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A force for good: The Stitch Community is now a not-for-profit charity

Do Something Great

We’ve got some very important news to share.

We had hoped to make this announcement a few weeks ago, but the COVID-19 crisis has naturally overwhelmed everything for us over the last two weeks (and if you’re interested, please read about how the community is responding to the crisis).

Now that the full implications of the crisis on society are starting to sink in, however, we think this announcement is more important than ever.

The Stitch Community is now a not-for-profit charity, recently recognized by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) for the impact the community has on improving the lives of our members, and on the volunteering work Stitch members do to help improve the lives of people in the community who may be disadvantaged or isolated.

We are absolutely thrilled to achieve this milestone, as it helps provide external validation for something Stitch members already know: the Stitch Community is an incredible force for good.

We know the Community’s new status will raise a bunch of questions, such as:

and most importantly

This article is designed to answer all those questions, and more.

Why a charity?

OK, let’s start with the first question: why did we establish the Community as a non-profit charity?

This isn’t as silly a question as it may sound.

If you’re a Stitch member who has ever come along to one of my presentations, you’ll know I’ve been talking about our social mission for years. Stitch was set up as a social enterprise from day one, and one of our most popular blog articles is about the social mission that underpins everything we do.

So if we’ve always had a social mission, why establish the community as a non-profit charity now?

Well, it turns out that it’s really difficult to talk about both the Stitch community and our social mission at the same time.

When we ask our members how they think about the Stitch Community, some of the words and phrases that come up include things like: a sense of belonging; we’re never too old to have fun; I now have so many things to look forward to; joy; friendships; it’s enriched my life; I now have a new family; human connections are so important; I’m having FUN again!

Here is what that looks like visually:

The Stitch Community

(If you’re concerned about the lack of social distancing in those pictures, rest assured they were all taken before the crisis began! Of course, we expect to return to many more in-person get-togethers once the world returns to normal.)

Talking about Stitch is fun and rewarding, because the solution to social disconnectedness is fun and rewarding.

Talking about trying to address loneliness & isolation, on the other hand, can feel like a real downer.

It results in a totally different conversation, full of very un-fun words and phrases like: 30% of people say they don’t belong to a friendship group; isolation has a bigger health impact than smoking or obesity; 25% of the population say they’re lonely; social determinants of health and so on.

Here’s what that looks like visually:

Lonely man

Pretty different, isn’t it?

When Stitch first started, I would give speeches about our goal to make a social impact, and my presentation would often include the image above. I started giving the speech to Stitch members at the start of our community get-togethers.

As the community grew, more and more members started coming up to me to say, “Andrew, can you please stop talking about loneliness? That’s not what Stitch is about at all!

On the other hand, when we started to talk to government organizations, community groups, and health providers about the importance of social connections as we age, and Stitch’s ability to make an impact, their initial response to the Stitch web site was often something like: “This doesn’t look like a serious initiative around social health, it just looks like lots of people having fun.

Establishing the charity gives us a way of managing both aspects of Stitch at the same time:

  • Stitch.net is the web site you’re all already familiar with, and it’s where we will continue to celebrate all the enriching and life-affirming aspects of Stitch. Put simply, it’s where the fun happens.
  • In parallel, we are creating a new web site, WipeOutLoneliness.org, to represent the non-profit charity aspect of Stitch and focus on social impact. It’s where we can raise awareness of the effects of loneliness & isolation on health, recruit volunteers and raise donations for the community initiatives we run for people in need, and help Stitch members understand the positive impact they are having on the lives of other members of the community. It’s where we focus on impact.

Charity goals & objectives

The Stitch Community is now registered as a public company, which means you can access its constitution at the ACNC website. The Community’s “Objects & Purposes” define the goals and objectives for the charity, and the most important statement of the Community’s goals is this one:

To provide benevolent relief to persons suffering from social isolation or loneliness

The constitution lists a number of examples of how the Community may help address social isolation and loneliness for members in need, such as:

  • Improving wellbeing and quality of life through increased social activity, physical activity, and enriched social connections;
  • Providing additional support for financially disadvantaged members;
  • Working with other government & non-profit groups to address social isolation.

It’s important to note that those goals describe the beneficiaries of the charity, not Stitch members in general. Most Stitch members are not lonely or isolated (particularly if they have become socially-active members of the community), and most are not financially disadvantaged.

What Stitch members do, however, is create a community which makes a positive social impact for those people who are isolated or disadvantaged.

Stitch Community Champions in particular have already shown an incredible ability to enrich the lives of people who may be socially isolated, for whatever reason.

