Faye Wightman

December 1, 2008

How did you get into fundraising?
Around the time I was 30, I was a nurse. My husband had just died and I had two young children. I was approached by the Red Cross, and wound up running their health and community services department. Then I became campaign director for the United Way, then CEO of the B.C. Children’s Hospital Foundation, then vice-president of external relations at the University of Victoria. I took this position in 2005.

Last year, the Vancouver Foundation granted $60 million to some of B.C.’s 9,000 registered charities and 20,000 nonprofits. What’s going to happen this year, given the economy?
If it’s tough for us as individuals, and as businesses, imagine how tough it’s going to be for the charities that are not only going to see a drop in revenue but also a rise in demand for their services. If corporations do have to decrease their philanthropic giving, maybe there are other things they could do. Could they give us someone to help with accounting? With printing? We have to stop seeing support as just dollars. The last thing corporations should want is to see charities fail, because we’re the social infrastructure in our community.

Isn’t what you’re describing government’s role?
Not unless you’re willing to have your taxes increased to levels that aren’t good for any of us. Personally, I prefer to have a choice about where I put my charitable dollars. I don’t want to be giving to government, which by its very nature is political.

Yet you do partner with government. The Streetohome Foundation is one example. How does that work?
About a year ago, the City approached us to work with them on homelessness. We have to stop pointing fingers, stop saying, ‘Whose responsibility are the 2,700 homeless people in the Downtown Eastside?’ Streetohome is committed to addressing the hardest-to-house first, the 500 people with mental-health issues and addiction issues you see most visibly. It’s not just about putting a roof over their head; how do we support the agencies that are helping them?

Some people complain that there are too many charities on the Downtown Eastside. Do we really need another?
I get tired of hearing people say that. Nobody questions whether there’s a need for more Starbucks. Why do they assume that every one of those aid organizations is not focused on a particular population and not doing a great job?

Do you give money to panhandlers?
Of course I do. People say, ‘That’s only one person you’re helping.’ But it’s like that littering campaign—imagine what the city would look like if each of us picked up a couple of pieces of litter each time we walked somewhere. Often, to help, we just need to have somebody ask us for help.

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