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Plugging into Technology and Energizing Volunteers

(June 2, 2008) Two and a half hours north of Toronto, on a private lake in Ontario’s Muskoka region, rests a 400-acre campsite where children suffering from cancer go to escape their adult concerns and simply be kids.

To continue to serve its campers and grow to new heights, the board and staff of Camp Oochigeas recently made innovative use of technology and branding and infused a healthy dose of competition into one of its annual fundraisers—the Sporting Life 10K.

Previously only a percentage of its total revenue, the 10K has become a prominent vehicle for the camp’s continued success as a privately-funded, volunteer-based organization. The camp’s extraordinary success earned them the 2008 Campbell & Company Award for Excellence in Fundraising, Small Category, presented by AFP.

Camp Oochigeas has a small staff, two development officers, and operating costs of $2.5 million. They hold a biennial fundraising gala that has traditionally raised the bulk of necessary funds. But in 2007 and 2008, the Sporting Life 10K garnered an explosion of support to rival the gala proceeds.

As charitable recipient of the 10K event for five years, “Ooch” (as the camp is affectionately called) collected a respectable $25,000 in pledges from the event in 2006. Then, in 2007 the fundraiser brought in more than $275,000, an eleven-fold increase. The 2008 event, held May 4, 2008, is in line to break the half-million dollar mark.

So what’s its secret?

Rob Drynan, executive director of Camp Oochigeas, explained that better branding made people more aware that their 10K event pledges went to the camp. The event did not change its name, Drynan said, but signs and materials this year carried the tagline, ‘At the end of the race, Camp Ooch wins.’

But even more important, Drynan said, was their use of fundraising technology, including an online pledge system. With software and services from A.K.A. New Media, Inc. of Toronto—called “Raisin™”—the camp was able to offer its volunteers convenient, readymade fundraising kits, complete with personalized web pages, to collect pledges. The technology made it possible for two development officers to manage the entire program.

And thanks to the help of one of their board directors, Oochigeas included 23 Toronto law firms in their 10K fundraiser by challenging them to raise $50,000 and offering a prize for the “team” that collected the most. Not to be outdone, each firm was intensely competitive about their respective pledge amounts.

“This is where the online pledge system really worked,” Drynan said. “Members of the law firms who we enlisted as our partners could check their team’s pledges compared to the other firms on a regular basis—in fact the pages updated every five minutes. When the drive was nearing its close, I was sitting at my computer literally watching the numbers go up as the firms tried to outdo each other.”

“Everyone believes in the cause,” Drynan said. “But the friendly competition is a real added incentive.”

In 2007, Camp Oochigeas raised $138,636 in online donations from its “Law Challenge” alone. The average online donation by all participants was $112.46 and 89 percent of donations were made online. Notably, only 50 more people participated in the race in 2007 from 2006, yet they went from $25,000 to more than $275,000 in pledges.

This year Oochigeas expanded its industry challenge beyond just law firms to accountancy, insurance and banking firms as well. They had 9,000 runners in the 10K event and 800 people who helped raise money through pledges.

The camp staff used technology to make its volunteers and supporters more sophisticated fundraisers than simple door-to-door or clipboard solicitors. But humans were still the key component, and that point is one they never forgot.

“We recognize that our volunteers have more expertise than we do in a lot of areas, and we welcomed their input,” Drynan said. “For example, lawyers know better than anyone how best to motivate their colleagues. We welcomed their insights.”

About the Awards

Camp Oochigeas was honored at the Monday morning plenary session of AFP’s International Conference on Fundraising in San Diego earlier this year. Peter Fissinger, CFRE, president of Campbell & Company, was on-hand to personally congratulate the camp and present the award to Drynan.

 “The results of the Camp Oochigeas Sporting Life campaign are extraordinary, and Campbell & Company is honored to be able to shine the spotlight on the camp and its important mission,” said Fissinger. “While many charities talk about using technology, the camp truly integrated a number of exciting online features to engage people in the event, and that work clearly paid off. Their efforts in recruiting law firms to get involved, and then to use the firms’ network of contacts to reach out to additional supporters, is a strategy that will undoubtedly be used by other charities in the future.”

Nomination forms and information for the 2009 Campbell & Company Awards for Excellence in Fundraising are now available here on the AFP website. The deadline for submitting nominations for the Awards for Excellence in Fundraising and other awards is July 15.

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