publication date: Jan 27, 2012
author/source: Janet Gadeski
You're raising funds for a health disaster that hits one in
five Canadian families. Power brokers won't return your calls. Patients and
families hide from public view. A prominent philanthropist says he's not giving
because he doesn't think there's any hope. Meanwhile, just down the street,
hospitals and universities trumpet the latest achievements in their
That's what you would have experienced not so long ago if
you were fundraising for mental health.
head of Toronto's Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health Foundation
, remembers those days painfully well. She recalls
watching the former Clarke Institute
"relentless, unbelievable persistence" as its campaign team struggled for years
to reach, then surpass, a $10 million goal - a sum that major gift fundraisers
in other causes sometimes raised in a single visit.
Today she leads the fundraising foundation of an organization that for years has put
communication first. "CAMH in particular, long before I got here, really
understood that the power of storytelling was going to be transformative and
that we needed to have people who would publicly speak out about the importance
of getting help for mental illness," she explains in an interview with Canadian
Fundraising & Philanthropy
That strategy is paying off in dramatic support - $108
million so far - for CAMH's building program. When complete, the new facilities
will be bright, modern and integrated with the surrounding community: an apt
symbol of new attitudes towards mental illness and its treatment.
Advocates both famous
Michael Wilson, former finance minister and ambassador to the
US spoke out in the early days of CAMH about the mental illness and suicide of
his son. Broadcaster Valerie Pringle and her daughter Catherine shared the
story of Catherine's anxiety disorder. But it wasn't just the rich and famous
who spoke out. The stories of prominent and unknown people alike formed the
cornerstone of the CAMH Foundation's campaign.
That campaign, says Gregersen, turned public understanding
around, finally allowing community leaders and foundation staff to talk about
mental health and fundraise in the same successful, high-profile ways that work
for other causes. "More and more people now understand," she continues, "that
mental health is essential to the survival of our communities."
Same need, same
support, same impact
Philanthropists are hearing the message too. Toronto's
Campbell family are loyal supporters of Toronto's Princess Margaret Hospital
, internationally famous for its cancer
research and treatment programs. Now they've committed $30 million to the CAMH
campaign. Gregersen highlights their gift as an example of the new
philanthropic attitude towards mental illness.
"The Campbell family is saying there can be the same
transformation as AIDS and cancer, and what it needs is the same level of
research," she enthuses. "The family really seized that. They understand that
there is no family untouched by mental illness anywhere in Canada. They see the
societal as well as the family impact. They saw the power of their investment
in cancer through PMH - and made a powerful statement when they committed the
same support to mental illness."
Corporate donors have stepped up too. Bell Canada
has committed $50 million to a multi-year mental health
initiative. $10 million of that, the largest Canadian corporate gift ever to
mental health, is earmarked for CAMH.
What's in a name?
It was not until 2009 that a donor permitted CAMH to name a
building after him. "The members of Canada's McCain family are known for
philanthropy, but not for putting their name on things," Gregersen points out. "Michael
[McCain] in particular understood the value of allowing us to put his name on
one of our buildings."
What's been surprising, motivating, even exhilarating, she
muses, is how much it means to the clients when a public figure allows his name
on a building. It sends one more highly visible message that their illness is
legitimate and important people care about their recovery. Staff members are
equally encouraged by the attention a famous name draws to their work.
Start with the "why"
Though mental illness is one of the most dramatic examples, other
causes remain unappealing, stigmatized or unknown. Gregersen encourages
fundraisers to be optimistic despite the challenges.
"Don't worry about the fact that it's difficult," she
encourages. "Be consistent, powerful, and compelling about why it's relevant.
Helping people understand why it's relevant is your first responsibility. Don't
put your organization's goals first. Instead, focus on who are you trying to
talk to and what matters most to them. And then show them how your organization
deals with what matters to them."
Learn more about the campaign at www.supportcamh.ca.