BY: Craig Anderson

After his association was announced as a finalist for the Donner Awards for the fourth consecutive year in a row, the executive director of Community Living Campbellford-Brighton gave each staff member a personalized binder congratulating them for their successes over the years.

“I am very excited,” says Chris Grayson, executive director.

“We’re very proud of what we have achieved, absolutely. The demonstration of consistency is what, as executive director, makes me feel proud. We’ve also been accredited three years in a row back-to-back. We are demonstrating by external measurement that we are doing the right things. Continuity of excellence is pretty strong,” he says.

The Donner Awards for Excellence in the Delivery in Social Services, which take place Nov. 23rd at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto, were created in 1998 to increase the profile of the non-profit sector and highlight exemplary non-profit management. The awards are administered on behalf of the Donner Canadian Foundation by the Fraser Institute, a conservative think tank based in Vancouver.

This kind of external recognition is important, adds Chris, because it acts as a general compass for the association, providing a standard of measurement in community development and the growth of social capital.

Community Living Campbellford has won the services for people with disabilities category in 2002 and 2003, winning the overall award in 2003. Other categories include services for seniors, traditional education, child care services, and crisis intervention. In its category, the association is competing against the Calgary chapter of the MS Society of Canada, and BC-based Pacific Assistance Dogs.

The Peter F. Drucker Award for Non-Profit Management will also be presented this year, in recognition of innovation in management. Eight hundred and fourty-two organizations applied for the awards, with prizes totaling $70,000 and $20,000 is given to the Donner Award recipient.

The Donner Awards are applied for by the organizations themselves, in a two stage process. The second stage requires a succinct, neutral, one page description of how well the organization is fulfilling its mission.

“You’ve got one page to answer a question that you could write a thesis on,” says Chris.

“But it would be a great writing exercise for any organization. When you try and explain what you do in one page – you really have to fine-tune your language.”

Ultimately, the success of an efficient and creatively run disability advocacy association (the award finalists are judged in 10 key areas, including management and governance, use of staff and volunteers, innovation, program cost, and outcome monitoring) is measured in how well it benefits those it advocates for, says Chris.

“It all spins back to the people we are supporting and how it helps their lives, to be more independent. We’re doing more as an organization to develop not only our agency, but our community, our county, our region. We’re engaged in a lot of initiatives that are having benefits not just for us but for our partners. It’s pretty exciting work,” says Chris.