“It feels like fraud…”
If the Laurier community demands a lavish ball, like Charity Ball executives claim, then last year they received their wish at the expense of the committee’s final charitable donation.
Despite working with a budget of upwards of $30,000, Charity Ball’s efforts to fundraise for the KidsAbility Foundation last year raised a meager amount: approximately $250.
Laurier business graduate and last year’s Charity Ball sponsorship executive Brieanna Harburn says that she was told that Charity Ball’s contribution this year will be even smaller, at about $200.
After such a small donation, Charity Ball’s spending has come under fire and expenditures have been questioned after such a modest donation was contributed to the charity the committee had decided to support.
“I felt like people donated money and prizes that were supposed to go directly to the charity and it covered things like other expenses that I don’t think were really necessary,” divulges Harburn.
Current students’ union president and 2008-09 vice-president of student activities – the department responsible for overseeing Charity Ball – Laura Sheridan gave insight into the importance of having committees like Charity Ball, despite how much money they raise.
“It’s maybe a lower donation than volunteers were hoping for, but at the same time it’s a donation and Ijust hope that volunteers and students realize that,” said Sheridan.
At great expense
Delving deep into Charity Ball spending releases skeletons in the closet that no one from the union seems to want to discuss. Getting a budget or the committee’s actual expenses proves impossible.
The students’ union would not release any numbers from last year’s budget.
WLUSU vice-president of administration Monika Mistry explains that committees like Charity Ball do not receive funding from the students’ union but work on a zero-based budget where they gain their own revenue.
“All the money that’s raised goes to cover the costs and then it goes to the charity so this means that at the end of the day[the committee] is not costing students anything,” said Mistry.
Though The Cord was unable to obtain a copy of the budget, Charity Ball executives claim their budget was balanced and upheld all year.
Last year’s head co-ordinator DaliahHijazi points out that despite going over-budget on a larger sound system for the rented Bingeman’s hall, the rest of the Charity Ball budget was balanced.
She also maintains that she based her budget off of the previous years’ figures and that in every other area the same amount of money was spent.
Despite these comments, there are numerous situations that have been brought to light where spending by the committee was at times erratic and ad hoc.
“I kind of expressed concern that I didn’t think things like [a chocolate fountain] were necessary especially because I felt like that money was coming directly out of what we could give to the charity,” Harburn explains.
Even more questions loom over the expenditures of last year’s Charity Ball team.
Accusations of mishandling of the budget have included charges of a few nights at Wilf’s and subsidization of clothing.
“We subsidized volunteer wear … and then any other volunteer or committee related activities, like if we went out to Wilf’s for a night,” said Harburn.
Although Charity Ball worked closely with KidsAbility by participating in the foundation’s events, there are still questions being asked regarding how spending got so out of hand that it resulted in such a low monetary donation.
Asif Bacchus, 2008-09 chair of the WLUSU board of directors, recalls discussing the fact that
Charity Ball raised about $200.
“I think we were all surprised at how low [the donation] was, but not shocked,” recalls Bacchus.
“It’s never as much as people think it is.”
Bacchus claims that historically Charity Ball budgets donating somewhere between $2,000 and $2,500 but “it’s actually never that round number that actually goes through.”
Speculation surrounds how much money Charity Ball has historically made.
WLUSU vice-president of administration Monika Mistry cannot access the data of how much Charity Ball has fundraised in the past.
Mistry explains that the students’ union has a new computer program that will eventually allow them to access past charity contributions.
“We just started using it so I’m not familiar with it,” explains Mistry.
In order to cut costs, Jemila Pirbhai, last year’s decorations co-ordinator, stated that she tried to keep her decorations budget down.
“I guess, like, the focus was just to be as cost effective as I could but also not compromise on the vision that we had,” she explains.
The theme of last year’s Charity Ball was Brazilian Amazon/Carnivale. The event included a stage made to look like a float and a backdrop in front of which to take photos.
Awaiting more donations
With a small donation already made to the KidsAbility Foundation, executive director Lisa Talbot says that the foundation is still awaiting funds from Charity Ball.
Talbot feels the Charity Ball executive “worked hard to put on a number of events” at Laurier and the seven girls on the executive had “their hearts are in the right place.”
Talbot has also been notified by WLUSU that KidsAbility should expect another donation.
“We did receive some funds and we are awaiting more funds…. I don’t know the amount,” said Talbot.
The amount is still unknown because, although the Charity Ball budget was completed mid-summer, Hijazi later found a charge wrongly attributed to Charity Ball.
It turns out that a charge meant for Fashion ‘n Motion ended up being charged to Charity Ball, leaving its budget still incomplete as of this week.
Currently, the WLUSU finance department is working to remedy the charges while KidsAbility waits for its second installment of Charity Ball’s donation.
According to Harburn, the amount was $50; this issue has taken WLUSU several months to resolve.
No money, no problem
Coming to the rescue of the Charity Ball executive, Sheridan explains that the committee did a lot with KidsAbility that cannot be quantified in the final donation’s numbers.
