Mid-Toronto Community Services Expands its Fundraising Reach

They might be relatively small compared to the big league charities, but Mid-Toronto Community Services delivers an impressive range of services. Working within a specific "catchment" area of Toronto, the charity delivers a wide array of programs, designed to promote a healthy and independent lifestyle for seniors and adults living with a disability or illness.

Mid-Toronto's broad service portfolio includes day programs, housing support, respite care, a meals-on-wheels initiative and a transport program - which takes people to medical appointments, shopping and even to some social engagements.

With their mandate and project requirements growing all the time, Mid-Toronto recently hired a consultant to help it develop a direct mail program and execute tasks the organization simply "doesn't have the time or knowledge to do," remarks Laina Gibson, Director of Programs and Development.

Gibson believes strongly that for an organization like Mid-Toronto - with its small staff and mixture of part time, full time and volunteer workers - going with a consultant is just good business sense.

Consultants, for example, usually possess special skills and unique insight into the market. What's more, they don't require as much time to learn the organization, "and get up to speed." Another, less tangible benefit is that you can use them as needed until your program and strategy needs have been met.

To pay its new consultant and fund its good works, Mid-Toronto relies on a mixture of government, corporate and foundation grants. BIG Online has been a key element in their overall fundraising strategy for almost four years now, helping Gibson bring in $82,000 in 2002. Mid-Toronto did even better the previous year, raising $140,000. "Those have been our two best years to date."

Gibson gives BIG full marks for helping her track down and secure funding for Mid-Toronto. "It's just such a better way to research. We've had the books before, but things change so quickly. We just find it's a much more efficient use of time to pop online and access the information there."

BIG Online, she adds, is also simple to navigate, even for beginners or people who aren't technologically savvy. "I've been in the position of development for about a year and half and I've been using it the whole time I like the way it's set up. It's easy to use and there's a lot of information there."

On one occasion, Gibson was online searching for a particular donor prospect, but couldn't locate them in the database. So she wrote to BIG Online's Customer Support group and received an immediate reply.

"That's the way I like to be communicated to ... when someone gets back to you that quickly, it's just so helpful."

Mid-Toronto Expands Into New Areas
While the primary focus of Mid-Toronto remains on seniors and adults with disabilities, the organization has recently modified its focus to take in those afflicted with HIV/AIDS. Gibson acknowledges that the work they do with HIV/AIDS patients is important, but it's probably not what organizers had in mind when they started up the charity 35 years ago.

"Our mission has always said that we serve people with disabilities. But having HIV is not a disability, it's an illness."

HIV/AIDS support work, however, is a natural extension for Mid-Toronto, which works hard to keep people with disabilities out of hospitals and in their homes and their communities. "We've sort of expanded from an agency that just serves seniors to have a broader mission."

Gibson explains that about 10 years ago, Mid-Toronto started receiving a lot more calls from HIV/AIDS organizations, as well as individuals looking for support. To meet the needs of this large and relatively new constituency, Gibson and her organization sponsor programs like "meet and eat" where people can get together, socialize and share a meal.

While demand for the services of Mid-Toronto continues to grow, Gibson notes that the core of its government funding has remained more or less static. "Everything's going up, but our base is remaining the same. So fundraising is becoming more critical."

BIG Picture: Contracting a consultant to help your organization develop and implement a new fundraising strategy or program is an effective alternative to hiring a full time employee. Most consultants have the experience, skills and insight to help your organization broaden its fundraising capabilities quickly and easily.

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