The Columbia Memorial Hospital Foundation in Astoria raised a record-breaking $241,000 last month at the Columbia Invitational Golf Tournament. CRBJ's Joanne Rideout met with the foundation's Executive Director Janet Niemi, to learn how the organization achieved such phenomenal success.

How long has the hospital foundation been in existence?

It was started in the early 1990s, by a group of concerned citizens, to respond to declining hospital reimbursements and the increased costs of health care. They got 501(c)3 status in 1995.

How many fundraising events do you sponsor annually, and what are they?

We do two: the Columbia Invitational Golf Tournament and A Night at Old St. Andrews.

The Invitational is actually two fundraisers in one; a golf tournament followed by a dinner and auction.

We're in the process of changing our second fundraiser. For the last several years it's been a Monte Carlo night. Now we're planning a 1940s WWII-type gala with vintage aircraft, held in an airplane hangar out in Svensen. It will have a big band sound, and it should be fun.

Can you describe the fundraising process for an event?

There needs to be one person with a vision of the event - that's what I do.

Then you go through it in your mind as though it were actually happening. You make an event timeline, moment by moment.

You think of what you need to do to get to that moment, and you back it out. Separate it into various tasks, organize committees, and ask people to chair.

In our case, we have a very dedicated, hard working board of directors who chair the committees.

Colleen Henderson, my associate, manages all the information.

Communication is a big part of it. Don't leave anything to chance. There will always be something going wrong at the last minute, no matter how hard you plan. It boils down to organization. It's a lot of work.

What role do board members and committees play in the fundraising process?

We have three or four standing committees that work on various aspects of fundraising. They meet on a monthly basis.

We're constantly thinking about how we're going to fund our next project. That's our mission - to provide resources for Columbia Memorial.

For example, during the Night at Old St. Andrews event, part of the auction was what we call "Fund A Need."

Because board members cultivated relationships with people, invited them to come to the event and let them know about what we were raising money for, we raised $70,000 that night just for the digital mammography system.

How many volunteers and volunteer hours go into putting on an event?

We have 20 board members. They are a governing board, but they also wear a volunteer hat. If a nonprofit needs to raise funds, board members need to pitch in and do everything from menial tasks to getting up and speaking in front of a group.

As far as other volunteers, we have many, many outside people helping. I'm going to guess about another 30 or 40 people at least. I'd estimate about 500 volunteer hours go into an event, but that's probably an underestimate.

What's the strategy to encourage businesses to donate a high-priced item?

I think a business gets a lot of publicity from donating something like that. For example, let's use a piece of jewelry. People see that it's a beautiful item, and the next time they need jewelry, maybe they'll go to that business.

How would you characterize the people who contribute to the foundation?

It's across the board. We have the sweet, elderly lady who donates $10, and we have people at the Fund A Need who raise their paddle for $5,000.

We greatly appreciate every penny that's donated, because we know it's relative. The person who sends us a check for $10 - that might mean as much to them in terms of their income as the person who gave us $5,000.

I think the community believes in the hospital and demonstrates that with its support.

How much does the foundation raise annually?

About $350,000.

What will the golf tournament monies be used for? What other hospital equipment and or projects have been paid for with funds raised by the foundation?

Some of the money will be used for the digital mammography system. That's our focus this year; it costs about half a million dollars and the foundation has committed to fund $300,000 of that. Besides the fundraiser, we're also pursuing grant proposals.

Other projects we support are ongoing: diabetes support and hospice, for instance.

We've also put an obstetrical/surgical suite into the maternity department, and funded a trauma system upgrade and an emergency room remodel. We put in the healing garden at the hospital; it's a meditative, quiet place for staff and patients.

How has the addition of a web site aided your fundraising efforts?

It makes a big difference. It raises your visibility and credibility. We have our values, our vision and past projects profiled there, along with a direct link to the hospital's website and vice versa. We recently added online donation capability.

What advice would you give to other non-profits attempting to raise money in Astoria?

Events don't have to be big to start with. The idea is to get people there to have fun and have a good time. Then you can tell them about what you're doing.

That builds momentum, and pretty soon a non-profit could be making as much money as we do.

We've gone from netting $15,000 in the year 2000 to netting $200,000. I've had great help from the staff and the board.

I would

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