Chatting Fundraising with Clown Doctors

Rita Noetzel, programme director, at the Clown Doctors NZ Charitable Trust tells us how they launched the charity in Christchurch six years ago and built it up into the national organisation it is today.

How was Clown Doctors founded and what is your mission?

Clown Doctors was founded in July 2009 and we started our first hospital shift in Christchurch at Christchurch Public Hospital and Princess Margaret Hospital. It was founded by Professor Thomas Petschner and myself. We met at a medical centre where we both worked and became friends. He told me about the concept as he knew it from Europe. Since there wasn’t anything like it in New Zealand he asked me if I would be crazy enough to do this with him. And I said yes, of course. I loved the idea.

Our mission is to bring joy and laughter to children in hospital and those in need.

You’re headquartered in Christchurch, which has a unique fundraising environment. What would you say are the challenges of being a Christchurch-based organisation and how have you overcome them?

Yes, Christchurch is a very unique fundraising environment, especially since the earthquakes. There is such a high demand compared to funds available. So many people need help in so many different ways. We have overcome this by simply carrying on and are able to show what a difference our service can make to the community.

How is Clown Doctors funded?

We have three centres in New Zealand and each has its own unique funding set up. In Auckland we are lucky enough to partner with Starship Foundation and they fundraise on our behalf for our services to Starship Hospital. I also attended and spoke recently at the inaugural The Funding Network function in Auckland and managed to secure some additional funding for us to visit the Wilson Home. We see this as a continuum of care as many longer term patients from Starship Hospital go there for rehabilitation.

In Wellington we have a corporate sponsor, Chris Parkin at the The Museum Art Hotel, and we currently also receive funding through NZCT and COGS.

In Christchurch we feel privileged to be supported by Canterbury Community Trust [CCT] since our start. We also have received funding from various gaming machine trusts as well as the Christchurch City Council, Lotteries and COGS. We applied to the CCT Need Help Now Fund for earthquake-related work and have received enough funding to allow us to do a second shift at the children’s ward in Christchurch Hospital for one year.

We have also had some local smaller community trusts support us as well.

How does Clown Doctors promote itself to individual donors?

We are still building up a donor database. Promotion to individual donors is word of mouth, our annual awareness building day [New Zealand Smile Day for Clown Doctors] and also through Facebook.

We have had one small DM campaign.

In what ways do you thank or recognise individual donors?

We send them all a thank-you letter and are in the process of doing certificates for donors.

You have a category of sponsor called ‘Smile Sponsor.’ Who can be a Smile Sponsor?

Anyone can become a Smile Sponsor. This is broken down into various categories: Mega, Huge Super, Big and Smile Supporter.

These catagories depend on the amount of money donated and the level of sponsorship — be it money or gifts in-kind or pro bono. A detailed description is on our website.

How do you engage companies to become sponsors and what unique benefits do you provide to the sponsors?

Prof. Thomas Petschner and I approach companies we think are a good fit and then go and talk to them and give them a full presentation and explain the benefits to them. We explain how they can show social responsibility by supporting us — whether it be pro bono or with funding.

We also offer our sponsors a humour workshop. This is great for team-building, as well as promoting them on Facebook and our website and on our bookmarks and posters.

Clown Doctors receives funding from COGS, Eureka Trust and The Lion Foundation. What do you feel the climate is like as far as grants funding in Christchurch? Do you think there is any credence to the rumours that funding is becoming harder to come by?

Yes, I do think that the funding here in Christchurch is harder to come by, simply because there is so much demand for it and so many more people have a genuine need for funding.

As you go into your sixth year, what do you feel have been the greatest areas of growth for Clown Doctors?

We started in Christchurch and now have Clown Doctors in Wellington and Auckland as well. It was our goal to start at one new hospital or programme per year. We have managed to achieve that with Auckland in the second year, Wellington in the third year and in the fourth year a second shift at Wellington Hospital Neonatal Unit. In the fifth year, we received some funding to visit the Wilson Home in 2015.

Our growth is expansion into more centres. Our goal is to be in every major hospital in New Zealand.

What has been the most effective way you’ve found to get your name out into the community?

A combination of good media and press coverage, lots of networking, and talking to people and being in the hospital and meeting patients and their families.

What advice would you have for anyone looking to start up a charity from scratch in New Zealand?

It’s really hard work. There are SO many charities in New Zealand. A lot can depend on who you know in the community to connect you to the right people. Finding a board of trustees is not an easy task, and then to find ones that are willing to help and advise and understand what you are trying to do is also not so easy. But, quoting my favourite motto, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ Persistence pays off.

Clown Doctors was a recipient of the JetStar Flying Start grants programme. How has that benefitted Clown Doctors?

This was a great grant. We received it in conjunction with our annual national team training in medical clowning. It covered the costs of the training as well as flying the Wellington and Christchurch teams to Auckland for the training. We then also used the flights to fly everyone around the country on New Zealand Smile Day 2012. It was such a huge help and made a lot of difference to our annual day.

Thanks for speaking with us, Rita, and best wishes for the continued expansion of Clown Doctors New Zealand.

Clown Doctors NZ Charitable Trust



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