The Lake of the Woods District Hospital Foundation is the nonprofit arm of the Lake of the Woods District Hospital. Located in Kenora, Ontario, it serves approximately 15,000 residents and has a catchment area of about 50,000 individuals.
Jess Rheault was the Executive Director of the Foundation. She grew up in the same city where the hospital is located. However, like many others in the area, she was unaware of the hospital’s Foundation. It was only after some encouragement from a family member that Jess decided to apply for the Executive Director role—this was over a decade ago in 2009. At the time, there were two main goals that motivated her: one, to raise awareness for the Foundation and its purpose, and two, to convert the nonprofit into one that was most talked about in the community.
Starting off strong with the Foundation’s fundraising efforts
When Jess started her role as Executive Director, the Foundation was generating $400,000 in annual donations for the hospital. Her strategy over the next decade included a mix of in-person events and social media outreach that led her and her team to generate over $1 million in annual donations. These in-person events ranged from Christmas campaigns and golf tournaments to annual galas that were well-attended by the community.
The foundation was poised to continue this success in 2020 when COVID-19 hit.
Pivoting during the pandemic
The Foundation, like so many businesses, had to pivot amid the pandemic. They were at risk of losing 50% (or approximately $500,000) of their donations from in-person events. These funds were slated to be used for a new hospital and for hospital equipment purchases. Working from her home office, Jess had just completed a call with her team on alternative options to meet their fundraising goals when she received a cold email from Nate Palango at Ascend introducing their 100% online 50/50 fundraising platform and program.
The timing was perfect. Jess had always wanted to run an online progressive 50/50 raffle. She had seen the success of these programs across the border in Manitoba. But when she last looked, they were not permitted in Ontario. Right off the bat, Nate explained that the Ontario legislation had changed and assured Jess and her team that Ascend could provide and assist them with everything they would need to quickly launch and run a 50/50 program.
With a supportive partner like Ascend, Jess felt confident to go all in.
“The 50/50 program really has become our silver lining of COVID because so much of our effort and fundraising was event-driven, and we had to cancel them all. Redeploying those same efforts to the online 50/50 program gave us the opportunity to really roll things out properly and put the time and energy in to have the success that we’ve had.”
Setting the stage (and expectations) for the Foundation’s first-ever online 50/50
Jess and her team quickly got to work. Andi Scheibler, the Foundation’s Development Coordinator who was responsible for the in-person events, ran point on the online 50/50 raffle program. Andi had no prior experience running an online 50/50 fundraising program but was experienced with donor emails and social promotions—and that sufficed. Jonathan, their dedicated Ascend Success Manager ensured that Andi had access to Ascend’s best marketing and creative practices for running a top performing 50/50 program so they could go-to-market quickly.
With their license in place and their launch program and 50/50 dedicated website built, Jess, her team, and Ascend were all set to launch.
Jess approached the 50/50 with cautious optimism and was hoping for a reasonable return. Jonathan felt confident that she was going to do better than just “reasonable”. Jess was however fully committed to the program’s success and told the board that in due course the 50/50 would be a six-figure revenue stream for the Foundation on an annual basis. Little did she know that they would hit the six-figure milestone by month two!
Unlocking the full potential of the 50/50 campaign
Jess and her team were relentless in sending out regular emails with updates on the jackpot and encouraging people to donate. In the last 30 hours of the December 2020 raffle, these efforts resulted in a $100,000 increase in the jackpot as the raffle drew to a close. Additionally, their emails were filled with positive messages which ensured little-to-no opt-outs, driving increased engagement and ticket purchases after each communication.
The team’s tireless and creative promotion of the program via email and social media delivered results that did not disappoint Jess and generated a whopping $106,935 in gross sales from just the first campaign in August 2020—that was 10% of what they typically achieved over a year from traditional programs!
And they were just getting started.
With coaching and guidance from Ascend, Jess knew that if they kept at it, the program would build—and that’s exactly what happened. They continued to run the program and aggressively promote it each month. In the fourth month, they had grossed over $170K and by the fifth and sixth months, they surpassed $300K in donations, hitting $400K in December.
Their efforts and the success of the ongoing 50/50 raffles were evident across the board: the Foundation’s Facebook page Likes grew from 1,600 to over 4,000 and impressively, the campaign also increased their email database. They witnessed a 5,500% growth—from 250 emails pre-launch to over 14,000 today.
An online 50/50 program: The catalyst that doubled donations, engaged the community, and changed lives
To the team’s delight, The 50/50 program didn’t just meet their goals but crushed them and put them on pace to generate $1.5 million in annual gross revenue.
While the numbers show the clear success of the program, there were also countless positive effects on the community that can’t be measured. It engaged the community to come together in a fun and rewarding way and has benefitted both community members and Jess’ team.
Previous fundraising efforts required community members to attend events, but the 50/50 opened the door for new members to participate online. Rather than having to make a large donation, community members could now contribute to fundraising with a $20 ticket purchase which gave them the opportunity to have their lives changed with a $90,000 jackpot on an average.
The growth and popularity of the 50/50 also engaged young members of the community in a special way. “Now that we’ve become the foundation or the charity that everyone talks about, about a handful of times a year, we get kids coming in with their birthday money or they set up a little lemonade stand. We make sure that we celebrate all of them and use our social media to make them feel important because they’re all part of the same community. That’s how it works and that’s how we make change,” says Jess.
Finally, the 50/50 has changed Jess and her team’s job for the better, too. Through her role, Jess celebrates that she has had the opportunity to meet so many genuinely, kind-hearted people. She also loves giving out the 50/50 winnings.
“Once a month, we get to call someone and change someone’s life,” says Jess. “What we’re raising is almost secondary because that’s not what’s getting us excited. It’s that we’re changing someone’s life.”
Summarizing success with the 50/50 program
Looking at the results to date, Jess has now made the monthly online 50/50 program a regular feature of her fundraising initiatives and is expecting it to generate $1.5 million annually in gross revenue. Combined with the Foundation’s traditional in-person events, the online 50/50 program has a majority stake in driving the revenues up to over $2.5 million annually (a solid 150% increase over the $1 million they generated pre-pandemic).
By continuing to incorporate a monthly 50/50 into their fundraising strategy, the Lake of the Woods District Hospital Foundation hopes to change lives in the hospital and community for years to come.