Volume 91, Issue 49

Tuesday, November 25, 1997



FOR A GOOD CAUSE: Charities learn a lesson in attention grabbing and showmanship

©Nick Burdan/Gazette
GO BIG OR GO HOME. Charities have really taken the age-old advice to heart. London Health Sciences Foundation, through its Dream of a Lifetime lottery, gave away 172 Hartson Road this past year.

By Carolyn Wong

Gazette Writer

Thousands of charities across Canada seem to be reaching even deeper into the pockets of their supporters. As they are set up to serve the needs of the public, charity organizations must continually promote what they do and why the population should continue to support them.

Charities generally receive two sources of financial aid – one from the government and the other from public donations. Because of the competition from other organizations to fund-raise and cuts to government funding, some of these charities have no choice but to turn to the public-at-large.

Rick Nixon, director of the St. Thomas Art Gallery, says fund-raising is an integral part of their organization, as they need to raise over 80 per cent of their funds which cover fixed overhead expenses and pay for programming.

Fortunately, the art gallery hasn't had to cut programs, however, with some difficulty, they had to streamline while trying to maintain the same quality. These programs include day camps, opening receptions for new exhibits, art classes and visiting artists.

Gerry Moniz, former president of the Alzheimer Society of St. Thomas, says their organization has also been hindered by a lack of funds. "We are not able to expand to meet the growing need and offer more programs for people with Alzheimer's disease and their families."

Over the past three years, the London Health Sciences Foundation has experienced government funding cuts from 85 per cent to 63 per cent.

Jean Knight, regional director of the Ontario March of Dimes, calculates that about 62 per cent of their funds are provided by the provincial government.

Public fund-raising, therefore, inevitably becomes a priority for these organizations. The initial challenge begins with attracting people to fund-raising events. Glen Pearson, director of the London Food Bank, sums up the present state of raising money by saying, "As far as fund-raising goes, it's a real jungle out there."

There is fierce competition, leaving charities to advertise through newspapers, radio, television and word of mouth, as much as possible. For example, the Alzheimer Society of St. Thomas advertises through a newsletter sent to members and long-term support groups.

In order to attract people, a certain message must first be conveyed. Rick Stevenson, resource development director of the United Way, says "We tend to focus on communicating the positive outcomes of United Way. We focus on helping people in the community.

"People recognize the need to give. But they question the value of giving and where their money is going to go. They need assurance that their money is going to help people in need. There is a greater expectation for charities to give people that assurance," Stevenson adds.

However, sometimes people need a little more reassurance that their money is being put to good use. "People would like to see something for their money," says Mary Jane MacKenzie, a representative for Lifeskills, an organization which assists individuals with disabilities.

Lifeskills organizes fund-raising events such as a lunch of the month, summer camps and Christmas events, which provide people with a night of entertainment for a certain price per ticket. These ideas are more effective than the traditional method of simply asking people to deposit money into a plastic container.

There are many challenges faced by these charities and it seems the biggest problem lies within the public and the question of whether people are simply tired of giving. With so many charities asking for donations, the public could feel somewhat overwhelmed and become cautious as to which cause they wish to financially support.

Purse - pinching is not the case for the London Food Bank, which has seen increases in donations of food every year for the past 10 years. Pearson feels the reason for this generosity stems from the fact people are becoming more sympathetic.

"Innovation is the key"

Money is short these days for everyone. Many people would like to give to charity, but because many are unsure where their money will end up, there is a reluctance to donate hard-earned money.

Janet Burrell, development associate of gaming at the London Health Sciences Foundation, says innovation is the key with fund-raising in the 1990s. Charities are adopting a new method called 'gaming' – innovations which include home lotteries, break-open tickets, bingos and charity casinos.

Mary Anne Foster, representative of the Monsignor Feeney Foundation, explains that while they have always had $100 ticket draws to raise money for Catholic education, the foundation introduced the "Fantasy Lottery" to attract more people. The foundation has never experienced any difficulties selling tickets in the past, but with the new lottery, they were able to sell even to those who are not involved in Catholic education. "The cause is attractive, as well as the prizes," Foster says.

The reason for incorporating the home lottery was clear, Burrell says. Since health care was experiencing major government cuts, in order to avoid decreasing the quality of London hospitals, more innovative fund-raising was needed, she adds.

Although the 13-year-old British Columbia-based home lottery is not entirely new, the past three lotteries have raised almost $3 million. Burrell says part of the reason for the success is the fact people like to be given the chance at winning. "They are spending their entertainment money to support a worthy cause."

The Ontario March of Dimes has also caught on to the financial success of gaming, with the use of break-open tickets. In order to sell these tickets, the charity must first obtain a license, then find a retailer to sell them. The tickets usually sell for 50 cents and if a ticket buyer wins, they receive their prize on the spot – an attractive reason to participate.

Knight says although the returns aren't huge, the Ontario March of Dimes also runs bingos. "There are many ups and downs of fund-raising, especially with the larger events," she adds.

Despite the mounting challenges charity fund-raisers face, many have successfully found different ways to motivate people into digging deeper into their pockets. "It is not wise to take on a negative attitude because it doesn't work," Nixon reaffirms. "The basic principle of business is to have an objective – picture a bright future and move toward it."

©London Health Sciences Foundation Photo
AND THE WINNER IS... Charities have taken the bold and innovative approach of giving more bang for donors' bucks in their charitable fund-raisers, like in the London Health Sciences Dream of a Lifetime Lottery.

To Contact The Focus Department: gazfocus@julian.uwo.ca

Copyright © The Gazette 1997