Kits for a Cause, a division of the Bargains Group – a Canadian company that provides non-profits with supplies they need at a wholesale price – is on a mission: to change the way employee engagement and group volunteering looks across the country. The young social enterprise helps companies and groups host “Kit packing events” with the goal of providing their non-profit and social services partners with the supplies they so desperately need – and connect them to people and/or companies that care.
An especially important initiative during this holiday season, SEE Change sat down with founder, Jody Steinhauer and Lauren Ott, Chief Kits Officer to learn more about the social enterprise, its unique mission, and how it’s turning the traditional form of “giving back” on its head, giving new meaning to employee and group engagement.
Tell us about your social enterprise, the gap it’s trying to fill, and its impact so far?
Kits for a Cause is a social enterprise that creates meaningful engagement for groups looking to give back. We teach people how to host a Kit packing event, by matching them to a local charity based on their preferred cause. We send all of the supplies to create custom Kits for the charity based on their needs and the group’s budget. Our goal is that charities never have to purchase items like socks or underwear again, but instead that they use their budget and funding on innovating and serving more people. We’ve created an opportunity for groups to actually make a difference. While coming together as a group, they see the impact that they’re making and have a blast doing it!
Since launching a little over a year ago, we’ve reinvested over one million dollars into local Canadian non-profits, engaged almost 50,000 people in giving back and donated hundreds of thousands of Kits filled with the most needed items. More students have gone to school feeling confident and prepared with Back to School Kits, more people have received warmth when sleeping rough on the streets thanks to our Winter Warmth Kits, and more patients and caregivers were supported during their most vulnerable moments with the Patient/Caregiver Comfort Kits, thanks to Kits for a Cause and the incredible people that have participated thus far.
You offer a unique twist to traditional “giving back” program.
People want to make a difference, but they don’t want to just cut a cheque anymore. They want to feel engaged and see the impact that they’re making. If you can order an Uber and know when your driver is pulling up, or see when your Dominoes pizza has been placed in the oven – why can’t you see the impact that you’re making? We have created engagement with transparency. You get to see, feel and touch exactly where your money is going to the items that have been carefully selected for your cause.
One of the complaints of many nonprofits is having to sift through bad donations. How do you help them overcome that?
We work one on one with our charitable partners to ensure that every Kit pack is exactly what they need, when they need it. The charities handpick the items! It’s also so important that they receive consistent donations, that are brand new. No dealing with used items, that won’t provide the dignity that their clients deserve.
What do you wish people understood about programs like “Giving Tuesday” and what would you suggest people do instead?
As a social enterprise, we are focused on one thing only, a meaningful lasting impact. This impact is geared towards not only our charitable partners that receive the Kits, but also the Kit packers themselves! Kit packing is all year round. To me, as a former non-profiter, I understand the power of Giving Tuesday, but I don’t believe it has sustainability in mind, because it’s “give now, give today”, but doesn’t focus on what’s next. That’s why I’m so proud that we teach groups how to Kit pack all year round. There is need all year round, so I think that our programs should reflect that, instead of just who is the strongest marketing blitz of the season.
What’s your 5-year goal?
Our parent company, The Bargains Group, is the largest below discount wholesaler for non-profits all across Canada. We hope that in 5 years, non-profits never have to buy socks or underwear from Bargains Group again, because they’ve received the RIGHT donations at the RIGHT time from Kit packs and now can use these funds to innovate and solve some of the most pressing issues like affordable housing, etc.
Any lessons learned you wanted to share about running an organization in this space?
People have the best intentions, and want to give back, but it’s not easy to know where to start. We’re working towards allowing everyone to give back and get engaged in their community causes. Anyone can get involved and pack Kits! There is no limit! You can be a company, a school, a family or even a local hockey team. We work with charities and groups from all across the country and any cause: homelessness, youth, education, or cancer, you name it! To learn more, check out our website, www.kitsforacause.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Did you know that every Kits event receives a free case of donations from our Full Circle Donation Program? Register for our year-round donation program Kits For A Cause. Proud host of Engage and Change, supporting the homeless with thousands of survival kits year-round!
Jody Steinhaur, President of The Bargains Group, has mobilized her award-winning discount wholesale and promotional products company to revolutionize the business landscape for good. She has been the esteemed recipient of TRBoT’s Business Leader of the Year Award, Rotman Canadian Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award, Canada’s Top 40 Under 40. Pioneering her belief of “giving back makes great business sense”, Jody is a tireless advocate and founder of the charity, Engage and Change. Its two annual initiatives, Project Winter Survival and Project Water, help thousands of homeless throughout Toronto and the surrounding area survive the extreme weather conditions while engaging individuals in active philanthropy. Inspired by the impact her charity has made, Jody launched the social enterprise, Kits for a Cause.
Lauren Ott is a social entrepreneur who connects leading Canadian businesses, families, and organizations to the causes they care about. After spending time teaching at a public high school on the side of a volcano in Ecuador, Lauren returned to Canada and turned her passion for community to a career in driving impact across the country and beyond. She has worked on Parliament Hill and most recently spent over five years with WE, formerly known as Free The Children.