By Elisa Birnbaum
Read the fulll story at Charity village.comThis month in our Funder Focus series we feature the Gainey Foundation. The newly established family foundation was launched in honour of Cathy and Laura Gainey, with the aim of supporting community-based charitable organizations committed to causes that reflect Laura and Cathy’s interests. CharityVillage spoke with executive director Anna Gainey about the young foundation and how its efforts at educating youth in the environment and arts is helping a family honour those close to their hearts.
CharityVillage: The foundation was launched in May 2007, with a mission to support charitable organizations that offer environmental and arts education programs for youth. Why did you decide to focus on these sectors?
Anna Gainey: The foundation was established in memory of my sister, who we lost very suddenly in December 2006, and we also lost my mother in 1995. So we wanted to do something that would build a legacy and give us a way to honour their memory. We reflected on things that were significant to them and things they loved. Children were something that was dear to both of them, something that overlapped. The environment and the arts are more driven from Laura. She was committed to both. She was an artist; she taught art, she was involved with theatre, pottery, photography. And she attended school out west so she had a strong connection to that West Coast vibe, you know, things like sustainable living and organic farming and shopping at Value Village. So they encapsulated two of her passions and things that made her happy. To be able to pursue programs that reflect the things she enjoyed was important for us.
CV: As a young family foundation, have you faced any growing pains?
AG: I didn’t find it particularly challenging. We haven’t really grown, though the bank account has grown. But it’s still the family and the same core people involved. I guess one challenge I faced was getting information, because I’ve been the one behind the operations. So I needed to network and find people who had done this before and then go for lunch, coffee, get on the phone, get some lessons learned and some contacts and go from there. As a result, we were able to find a great lawyer and advisor who helped us through the process of registering.
So there were things like that – use what you have available to you to make your life a little easier, not to reinvent the wheel. In terms of being a family foundation, it wasn’t challenging. It’s a very personal project; it’s not like a business. It’s mostly good stuff. It brings us together, it gives us something to focus on, and some of the events we planned were lots of fun.
CV: Would you say finding the right experts/resources has been essential?
AG: Absolutely. We’re very fortunate in a lot of ways because of the resources we have. The Montreal Canadiens have been incredibly supportive, as have Mr. Gillette and his family – the owners of the team. The Montreal Canadiens also have a very interesting foundation dedicated to children and focused in Quebec. Their office is close to mine and my father’s so I have a very well-run foundation just down the hall from me. And the folks that run it are great and have lots of experience. So we have a lot of resources within the building in terms of tax receipts, golf tournaments, etc. These people who have been there, done that, are available for me to talk to.
CV: Do you expect your family to always run the foundation or will it transition to another structure? What will it look like as it evolves?
AG: I don’t see us ever getting so big that we would do that. We set a relative timeline of raising around $2 million by 2010 and then at that point shifting out of the fund development and really looking at investing the money and meeting our quota allocation requirements every year. But it’s possible if we find a good event or we find that there’s something happening that’s popular and there’s a community initiative trying to keep it going, then we’d be open to having an annual event. But I think for the first two years we’re looking at how and if we could raise that money and then at that point asking ourselves, “Are we totally sick of fundraising or was this so great that we would like to continue doing it every other year or so?” So we’re first just trying to get through this window of time and see where we’re at.
We don’t have outside staff, but we are in the process of putting a board in place and I hope to have that done by the end of the year. But, again, it would be very informal, probably made up of friends and family who are close to us and helping us. We don’t ever see it growing into something so large that it requires a lot of human resources or structure. It’s going to be a smaller, cottage industry for sure.
CV: How do you decide which organizations to fund? Are there specific criteria that you look for above all others?
AG: Well, I think that’s something that will evolve for us; we have a very broad objective. We did accept applications up to June of this year for funds raised in 2007. I put a basic questionnaire together to get all the basics on the organization, how many employees, volunteers, programs to fund, etc. We received quite a large number of applications, so it’s just been a process of going through them all and sometimes asking to visit and look around. We sat down as a family, read through them all and continued to narrow the field. We are hoping to write some cheques by the end of this month.
