When Harvey Walker’s wife, Joan, died of pancreatic cancer two years ago, he wanted to find a way to honour her memory.
Mr. Walker, a 75-year-old retiree, decided the most fitting tribute would be to donate $100,000 in her name to the Scarborough Hospital, which provided compassion and care to Joan and her family in some difficult moments. Hardly an insignificant amount for a man who, throughout his career, was always “just a working guy,” but Mr. Walker believed it was the right thing to do.
“They helped me out when I needed it and I’d like to help them out if I can,” he explained in a recent interview.
Two years later, Mr. Walker has become something of a darling on the mailing lists of hospital foundations across the city. Appeals for money arrive in his mailbox constantly. He’s never donated to most of the hospitals asking for his cash and doesn’t even know how they got his name.
“The ones that come every week, I don’t even open them any more. I just toss them in the garbage,” he said. “Some outfits just never stop.”
Considering hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area are trying to collectively raise nearly $4-billion over the next five years, it’s no wonder people like Mr. Walker are suddenly in demand and feeling the pressure.
The $4-billion figure is unprecedented in the history of hospital fundraising in Toronto and executives, volunteers and high-level donors say it marks the beginning of a new era in which the pressure to raise ever-higher amounts is the new way of life.
“I think the whole scope has changed,” said Steve Hoscheit, president and CEO of the Trillium Health Centre Foundation in Mississauga. “There was a time where a million…or $5-million [donation] would hit the headlines, but now it seems you have to at least be at the $10-million mark to gain any attention.”
By today’s standards, even a hefty cheque like that seems like a paltry sum.
In April, the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation launched a five-year campaign to raise $1-billion – $500-million in research grants and $500-million from donors – to fund personalized cancer medicine. The Toronto General and Western Hospital Foundation is in the midst of a five-year push to raise $600-million for redevelopment, recruitment and facility upgrades. Mount Sinai Hospital is in the preliminary stages of planning a $500-million drive to pay for redevelopment. After just finishing a $100-million campaign, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health says it will need to raise an additional $200-million in the next five years. Meanwhile, the Hospital for Sick Children has set $115-million as the target it needs to raise annually. This is the tip of the iceberg; About two dozen other hospitals and health-care centres across the Greater Toronto Area have their own fundraising drives.
“It’s an exciting period,” said Mark Gryfe, president and CEO of the Mount Sinai Hospital Foundation. “The bar has been raised so high by the donors that have stepped forward.”
But the extraordinary fundraising goals being set assume donors will continue to come through, despite being inundated like never before by competing hospitals across the city. Many foundation executives acknowledge they have deep concerns that donor fatigue, when people simply can’t or won’t give any more, will be the result of these zealous campaigns. While there is optimism that Toronto’s deep pockets, combined with its philanthropic spirit, will rise to the challenge, there’s one nagging question in the background of every charity run, event gala and direct mail brochure: Is hospital fundraising going too far?
Medical advances fuel the drive for dollars
About 10 years ago, Emmanuelle Gattuso was told she might have breast cancer. Like thousands of other women, she had to wait weeks for the diagnosis to be confirmed, a time of significant anxiety and uncertainty. When the news finally did come, it wasn’t good: Ms. Gattuso did indeed have cancer. She received treatment at Princess Margaret Hospital and recovered.
A few years later, she heard an oncologist at the hospital, David McCready, was spearheading a pilot project to deliver breast cancer diagnoses and treatment plans in a single day.