Saturday's fourth annual Wined Up for Whistler Search and Rescue was an unparalleled success, raising approximately $21,000 well above last year's total of $16,000 and the previous years totals of $12,000 and $8,000.
Whether it was the words of Sam Black, the SFU philosophy professor who was found by search and rescue volunteers in August after being stranded in the Brandywine area for six days, or just the understanding that anyone who skis, bikes, hikes or plays in Whistler is a potential candidate for the services of search and rescue, people recognized the need and responded. And it wasnt just Whistler people; individuals and businesses from the Lower Mainland, Seattle, Oregon and California's Napa Valley donated to the cause.
As Black and several other people at the Wined Up could tell you, the importance of Whistler Search and Rescue is inversely proportional to the organization's funding. It receives no government money, other than per diem meal allowances during actual searches. All of the $35,000-$40,000 it costs to operate Whistler Search and Rescue on an annual basis is realized through fundraising. And, of course, it is a volunteer organization. When search and rescue personnel are called out they have to take time off work.
For all these reasons, people were happy to support the Wined Up on Saturday just as they have supported WAG, the library, the museum, the health care centre, AWARE, the arts council, sports clubs and school programs over the years.
But the list of worthy causes needing funds is getting longer, rather than shorter. And donor fatigue is becoming a danger.
Of course this was recognized some years ago, and led to the three largest umbrella foundations in Whistler: the Association of Whistler Realtors Festival of Lights, the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation, and the Community Foundation of Whistler. The first two raise tens of thousands of dollars annually, which are distributed to worthwhile organizations and causes throughout the corridor. The CFOW, which operates under different laws governing charitable organizations, takes a longer-term approach, providing a variety of annual grants based on the interest from investments.
Whistler is generally viewed as a "wealthy" town and therefore many feel it should be able to support the various charities and causes that need funds, in Whistler and other parts of the corridor. Moreover, Whistler has opportunities that dont come to most towns of 10,000 people. An example was Team Canada holding its training camp in Whistler prior to the 1996 World Cup of hockey. Autographed equipment donated by the hockey players raised a lot of money at an auction, which went to minor hockey programs throughout the corridor.
And it is not just the permanent population of 10,000 that is contributing to fundraising, but also second homeowners and companies that do business in Whistler. These factors, combined with the opportunities for corporate and government money associated with the Olympics, place Whistler in an enviable position.
But there is not a bottomless well of funds, in Whistler or anywhere else. The failed library/museum campaign showed that fundraising even for facilities and services the community strongly supports has its limits. While there is no doubt the campaign was launched just as the economy nose-dived, it would be shortsighted to use that as an excuse. On a much different scale, but at approximately the same time and in the same economic climate, the University of Washington set an ambitious goal to become one of the leading universities in the world, and decided it needed to raise more than $1 billion to achieve that. It is well on its way to that goal.
There are many fundraising needs locally: for one-time capital projects; to cover an organization's operating costs; for foundations or causes; and for special cases, such as the evenings frequently hosted by clubs and restaurants to help out individuals. Some of this fundraising will always be needed.
But permanent funding solutions should be found for some of the groups like Whistler Search and Rescue that currently rely on fundraising to stay afloat. That would mean a tax of some kind, and of course there is only one source of tax funds. But it could be a tax directed at the user, rather than the general public.
And, ultimately, the source of tax funds is the same source that is giving to a myriad of fundraising events now.