Fundraising 101 with the Hospice at May Court, Ottawa

Categories: Opinion.

Q: How large is your organization, both in number of staff and the number of clients for whom you provide services?

A: There are 16 full time-staff as well as a number of part-time, including a rotation of 35 PSWs and RNs. Moreover, there are well over 500 volunteers who make the day-to-day running of the hospice possible.

In addition to our residential hospice, we also have a day hospice. In 2010-2011, the day hospice was open for 147 days and provided services for 1402 patients. Volunteers dedicated just less than 8000 hours to the day hospice, an inspiring commitment.

Q: How much of your operating budget is dependent on fundraising?

A: I would say that 50% of our 1.3 million dollar budget is dependent on fundraising. The Hospice at May Court is a small organization, and our fundraising department is no different, we are a staff of two. But fundraising is imperative for us to continue to offer services.

We rely on individual donations for approximately half a million dollars each year. And special events, like the Hike for Hospice Palliative Care and Homes for the Holidays, raises another $400,000. We also receive funding through foundation grants and bequests.

Q: What sorts of fundraising activities does your hospice engage in throughout the year?

A: We organize a Hike for Hospice Palliative Care every year in May that is very successful. We also organize Homes for the Holidays, a three-day event that features tours of six Ottawa homes that have been decorated by famous Ottawa florists. This event is very popular, with over 2,5000 visitors to the homes. We also have an event in December called Shine a Light.

It is our Airmiles program, however, that has been a surprising success. By using a Hospice Airmiles card, accumulated points are donated to May Court. These points have allowed us to purchase things like a new dryer, dishes and printers. It is a very valuable initiative as it allows May Court to purchase necessities without affecting our budget.

Q: What do you find are the largest obstacles to reaching your fundraising goals?

A: Time. As I mentioned earlier, we are only a staff of two and we are heavily reliant on special events, which are extremely time consuming. Both the Hike for Hospice and Homes for the Holidays have significant overlap. And each event has a committee of 35 who meet regularly to discuss and plan the events. These commitments don’t allow much room for individual major donor cultivation, especially legacy giving. And I think that legacy giving and major gifts could be important avenues to cultivate in the future, but we need to find the time.

Q: Do you have any advice for other hospices that are, perhaps, struggling to meet their goals?

A: I think there are a few valuable questions that you should ask yourself. Like, is there a budget for fundraising? People always assume that money will just come in but, you often need to spend money to get money. Also, consider how it is that your organization reaches out to its donors and supporters? If it is through a newsletter, is it affordable to produce two newsletters a year? And how do you meet donor requests, like electronic correspondence versus paper correspondence. If you’re just starting out, a survey is a good way to find out more about your donors. Consider asking questions that would help you find out who your donor base is and what they are expecting. By analyzing your survey results, your organization will be able to tailor their correspondence and communications, hopefully leading to an increase in support.

Q: What would you say is the greatest challenge that hospice palliative care services across Canada will face in the coming years?

A: Canada’s aging population is a growing concerning, and not just because it will mean a greater demand for end-of-life care services. Volunteers are also aging. Many of May Court’s volunteers have been with the organization for 10 to 15 years, since it was a program run out of a church basement in Sandy Hill. These volunteers are integral to the success of May Court, but they themselves might soon be looking to lessen their volunteer commitments. But how do we recruit new and younger volunteers? I think the first thing that needs to be addressed before we can look to volunteer recruitment is a general awareness of hospice palliative care. There is a need for 90 palliative care beds in Ottawa, we currently only have nine. And this is an issue across the board in Canada. An increased awareness of what hospice palliative care is will hopefully bring with it an increase in volunteers.

To learn more about the Hospice at May Court please visit

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