Crisis Intervention Centre on the Leading Edge of Suicide Prevention

Established in the 'hippie days' of the late sixties, the Vancouver-based Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre has evolved into one of Western Canada's most successful charitable organizations.

Each year, the Centre fields 26,000 crisis-related telephone calls and puts on over 500 interactive workshops for 15,000 high school students. All this work is accomplished through the dedication of 280 highly-trained volunteers and a small professional staff - all on a budget of $750,000.

With 34 years experience under their belts, the Centre has picked up some valuable lessons along the way, suggests Ian Ross, Executive Director. "I think one of the lessons we've learned relates to finding other corporations or funding sources that are value aligned. You're either both going to win in a partnership or you are not going to be successful."

A few of the Centre's "natural fits" are the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation, the United Way and major high tech players like telecommunications carrier Telus Corp. and information technology outsourcing company Pacific Coast Information Systems.

"We're powered by Telus, with software by IBM and technology by Pacific Coast Information Systems."

The relationship with Telus - which will donate close to $70,000 in cash and services this year alone - has enabled the Crisis Centre to participate in a valuable technology roll-over program. Every three years the Centre will receive new computers and related technology, ensuring their phone-based service remains on the cutting edge.

Ross asserts that between 20% and 25% of his organization's fundraising success - as much as $185,000 - can be attributed to their use of BIG Online. "I think that getting to the range of possibilities that are out there and being able to put keywords into the database gives you a very clear direction."

Ross also likes the "updated nature" of BIG. "Having that real time, online and updated service is really very useful to us."

Understanding What it Takes
The Crisis Centre is successful because it delivers an important community service. In the world of fundraising, however, having a worthy service is not necessarily enough.

Success also requires the ability to communicate the length and breadth of your organization's activities, as well as its impact on the community - something Ross does with ease. Besides communicating effectively, the Crisis Centre works hard to get funding from a variety of sources, including corporations, foundations, individuals and government.

"BIG Online has enabled the Centre to diversify our funding base in an organized manner."

His organization is also cautious about who they receive money from and strives to secure no more than 30% government funding annually. That way, "if you have one (government) funder leave or pull back, you're not critically wounded."

It's vitally important, therefore, "to look for partners that actually fit with your product or service and then give them proper recognition for their support." If a donor's values are closely associated with your cause, Ross believes they'll also support you for the long term.

For the Future
Like any business in the private sector, Ross recognizes the value to callers, students and donors of expanding into new markets and improving the quality of its service. "One of the things we are working on is a 1-800 suicide prevention number for BC."

Last year the provincial government divided the province into five health regions. Ross is working with the "provincial network of crisis centres" to set up a 1-800 SUICIDE prevention number, which would ensure callers in every region are never met with a busy signal.

With a 1-800 suicide prevention number for BC, calls would automatically "bump over" to another region, even if a regional call centre was tied up at the time. "We want to come up with a system or a network where there will always be a trained volunteer supported by a professional staff and answering the phone 24 hours a day."

The Crisis Centre Network is also exploring the possibility of acquiring a three-digit number situated between 911 and the new 211 information and referral line that will be coming to the province soon.

"Our dream, in two to four years, is to be part of a 'non-profit network' from coast to coast offering all Canadians access to a free, confidential, 24-hour Distress Line by dialing an easy to remember three-digit number."

BIG Picture: Charitable organizations that can easily communicate large amounts of information about their cause - and its impact on the world - will always be more successful than those who can't.

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