RECAP: Non-profits and PR in the season of giving

December 20, 2020
Heather Mah

Without a doubt, COVID-19 has impacted our new decade with uncertainty, leaving many non-profits to seek alternate solutions to fundraise for their programs. During the first phase of the pandemic in the summer, there were reports about charities on the brink of shutting their doors with most experiencing a 30 per cent decline in revenue according to a report in the Toronto Star. Now that we have gone nearly a full year, how have our non-profits fared?

On December 3, CPRS Edmonton invited communicators from four local non-profit organizations: Phoebe Day of Alberta Cancer Foundation; Danica O’Neill of the Good Samaritan Society; Jocelyn Davison of the Virtual Effect; and Carrie Creaser of the 

Boys & Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton and Area to share their experience navigating and adapting to our rolling reality.

Phoebe Dey (Alberta Cancer Foundation)

Phoebe Dey works as the vice-president of communications and marketing for the Alberta Cancer Foundation, which directly supports the 17 cancer centres across the province including the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary and Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton. Their purpose is to create more moments for Albertans facing cancer by inspiring our community to give to innovation in detection, treatment and care.

This year, the Foundation focused on reducing their cost in order to increase their revenue.

“One of the things our communications and marketing team has done has been to bring some things in-house that we normally would have outsourced,” shares Phoebe. “We brought our Google Ad Words in-house by using an agency to train someone on our team who had expressed interest to develop that skill, so she recently became Google Ad Words certified.”

The Alberta Cancer Foundation launched their Cancer Doesn’t Care campaign in February to raise money and awareness for their patient financial assistance program. When COVID-19 arrived in Canada the following month, Alberta Cancer Foundation was able to use the strong language in the campaign and apply it to the pandemic.

“We have adapted that language into ‘Cancer doesn’t care that there is a pandemic. More than 50 Albertans hear the word cancer every single day,’” says Phoebe. “And we were able to raise funds for COVID-19 related and non-COVID-19 related things. There are still people every day who need treatment and care and we want to continue raising money for that.”

Another event that launched successfully was their virtual five-kilometre run/walk event, which gave people an opportunity to go outside their homes while socially isolated, raise some money, and help do something for the community while following public health guidelines.

Visit the Non-profits and PR in the Season of Giving Webinar to learn more about other notable events the Alberta Cancer Foundation hosted this year.

Danica O’Neill (The Good Samaritan Society and Good Samaritan Canada)

Danica O’Neill is the Director of Community Engagement and Fundraising at the Good Samaritan Society, and she and her team of two work with the community to raise funds to support life-enriching programs and services for Good Samaritan senior residents. The Good Samaritan Society provides quality accommodations, health, and community care services and programs to aging individuals in need regardless of race or religious belief. 

The Good Samaritan Society faced challenging hurdles this year from the COVID-19 outbreaks that happened at some of their care homes. This resulted in some of their corporate donors pulling support because the organization was in the spotlight. During this time, all resources were put into communicating with their residents and family members with updates on the current situation.

The pandemic caused the Good Samaritan Society to cancel their annual golf tournament fundraiser, moving all of their fundraising online where they did a virtual Run, Walk and Roll fundraiser.

“People can register on the care home team of their choosing,” shares Danica. “And the funds stay local to support programs such as art therapy and music therapy for seniors, which is more important now than ever given their isolation.”

The Society also pivoted to host a virtual silent auction, which allowed more people to connect with the organization and, simultaneously, helped the organization build their donor acquisition program.

In the past, they relied on family members’ donations. But with current visitation restrictions, those funds are not coming in. Therefore, Good Samaritan Society turned to do paid advertising as well as boosted Facebook posts to raise general awareness about the organization.

To further cover the lost revenue, Good Samaritan Society shifted their focus to applying for grants, and federal and provincial funding.

