Charitable giving gets catalogued

Canada’s charities are creating a physical holiday presence to make more gift lists.

Tempted to buy Snuggies for the whole family, just to make gift-giving easier? A handful of charities have a better idea: they’ve created holiday catalogues (both online and off) full of life-saving supplies for people in need, so Canadians can purchase meaningful gifts on behalf of their loved ones.  
This November, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) launched, which allows Canadians to shop for relief items ranging from a rapid HIV test ($30) to a fully-stocked first aid kit ($1,060).
The goal is to remove some of the mystery behind MSF’s international aid work, explains Rebecca Davies, director of fundraising, MSF. “If you give to a hospital or an arts charity in Canada, you can go see the impact of your donation,” she says. “But few Canadians can see the impact [of MSF’s work] in Somalia or Haiti.”
The website was launched with a two-week teaser campaign that saw mystery crates placed atop Astral bus shelters in Toronto, with ads featuring the URL On the site, visitors found a blog authored by the crate, which was searching for its true calling in life (and engaging with potential supporters on Facebook and Twitter). By mid-November, the crate had figured out its purpose – it was going to work for MSF, transporting supplies around the world – and the OOH crates had been repainted with destination names and the MSF Warehouse URL. Print ads appeared in Metro’s Toronto edition and T.O.Night before and after the reveal.
The campaign was developed internally by MSF, with creative and media by Stephen Thomas in Toronto. As a not-for-profit, MSF aims to create a big impact with a small budget. “Our doctors in the field have to be innovative, without the resources they have at home. It’s the same philosophy in our fundraising department,” Davies says.
War Child launched a similar effort at, with a catalogue featuring seed, tool kits and bread ovens to help families in war-ravaged countries rebuild their lives.
A campaign by Toronto-based John St., including TV, online and radio, depicts humorous situations where people are saved from bodily harm by terrible gifts – such as a woman who falls from a rickety ladder but is saved from smashing her head on the ground by a tacky Christmas pillow. The tagline, “Horrible gifts don’t save lives,” drives the true message home. War Child’s promotional effort also includes a stunt in Toronto shopping areas featuring a group of carolers who conjure memories of Christmases past by sporting a variety of bad gifts
“When we started contrasting all the good that War Child gifts do against the uselessness of so many Christmas gifts, we figured we were on to something,” says Simon Bruyn, copywriter, John St.
For a charity that works closer to home, Sunnybrook Foundation has launched a glossy “Gifts of Giving” catalogue that shows the costs of new hospital equipment – everything from a fetal monitor to a chemotherapy treatment suite – and allows donors to buy a share in the items. It’s complemented by an online version at
Sunnybrook is distributing the catalogue in the Globe and Mail and on hospital premises. It’s also targeting its existing donor bases through direct mail and e-blasts. The catalogue was developed by Lift Agency in Aurora, ON., with brand marketing and media by Dentsu in Toronto.
“Donors can actually see the tangibility,” says Jennifer Schnare, director, direct marketing, Sunnybrook Foundation. “There’s something empowering in that. Instead of buying your grandma a scarf, you can give her a share.”