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Public Relations Strategy a Valuable Fundraising Tool

By Mark LaVigne APR & Leslie Hetherington

The following is a powerful example of how a professional public relations practitioner used strategic communications to greatly enhanced a charitable fundraising program.

Yellow Brick House (YBH) is a non-profit organization in Aurora, Ontario which is committed to providing shelter, support services and counselling for women and their children who are in crisis as a result of abuse or loss of housing.

YBH is dependent on the Ministry of Community and Social Services for most of its funding. The balance of its budget, about $300,000 annually, must he raised through its own means and resources within the diverse community it serves.

Although many residents in the community are affluent and have been supportive of Yellow Brick House’s initiatives, they are inundated by fundraising requests from equally deserving organizations locally and within the greater Toronto area. A few years ago, YBH identified the need for a captivating and creative concept to differentiate it from other fundraising efforts. It also needed an external space to hold media and other public events because of security and privacy concerns.

To meet these needs and provide a unique and sustainable focus, Mark LaVigne, APR conceived the "Pathway of Peace" on a pro bono basis as a volunteer Board member. Working closely with YBH Executive Director Filomena Williams, Lavigne developed the concept of refurbishing a run-down public park in downtown Aurora by building a cobblestone path accompanied by a landmark monument. Funds were raised by selling the cobblestones or "bricks" at multi-tier donation levels (individuals, small businesses and corporations).

Williams and LaVigne spent three years developing the project working closely with Town Council and its committees, with key suppliers, the YBH Board, and other stakeholders in the community. In particular, Aurora’s Mayor, Tim Jones, has been a great supporter of the project and has officiated at all media events including the launch.

Hilary Weston , as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, officially launched the Pathway of Peace on June 27, 2000 attracting considerable media and public attention. Various media relations techniques were utilized, including paid wire distribution of media advisories and releases, procurement (at cost or pro bono) of a professional photographer and videographer to create high-resolution digital still images and BETA tape (B-roll) for news media consumption, and the creation of a CD-ROM media kit that included downloadable images and low-resolution video of Hilary Weston’s launch speech. Several events have been held since to sustain the momentum.

In addition to the launch event, other promotional activities have included a teaser photo-op event of monument arrival for engraving, as well as several commemoration events, where plaques listing new donor names, were unveiled. Public relations industry suppliers, who donated their services in kind or at cost, have also been honoured with their names placed on the initial plaque unveiled in June, 2000.

The Pathway of Peace has also been used for other events, including "Take Back the Night" marches in 2000 and 2001, and a memorial vigil for a woman found murdered in her Woodbridge home in late April, 2002. Flowers are frequently laid at the base of the monument to honour slain women across the GTA and province.

More than six million first impressions have been generated in news media during the Pathway’s two-year history, including local media, such as CKVR-TV, Shaw Cable, Rogers Cable, the Era Banner, Town Crier, the Liberal and the Auroran, as well as Toronto-based Global TV, and CBC Radio (five minute documentary).

To date, Yellow Brick House’s Pathway of Peace has generated close to $50,000 in revenue and some 300 bricks have been sold. The Pathway itself, utilizing goods and services worth well over $100,000, was built for just under $33,000. That hard cost was paid for in six months after the official opening.

This project met all of its objectives. To this day Pathway to Peace continues to generate awareness of Yellow Brick House and abuse/homeless issues through media coverage, to raise funds through brick sales, to foster community involvement through its central proximity and urban renewal value, to offer a place that the abused and troubled can use for solace, to remember those who lost their lives due to violence, and to provide a public venue for YBH media and special events.

A dream since its inception, the Pathway of Peace concept is spreading internationally, hopefully one day creating a virtual Pathway of Peace spanning the globe. Women’s shelters or similar-minded groups in Toronto, Thunder Bay, Oshawa, Kingston, Vermont and London, England, have all expressed interest in creating their own "Pathway of Peace."

Mark LaVigne, APR, owns and operates Hunter LaVigne Communications Inc. He is also Co-Chair of the Board of Directors at Yellow Brick House, and President of the Canadian Public Relations Society (Toronto).

Leslie Hetherington is a media relations specialist who works with Hunter LaVigne Communications Inc. and is Chair of Marketing and Promotion for CPRS (Toronto). To contact Hunter LaVigne Communications Inc. telephone (905) 841-2017 or E-mail

See also:
What is Public Relations?
The Power of public relations