Achieving total access

It's one thing to turn around a deficit-carrying organization; it's another to develop fundraising events that are likened to a Rolling Stones concert. Lynn Haley has done both.

It’s one thing to turn around a deficit-carrying organization; it’s another to develop fundraising events that are likened to a Rolling Stones concert. Lynn Haley has done both.

Thanks to her media savvy, relationship building and event planning skills, she has turned the Canadian Paraplegic Association of New Brunswick (CPA-NB) into a thriving, high-profile part of New Brunswick culture. This has helped the organization stand out in a competitive charitable market toughened by the arrival of previously fully government funded institutions like hospitals and universities.

Among Haley’s most impressive achievements is establishing the association’s four annual events as staples in the New Brunswick social calendar; each rakes in an average of $30,000 (a strong performance in the Fredericton market of just 50,000), and is covered weeks in advance by the local media.

‘Feast in the Field is a really sought-after event – people call to see if I can get them tickets,’ says Jamie Eddy, managing partner at the event’s primary corporate sponsor, law firm Patterson Palmer Law. ‘It’s like a Rolling Stones concert.’

Haley secures prominent local chefs for the outdoor tasting festival. Her primary target is the busy two-income family that doesn’t have much time for socializing or supporting good causes – Haley positions the event as an easy opportunity to do both. Six hundred $40 tickets are sold in advance, and always sell out quickly.

Throughout her 10 years heading the CPA-NB, the 40-year-old has been able to develop solid relationships with high-profile corporate sponsors, including Scotiabank, Air Canada and Molson. Haley ‘connects with people very easily,’ says Eddy. Part of it is she knows the value of timing – she approached Patterson Palmer Law shortly after it set up shop, when she knew it would need exposure.

Perhaps what’s most interesting is that, while Haley is currently completing the University of New Brunswick’s MBA program, until recently her business savvy was simply intuitive. Her educational background includes a bachelor of science degree and a certificate in gerontology. First jobs included stints at rehabilitation centre Southampton House, and the Premier’s Council on the Status of Disabled Persons. She joined the CPA-NB in 1992 as the director of community relations. Within three years, she was promoted to executive director.

One thing Haley has learned at the organization is the importance of leveraging free publicity. ‘When you’re a non-profit, the key issue is: How do we get our message

out without buckets of money to spend

on advertising?’

She has fostered strong relationships with members of the local media; when she has an event to promote, Haley offers up one of her clients to be interviewed. ‘We bring human interest stories to them.’

The press usually takes her bait, and Haley often sends a representative from the CPA-NB to ensure the interviews stay on message.

‘Their ability to get local press is incredible,’ says Steve Grant, marketing professor at the University of New Brunswick. ‘It’s tough out here – there are lots of competing organizations.’

To maintain public support, Haley knows it must be clear how the organization serves the community. Which is why in 2004 she decided to develop a brand-building strategy, and enlisted Grant’s help. ‘When she first approached me, I was thinking why the heck does your organization need a brand-building strategy?’ recalls Grant. ‘She prepared a report, and what she gave me blew me away – I saw the relevance of the branding issues.’

Says Haley: ‘There was a perception that we had a national office that was wealthy.’ In reality, the CPA is a foundation, and each provincial chapter is autonomous.

To make this clear, Haley is renaming CPA-NB the ‘New Brunswick Paraplegic Association,’ and adding a tagline: ‘Achieving Total Access.’ This move addresses both of her biggest challenges: reassuring donors their money stays in the province, and conveying what the organization does. ‘The concept of total access really represents what the CPA is all about – helping people access the support they need, and access employment,’ she says.

Haley’s branding strategy has sparked debate. While many of the provincial chapters see the merit in shifting towards a more local approach, there’s been resistance from the national office. But Haley has the full support of her own board of directors.

‘Lynn is one of those rare people in that she’s competent in all areas,’ says Clive Barrett, VP and past president of the board. He notes that her professional execution of the events has increased the prestige of the organization. ‘She’s amazing.’