The CharityVillage Story

By Doug Jamieson

The adventure begins

There are a few inventions and discoveries that have caused major shifts in the way people live, work, and deal with the world. Any list of these would likely include the internet.

In the spring of 1995, with internet use still mostly confined to governmental and educational institutions, I met Jim Hilborn, publisher of Canadian FundRaiser. That chance meeting led to discussions about the relevance of the nascent online world for Canada’s nonprofit sector. Jim arranged meetings with a number of the sector’s leaders and influencers, all of whom were generous with their time and their ideas for an online resource and meeting place that would serve the special needs of charities and nonprofits.

Everyone agreed that the real need was for an accessible, online destination that could be the focus for an ongoing interchange of ideas and solutions across the full range of Canadian organizations. We wanted to create an online community in which regular visitors, in a spirit of participating and sharing, could feel a sense of membership. The name CharityVillage seemed an apt metaphor.

Printer’s ink flowed in Jim’s veins and, while I had used online databases as far back as 1981, I was an internet newbie. Both in our fifties, we were not unaware that we were unlikely members of the wired generation. We joked that we should call our organization Geezers Online.

In those early days, the internet was a disorganized, fragmented universe of arcane methods for finding and distributing digital information. The World Wide Web had not yet emerged as the dominant online medium. Netscape, the first commercial web browser, was just a few months old. Download speeds were crawlingly slow. Nonetheless, we set our sails to the winds of cyberspace, and got to work.

On July 13, 1995 we launched with about 100 pages of content.

Jim and I reached into our own pockets for the initial funding, and we managed to keep it alive for the first three years until revenue from recruitment and supplier advertising made it self-sustaining. We chose this model because we didn’t want to have our limited resources diverted into a constant search for external funding, and we didn’t want our vision to be distorted by the priorities of a funding organization.

Along the way

There have been periods of high anxiety, like the day in January, 1996, when our only computer crashed, taking with it all of our records and, of course, all contents of the website.

And there have been moments of panic, such as the episode in the following March when I logged on one morning to find that the site was unavailable. This was not an unusual occurrence, but this time our hosting provider was not answering the phone. A quick trip to their offices revealed that they had jumped ship in the night, leaving us adrift.

There have been really bad days, too. Two of our team members, Wilf Grignon and Mary Gomer, passed away within about a year of each other. We will always remember the happy times we enjoyed with them.

But mostly it has been wonderful, primarily because of people.

Every organization needs the contributions of many people to survive and prosper, and serendipity often intervenes.

First among these happy accidents was encountering Jim Hilborn, who provided much of the initial website content, and supported the effort in many other ways in the early years.

Another was the March 1996 addition of Maggie Leithead, the first team member to join the founders. Maggie’s maturity, dedication, and easy way with people were immediately apparent. She became our President in October, 2001, and CEO in July, 2009, and has provided energetic leadership for our growing team and our ever-expanding range of tools and resources. She has also become a close friend.

The nonprofit sector is comprised of the country’s finest people, and you have been extremely supportive right from the beginning. In fact, you are most responsible for this Canadian success story. At this writing, more than 25,000 of you check into every day, and many of you e-mail to tell us your own stories and the part we are playing to help you make your dreams happen.

This is the oxygen that sustains our team of great people, spread from coast to coast across the country and involved in moving both the community, and our own real world communities, ahead.

The latest chapter

On May 21, 2012, we launched the NEW CharityVillage, which fully realizes our original dream of a place where Canadians who work in and around the nonprofit sector can collaborate, share, and engage with each other.

Thanks to all of you who have supported us over the years, and who are participating vigorously in this new community. The journey continues.