Canuck Place Children’s Hospice CEO Denise Praill gives out 3 fundraising tips for charities

Praill touches on economic challenges, communications strategies and biz risks

Denise Praill has one of the harder jobs in the province: as the CEO of Canuck Place Children’s Hospice, she helps children and families deal with pain and suffering every day.

Canuck Place is the main provider of pediatric palliative care in B.C. and the Yukon. Founded by a Vancouver nurse in 1988, the nonprofit organization has grown with support from various friends and donors, including the Vancouver Canucks and Canucks for Kids Fund. Its programming includes pain and symptom management, end-of-life care, therapy, counselling and medical respite—at no cost to families, which is why fundraising is such a major component. 

“About 60 percent of our annual operating funds come from donors, and about 40 to 45 percent come from the province,” says Praill. Like many other charities, Canuck Place has had its fair share of challenges coming out of the pandemic. “People make their gifts from discretionary income and we’re constantly hearing about the cost-of-living increases, how salaries and wages aren’t necessarily keeping pace… and the demand for our services continues to rise.” 

It’s a tough climate for fundraising, but Canuck Place has some basic but solid tactics in place. Praill shares some of the strategies that have helped it stay afloat and offers tips for other charities to keep up the good work. 

1. Strengthen existing campaigns and relationships 

“We’re not endlessly trying new things,” says Praill. It may seem obvious, but keeping in touch with previous donors goes a long way. Canuck Place also does a good job of inviting people to support others in the community around difficult times like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.  

“And if people are responding around the holiday season, we really make sure that that campaign is robust,” notes Praill. Comms for the annual holiday fundraising campaign, Light a Life, starts early in October and shares one family’s story across various channels. “We’re not creating endless stories, different things to distract people’s attention. We focus on one message for a longer period of time, which I think allows audiences to engage. It breeds familiarity—like, Oh, that’s that Canuck Place ad, I need to do that.”  

2. Be strategic with ads

To navigate the challenges that came with the COVID-19 pandemic, Canuck Place started a 50/50 raffle where money from ticket sales is divided between the winner and charity (there’s a $302,500 limit). The draw takes place via live stream and the charity targets sports events and people with an affinity for the Vancouver Canucks when it comes to relaying information: “We’re always making data-driven decisions about where we place that message,” says Praill.  

3. Embrace change

“You can’t be afraid to take risks as an organization,” she adds. The raffle, for example, came at a time when Canuck Place’s typical fundraising strategies were disrupted in 2020. There is a certain nervousness that comes with breaking tradition to try something new, but since the raffle launch, Canuck Place has raised jackpots totalling over $3.5 million across 10 draws. 

“If something isn’t bearing fruit, just because we did it last year, doesn’t mean we need to do it again. And that’s probably the hardest thing to do… If you have a tradition and this is what always works, but if it’s not paying off, you have to have courageous leadership to say, Let’s try something different.”