UPDATED: Canadian Cancer Society to close Ladysmith office March 31

The Ladysmith office is one of three Canadian Cancer Society offices slated for closure in the B.C.-Yukon region this spring.

The B.C. and Yukon division of the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) has decided to close its Ladysmith office effective March 31, leaving the office’s volunteer staff scratching their heads as to how logical a decision that might be.

Janice Grinnell said she’s volunteered with the local CCS office for the last 19 years. She now serves as its president. Her husband Don has served as treasurer for seven years. The Grinnells said the CCS will save no more than $5,500 per year by closing the Ladysmith office, a sum readily offset by the value of donations the society will lose without volunteers on staff to receive donations in person or to organize local fundraising ventures.

The Ladysmith CCS office processed close to $69,000 in 2012, Don said.

According to Peter Kingston, the vice-president of operations for the CCS B.C. and Yukon division, this represents revenue generated by volunteers working in the community, not just out of the unit office, as well as CCS staff in the Vancouver Island regional office, supported by the division office in Vancouver.

“This revenue is produced by many project teams, spanning a geographic area beyond the boundaries of Ladysmith, and is not necessarily dependent on having a physical office location, which incurs rent expenses in addition to other district-wide expenses,” he said, adding the lease for the Ladysmith office is approximately $5,000 annually, but there are more costs that make up running any office across the division.

Volunteer staff at the Ladysmith CCS office — Don and Janice included —learned of the impending closure Monday, Jan. 28, one week prior to World Cancer Day. CCS administrators, including regional director Kathy Ilott and Kingston advised volunteer staff of the closure in person.

Ilott and Kingston advised the volunteers that local donors would be able to continue to donate in person by visiting the CCS’s Nanaimo office, Don said, or donate by phone or online.

In a letter addressed to Barbara Kaminsky, CEO of the CCS B.C. and Yukon division, Don protests the closing of the Ladysmith and Qualicum/Parksville  offices — the CCS’s Qualicum Beach and Whitehorse, Yukon offices are also slated for closure —reminding Kaminsky that the Ladysmith office was founded in 1946.

Don challenges the suggestion that donations be submitted at the Nanaimo office or online, advising Kaminsky that “the idea of online donations is completely foreign to most seniors” and that most donations submitted in-memory-of are “made by seniors who will not be able or inclined to travel to Nanaimo.”

In addition, Don suggests in the letter that the CCS revise its mission statement and substitute “volunteers” with “paid employees” —the CCS refers to itself on its website and in its mission statement as “a national, community-based organization of volunteers” —now that it’s advising the public to channel their generosity and services through offices staffed by paid employees rather than volunteer-run offices.

A look at the CCS B.C. and Yukon division’s T3010 return for 2012 reveals that it spent more than a third of its revenue on compensation for employees.

The organization reported $39.04 million in revenue and close to $31 million in expenses for 2012. Thirty-four per cent of its expenses was spent on fundraising (the BC Cancer Foundation and the Terry Fox Foundation spent a respective 28 and 14 per cent on fundraising in 2012). CCS employed 144 full-time employees and 133 part-time employees, dispensing $14.47 million in “total compensation for all positions” (37 per cent of total revenue) and an additional $1.98 million in “professional and consulting fees.”

In response to research conducted by Charity Intelligence Canada and published by the Vancouver Sun on Dec. 1, 2012, the CCS stated that average compensation for full-time employees was $78,854 in 2012. Their top 10 earners received a minimum combined total of $1.38 million in compensation in 2012.

It remains to be seen how much revenue the CCS will lose by closing its Ladysmith office, but a number of volunteers and donors have already decided to direct their service hours and donations to other charities.

Bill Rathlef said he’s donated more than $17,000 to the CCS via its Ladysmith office since 2001. Rathlef grows Christmas trees that he sells to the public every year, donating the proceeds to the CCS. Now that his local CCS office is closing, however, he says he’ll look elsewhere.

“Because it’s not local and I haven’t got my community contact,” Rathlef said, “I’ll find another charity.”

Nel Ford volunteered for the CCS’s door-to-door fundraising campaign last year, singlehandedly raising $1,800. Ford said she’ll continue to volunteer in the community because she enjoys working with seniors, but she will no longer consider working with CCS an option.

The Grinnells referenced another unnamed donor who walked in the door last Thursday with a $500 donation in hand. After learning of the office’s closure, he vowed to take his donation elsewhere.

Regarding the relationship between volunteers at Ladysmith’s CCS office and the community, Janice Grinnell said the closure shows a disregard for the services rendered by service members.

“You don’t know how many volunteer hours it takes to make this happen,” Janice said, “and how many years it takes to put it together — to become that family friend.”

Kingston said the volunteer-run office would be closed for budgetary reasons, enabling the CCS “to continue to use our donor dollars to deliver our mission rather than continuing to spend it on additional rent space.”

Kingston said he informed volunteers of the planned closure Monday, Jan. 28, adding that “they were somewhat disappointed” by the news.

The Ladysmith office receives no more than a handful of visitors on any given day, Kingston said. As a result, office hours are limited to three hours a day, five days a week.

CCS offices traditionally served as an interface with the community, Kingston said, offering information and collecting donations from members of the public, but with the majority of the public now accessing CCS services through its website and by phone, foot traffic passing through smaller offices has been reduced to a “very small flow.”

Closing the Ladysmith office will not have an impact on services provided by the CCS to the public or the community, Kingston said.

“Most of our work is not delivered through [local] offices,” Kingston said. “Most of our work is involved in research and prevention initiatives and delivering services such as online and telephone information service.”

Other services provided by the CCS in British Columbia include volunteer driver programs and Camp Good Times, Kingston said, but “those things are typically organized by telephone. They don’t depend upon somebody walking into an office location.”

Volunteers with the Ladysmith office have been invited to continue supporting the CCS through its office in Nanaimo or by other means, Kingston said.

For more information on the CCS, phone 1-888-939-3333.

T3010 returns for registered charities are available free of charge through the Canada Revenue Agency’s website.