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National Philanthropy Day: Celebrating All Donors Equally Engages New Attendees, Sponsors

September 25, 2012

by Mike House, MBA, CFRE

For over 10 years, AFP Edmonton & Area Chapter had celebrated National Philanthropy Day (NPD) like many other chapters across North America.  However, over time, the challenges with the historical award format of NPD had begun to diminish the engagement AFP members and the wider community had with the event. 

These challenges included the fact that the awards separated charities into winners and losers, and that successful nominations often had more to do with the resources available to the charities and the writing skills of the nominators, rather than the impact the donors had made.  Organizing the competition into donor category types also restricted donors with multiple interests from being recognized for their true contributions.  As a result, sponsors felt that there was less value in supporting the event, ticket sales started to decline, and the event was becoming dominated by the strongest and best-resourced charities.  In essence, the celebration of impact that was happening in the community was fast becoming less important than the competition for the recognition being provided by the event.

National Philanthropy Day was also a significant financial and reputational component to the chapter’s success.  With NPD being held in November, ticket sales drove overall profitability of the chapter, and these sales were based upon nominations being attracted by late September.  Cash flow for the chapter was often negative until the 3rd and 4th quarters, and depending on the number of nominations, the financial health of the Chapter was often in doubt until the last three months.

In 2011, the Edmonton Chapter decided to take a substantial risk and change the way NPD was celebrated.

The first change was to eliminate the concept of putting one charitable contribution ahead of another.  The vision of the NPD was changed to be more inclusive of all charities and to celebrate all forms of giving regardless of size of gift or resources of the charity. 

The nomination process was simplified so that any charity could nominate someone by submitting answers to general questions on the impact the nominee had, as well as the on the relationship between nominee and nominator.  Instead of charities and their importance to the community being ranked, NPD became an equal celebration of impact.  Philosophically, all charities are important, every donor is valuable and makes a difference, and every nominee deserved to be respected and acknowledged for their efforts.

These changes resulted in smaller charities coming back to NPD and nominations doubling from 35 to over 70 nominations in one year.  New nominees also bought tickets to the event, and they purchased them early in the year, driving sales and highlighting the value of AFP membership in the process.

Nominations were sorted by sector impact rather than donor type.  Categories were created to celebrate the collective impact donors have on health, education, culture, environment, social services (homelessness, women’s shelters, food banks, etc.) and public services (libraries, recreation centres, sports, etc.).  Youth also remained a category to celebrate, and a new category, “Outreach” allowing charities outside Edmonton to also celebrate and acknowledge contributors.

The reorganization of categories meant that corporations could be nominated for their multiple interests, and instead of competing against themselves or being at the mercy of the writing of a nomination, they received more visible profile.   Sponsors saw a greater value proposition in sponsorship of certain sectors that they were already aligned with.  For example, if a company supported health as a general guiding principal, they now could sponsor the entire sector and be exclusively aligned with its impact, even if they were not nominated specifically.

Nominations were requested by June 30 and ticket pricing was changed to incent organizations to take advantage of group discounts, AFP membership discounts, and early bird sales.  This made a significant impact on cash flow for the organization, both in terms of being able to drive table sales but also in enabling us to inform sponsors far in advance on who would likely be in attendance. 

As substantial and important as these changes were, the most important result of these changes was the reaction from nominees, nominators and attendees.  Rather than singling out one exceptional donor, all donors from each sector were collectively celebrated; highlighting how all giving is equally important and contributes to the quality of life in our community.  Philanthropists stood next to children and corporate leaders on stage, unified together in their passion for the sector they care for.  The result was that National Philanthropy Day raised the profile of the importance and diversity of giving that exists, and heightened the leadership role that AFP plays in championing philanthropy within our region.

This year’s NPD celebration continues to attract more organizations, more nominations and greater numbers of meaningful stories of charitable giving.  AFP leads the way in organizing this celebration of giving, and in doing so, charities and donors have a stronger appreciation for their part in building a better community for all.

Mike House lives in Edmonton, Alberta and is the President & CEO of the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation. Previously, Mike held the position of Assistant Dean, Development & Stakeholder Relations at the Alberta School of Business at the University of Alberta. Mike has an undergraduate commerce degree and an MBA from the University of Alberta, and he has held the CFRE designation since 2003. Mike is also the current President of AFP Edmonton & Area Chapter. Contact him at

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