Facing a crisis, fundraisers follow a new script

Monday, July 6, 2020

By Alyana Versolatto, School of Accounting and Finance

Philanthropy is an incredibly personal decision and Sheilaah Guthrie believes valuable networking opportunities and donations warrant in-person interactions. However, what do you do when that option is no longer possible or even safe?

Guthrie is the Associate Director of Advancement at the School of Accounting and Finance (SAF) and has 20 years of fundraising experience under her belt. From that comes a breadth of knowledge, including consulting across Canada, raising money for equipment at Oakville Hospital and currently raising money for programs and scholarships at Waterloo’s School of Accounting and Finance (SAF). Guthrie says re-evaluating strategies, prioritizing needs and utilizing technology are what many organizations like the University of Waterloo will need to do to sustain their philanthropic footprint.

A large part of her team’s outreach efforts before COVID-19 were in-person events like awards celebrations and smaller community-building events that kept alumni connected. Now, Guthrie’s team is thinking about how they can make the switch to virtual events that are still engaging and foster a sense of community, as well as follow physical distancing restrictions as Canada gets back to the new normal.

Fundraising through virtual events

“Will we have a 350-person banquet every year? Will we have smaller events to honour our award winners, honourees and fellowship members? Can we get the same type of input at a smaller event or virtually? I’m not sure, but we have to try.” - Sheilaah Guthrie, Associate Director of Advancement, SAF

One virtual event that the advancement team is strongly encouraging alumni to participate in is class reunions. Typically, reunions are held on campus because of the nostalgic memories it brings back, as well as showcases the physical changes made to campus since they were in school. However, this year they will be connecting virtually.

In addition to redesigning events, the team has focused on collecting impactful stories that showcase alumni who are stepping up and making a difference during the pandemic. Stories like Shikha Gandhi's (MAcc ’04) and Vikram Somasundaran’s (MAcc ’11). Shikha is part of the leadership team at Purolator responsible for delivering thousands of critical personal protective equipment (PPE) to hospitals across the country and Vikram leads partnership development at Prodigy Game, an online game for grade 1 to 8 students to build math skills which were especially relevant during the school-year interruption.

Rising to the challenge to help students

Fundraisers like Guthrie are rightfully concerned about the economic downturn as many community members, donors and alumni have recently lost their jobs or a percentage of their portfolios. However, encouragingly just like recent stories, alumni and donors are still rising to the challenge to help students. For instance, the Student Emergency Support Fund that the university recently announced to help students get through this crisis raised $650,000 in only a few short weeks. Guthrie states, “It was an incredible outpouring of support for our community and the university as a whole.”

Advancement support like the Student Emergency Support Fund go a long way to helping students. For SAF, the regular priority lies in scholarships and supporting experiential learning programs like the Student Venture Fund, Student Investment Fund, Alumni Excellence Endowment Fund and International Study Program. In light of the pandemic, Guthrie and the SAF leadership team are re-evaluating priority projects based on urgency and student need.

While the current situation is challenging, an upside according to Guthrie, is that connecting with global alumni and donors could prove to be much easier now. Instead of setting up a visit to Hong Kong and getting on a 20-hour flight, she can quickly jump on a video call.

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