Catherine Nugent: On fundraising and business

On fundraising and business

“I left the beaches of Brazil to go to school in the Maritimes. It was a huge cultural shock for me.

When I came here and married, fundraising was a wonderful way to get into a network of people, because I knew very few people. It was Anna Maria de Souza of Brazilian Ball fame that first got me involved in the opera and the Brazilian Ball–and the rest is history.

You can't do fundraising by yourself. It is all about the people who you have around you and working with you. Everybody has to pull together, otherwise it's not a success. Fundraising is about a lot of people; it is not about one person.

Fundraising is a business, especially now. You have to have people skills, you have to have organizational skills, you have to be able to delegate. You have to keep your finger on as many pulses as you can.

The fundraising community needs the business community very, very much.

Business has been very generous. But it could be more generous if some of the laws were changed from the point of view of tax benefits. I would like to see those laws made a little more relaxed, like the U.S., so that people would be encouraged to give more.

I think [fundraising] is very hard for the business community because they're hit on a lot for money. And when people know a company is generous, they tend to go after it all the time.

We need to draw on all the communities that make up Canada. Since everybody is sharing in the wealth, I think everybody should contribute. We need to access some of the newer groups that are coming into Canada and get them involved in community action.

We all have to start working together. We're starting to a little bit, but I would like to see more.

The people who work the hardest are the people you don't hear about.

I am firmly committed to [Toronto's] Bridgepoint Health right now. Their mission really is to improve life for people living with complex disease and disability. I love the people there, I love the place. I think it needs all the help it can get. I've been humbled and impressed by how the patients handle their lives. With such difficulty in their health, they are amazingly caring human beings. They are fighters–they want to make themselves better, they want to help themselves, to look after themselves.

It is fun to do fundraisers. I love thinking up themes. I love watching them develop. To me it was the whole theatre of fundraising that I always hoped would catch on, so that it would be fun, not just another chore to go to another dinner.

When I was younger, I was very shy. But my mother pointed out that people weren't going to come to me, I had to go to them. So if I wanted any friends, I had to make an effort. I tend to be quite a private person inside.

Canadians are very generous. The Americans are generous, too, but the Canadians are really generous. The Europeans, not so much.

There is a lot of marketing in fundraising. In some ways, it is almost all about marketing–marketing your charity.

Women have raised so much money over the years, for so many causes, and people get the impression that they're not intelligent, or that all they want to do is have fun. That's not true. They are very hard-working and very intelligent, and it annoys me when people put fundraisers down. It makes me angry because so much good is done. I think it should be celebrated, not put down.

I'm amazed at how many young people are into raising money. That's something we didn't do when we were younger, my generation.

To manage a team it takes a certain amount of diplomacy and it takes a certain amount of strength.

To be a good chairman and a good leader, you have to understand a lot about people.

If you've been privileged, it is your responsibility, your duty, to give back.”

Timeline: Catherine Nugent
Toronto, ON
Born 1948 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Fundraiser, mother, socialite

1969: After two years at Mount Allison, graduates from York University with a BA. Soon works as an interpreter for Toronto courts.

1977: Co-chairs the Brazilian Ball with founder Anna Maria de Souza. Co-chairs again in '78 and '84; honorary chair in '94 and '95.

1986: Raises $750,000 for the Canadian Opera Company by bringing Yves Saint Laurent's haute couture show to Toronto.

1990s: Helps fundraise for Inner City Angels, Breast Cancer Foundation, Toronto Symphony, Hospital for Sick Children and others.

2004: Takes up post as major gifts officer at Bridgepoint Health Foundation, an integrated health-care facility in Toronto.