We look at it case-by-case. We look at their financials and try to see where we could be maximizing our funding. And when you compare bigger organizations with lots of money in the bank versus a smaller community organization that teaches art in the park in the summer, that’s the one that will get funding from us. And applicants can be from anywhere in Canada. We’ve got organizations from Nova Scotia to British Columbia that we’ll probably be supporting this year.
CV: For a young foundation, you certainly were able to get your name out quickly. To what can you attribute this reality?
AG: Well my father’s profile and his background in what is the national pastime in this country is certainly a part of it. We held a press conference in May and the Globe & Mail did a really nice feature that was on the cover. So that really helped get the word out and, subsequently, we did a few different spots with Sportsnet and local media. And after our first concert in Peterborough – where both of my parents are from – there was a nice piece in the Globe, talking about the concert and the money we raised.
“A lot of people suffered the way we have and don’t have the public profile to be able to publicly turn that into something positive…So we feel very proud and lucky to be able to do that. ”There’s been a general interest in the story, in how we’ve coped and what our response to Laura’s death has been. And we’ve gotten a lot of positive responses. A lot of people suffered the way we have and don’t have the public profile to be able to publicly turn that into something positive, which we are in a position to do. So we feel very proud and lucky to be able to do that.
CV: What are some of the fundraising events the foundation has been involved in? Any upcoming?
AG: We had a concert in Montreal in June, with Great Big Sea and Sam Roberts headlining. It was a great night, our first big event in Montreal. And there was a concert in Peterborough too. Those were our two big events. A lot of organizations have “tagged” us, so if, for example, someone does an annual golf tournament, we will get a cheque in the mail saying, “We decided this year to give you the proceeds.” We are very fortunate that we didn’t have to go out there and do a lot of events. We focused on doing some bigger events, like concerts. It’s not everyday that you can draw those artists and put together a night that’s not a cocktail, black tie event or a golf tournament. My sister and my brother and I are all under 30 and we want to plan something that’s fun, something we want to be at.
I think there’ll be another concert in Peterborough in the spring and another in Montreal in a year from now. We seem to have a model now with concerts and it works, so we would probably continue with that. I don’t see us doing this indefinitely, but if we can raise a lot of money and people can have fun and enjoy being a part of it, then it’s a good formula. And once we get to the two-year mark we’ll re-evaluate and decide what our next steps are.
CV: Do you pursue partnerships or associations?
AG: We’ve only had informal associations to date. But we’ve had different corporations step up and sponsor our events.GE was the main sponsor of the concert in Peterborough. The company has a big plant there so there’s a connection to the community and it’s also becoming more “green”, so there’s another connection with our focus on the environment. But there hasn’t exactly been a terribly organized or concerted effort toward partnerships. There are probably hundreds of things we could be doing, but you have to prioritize your time.
And while the Canadiens are not an official partner, the reason we are where we are today is because of the support from the organization.
CV: How do you see the foundation evolving in the next few years?
AG: We’re still fundraising, but we are trying to build a certain endowment. The idea is not to raise money and spit it all back out because then we’d need to be constantly fundraising. As much as possible, we’d like to build a bit of a nest egg so that there’s some legs behind this. And so that once we get better at grantmaking and become more familiar with what’s out there and the best way to work with organizations and leverage the money, we won’t be out of money. That, for me, is an important part of all this.
And, as I mentioned, for now we have a two-year plan. I’m hoping by then we’ll have a nice nest egg in the bank and that we can continue to learn about what’s going on in these spaces – in environmental and arts education for youth. None of us are experts at this stage so we’re learning as we go. I think we have to give ourselves some time to get up to full speed in terms of the grants, which is really the most important part for us.
Since taking the reigns of the Gainey Foundation last year, executive director Anna Gainey is focused on its endeavours full-time. Of course, with its significant legacy-building mission, the family initiative is propped up by every member of the Gainey clan – including father Bob, sister Colleen and brother Stephen. And with the ongoing support of friends, relatives and everyday Canadians, the young foundation is quickly establishing itself as a formidable funder on the scene.