Fundraising needs co-ordination

First published:
October 10

The generosity of Northumberland County residents is well known. One only has to look at all the volunteers, service clubs, sports organizations and charity groups to understand people in our community are dedicated and charitable. But the recent dispute over the fund-raising effort of the area’s new hospital is cause for concern.

Cobourg Mayor Peter Delanty took a swipe at the new hospital fund-raising team for carrying on its efforts to raise money while the local United Way campaign is underway.

The firestorm ignited at council last month when the hospital foundation proposed a gala dance for Nov. 24. The hospital foundation has raised more than $15 million, almost double it original goal of $8 million. The additional money is going towards new equipment and the new dialysis unit, announced last month. The fund-raising is expected to go until next February.

The gala is scheduled during the United Way campaign running between September and November, which hopes to raise $750,000. None of its member agencies are allowed to raise money during this time. This has extended into the community and many groups do not try to raise money during this time, as a courtesy.

United Way officials cannot be blamed for being concerned. It comes to the table in the midst of some serious efforts to collect money. The new Port Hope library raising money for its new $2.5 million expansion. In Colborne, there is the new Wally Keeler arena. In Baltimore, fund-raising for a new sports facility is ongoing. Then there is also the efforts of local schools seeking money to maintain programs and key services. And so on and so on.

All of these are worthwhile causes. There are countless fundraising efforts that seek smaller sums and are equally legitimate. But this is troublesome, too. The barrage of people asking for money is constant.

In one way that may not be a bad thing. We all have the opportunity to support certain causes and say no to others.

But there is a downside. Groups compete for limited dollars. Rather than charities, they become money-raising companies that fight for every penny with only the strong surviving, regardless of the good works done in the community.

Not only do they face local competition, but also there is immense pressure from outside the community, as is the case with the clothing bins for Canadian Diabetes Association, among other initiatives.

Then, there is the unenviable position of local businesspeople that must receive countless requests for donations, either in goods or dollars. To refuse anyone results in a negative whisper campaign throughout the community that could hurt profits.

It is even worse when pressure that comes from more influential people or high-profile causes come knocking. When opinion-leaders come asking for money, how can a businessperson say no? To deny these people would not means a few lost sales, but a much deeper damage to the reputation of the owner and the business. Delanty has done this with his careless comments about the United Way.

It then becomes incumbent on local organizations to have these opinion-leaders or fund-raising superstars on boards of directors since they have the reputation to raise the large sums of money. Without them is failure. With them, there is almost guaranteed success. For those who sit on a number of boards, the conflicts are even greater as the tendency is to raise money for the more popular causes rather than helping out those who are less mainstream in the community.

The situation is deeply unfair and can only lead to the type of squabbling currently underway between the United Way and the hospital. Because the sums of money are so huge, it has become front-page news. But the struggle for smaller organizations is constant.

There are no heroes or villains in all of this because all these are worthwhile causes. If Delanty wants to do something useful, then write a letter to the upper levels of government, for it is at the root of all of this unrest.

Since downloading began more pressure has been put on public institutions to raise increasingly more money as part of its annual budget. We should not have to pay any portion of the new hospital. That is why we pay taxes. The same is true for local schools. And then there are all the non-profit organizations that have watched their funding plunge. Premier Mike Harris and the Tories, along with Finance Minister Paul Martin, who has led the Liberal government, must firmly shoulder the blame.

It has meant smaller communities like ours must bare the burden. Northumberland is lucky since we have people with disposal income to support these causes. But in other areas of the province, they may not be so fortunate.

A solution is not so obvious. What is definitely lacking is community leadership. A county summit for fund-raisers and community leaders, including those who help raise money, might be a starting point. It would acknowledge the problem and that is always a positive first step.

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