Give a Damn
Credit: Mitchell Evely

The founders of this local group aim to get younger people involved in philanthropy

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Warren Schindler and Martin McNish, two young men who give a damn.

I know they give a damn because, along with a few friends, they have launched a unique philanthropic organization called Give a Damn Vancouver. And despite my post-demographic perspective on the world, in this case the fact that these two men are young is kind of the point, so I’m sticking with the demographic label.  

Give a Damn Vancouver has a rotating cast of participants, all much younger than you’d expect when you think about philanthropists. Here’s how it works: they get together a few times a year, toss $100 each into a hat and listen while three charities give them a short pitch. They have a few drinks, talk about what they heard and cast a vote. One of those three charities walks out the door with $10,000 or more, depending on how many people show up. As the number of participants grows, so does the size of the cheque. It’s crowdfunding, up close and personal.

It’s worth talking about Warren and Martin because, quite frankly, I hear and read a lot of negative things about young people these days, especially young men. Warren and Martin help slay a huge demographic stereotype wherein young men are portrayed as uninterested in much more than themselves and the bros, and where they’re getting together to drink and cause a ruckus next. These two are a perfect case study of how inaccurate demographic labelling can be.

The Post Demographic: Thanks, guys, for taking the time to do this. You both have full-time jobs and other stuff going on in your life. How did you end up launching a new philanthropic model in Vancouver?

Warren Schindler: Those day jobs really get in the way of doing things like this, that’s for sure! The story isn’t really all that spectacular: we both had very positive experiences with charities in the past.

Martin McNish: We saw people helping other people in very powerful ways, and it really changed how we look at the world.

Warren: When we saw these charitable crowdfunding groups popping up all over Canada and the U.S., along with a group of friends we just decided to get it started here in Vancouver.  

Martin: That’s right. We just saw this as a brilliant opportunity to introduce philanthropy to younger people, in a different way than many had seen before.

TPD: Let's start digging a little bit deeper into this. Why did you choose to do this, and why this way? I mean, you are millennials, after all; you should be Netflix-binging and eating avocado toast instead, shouldn’t you?

Martin: Right. And living in our parents’ basement. Truth is, the traditional model of giving is really passive and not very engaging for anyone. Usually you’re asked to donate to a given cause, and if you like the cause, or the person asking, you give. There’s a decent chance that the only reminder of your donation is the tax receipt.  

Warren: Exactly. Passive. Write a cheque and forget about it. Instead, at Give a Damn events, attendees have to be active in their decision-making. They have to make an informed choice about who they want to support, right there on the spot. And that’s really just the beginning.

Martin: These events create an amazing effect that lasts long after the event is over. Once you’ve made this kind of active donation to a cause, you have a bond with them. We have people talking about groups who presented three years ago as their charity. Some of the people who come to our events end up volunteering for these groups. Some are even sitting on boards of charities now.

Warren: It’s a really cool result of the events. It’s hard to figure out what’s more important... I know the charities all could use the money, but the long-term impact we’ve had by getting people involved in charities of all kinds is hard to measure. I think it’s far greater than the money we hand out each time we meet up.

TPD: I love this. It’s such a simple idea. And it’s exactly the opposite of the stereotypical philanthropic-event model. It’s a bunch of friends making good things happen while they have a beer. So cool. Not to sit around patting you on the back, but well done, gentlemen! How do you feel about this whole issue of demographic stereotypes? Are people surprised when they hear about what you’ve done?

Martin: Well, one of the things that we’ve noticed for sure is that there is a stereotype of what the word philanthropy means, right?  Most young people think philanthropy is either unattainable or something you can’t do until you’re old, grey and rich.  

TPD: Hey now, watch it with grey jokes. I’m glad to have any hair at all.

Martin: Sorry, sorry! But you know what I mean. These ideas about who is a philanthropist prevent so many people from giving. But we are actually moving the needle for these organizations, and none of us fit the stereotype.

Warren: We create a kind of positive reinforcement loop by getting the charities we helped to come back to an event later on, and tell us how the money made an impact. It’s so great to hear those success stories and to feel part of this thing we all did. That’s the moment people talk about the most.

TPD: So what have you learned from all this that you could pass on to anyone reading this article?

Martin: We found a super simple way to make a difference. We think it’s something that anyone can do. I hope more people will.

Warren: If anyone is serious about this, please feel free to reach out to us to learn how this all works. We don’t have any secrets and would love to pass along what we’ve figured out.

TPD: What are you most excited about right now?

Warren: There’s an army of people tiptoeing on the sidelines of this who want to get involved. We have some ambitious ideas that might help give them a nudge closer.

TPD: What’s the change you’d like to see in the world?

Martin: We want to see a world where everyone gives a damn! A world where no matter what you have to give—time, money, energy, ideas—you get out there, get after it and make a difference.

I can’t top that as a closing thought.

Forget the demographic stereotypes. Everyone can be a philanthropist in some way.

So do it. Go make the world better. Boom.

David Allison is a bestselling author, researcher, and consumer behaviour adviser. He speaks internationally about his pioneering Valuegraphics research on consumer behaviour. His book We Are All the Same Age Now, about the end of demographic stereotypes, was chosen by Inc. magazine as one of the top leadership books of the year. Find out more at Valuegraphics.com