United Way East Kootenay’s annual Park-On-Us fundraiser takes place Friday, September 15 and will be the event’s fifteenth year running.
Described by United Way East Kootenay executive director Donna Brady Fields as “very labour intensive,” the “win-win” event raises money by giving local business the opportunity to purchase parking metres for the day and signs, ranging from $25 to $250 for the largest. In essence it allows businesses, in a highly visible way, to advertise their company while contributing to what Fields said is the United Way’s largest one-off fundraising event of the year in this region.
The first year they raised $2000 and over time have developed the event, raising over $13,000 in one of the most recent years, and currently for 2017 they are sitting at an estimated $10,000, according to Fields.
The City of Cranbrook has always supported the event throughout the years, allowing them the use of the city’s parking metres, but this year the City Council has agreed to give them any and all revenue collected by the metres that day.
Currently the biggest supporters this year are BC GEU, a “gold medal” supporter, BA Blacktop, silver, and they have 18 bronze supporters, meaning that they have purchased signs of $250.
In this region, the United Way funds 20 agencies every year.
“I think that there’s a misconception in the community that United Way receives money from United Way Canada, who is our parent organization, or from the government and that’s not the case,” explained Fields. “We might receive government funding for special initiatives, but our United Way does not receive money from the government at any level, to operate and to give to our agencies.”
She added that they annually give out an average of $85,000 per year to agencies within the community. The Canada Revenue Agency mandates that organizations such as the United Way invest a minimum of 80 per cent of funds raised back to the community, and Fields stated that they regularly donate 85 per cent or more.
“So we try to keep our operating costs very low and that’s really achievable because of our gifts that we get from donors in the community,” Fields said. “Donations in kind, like our office space at the HSPC building, we have payed no rent on that or utility cost for … I think we’ve been in that building since about 2000 so that’s huge to us. And we get lots of other businesses in the community give us office supplies, paper supplies, that type of help.”
Fields said that over the last couple of years revenue has decreased slightly, due in part, she believes, to economic recession. To balance that out, she said that they keep their production scale to a minimum. For example, Fields, who has a background in finance management, started working for the organization in 2006 to do their books and is the only staff employed by the United Way in East Kootenay. She said that they have a small board of six directors, all of whom have other commitments, and a limited stream of volunteers. Because of this they stray away from frequent events, as are highly time consuming.
“We’re kind of limited in what we can do in some areas but we try,” Fields said. “Our primary areas of revenue are individual donations from the community and our workplace campaigns.”
Although on local levels the United Way revenue numbers may fluctuate, Fields believes that internationally they are growing, bolstered by amalgamations and affiliations with United Ways around the world.
“I think that United Ways have always been strong. The local United Ways it’s up and down because there’s lots of charities and they’re all very worthwhile,” Fields said. “They’re all valuable, they all provide a very great service to the communities that they work in, but I think United Ways are very much needed in the community.
She said the United Way is one of the top contributors and fundraiser of social services in the community of Cranbrook, and that in times when the economy is tough, it makes it harder for them to operate, but it’s also those times when their services are needed the most.
“You see the need and I know so many of the social service sector are working with very low capacities, the resources are very slim and yet they’re trying to provide services to an increased number of people in our community, there’s such a great need all the time.”