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Return to old-style fundraising

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"THE fear of this economic crisis is that we have hit a perfect storm, and increasingly organizations are asking whether they can survive... (A)ll forms of revenue generation are in steep decline... Fundraising campaigns, special events, bingos, lotteries, charity galas and dinners generally are not drawing as much as they have in the past. Many corporations are cutting back on donation commitments."

Those were the words of Winnipeg lawyer Janice Lederman in 2009, as she spoke to a local audience about funding challenges facing charities and non-profit organizations. Three years later, Lederman's fear has come to pass, as many Canadian charities have been hit hard by the economic downturn.

Dollars are drying up just as the need for services offered by charities is increasing, which sadly only serves to ramp up the demand for charities even further.

In response, charities are turning to governments in order to fund their activities, but all levels of governments are facing their own financial challenges and cuts loom on the horizon.

Against this sobering backdrop, the success of the Brandon Regional Health Authority's A Sense of Home campaign stands as a success story.

Launched a year ago, the campaign sought to raise $2.5 million to fund the construction of a patient and family residence for Brandon's new Western Manitoba Cancer Centre. With eight bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms, a common room with full kitchen and a patio area, the facility is intended to provide Westman residents and their families with a tranquil "sense of home" while undergoing cancer treatments.

One year later, the fundraising goal has been met and there are even donors standing by to fund any cost overruns that may materialize during the building's construction.

Though that is an outstanding achievement in tough economic times, the even more interesting story is how the goal was accomplished.

"We didn't have the usual pyramid of committees and sub-committees," says campaign co-chairman Kerry Auriat. "All of the fundraising was done by a handful of people, and we had very little fundraising experience.

"We offered donors the opportunity to contribute toward something tangible -- a building they could drive by -- and we offered local businesses the opportunity to show their clients and customers throughout Westman that they care about them and their families."

"There was no arm-twisting," adds co-chairwoman Laurie Murray. "It was the opposite. We told our story, we connected with people. Sometimes we didn't even get to finish before they decided to donate. It was a good, good cause and the enthusiasm for it was infectious." Murray was so enthusiastic about the project that she was able to convince her family's business, Murray Auto Group, to contribute $625,000 toward it.

"The people have given with such a sense of pride and that they are part of something special for our community", says campaign co-ordinator Karen Chrest, "but I am really proud that there is no government money in this project and the fundraising costs are less than $5,000."

At a time when many charities and other non-profit organizations are struggling to maintain current funding levels, and are becoming increasingly reliant on government funding, the success of the A Sense of Home campaign should be studied as an example of how to succeed in challenging economic conditions.

Rather than relying on an army of volunteers, a glitzy multimedia marketing campaign and expensive staff -- regarded by many as the essentials of a professional fundraising campaign -- the vast bulk of the fundraising for the A Sense of Home effort was carried out by Auriat, Murray and Chrest. It was accomplished at negligible cost, and without a cent being contributed by any level of government.

It's an old-school, hand's on, face-to-face approach to fundraising that has paid big dividends in Brandon -- and maybe that's the lesson to be learned from this experience.

"We've shown that you don't need a big team, big advertising budgets and big overhead to reach your fundraising goal," says Auriat. "When you're involved in sales, you have to believe in what you're selling.

We really believed in this cause and the donors could sense that. And then they became believers too."


Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 4, 2012 A9


Updated on Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 10:12 AM CDT: Fixes first paragraph.

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