The Terry Fox Foundation's mission is to maintain the vision and principles of Terry Fox while raising money for cancer research through the annual Terry Fox Run (or “the Run”) and National School Run Day, as well as via memoriam donations and planned gifts. In accordance with Fox’s wishes, all monies raised in his name are to be used strictly for cancer research.
Fox set out on his Marathon of Hope on April 12, 1980, with a goal to raise $1 million for cancer research. He lost his right leg to cancer, and after witnessing the suffering caused by the disease, particularly in children, he decided to run across Canada. Fox's journey began quietly in St. John's, Newfoundland. When the citizens of Port aux Basques, Newfoundland, raised more than $1 for every resident, his goal grew to raising $24 million — $1 from every Canadian. When Terry reached the Ontario border, his story became national news, and the fundraising exploded.
On Sept. 1, 1980, just outside Thunder Bay, Ontario, the country was shocked to hear that the cancer had spread to his lungs and Fox had to stop his journey. Terry died in June 1981, but before he did, Isadore Sharp, founder of the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, promised him that there would be an annual run in Fox's name to carry on what he had started. Fox gave a legacy that has resulted in more than $550 million worldwide raised for cancer research in his name. In 1988, the Terry Fox Foundation was established to carry on working toward Fox's goal of a cancer-free world.
FundRaising Success: How do you fund your mission?
Brett Kohli: We fund our mission almost entirely from an annual Terry Fox Run in almost 800 communities and 8,500 schools across Canada. In addition, runs take place in more than 30 countries, where funds raised support cancer research in the host country.
FS: What are the biggest challenges your organization faces as far as fundraising is concerned? How do you overcome them?
BK: The biggest challenge is the increasingly crowded charity event space, which has changed significantly since the Terry Fox Run first began. We stay true to the principles that have guided Terry's family and the foundation for 30 years.
FS: How would you describe your fundraising philosophy?
BK: Grassroots. We have no corporate sponsorship. Let Terry's story continue to inspire participation and support.
FS: How do you reach out to supporters and potential supporters in ways other than purely fundraising? Are you engaged with social media?
BK: We revamped our website last year to make it more engaging and are looking to continue that process. We engaged in social media in the spring of 2010 and have almost 15,000 Facebook friends. We also work with Twitter to a lesser degree.
FS: Can you describe a recent successful fundraising effort and discuss the increased media attention from the 30th anniversary of the Marathon of Hope?
BK: We changed our online registration/donation platform last year and saw an increase in online activity of over 60 percent. We continue to communicate the benefits of online donations to our supporters and encourage them to utilize the technology, including the interface with supporter social-media platforms like Facebook. Last year marked the 30th anniversary of Terry's Marathon of Hope, so there was increased media interest from that mere fact. Events starting in April and through to September drew media attention that helped build momentum for the runs in September.
FS: Any major difficulties or setbacks you've faced along the way? Things you would do differently with your fundraising?
BK: There are always challenges, but they haven't changed the way the Terry Fox Run in communities and schools has been held over the years.
FS: What advice would you give to organizations similar to yours?
BK: Stay focused, yet be flexible to adjust to an ever-changing environment.