Working within a charity is often draining and difficult if you are on the fundraising team. Dollars are difficult to come by, as lots of other worthy charities are asking for help at the same time. It is a non-stop song of need being sung, usually quietly, in the background of everyday life. Mailers, door hangers, kettles, and emails, all asking for the same thing: help us help others.
A fundraiser spends their days asking for money, trying to sell intangible hope and a vision of a better world to a modern society more geared to the acquisition of physical things. The people who “buy” and become donors are those who recognize and believe in the wrongs that the charity is trying to right. Fundraisers usually breathe a huge sigh of relief and express thankfulness when someone from the community steps up and says, “Let me help you carry that burden for a bit. I’ll go out and raise some money for you.” These people are rare and they are precious.
This is why it is so heartbreakingly unbelievable what has happened to Elisha Banks. The newsroom at CKXS in Wallaceburg published a story, yesterday, March 5th. Elisha is a local woman who in the past had suffered mental illness and received treatment at CKHA in their mental health unit. She saw that some of the patients were homeless, others never had visitors show up and were on their own. Many of them didn’t have the basic necessities with them, like deodorant or toothpaste, and no one to bring the items to them. The nurses would often give out some of the supplies where they saw a need. Elisha asked about this.
She was told that the unit relied on donations from the community. When those ran out, often the staff would take turns purchasing some of the supplies and paying for them out of pocket.
This didn’t seem right to Elisha. The staff shouldn’t be paying out of pocket to provide for what was clearly the needs of certain patients. What became clear to her was that the staff was doing it because they truly wanted their patients to have what they needed.
So did Elisha. She decided to raise the money herself and donate it to the Mental Health Unit for that purpose. After speaking with some local charities, she finally decided that the CKHA Foundation, the group that does the fundraising in the community, would be the best fit to work with.
Elisha created Music for the Mind. The Facebook page promotes it as a live music event with all the proceeds donated “to the unit so the nurses can provide essential items such as toothpaste, deodorant, clothing, etc., to the patients.” She went on local radio, was all over social media, and was interviewed by local newspapers. The whole time, her message was clear. All she wanted to do was raise money, give it to CKHA, have them buy basic necessities to give to mental health patients.
The important part of this story is how clearly Elisha stated her goals in a variety of media.
A quick google search finds a number of articles about her event from 2019 onwards, including one that The Chatham Daily News wrote in 2020. The article, like the others, reiterates her intent that the event intends to raise funds “for the inpatient mental health unit at the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance. All proceeds will be donated to the unit so nurses can provide essential items, such as toothpaste, deodorant and clothing, to the patients.”
Imagine her surprise when she found out a few months ago that all the money she had raised, $91,765, was sitting in the CKHA Foundation’s account not being used at all. The Foundation states that their system is one where they hold onto donations until the hospital asks for them. CKHA Administration now says that they couldn’t use donations like Elisha’s because it violates their spending rules.
Chatham is a small town. People know each other. People talk. Everyone involved with Music for the Mind knew why and what she was doing. She was all over local media for years. It is absolutely inconceivable that the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance Foundation was not fully aware of what she wanted to accomplish, and also knew that to do that through them would be, at best, difficult.
Yet they accepted one cheque from her, and when that money wasn’t used as she intended, they accepted a second. Shameful.
Both the Foundation and the Hospital itself are bound by rules that prevent them from addressing, publicly, how this happened. Donor privacy is a real and important thing. For a publicly funded institution like CKHA, procedures around receiving and spending money are tightly regulated.
But it also begs the question, “what is the procedure the CKHA Foundation follows around guiding a donor to achieve their goals?” Elisha tells The Candid Badger, “from the very first day that I went to the Foundation in 2019, I told them the purpose of the fundraiser was to raise money for the supplies. I was communicating that clearly and transparently on social media, in the newspapers and on the radio. At the time, I had a lot of trust in them and I knew they knew the purpose. I trusted they would use the money for the supplies as I had asked. I mean if a donor can’t trust the Foundation and the hospital to do the right and ethical thing with the money they donate, then something is seriously wrong with the system.”
As the charity experts, the Foundation is morally responsible for making sure donors with a specific goal in mind understand the process by providing clarity on how the donor’s end goals will be fulfilled. With all the publicity and transparency around the purpose of Music for the Mind, it is inexcusable that no one within the CKHA Foundation questioned if they were the right fit for this type of donation.
It is really very simple. If you don’t do pass-through donations, and the recipient can’t use the funds as intended, you don’t take the cheque. The fact that CKHA says they can’t use donated funds to purchase those types of supplies tells you that either someone didn’t do their job or lacks integrity.
If no one from the CKHA Foundation asked the CKHA administration, “hey can we do this?” that’s bad fundraising. If someone did ask the administration and still accepted the donation knowing they couldn’t fulfill Elisha’s wishes, well, that’s just wrong.
Elisha certainly did her part to communicate her intent. “I could not have been more transparent and clear about the purpose. It is all over Facebook, in newspapers, on Instagram, and I spoke on the radio.” If they knew what she wanted to do and didn’t care because it would help them get closer to their fundraising goal, that’s despicable.
Elisha is a community hero. One of the rare people who saw a societal problem, and decided to attack from a place of love. She struggled in the depths of mental illness, recognized a need and then built an event that raised tens of thousands of dollars. She gave the money with all good intentions to an organization that she had every reason to believe would get it where it needed to go.
And then…they didn’t. Instead, nearly $92,000 languishes in the foundation’s bank account, untouched and unused. To see that as the result of her hard work is heart-wrenching. “I will be honest,” she says. “The past seven months learning the truth and seeing everything I built over the past 2 years fall apart–finding out not a dime of the money raised had been spent, having to fight the foundation and hospital administration, and having to walk away from my fundraiser–it all took a big toll on my mental health. I have not recovered from it yet.”