Jocelyn Davison (The Virtual Effect)

Jocelyn Davison is the founder of the Virtual Effect, an event planning company based in Edmonton that curates connection and impact through meaningful events. She also created Elevate, a series of events that gives causes and organizations opportunities to connect and to educate participants on significant world issues. Jocelyn works closely with many non-profits and charities on their events, along with two — WIN House and the Action Coalition on Human Trafficking Alberta (ACT Alberta) — that she supports with her time and fundraising initiatives.

WIN House offers a safe haven for women and their children fleeing abusive relationships. Women can find food, emergency accommodations and other support services all in safe, undisclosed locations. In 2010, WIN House expanded their service and reopened as Carol’s House to help immigrant, refugee, and trafficked women. The shelters operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. 

ACT Alberta helps victims across the province. They undertake a variety of activities around education, advocacy, agency collaboration and victim assistance. ACT mobilizes stakeholders to identify and respond to human trafficking by: working to prevent human trafficking; ensuring adequate protection and support for trafficked persons; supporting the efficient prosecution of the criminals involved; partnering in effective and collaborative ways. 

“There are so many incredible causes in our province, but we can’t be advocates for all organizations,” says Jocelyn. “ Choose an organization to align with that reflects things that matter to you.”

When choosing a charity to support, consider the following:

  • Does the cause make sense within the industry you’re working in?
  • Do you need a tax receipt?
  • Do you want your donor dollars to stay local, or be distributed nationally, or globally?

We can support our non-profits through monetary donations or by spreading awareness, educating ourselves, sharing what we learn with others, and volunteering our time and skills.

Carrie Creaser (Boys and Girls Club and Big Brothers Big Sisters):

Carrie Creaser is the Manager of Fund Development with the amalgamated Boys and Girls Club and Big Brothers Big Sisters (BGCBigs) – a community-supported organization committed to the healthy development of children, youth, and their families. On their Boys and Girls side they have 19 clubs in Edmonton which is an afterschool facility for kids who may not be able to have dinner unless they go to the Club. A majority of the youth are impoverished. The Big Brothers Big Sisters side is the mentorship side of the organization, which is fully operated by volunteers.

Because of COVID-19, one big change Carrie and her team of three made was to move their mentorship program to virtual hangouts. They also had to close their clubs and plan how they are going to adapt moving forward. For their first week, they held a strategy meeting and did 3,000 calls to ask the community what they needed. They discovered that 85 per cent of their community needed food support and learned that the food bank didn’t have enough distribution locations to get the food to the community. So up until July, BGCBigs turned their 19 clubs into food bank hubs where their staff organized the food donations into hampers and made appointments for families in the community to pick up their food.

The majority of their communications strategy is focused on volunteer recruitment. They depend on volunteers to keep their programs running, and are always looking for new volunteers and mentors to join BGCBigs.

BGCBigs rely on their partners, private donors and corporate donors. When schools had to move their classes to virtual learning, many kids did not have computers and around 900 kids did not have internet. So, Carrie and her team turned to their donors.

“BGCBigs knew the importance of the internet and computers for our kids to switch to online learning in March,” shares Carrie. “So TELUS stepped up and provided Wi-Fi internet to our families that were unable to afford it. BGCBigs also got support from the Edmonton Community Foundation to ensure our kids without computers received Chromebooks to assist with that learning. We are grateful for their support and commitment to kids in our community.”

To keep donors informed about where their donations are being put towards, Carrie sends an email every month that details what BGCbigs is doing, what BGCBigs has done that month, what needs to be done this month, and what families are saying they need.

This year has been especially challenging and unpredictable for non-profits, but all guest speakers agree that this has also been a great learning experience. Non-profit communicators must be very transparent in what their charity needs and what they’re working on. They need to continue to share their stories even in the worst of times. They need to ask donors or partners for the things needed to keep the programs running — the worst they can do is say no. And finally, always continue to lead with empathy and care for everyone. Communicate more, check in more, and if you don’t have the answer, be honest and say you don’t know.

If you missed the webinar and would like to watch it, sign in to the Bill Rees Learning Centre on

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