By: Tom Eremondi
Read time: 3.5 minutes
Admittedly old school, Gerry Ross’ approach to dealing with a local walk sponsor nurtured and enhanced the relationship to a surprising level.
This story, however, dates back about five years ago when the Kingston resident was diagnosed with both bladder and prostate cancer. As he was undergoing treatment, Ross’ daughter participated in the annual Bladder Cancer Canada (BCC) walk in 2016.
“I did my first walk in 2017 and every walk since,” Ross says, noting his deep motivation. “I wanted to save lives because I know how close I came. I find the work to be really rewarding.”
Initially serving as a community ambassador for BCC, Ross took on the role of seeing that the organization’s publications were present in medical offices. Wanting to create a way of tapping into the 25,000-student population at Kingston’s Queen’s University, his efforts led to the creation of an on-campus club.
In addition to supporting Canadians facing bladder cancer, “BCC’s mission is to raise awareness of the disease and fund research,” Ross adds, saying he took that mission to the business community in Kingston. “I began meeting with companies and sharing the need for them to support the walk and, in turn, bladder cancer patients. I see it as a two-way collaboration where we can help them and they can support BCC’s mission.”
His drive to succeed resulted in many in-kind and cash sponsors. It also led to the beginning of what would be a beautiful friendship with one particular business. “Everyday on my way to work, I drive by the headquarters of Empire Life, so they were always in my mind for me to contact them.”
An initial email led to an invitation to meet with Empire Life’s community team. “I met with a VP and one of her team members. I introduced them to Bladder Cancer Canada and explained how it fit with their plans.”
This personal touch impressed Empire Life. “When we first met Gerry, we had the pleasure to meet in person (before COVID!). You could see his passion for the organization,” says Nickolas Kukucska, communication specialist with the company. “When you meet anyone advocating for an organization like Bladder Cancer Canada, in particular a survivor, their story pulls you in and makes it easy to support the cause. You could tell Gerry was working hard towards reaching the fundraising goal, with the best intentions.”
Empire Life’s decision to support, even though the company receives numerous similar requests, was again driven by Ross’ personal touch, Kukucska adds. “After we met Gerry, our team discussed his proposal, looked at the options he provided and decided to support the event. You could say all of his ducks were in a row and fit within our budget, so we were happy to sponsor the Bladder Canner Canada Awareness Walk.”
The ensuing relationship between Ross and Empire Life blossomed. The company initially joined as a walk sponsor in 2018, tripling its sponsorship in 2019, and then becoming both a local and national sponsor for 2020’s virtual walk, leading to a deeper and more substantial financial commitment. “That almost brought tears to my eyes,” says Ross of the increased involvement. “It was really rewarding and fulfilling to see how the sponsorship had grown.”
“We originally agreed to support the event in 2020, before the pandemic hit,” Kukucska says. “It was a difficult year for us to plan our charitable donations and sponsorships with so many cancellations and uncertainty. When the decision was made by Bladder Cancer Canada to proceed with a virtual walk, we were excited and on board with the event at the agreed upon sponsorship.
“We could see from the success of the local event how well-organized it was, how passionate its supporters were and how important stewarding a good donor relationship was to the larger organization.”
Ross plans to do even more once he retires this July and will use the Empire Life success as a template. “I started with email but the key was that the rest of the relationship was on a personal level. Email gets things rolling but reaching out to make personal connections through phone calls or virtual meetings (given COVID) are much more rewarding and crucial to maintaining relationships.”
Providing a few key pieces of literature is also beneficial, notably the BCC Patient Guide. Another important action is also to make sure to personally thank each sponsor. “
Bladder Cancer Canada is currently looking for national and local sponsors for our 2021 virtual awareness walk across Canada. If you are interested in sponsoring this event, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Eremondi is a bladder cancer survivor and Saskatoon-based volunteer for Bladder Cancer Canada.