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Why I started a Charity – Circle Acts?

How to start a charity? Why Circle Acts Charity Exist? The Story of Circle Acts.
How to start a Charity nonprofits?

Have you been in a situation that you thought you were fully prepared for something for months, but it turned out you weren’t even close? I have.

Have you lost something so important to you, and the experience changed your whole world view? I have.

She was so thin and light when I brought her downstairs and put her in the trunk of my car. Was it because of the departure of her soul? But I couldn’t take off the cloth that I used to cover her after she passed away. I just couldn’t.

My dog Log died in the middle of the night in front of me. She was 14 years old. I watched as her eyes closed and her body stopped moving. I thought I was prepared for that moment for months, but I wasn’t. I am grateful that I was there for her, but it was agonizing to realize that I couldn’t help her.

It started as a personal growth journey

It was a beautiful day the next morning, but nothing in the world mattered to me. Actually, nothing else mattered to me for weeks: not the food I always liked, the entertainment that I enjoyed, nor the arrival of the significant bonus from my challenging job after a full year of tough work.

None of it mattered. I was grieving and needed time to reflect on my life.

I reflected on my marriage. It was great; I wouldn’t want anything else but my lovely and understanding wife.

I reflected on my extended family. Everyone was healthy and having better lives than the majority of people in the developed world.

I reflected on my career. I was a well-respected executive management leader in a premium global consulting firm, working from home with no commute, managing a global team with occasional international travel, doing exactly what I love, using data and technology. I had nothing to complain about.

But something was missing since Log’s departure. I looked for it, and I found it. The answer is Ikigai. Ikigai is a Japanese word that means having a comforting, fulfilling, satisfying life from one’s individual perspective. One person’s Ikigai is different from the next person’s. You may find my idea of Ikigai ridiculous, and I might think yours is equally strange.

Ikigai requires four things:

  1. What you are good at
  2. What you love
  3. What the world needs
  4. What you can be paid for

I applied my life to the Ikigai venn diagram, and I realized I had three out of four.

  1. I do what I am good at—I was strategic and skilled in transformations, analytics, and technology, and I was doing a job that utilized all my strengths. I was intellectually challenged every day and I loved solving problems. I considered myself a good leader with the opportunity to grow an international team.
  2. I do what I love—I had loved working with data and technology for almost 20 years. Data helped me to make more informed decisions, and the right interpretation of data taught me things I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.
  3. I get paid for what I do—I was satisfied with my compensation and believed I was more fortunate than many others.

Things seemed okay, but “what the world needs.” was missing. I was satisfied with my identification of the problem. I immediately took action and decided to balance the four Ikigai circles in my life. That’s what Log wanted, right? At least I hoped so.  

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After some brainstorming and looking at my options, researching, and asking around. Looking at options that I can help with “what the world needs”, I have a few viable strategies.

Option 1) I can keep everything the same, and make generous donations to help those doing “what the world needs” already, in this case I can continue to keep my 3 circles, but knowing I am helping the world. But it doesn’t really mean I am DOING what the world needs.

Option 2) is going full Ikigai and go all in to balance all four circles and join the “what the world needs” arena and do it myself. But it is a lot of risks, career, financial, and uncertainties. But I know I will change my life forever, and it does.

As a lifetime learner, I chose to go with option 2, and had option 1 as my backup plan.

I was fortunate and landed in a middle management executive position in one of the largest charities in Canada. It was like God had answered my prayers at the right time.

But the position required me to take a 35% pay cut, increase my commute from ten seconds to two hours each day, smaller scope, and give up on opportunities (budget) to play with leading technologies. I took the career risk knowing I may not go back to the same circle after jumping into the nonprofit sector.

I prepared my family for the risks. My wife was very supportive, I wouldn’t went for it if I didn’t have the full support of my wife.

On the other hand, the position came with the opportunity to work for a great cause, great people with common goals, and the ability to impact strategy for a leading charity. I thought it was worth it.

During my first year, I had a blast learning about the charity sectors and understanding how donors’ money is making a difference and how vital it is to have a healthy charitable pipeline to make millions of people’s lives a bit more bearable. Someone described me as “skipping to work every day” because I felt that I was finally doing things that the world needs and had completed my Ikigai.

From a personal growth journey to a mission

But the world was not perfect. Charitable organizations by nature rely on donations from donors, and they have to raise donations every year to support both the administration as well as the program and causes. Therefore, many resources are focusing on fundraising, otherwise, the program cannot be sustained. Charitable organizations run a very tight budget and often distracted from the more important work. It is the disadvantage of charitable nonprofits.

Also, no organization was perfect either—even a large, reputable charity. I noticed both efficiency and senior leadership issues like there are with many organizations, for-profit or not. I don’t believe that a great charity means the charity has to have the lowest administration cost, however, a great charity should demonstrate she is utilizing donations effectively. The personal agendas and pet projects of those in power were prioritized over the best interest of the people we were helping, this wasn’t right especially in the charitable sector. I witnessed “less thoughtful” spending of money on pet projects with large consultation spendings. I noticed unqualified senior management mishandling responsibilities and appeasing the board because they were the only ones who could stop them.

