As a young marine biologist, Kathy Butler didn’t even know professional fundraising was a career.
Fast forward 35 years and Butler is the professional fundraiser at the Okanagan College Foundation who’s helped bring in $25 million during her 13-year tenure there.
“Yes, I started work as a marine biologist doing tours at Vancouver Aquarium,” said Butler, 59, “My first introduction to fundraising was in 1981 when the aquarium raised some money and I helped on the team.”
By 1983, Butler wanted to trade talking about barnacles to working with people.
But that would have to wait.
She and her husband moved to Kelowna in 1984 and their son was born in 1985.
By the time she returned to work in 1986, it was as a part-time fundraiser at the Kelowna Hospital Foundation.
“And the foundation was just me part-time,” she said.
“The hospital didn’t think it needed a full-time fundraiser. It’s certainly grown. It’s a whole big department now.”
Butler still remembers her first campaign at the hospital.
“The goal was to raise $300,000 to buy a kidney dialysis unit and it took one year to achieve. That was back in the days when people still thought government should be supplying everything.”
Times have changed and the government doesn’t provide everything. People have accepted that and philanthropy is a much more active field.
As such, there’s been a rise of the professional fundraiser.
“The best fundraisers understand people, are customer-service oriented, listen, are empathetic, transparent, accountable, have high ethics and are a person of integrity,” said Butler.
“You always build relationships first before asking for money. I always ask people: Did you ask your spouse to marry you on the first date? Well, I never ask for money at a first meeting, either.”
Butler follows up leads and approaches businesses, individuals and alumni who have a connection with the college and believe in the power of education.
Sometimes, people also just contact the college out of the blue offering money.
But those occasions are few and far between.
“To motivate a donor, you have to find out what impact they want to make,” said Butler.
“There are seven faces of philanthropy, from those who donate anonymously and never want to be acknowledged publicly to those who use a donation to raise awareness of themselves or their business as part of corporate branding.”
Butler just worked with a woman who donated $50,000 anonymously to create The Apprenticeship Path, a program to help trades students prepare for their job search with resume and interview tips, extra personal skills development, counselling, mentoring and coaching.
“She felt the college’s technical training was good, but some students needed a little more help in finding a job. Her children had that personal experience at the college.”
Currently, Butler is wrapping up the Bright Horizons Building for Skills campaign to raise $7 million toward the $33 million trades complex that just opened at the Kelowna campus.
Right now it sits at $6.68 million raised.
However, it won’t be the biggest campaign Butler has been involved in.
From 2009 to 2012, she helped bring in $9.2 million for the Jim Pattison Centre for Excellence at the Penticton campus.
“There was a $5 million goal, but with some matching funds from the Pattison Foundation, it closed out at $9.2 million and helped launch the sustainable construction management technology program,” said Butler.
“The $2.5 million gift from the Pattison Foundation was the largest I’ve ever been involved with.”
Pattison, the Vancouver billionaire who has an empire in media, car dealerships, forestry and also owns Kelowna juice and snack maker SunRype, has extensive real estate holdings and is interested in sustainable construction.
So the college foundation approached him and started a conversation that eventually led to the donation and the Jim Pattison Centre for Excellence.
“For Jim and his directors, the naming rights of the building wasn’t the primary consideration. Being the greenest building in post-secondary education and pointing the industry in a new style of sustainable construction was.”
The college foundation has also started many other conversations that are expected to lead to another $23 million in donations.
“Most of my day is spent juggling all of those little pieces,” said Butler.
“Usually it takes 18 months or more from the first contact to commitment with donations.
“It’s completely on the donor’s timetable. We always want to make sure they make the impact they want and create the opportunities they want so students can make that transformative step in education.”