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November 23, 2000



Interns Sharon Pilgrim and Nalini Mohabir.

Interns Sharon Pilgrim and Nalini Mohabir.


by Jane Shulman

Brian McFarlane says the trick to fundraising is simple. “The hardest part of raising money is getting over asking for it,” he said.

McFarlane is working in Tennessee, thanks to Concordia’s Fundraising for Change Internship Program, which helps young activists of colour learn hands-on about the fundraising necessary to keep community organizations running smoothly.

The program began about two years ago as part of the Institute in Management and Community Development run through Concordia’s Continuing Education. McFarlane is the third person taking part in the pilot project of internships at American non-profit organizations. Two other interns worked in Denver last year.

Mireille Landry is coordinator of the Internships in Fundraising for Social Change and the Summer Program at the Institute in Management and Community Development. The Institute hosts a week of training every summer for people at community organizations who focus on community development. Each year, about 1,200 people from across Canada, the US and abroad converge on the Loyola campus for the sessions.

“It’s a chance for people with common interests in developing communities to take a step back, an opportunity for reflection, training and networking,” Landry said.

The internship program was inspired by Kim Klein, a well-known fundraiser who has participated in the Summer Program for six years. “She started as an intern, and she realized through her experience that she could do it.”

One of the internship program’s goals is to promote leadership among young adults. “We know it’s sometimes difficult for young people to find good jobs in community organizations,” Landry explained.

Usually, they do projects rather than steady work, and they’re the first ones out when there’s a financial crunch. This can make it difficult to build expertise. The program aims to bridge the gap between organizations looking for qualified workers and people trying to gain valuable experience.

Each of the interns had experience working with similar organizations to the ones where they were placed. McFarlane, the most recent intern to become involved with the program, has been working in Tennessee since September, and returns to Montreal in a few weeks. When he applied for the program, he worked at Santropol Roulant, a Montreal service that has youth volunteers delivers hot meals to older people in their homes.

McFarlane is placed at Community Shares, an umbrella organization of 40 groups working on policies for environmental protection, including activist lobby groups. “They are groups the United Way [Centraide] doesn’t fund,” McFarlane explained in a phone conversation from Tennessee.

McFarlane is doing donor-based fundraising, which is the key to organizations maintaining their autonomy. He’s writing fundraising letters and learning about workplace campaigns, where people are encouraged to donate part of their paycheque at source.

“We have about 100 different campaigns running right now, at universities, city offices and private businesses,” he said. Developing confidence is the biggest challenge to any fundraiser. “Fundraising is not the most glamorous work, but it’s essential.”

Working within an organization for an extended period of time has helped McFarlane learn the intricacies of the fundraising business. “I’ve learned about the infrastructure of a successful organization,” he said. Behind the scenes, the details of appeals, processing donations and sending out thank-you notes have to be ironed out. “You really need everything in place for things to work.”

McFarlane graduated from McGill with an anthropology degree in 1995, and worked at restaurants in Montreal until he got involved with Santropol Roulant.

“I knew some people there, and I wanted to do something different,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about fundraising before I started working at Santropol, so that made it an exciting opportunity, too.”

Landry says there are plans in the works to expand the program. For the next round of internships, the Institute will ask organizations to recommend potential interns. The Institute is going to focus on placing interns in Ontario and BC.

Landry wants to develop a Canadian network of organizations fundraising for social change, so that groups across the country may learn from each other.