By Peter McKenzie-Brown
Now in its 20th year, the Calgary Corporate Challenge is a charity like no other. The organization that runs it has three or four paid staff at any given time. To do its work, it relies on volunteers from the corporate sector, as its name implies. “Sporting events” include running races; games of eight ball in the pool hall; and corporate blood drives.
During the six months the group had its blood drive this year, “we donated about 6,000 units of blood, but we also delivered 606 new donors,” says Games Manager Jonathan Radomski. “That was about 22% of the blood needed in Calgary during the six months of the drive.”
Reflecting the bust in oil prices, participation last year dropped by 13 companies to 154 this year. “The change isn’t because of the entrance fee,” he says. “A lot of people were just uncertain about who would have a job, who would be coordinating, who would take the reins.” Although he won’t name them, Radomski says two large companies – once “mainstays of the program” – left this year. The other losses, he says, arose mostly from lack of employee participation. “Only a few left because of the economic situation.”
The organization’s key month for sporting activity is September, when “we have 22 specific sporting events in September, plus a number of charitable activities,” Radomski says. “So we have 30 events in September” – games which include “a lighting of the torch ceremony, an opening ceremony, a closing ceremony. We have midway parties and a torch relay; a bike ride to support the Ride for Cancer; a drop-off place where you can leave donations for the Food Bank.”
Team building: Spectators at the venues get into “the flags, the swag, the excitement,” Radomski says. “It’s amazing how much people get into these events. We’re putting on events which enable people to leave their problems at the office, have fun and contribute to the community.”
A perennial beneficiary is KidSport Calgary, an organization that pays registration fees and buys hockey gear, for example, for children who otherwise couldn't afford to participate. This year, 77 companies collectively raised money $100,502 for the charity – the most ever.
Much of the Challenge has little to do with sport, and can take place at any time of the year. For example, PCL Construction organized a “management scavenger hunt” to round up food for the Food Bank. The result was nearly five tons of food, worth $20,000.
It contributes to networking in a number of ways. “Some people from a large organization may find themselves competing together in a horseshoes event, for example, and then go off and have dinner and a drink together,” Radomski says. “That enables them to get to know people they probably would never have met. Or maybe you’re playing eight ball with a group from another company. Sometimes deals come out of that. You never know.”
The Corporate Challenge is “pretty cool,” says Radomski. “Last year we raised more than $700,000 for local charities. We don’t have all the numbers in yet for this year, but it should be close – maybe down a little bit. But then, there’s all the blood we donate.”