When we talk about the value of content and how quality content impacts readers, we most often think about breaking news, investigative journalism or social justice articles that make a difference in our communities. Have you ever thought about philanthropy as a way to engage readers? The Toronto Star has been connecting emotionally with readers for more 100 years during the holiday season with our Santa Claus Fund.
Toronto Star founder Joseph E. Atkinson established The Toronto Star Santa Claus Fund in 1906. Atkinson knew of poverty first-hand. His father was killed in a tragic accident when he was 6 months old. Left with eight young children to raise, his mother struggled to support the family.
It was a very special Christmas in Atkinson's own childhood that brought out his dedication to help the poor. As the story goes, one day young Joseph was watching other children skate on the pond. A lady approached and asked him why he wasn't skating. When she heard his sad tale, she bought him his first pair of skates for Christmas. Atkinson never forgot the warmth and generosity of the stranger who made that Christmas Day the happiest of his childhood.
Years later, Atkinson used The Toronto Star newspaper to tell readers the stories of other needy children. He asked readers to contribute money, which was used to buy approximately 100 Christmas gifts. The gifts of fruit, candy, socks and mitts were distributed through a local Toronto church, Little Trinity.
The gift packages may have changed with the times but the basic concept remains. Today, bright gift boxes are filled with a warm sweater, socks, mittens, hat, book, toy, candy and dental hygiene kit. The merchandise is purchased directly from manufacturers at significant cost-savings. Great consideration is given to each item purchased for the gift box: quality, style, safety, value, variety and reflect age, not gender. All money donated is spent on purchasing the items contained in the gift boxes. The Toronto Star pays for all administrative costs to the Fund. Therefore, only cash contributions can be accepted, not donations of product or services-in-kind.
Over the past 20 years The Toronto Star Santa Claus Fund has delivered gift boxes to close to 1 million children in the Greater Toronto Area. This year's fundraising goal was $1.6 million.
Donations come mostly from our readers. Daily articles in both print and online about the fund are written by staff reporters and the stories cover everything from local families in need, to legacy stories in which past recipients often talk of the memory of receiving a box one Christmas many years ago — they are quite touching. Many of those people are regular contributors today.
Engaging readers comes in many forms, if your organization does not have a strong philanthropic effort in place at your news media organization I strongly recommend it. The value of content can take many forms this is one to consider.