Some people told me all charities are hypocritical. I still don’t believe that. I think there are bad apples among good ones, like with everything else. It is not healthy, but we shouldn’t consider them all bad because of some bad actors. I have seen many many great charities and nonprofits who change human lives and make our world a better place.

With my experience in the charitable sector, I can conclude that the majority of people are passionate, and they also put the interest of those they want to help first. But, bad actors can take away decades of good reputations of a great charitable organization. I was upset as a donor though, and for those who needed our help. But I was not discouraged—yet. I decided to make it my mission to influence this one charity to the best of my ability.

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I spent the next year working with colleagues who share my views, doing all we could in our power to implement process and risk management. Everyone we spoke to, including national and international executive management, agreed in principle and seemed to understand the necessity of being more responsible with the donors’ money.

I hoped to make a difference, but nothing changed for many reasons above. Regardless of good processes, there was always overruling exceptions such as: “If we don’t spend this money, we can’t compete with our competitors for donations” or “xxx is spending xx million in marketing, so we don’t have a choice; we just play the game.” I understand the points, but I don’t understand the efficiencies.

I have perseverance, but I am also smart enough to know my limitation and the right time to let go.

I was frustrated and felt helpless. Did I make a big mistake by joining the charity sector? Did I just bet away my successful career trajectory for a bunch of inefficiencies? Did I deserve it because I was too naive and weak while I was grieving? Was I just not a good fit at this charity? Would another one be better? What if the next one (most likely smaller and less resourceful) was worse?

My goal hadn’t changed, but I had doubts.  

My wise wife had been very supportive from the beginning; she understood my concerns and listened to my frustrations. One night while I was reading, she turned to me and asked a question that changed everything.

“If helping one charity at a time doesn’t work, and you don’t know which one to help, why don’t you find a way to help all of them?” she asked. “I mean, why focus on a small pond when you can help the ocean?”

“But if I can’t help one, how am I supposed to help all of them?” I asked.

“What is stopping the charity from focusing on its cause? What is the issue, really?” She asked.

“The issue is that charities are spending too much time AND money on fundraising activities and cannibalizing with other charities for more eyeballs and storytelling. It is like a stalemate with a dark, deep money pit to keep things afloat,” I said, skipping the next ten reasons, which included politics, management issues, and quality of work.

“And what does that mean?” She was pushing me.

It means large, rich charities get the most donations. Smaller charities get less. And the market is rewarding this behavior, so the rich charities get richer, and those who focus on charitable work get less or even close down. Rich charities then spend more money to get more money, and small good ones get killed because they can’t compete.” Please don’t get me started at 1:00 in the morning.

“Okay . . . then just find a way to help ALL charities to reduce time and money in fundraising, so they can focus on what they do best—helping those in need,” My wife smirked. “That’s what you do best, right? Finding simple innovative solutions to complex problems. Come on, engineer!”

From a Mission to a Charitable Vision

My wife was right. My vision was quite simple.

I want charities to focus on having an impact on their causes, and I want the high-impact charities to be rewarded with support, more donors, and higher awareness.

God answered my prayer again pretty much at the same time. I was approached by a reputable executive search firm representing an organization that I was highly familiar with and had admired since I was in school. The timing couldn’t be better!

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Circle Acts—The starting point of the Vision

Within weeks of making myself available, I officially kicked off my new vision. I teamed up with my excellent founding partner, Chantal, who happened to have the same exact vision as me, and we naturally meshed our views together. It probably took less than an hour for us to create Circle Acts.

We decided on the name Circle Acts because we believe all good deeds go around and stay around. Instead of having great causes competing against one other, we can make the charitable circle bigger by working with each other to create a bigger circle.

Together, we can make a greater impact.

Making the circle bigger requires responsibility and professionalism, which we have emphasized since the beginning.

Circle Acts: We serve donors and focus on high-impact, transparent charitable giving to maximize impact. We Support Impact-Focused charities to raise awareness for their noble causes.

Circle Acts is primarily a Donation Marketplace that allows Impact-focused charities of the highest quality to be exposed to more donors about their work. Most charities are known for a few things, but in my experience, many of them do many different programs for different causes. There are many reasons to fundraise with a Donation Marketplace, and also many reasons for donors to take advantage of our Donation marketplace. Circle Acts Donation Marketplace helps only the highest quality charities to get more donations.

If you want to support our operations, you can directly donate to us, as we do not take any fees from the donations we raise for other charities (minus payment processing fee).

Thank you for reading!

Brian Chan

Co-Founder, Circle Acts

Best of High Impact Transparent charities in Canada

Circle Acts is primarily a Donation Marketplace that allows Impact-focused charities of the highest quality to be exposed to more donors about their work. Most charities are known for a few things, but in my experience, many of them do many different programs for different causes. There are many reasons to fundraise with a Donation Marketplace, and also many reasons for donors to take advantage of our Donation marketplace. Circle Acts Donation Marketplace helps only the highest quality charities to get more donations.

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About the author

Brian Chan

Brian Chan is the co-founder of Circle Acts Charity. Circle Acts is a registered charity that focuses on high-impact philanthropy and promote donor philanthropy across the world.