Other executives on Charity Ball follow suit and take this stance. Pirbhai explains how Charity Ball volunteers worked hard to help out at KidsAbility events.
“I really thought that we made a connection with the charity. I mean we did a lot of events … our volunteers participated in their events as well. I forget the name of it, but we were at the mall and we were just helping out,” she said.
Mya Wijbenga, the executive in charge of volunteers, agrees with Pirbhai, explaining that the 50 general volunteers and the executive team took a tour of the KidsAbility centre last year.
Wijbenga says that though she was shocked by the low monetary donation given to Charity Ball, she is quick to associate Charity Ball not simply with dollar signs but also with manpower.
A successful alternative
With the current economic downturn, it may seem that charity events are the first to suffer a blow from tightened purse strings.
Last year’s L.U.C.K co-ordinator Lawrence Maclin explains that his committee worked hard to balance their budget and raise money too.
“We reached our goals and exceeded them last year,” explains Maclin. “But more importantly the volunteers … got to really make a difference themselves in the charity.”
L.U.C.K has $15,100 to work with this year, which is less than half of Charity Ball’s $33,800 budget for the 2009-10 year.
L.U.C.K has budgeted a donation of $9,400.
In contrast, Charity Ball has projected a donation of about $2,900.
Despite a significantly smaller budget and though their events are run differently, L.U.C.K has budgeted a donation worth more than three times that of Charity Ball.
Changes for the future
Despite the troubles Charity Ball encountered last year with its final donation, this year’s co-ordinator Claire Petch remains optimistic regarding her plans for a turnaround this year.
“One of our big things is just sticking to budget, that’s going to be a big thing [and] I’ve tried to cut it down a bit this year,” Petch explains.
This year’s decoration budget rests at $4,200, and Petch has pledged to squeeze every penny she can out of that budget.
“One of our biggest things is always decorations so we’re looking into making a lot of our decorations and stuff and using the resources we have here at the school.”
Not only is Petch concentrating on Charity Ball’s expenditures, she is also restructuring some of the committee’s most popular events like Hair for Hope and Ballroom Blitz to focus volunteer attention on marketing and promotions.
Petch says that “making sure that we’re providing activities for students that they’re going to enjoy while raising awareness for our charity,” is her main goal for Charity Ball this year.
Do we need Charity Ball?
Hijazi argues that the Laurier community needs an event like Charity Ball.
“We’re providing students with an environment where they want to get dressed up, where they want to feel like they are a VIP but provide it in a way that they know they’re doing it for charity and that they’re supporting charity.”
Harburn says that those who are part of Charity Ball have forgotten that they are working towards the ends of donating to charity. Instead, she says, they have focused too much on an elegant, entertaining night.
“In general I just feel like the Charity Ball team needs to focus more on the charity.”
This calls into question the literal existence of Charity Ball. If students demand a lavish ball at year-end, should the committee cease to claim it is for charity if their monetary donations are dwindling?
But for some, the prospect of pleasing students is high on the list of priorities.
“We have these great events that we’re running for our students and it’s an extra bonus to be able to offer a donation as well,” said Sheridan.
And despite some individuals’ best efforts, even WLUSU seems to have lost sight of the main goal of committees like Charity Ball and have instead maintained their focus on entertaining a small portion of the Laurier community.
“You ask should they change the format [of Charity Ball], I ask should we have a Charity Ball?” questions Bacchus.
Silent auction surprise
With many expenditures coming under question, perhaps the most worrisome is the disappearance of the funds gained during the ball’s silent auction.
Harburn’s main focus as sponsorship executive was to come up with a package to bring around to businesses to convince them to donate items for the Charity Ball auction.
“The silent auction is … donated materials. Technically all of that should go forward. The one catch is if they go over budget in other areas, so let’s say they under budgeted for food and they ended up having to order more from the caterer, that money will have to come from somewhere,” explains Bacchus.
“It’s kind of disheartening and very disappointing obviously that not even one-tenth of what just the silent auction alone raised isn’t going to our charity,” said Harburn, agreeing with Bacchus that Charity Ball must have gone over their budget if they had to delve into the silent auction funds.
In at least one instance a donation given by a company to be auctioned off was used as a prize for another event.
Two lift tickets for Mt. Tremblant were donated to Charity Ball and were used as prizes for the individual who raised the most money at Luminera, one of Charity Ball’s annual fundraisers.
Habitat for Humanity won the lift tickets and auctioned them off to their own volunteers, gaining fundraising money for their campus club.
Harburn, who was in charge of collecting such items, strongly questioned how money gained directly through sponsors ended up being used as overhead to cover the costs of Charity Ball going over their budget.
“[The businesses are] donating money and they’re donating items to raise money to go directly to the charity, not, you know, for buying a chocolate fountain or for a DJ or for a renovated hall,” said Harburn.
Harburn continues, “It just makes me feel really, like I worked really hard for what? To pay for an expensive hall and decorations? It feels like fraud almost that I went around to businesses and was like … ‘It’s for a good cause.’”