Creativity and innovation in fundraising

Whether it’s jumping into frigid Lake Ontario on January 1, playing cards with a world poker champion, or racing down the street pushing hospital beds in full costume, the people who support Rouge Valley Health System (RVHS) are all about putting the fun in .

After all, when fundraising is your lifeblood, a charity needs to be creative, flexible and innovative in order to attract the support it needs, while setting itself apart from the many organizations out there seeking financial contributions.

“Year after year, people are excited when our events come around on the calendar,” says Tracy Paterson, Vice-President. “We are really proud of that. When people choose to support us, which is supporting their community hospital, they are doing so with their valuable time and hard-earned money.

“We don’t take that lightly and we know they deserve an exceptional experience in return for their investment,” she adds. “That applies to any event guest, volunteer or sponsor taking part.”

The secret of success in many cases is a simple formula: make it fun and memorable. Some of the unique events that have provided an ‘experience to remember’ in recent years include the annual Bed Race, the Who’s Your Caddy? ladies-only golf tournament, Free Family Fun Day at the Races and Casino Rouge held last fall, to mention just a handful of the many unique events held by, or for, the RVHSF in the past year.

The Bed Race, held in May at the Scarborough Town Centre, is no ordinary race. Teams of five – four runners and a bed rider – race the course pushing heavy hospital beds, most often dressed in full, crazy costume. They compete for trophies and bragging rights for speed, best costumes and highest fundraising total.

The event was created a couple of years ago as a fun way to tie in to the Foundation’s Buy a Bed Campaign, to purchase 100 new beds needed for Rouge Valley Centenary hospital. This year it raised almost $50,000, helping the campaign go well over its goal of $500,000.

“But even though that campaign has achieved its goal, we’ve had so much fun doing the races that we are going to continue on and bring the Bed Race back again each year,” says Janet Ainslie, Co-Chair of the Buy a Bed Campaign, with her husband Paul. “It’s been such a great way to raise money for the hospital and it’s been growing in popularity and support, so we really want to keep that momentum going.”

Who’s Your Caddy was another event created to support a campaign, Image is Everything, which helped to bring a new MRI machine to Rouge Valley Ajax and Pickering hospital in 2011. Yet the event is so popular with the women who take part each year, it was decided to continue holding it and merely find another cause within RVAP that the event could support.

So once again this year, a local golf course was taken over for a day by enthusiastic foursomes of women golfers, who in most cases dress up in a theme they choose in advance to compete for best costumes, a prize much more coveted than the final golf score, which is almost an afterthought at this tournament. They have the luxury of a male caddy who escorts them on their round and offers advice, takes shots when requested and caters to their golfing needs. These caddies get into the spirit of the event and often dress up as well, to match their foursome.

The Foundation puts great emphasis on the people involved in their work. The staff, volunteers and community partners work together collaboratively, never get complacent, and are always looking for ways to make events and programs more effective and cost efficient. They do this while making sure donors and guests receive a great experience.

Also, each event is clearly targeted for a specific cause. When people take part, they know how their donations will help a specific program at the hospital.

“In other words, the Foundation makes things fun and effective,” says Chad Hanna, the Foundation’s President & CEO. “People want to know their donations are being used responsibly, and for a good cause, and I think we are known for that.

“So not only are our participants happy to have taken part in one of our events, but they feel that glow from having helped make a difference for their community hospital and the people that receive care there.”

The added benefit to being unique, he adds, is that it garners attention from the media, with TV and radio covering many of the events. That type of exposure is a wonderful byproduct that cannot be quantified in dollars, but is invaluable because front page headlines in the papers and airtime in TV news reports cannot be purchased.

At Casino Rouge, a past winner of the World-Series of Poker, Chris Moneymaker, travelled from his Tennessee home to be a part of the poker tournament. To many of the players in the charity tournament, playing a hand against an accomplished pro will make for a story to share for years to come, while all of the players had a chance to win the grand-prize of $5,000 in diamonds.

Created to support The Heart of it All campaign, to purchase echocardiogram machines for RVHS’s Cardiac Care Program, the event also featured a number of casino games such as roulette and blackjack for players to enjoy if they weren’t playing in the tournament.

Finally, one last example of a unique way RVHSF raises funds and awareness for its hospital comes from the popular Free Family Fun Day at the Races in August. Thousands of people visit Ajax Downs racetrack on that Sunday to take part and support their hospital, while enjoying the exciting quarter horse races held over the course of the afternoon.

Also, kids line up to get a chance to burst out of the starting gates on the racetrack prior to the horse racing, have gotten a chance to meet a hockey legend like Wendel Clark or Darryl Sittler in past years, and have fun getting their face painted or making crafts provided by the many volunteers who support the event.

When it comes to funding large-scale projects, such as million-dollar equipment and bricks and mortar to build and refurbish hospital space, the Foundation relies on a mix of these types of annual events, along with signature events like annual galas. Some of these rely on volunteer leadership from the community, working with Foundation staff, to present large-scale fundraising events like golf tournaments and a fashion show.

The support these events enjoy shows how health care matters to the people of the community and of course that’s true in West Durham and East Scarborough, the communities served by RVHS.

It is important to note that the Foundation also enjoys the continued support of the many service clubs, community groups and schools, in these communities. In many cases they hold their own fundraising, and bring the donations to the Foundation, simply because they want to support the hospital, they say.

Whether the amount is hundreds or thousands of dollars, or even coins collected by a youth at a lemonade stand, it is all welcome, appreciated and helping to make a difference for the hospital to provide the best care to its patients.