever. Because the need really is greater than ever.

360° of need. Everywhere you look people are experiencing loss of employment, loss of associated social network, financial and housing difficulties, increased food insecurity, anxiety about the future. The Information and Referral Centre of Greater Montreal reports that requests for shelter have increased by 68 per cent, for income security by 41 per cent, for food assistance by a staggering 93 per cent. Beyond tough times: real people. But there is good news. For many, these needs are temporary. At least one-third of all people in financial distress improve their situation within a year. For this turnaround to happen, however, Centraide and the agencies that it supports need our help.

This help can take various forms. As McGill graduate and great Canadian philanthropist of higher education Seymour Schulich encourages: “you can give time, talent, or treasure (the three Ts).” I hope that all of you have the occasion to give your time and talent to philanthropy. For me, this is one of the most rewarding aspects of my modest partnership role with Centraide – to give a bit of time to the agencies and the organization to help them carry out their work, to lend the special talent of our Schulich School of Music students, staff, and support team for Centraide coordination, outreach and fundraising recognition events. Outreach such as our student-led Musicians Without Borders performances that visit Centraide-supported drop-in centres. Events such as the recent joint McGill and UdeM leadership concert that brought the two universities’ jazz bands together for the first time – for Centraide.

I also give treasure.  And, despite the challenges of current economic conditions, the unknowns of your personal circumstances, and the level of institutional commitment that you might be feeling right now, I’m asking you for yours. It doesn’t take much to be effective. It just takes more. Last year the McGill Campaign raised $316,000. This year our target is $320,000. Ambitious? Yes.

But here’s the thing… if every McGill employee pledged a twoonie per payroll period ($48 a year), we would more than double our impact on Centraide. Let’s make this concrete. Centraide helps support the efforts of 360 agencies that, through their volunteers and action, reach more than 500,000 needy individuals and families in the Greater Montreal community.

Our community. 360° of help. Our help.

For more information on how to give or to make an online pledge, go to www.mcgill.ca/centraide.

Don McLean is Dean of the Schulich School of Music and Leadership Co-Chair of McGill’s 2009 Centraide Campaign.