The Community allows us to provide even more opportunities for members to make a difference, such as taking part in programs to address isolation for people with disabilities or who don’t have access to transport or technology.

Will we be registering the charity in other countries?

The answer to this question is: yes, absolutely! Doing so is the obvious next step, particularly when it comes to allowing donations to be tax-deductible in each country (more on that below).

The legal costs involved in establishing a charity are significant, however, so we will only be doing so once we have raised enough funds to establish charitable entities in the US and other locations. (If you would like to support us in this effort, please let us know!)

In the meantime, the Community will still be able to deliver social impact programs in the US, UK and elsewhere under our existing US entity, Stitch Connect, Inc.

Can I donate?

The short answer is yes. If you’d like to make a financial contribution to support the community, please contact us.

At present donations are non-tax-deductible, but we expect to be granted tax-deductibility status (in Australia at least) some time this year.

Having said that, we would much prefer Stitch members to donate their time than their money. We’d much prefer you to get involved.

How can I get involved?

There are so many ways you can make a positive impact through Stitch. You can volunteer to:

  • Help establish the community in a new area
  • Be a mentor to someone in another city who wants to grow a community in their neighborhood
  • Raise awareness of Stitch in your local area
  • Use your skills to help the community in other ways

Getting involved is easy: just contact us by filling out our volunteering form and let us know how you would like to contribute!

What about COVID-19?

There is no point sugar-coating this: the COVID-19 crisis is a disaster for Stitch.

Not only are our members the age group most at risk from the virus, the community is based on improving lives by getting people to connect socially through events, activities & one-on-one connections.

That’s significantly more difficult to do when the world is in lockdown.

It also means that Stitch is in significant danger of not being able to pay our bills to keep the lights on and the community running through the crisis.

At the same time, an extended period of lockdown and isolation means that people are going to need social connections now more than ever.

That’s why we’re working around the clock to roll out new ways for the Stitch platform to be used by our members to stay socially connected through the crisis, with a renewed focus on connecting with other members online.

We think Stitch is going to be more important than ever over the coming months, which is why we’ll need all the help we can get to keep the community going.

If you’d like to help then we’d love to hear from you.

Got more questions?

In the coming weeks we will be compiling a Q&A section on the Stitch Support site to answer the most common questions people have. In the meantime, if you do have any comments, questions, or suggestions, please just contact us.

7 Comments

  1. Peter Eburne

    It is great to see Stitch establishing itself as a charity. I hope you and the community have the energy to action the vision/strategy

  2. John L Worcester

    Thanks, Andrew. An online presence is important but needs careful preparation and presentation. I think the downside is where it turns into chat rooms as that does not suit me: there needs to be something specific that groups can hang their hats on. Having moved from Melbourne to Canberra, I note there are Stitch members here but no apparent group activity (ie before the Covid crisis). I helped start a local Probus club late last year (I’m Vice-President) but obviously we can’t meet, get on buses or go to the cinema – so our Committee needs to consider what to do (perhaps meeting 1.5m apart in local cafe). I do radio programs in Melbourne but at the moment I’m barred froom leaving ACT and from entering Victoria so am trying to devise pre-recording of some programs for one station but proves difficult for the other. Here in Canberra, I’m Vice-President at ArtSound-FM and we’re working hard on developing of home-pre-recorded programs. In all these groups we work well together and gain much needed social contact that way (if not face-to-face for the forseeable future) – especially once you’ve got involved and have got to know people. Once I’ve mastered the art of home pre-recording, I’m happy to give more attention to Stitch membes in Canberra (I have been thinking about this). There are 2 or 3 in Sydney organise frequent events (meals, theatre, opera, concerts) and they put much effort and energy into this work, making a wonderful contribution.

    1. Andrew Dowling

      Hi John,

      Thanks for the thoughtful response! I’ve actually been talking to Probus head office here in Australia about more Probus groups coming on board, as the Stitch platform can in theory help them do a bunch of things above and beyond the great activities that Probus groups already organise. Unfortunately the current crisis has put that on hold for the time being but I do expect it to pick up again when life regains some semblance of normality. If you’d be interested in helping grow the community in Canberra that would be great!

      Regards,
      Andrew.

  3. Clarice McCullough

    That is a great idea! I would love to Spread the word in Mobile,Al.

  4. Yvonne Cellana

    That’s absolutely fantastic!!! I am applauding!!!♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡

  5. Srini

    This is great to hear Andrew. Congratulations on what you and the team have built up. Happy to help with volunteering efforts and your cause.

  6. Marilyn Reynolds

    I admire what you intend to do. I’m sorry that I have not had the opportunity to meet any of the members ,but I know that in the future I will have the chance and I would like to be involved.

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