The business of charity is evolving

The Cranbrook and District Community Foundation balances business and philanthropy as it supports local non-profits

The Cranbrook and District Community Foundation balances business and philanthropy  as it supports local non-profits

Cranbrook and District Community Foundation executive director Riley Wilcox loves her work with the foundation. — Robert Hawkins photo

The Cranbrook and District Community Foundation (CDCF) is living proof that business and philanthropy make good partners.

The CDCF, which employs basic business concepts to ensure a sustainable source of funding for local non-profit organizations, believes that charities can be both business partners and community leaders.

The foundation has 16 funds in endowment worth over $1.4 million and assets of more than $2.2 million. In 2015, the CDCF will return more than $35,000 to local non-profit groups serving the community; it has given more than $368,000 to the community since its inception in 2004.

Kootenay Business caught up with CDCF executive director Riley Wilcox for a chat about her role with the foundation and how she personally gives back.

Could you explain how the CDCF operates?

We bring donors to the table as community builders, working closely with them to align their philanthropic vision with the community's needs. It's a highly personal and professional process that accommodates a wide variety of assets and offers individuals, companies and families an opportunity to support causes close to their heart while maximizing their tax advantage.

Tell us a bit about your own background.

My background experience is mainly in the non-profit sector.  My first management position was as apartment building manager in downtown Prince George.  It was there I learned about working with vulnerable populations. That job really opened my eyes and steered me toward work in the non-profit sector. Initially I worked with youth at risk in Prince George. I operated a community house in one of the toughest neighbourhoods in the city. It was normal to have police chasing suspects through the neighbourhood while shepherding kids to the local gymnasium for basketball games.

Working with youth there was very rewarding; it taught me about the strength people have in the face of adversity. It also taught me to be economical in my planning. Our budget was always tight, yet we strived for and were able to give youth a great community experience: teaching them how to use public transit, cook for themselves, plan and complete homework assignments. Additionally we were always planning low- or no-cost access to arts facilities, recreation centres and public performances.

What was your first job and what did you learn from it?

My first job was in Grade 9 as a ski instructor at Fernie Alpine Resort.  That job taught me a lot about effective planning and customer service.  It also was very rewarding to work with people who were wanting to try something new. 

Who has inspired you?

I am blessed to have a few key role models in my life.  At Fernie Alpine Resort I was inspired by the owner, Heiko Socher.  By example Heiko taught all of us that no task was out of your job description.  After thoughtfully managing a world-class resort, Heiko could be seen walking the mountain picking up litter to ensure the pristine mountain remained just that.  Years later a good friend and mentor verbalized that phrase to me—“Don’t step over garbage”—and it was an excellent reminder to leave no task unfinished and to give all you have to ensure a thorough job has been done.  Another important influence are the people I have been fortunate to serve—the most significant being the people I was able to serve as a community development worker.  Their ability to develop resources, network within their environment and help others when they themselves are in need is truly inspiring.

What's the most satisfying aspect of your work with CDCF?

The most satisfying aspect of working with CDCF is the depth and variety of work we do in the community to support local non-profits develop sustainability. As a community foundation we serve all areas of the sector including health and social service, sports and recreation, the environment, arts and culture, and seniors. It is the collective impact of those organizations that breathe life and give vitality to our community. For example, we fund a program that provides supports to seniors so they can live at home longer. The specific program brings seniors together for socialization, sharing of resources and a meal.  It was at a visit to that program that a woman looked at me and communicated that this was the first time in two and a half years she was eating someone else’s cooking. Her words were a stark reminder that a sense of belonging in one’s community prevents isolation, increases supports and ultimately improves people’s health outcomes.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

Developing donor relations and increasing endowment funds are always top priorities. A typical day for me involves working with a variety of community development opportunities.  We have an active local media profile that is kept current.  CDCF participates in the Cranbrook Poverty Reduction Committee and Social Planning Council. We take an active role with the committee, presenting at municipal and provincial forums. We are a member of the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce and keep up-to-date with the many opportunities they provide the local and regional communities. CDCF also collaborates with non-profits to provide them with professional development opportunities that are affordable and relevant to their daily operations. CDCF is a partner with the Salvation Army to raise funds for a homeless shelter. Recently our operations have expanded to the Elk Valley and a community affiliate fund has been initiated for granting to Fernie charitable organizations. In November CDCF will co-ordinate Minerals South 2015, a mining and exploration conference hosted by the East Kootenay Chamber of Mines. 

Do you have any advice for businesses on how to decide which charitable cause they'd like to support?

The first step is to learn about your co-workers and employees. What type of interests do they already have in the community? Where do they volunteer? When they choose to give, what organizations do they choose to give to? That will provide a basis for understanding and will only serve to maximize community impact from their contributions.  At CDCF we hold funds for many organizations—Symphony of the Kootenays, Friends of Fort Steele and East Kootenay Foundation for Health, for example. If we currently do not provide direct support to a charity, businesses can set up a donor-directed fund. A donor-directed fund allows for businesses to choose every year where to donate the interest from their fund.

Besides your work with the CDCF, how do you personally give back to your community?

I choose to give back to three groups: Friends of Children East Kootenay Branch, Canadian Ski Patrol and Rotary Club of Cranbrook Sunrise. Friends of Children is a cause near and dear to my heart. It is where I first had an executive director role in Prince George. That charity supports children from birth to age 19 that are in medical need. They do so by providing financial support for travel and accommodations, meals and specialized equipment that is required when a child is in medical crisis.

I am a volunteer patroller at Fernie Alpine Resort, a certified instructor-trainer in mountain first aid and VP of operations for the East Kootenay Zone of the Canadian Ski Patrol.

At Rotary I am currently club secretary and president-elect for 2016/2017. I really enjoy that Rotary allows me to contribute on both a local and global level.

What do you like to do in your downtime?

I love our mountains. If I am not biking the trails, I’m skiing down them. Recently, through my ski patrol experience I have been selected for the medical team during the Lake Louise Alpine Ski World Cup. It may not seem like downtime to some but it really helps me unwind.

Do you have a favourite book or blog you'd recommend everyone should read?

More of a favourite author. I am enjoying reading the works of Canadian First Nations author Joseph Boyden. Also local authors that write about and photograph the history and incredible geography of our area are always on the coffee table at home.

Anything else you'd like our readers to know?

Think about little ways you can give back to your community and then put it into action. Financial contributions are great but it can also be a gift of your time or your talents. These are amazing gifts for non-profits to receive. The smallest of gestures can mean the world of difference to others. Then get out there, share your experience and encourage others to do the same.

Sandra Albers

Since 2007, Sandra has enjoyed hearing about new businesses, expanding businesses and unique businesses, as well as learning more about the long-time successes in the business community of the Kootenays. She writes, as well as copy edits and proofreads, for both magazine and website, and welcomes input from our readers. View all of Sandra Albers’s articles

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