Toronto’s former digital community holiday fundraiser


 

Over the span of a decade, HoHoTO was a holiday party by Toronto’s digital community in support of a great cause. The fundraiser is on hiatus but please consider donating food and funds to the Daily Bread and giving to the YWCA Toronto today. Learn more about what’s next below.

HoHoTO was about building a better future

HoHoTO lives in spirit because it helped hungry Torontonians and young women from a YWCA Toronto Girls Centre move ahead. It also lives in the business and personal connections it made, in the careers and even the love stories it started, and in the many progressive ideas that it helped host. Say what you will about nostalgia but the wonderful memories shared in social media each late fall means that this thing is still very much alive in people’s hearts and will continue to be.

For many, the annual event is related to the halcyon days of Toronto’s unconference style tech scene. HoHoTO was the confluence of Twestivals, Barcamps, democamps, Podcamps, TransitCamp, sproutUps, Patio Fridays, MESH conferences and many others. This vibrant period of connection was well captured by our former communications volunteer Elena Yunusov in her recent article in BetaKit: Create More Value Than You Capture: An oral history of Toronto product development.

How it began

Late in 2008, a group of friends started talking on Twitter about the plight of the hungry in Toronto. The idea for HoHoTO grew organically out of this discussion, fuelled by a shared belief among a relatively small group of like-minded people.

Using Twitter, Facebook, email, and our collected networks of close friends and loose ties, HoHoTO’s founders kicked off a process that lit up the tweetstreams and blogvines; quickly turning a much, much bigger group of people on to the same core idea:

People in our great city are hungry and we can make a difference.

The result, that first year, was an extraordinary party attended by more than 500 enthusiastic people from the local tech, startups, digital business, nonprofit, and communications communities. The whole thing was organized in less than 20 days, sold out in nine, and went on to astonish all of us involved as we watched something bigger than we’d ever dreamed take shape before our eyes.

HoHoTO became a hyper-connected social media movement and a remarkable example of the power of self-organizing online groups.

Along the way, we’ve received messages of support from the likes of Twitter co-founder, Biz Stone, BoingBoing co-founder Cory Doctorow and many others. We’ve called in the troops (the 48th Highlanders) to help us deliver the donated food to Daily Bread so that their regular resources would not be redirected by our last-minute event. We’ve been cited as an example of social action by Queen Rania of Jordan and referenced as a case study in business books.

Chronology

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 20142015 20162017

For seven years, from 2008-2014, “the party that Twitter built” raised more than $350,000 and collected around four tons of food for hungry Torontonians. By 2014, the event founders decided to say goodbye to HoHoTO. After the announcement one of the founders rose up to the challenge.

In 2015, the party regrouped with new leadership and announced a new cause. HoHoTO started a 3-year community challenge to raise funds for a YMCA Toronto Girls Center. It also invited young women to meet with mentors and various agencies.

In 2017, HoHoTO was hosted by a new event series about diversity and innovation called Together. However, it was decided to not host in 2018 and to call for new ideas and organizers.

What’s next

Consider gathering non-perishable food items at your office for the Daily Bread Food Bank or give to the YWCA Toronto online.

Join Together, a volunteer organization that brings capability and opportunity to the digital community through a series of inclusive initiatives.

And continue the conversation online or during a meetup. What do holiday fundraisers such as HoHoTO mean to you? Please share your story with the tag #hohoto in your favourite social network or blog. Our event tag #HoHoTO is still used about the event and related themes by past participants in Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Flickr.

Many thanks to all that made this whole thing happen!