In 2009, Kim Arseneault found herself making regular and unwanted trips to Edmonton from her home in Manning, nearly 585 kilometres north of the capital, in the scenic Peace Country. Her destination was the Cross Cancer Institute where she was receiving treatment for ovarian/fallopian tube cancer.
“My first treatment was not pleasant,” she says, “but they made some adjustments to the medicine that made it tolerable.” Fortunately, Arseneault has a daughter in Edmonton for support. “Treatment wasn’t a walk in the park,” she says, “but it wasn’t as bad as I expected.” It certainly was not as bad as it had been for her mother, who died of cancer in 1988, despite some aggressive treatments.
Participate: When you choose to stage your own fundraiser or get involved with an existing one, you need to connect your donors to your cause.
“When I walked into the Cross, I was damn scared.
But I looked around and I saw caring people. There was spiritual care, mind-body care… It was an amazing place.”
The treatment she received made a big impact. Her health is good she says, and there’s been no sign of cancer in her twice-yearly follow-up tests. She’s grateful for her own physical health. Arseneault says that she was so impressed with all levels of care that she wanted to give something significant back.
“I was talking to a friend from Manning, K.R. Vreeling, who took his treatments for multiple myeloma at the same time I was being treated,” she says. Vreeling had similar experiences and was likewise motivated to help.
Many people experience the urge to give back, but are stymied by inertia, not knowing how to start or letting the moment pass. Arseneault and Vreeling set themselves apart with a successful fundraiser for the Alberta Cancer Foundation. Here is how their approach netted $80,000 in four hours in one evening in Manning, Alberta, population 1,164.
Arseneault is not without experience, she has been active in the community, raising funds for various things for more than 25 years. Some of the practices she has developed over the years are ones that Joe Garecht espouses. He is the driving force behind the Philadelphia-based company The Fundraising Authority, a consultancy and website he has built that specializes in training people and non-profit organizations to rev up their fundraisers. The first thing a successful fundraiser needs, according to Garecht, is a fundraising goal. “You need to decide what you want your donation to accomplish,” he says, “and then find out how much it will cost.” The target amount will define the parameters of the event.
For Arseneault, this event hits close to home, and her goal was to raise money earmarked for patient care. “The first thing we did was to gather a committee,” says Arsenault. “We set a goal of raising $35,000.” She got on the phone, accessed her network and used her own story to tug at people’s heartstrings – what she describes as key to the event’s success. Committee members booked a hall and started selling tables of eight, either in memory of a person who died of cancer or in support of someone undergoing treatment. “Every table at that hall had people who had been affected by cancer at one level or another,” Arseneault says. “We sold out in two weeks, and each table cost $500.”
Arseneault says that it proved more successful to sell whole tables to companies or families than it did to sell single seats. Businesses, such as the local branch of Finning Canada, the mill, and other oil-and-gas industry services companies all bought tables. The group’s first course of action was fundraising, rather than event planning, which Garecht calls a sound approach. “The most common mistake I see is that committees spend too much time on event details and not enough on actual fundraising,” he says.
Garecht says that a fundraiser should have a budget and a written event plan. “It doesn’t need to be long or involved, but it needs to state your goal and also describe how you are going achieve it,” he says. “Half the document should be devoted to the fundraising aims.”
Arseneault’s committee looked at their budget and opted for a cocktail event with appetizers to keep things low-key and keep costs low. A sit-down meal would have bit into the budget too heavily. “We sold pink and blue fancy martinis for $10 each, in support of men’s and women’s cancers,” she says. “With the purchase came a chance to win a prize. We thought we might make a little extra money that way – the martinis sold out in less than an hour.”
Garecht describes this approach as “the fundraiser within the fundraiser.” It offers donors, most of whom have paid an entry fee already, a chance to donate further, directing money more specifically.
And Arseneault advises that a great event will be emotional and relatable. For her it was a no-brainer. She simply had to recount her own experiences to the audience openly and honestly. K.R. Vreeling did the same. In addition to dedicating tables in memory or in honour of cancer patients, the team also devised a touching slide show they called “Faces of Cancer.”
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” she says.
After the event sold out, Arseneault’s team devised other ways to reach their goal. They started gearing up for a silent auction and live auction. “We contacted local artisans for contributions, got a signed Jersey from Edmonton Oilers CEO Patrick Laforge, local quilters made a beautiful quilt, there were dinners for 10 – lots of things.” In fact, there were more than 200 silent auction items and 10 live auction items.
In a particularly innovative take on the fundraiser within the fundraiser, she says, “We approached five local companies to decorate a bra and a hockey can, which, like the martinis, signified men’s and women’s cancers,” she says. “We auctioned these off as novelty items – they were a big hit.”
Arseneault suggests that committees not forget the fun in fundraiser. An evening out, a cocktail party, prizes, sporting events where participants seek donations – these will all make for a memorable event. And donors should have an appreciation for where their money is going.
“Mostly, donors want to feel connected to what they are giving their money to,” Garecht agrees. “If your goal is to raise 10 per cent more money than last year – well, no one is going to get behind that. If you plan to use that 10 per cent more towards a piece of machinery or a particular service for patients, then your donors will get excited.”
Arseneault looks back on her fundraising event with satisfaction. “It seemed like we couldn’t do anything wrong that night. From 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. we raised $90,000,” she says. “After we paid our expenses, we donated $80,000 to the Alberta Cancer Foundation earmarked for patient care, and $2,500 specifically for palliative care in Manning.” Her advice for a fantastic event that brings in top dollar is to “grab those heart strings. People have to want to come, not feel they have to. They have to want to support your cause. They have to see themselves or their family members or friends as potential beneficiaries.”
Steps to a great fundraiser
To find out more about raising money for the Alberta Cancer Foundation, contact Bobbi Wolbeck at firstname.lastname@example.org or 780-643-4338. For more general information consult Joe Garecht’s website thefundraisingauthority.com. He has lots of material available to fundraisers of all levels of experience.