The following interview is part of Philanthropy Roundtable’s “Free to Give” series which highlights the impact philanthropy can have when Americans have the right to give freely to the causes and communities they care about most. . Learn more here.
“Camp Rainbow Gold started 38 years ago. Dr. David McClusky of Twin Falls, Idaho had a young patient who was battling cancer and was really sad because he couldn’t go to regular summer camp with his friends. The summer camps in the area could not let him in because he was undergoing treatment for cancer.
“Dr. McClusky was on the board of directors of the American Cancer Society and around this time a grant came in saying ‘Do you want to apply for funds to start a camp?’ Of course we applied, received the grant and Camp Rainbow Gold was born, which operated as a program under the American Cancer Society until 2014, when we became an independent non-profit organization.
“Our first camp was literally camping in tents in the woods with a few volunteers. It grew a lot from there over the years. We are best known for our camping program and our best return on investment is our camping program. We have five camps in total.
“In our adolescent and youth oncology camps, children with cancer come to camp and we have a medical team there to support them. So if they are having chemo at that time, they can still receive treatment, and parents can have peace of mind knowing that doctors are there to watch over their child.
“But our philosophy is to support the whole family. Cancer doesn’t just happen to the diagnosed child, it affects everyone. With this belief and value, we include two family camps that welcome the whole family.
“We also have a sibling camp just for siblings. Kids with cancer don’t come here, which is a little different from a lot of camps. Siblings of children with cancer tend to have long-term psychosocial effects following the cancer diagnosis – you see higher rates of suicide, teenage pregnancy and drug use, we are so very passionate about our camp of brothers and sisters.
“Our college scholarship program has been in existence for 14 years and has awarded over $1 million to children in Idaho who have battled cancer and attended Camp Rainbow Gold. This year, we are delighted to have also awarded our first-ever scholarships to siblings, as the financial burden affects the whole family. Again, our philosophy is that cancer affects the whole family, so why should children with cancer be the only ones to get these college scholarships? It was incredibly exciting to start.
“Another program we have is our teen support group. COVID has slowed it down a bit, but we’re excited to get back up and running. You could see across the camp that our teenagers needed more than once a summer to get together. They needed ongoing support because, let’s face it, high school is tough regardless. You add cancer where you can look different, you can’t do all the activities, you can miss school, and it’s even harder.
“We created a support group, but it’s not a typical support group. We don’t put them around a table and we don’t ask them to tell us how they feel. We provide emotionally stimulating experiences, fun challenges that they complete together, and then we push a little in an activity called “Happys and Crappies”. By sharing celebrations and struggles, you often find important connections and support.
“These are our main programs.”
“Additionally, we purchased 170 acres two years ago after discussing facilities issues and what we needed for our camp programs for over 20 years. One of the biggest issues was space. Both of our family camps and our sibling camps are at maximum capacity, which means we are not accepting children. We rented camps that didn’t give us long-term leases and sometimes we didn’t know until very late if our weeks were confirmed. Moreover, they were not interested in adapting their facilities. So we brought in a medical trailer, five utility trailers full of supplies, and we built camps. We would add wheelchair ramps and seats in the showers and hand showers and things that would make it a little easier for some of the struggling kids. The search lasted for years.
“We did a feasibility study in 2007 and put the project on hold until we became an independent non-profit in 2014. Then it took five years to find the property, secure it and develop a plan director. We were moving fast, having great success in our fundraising campaign and COVID arrived.
“You know, treasures come from trials. And we really had some good treasures that came out of it. We held a virtual camp in 2020. The doctors and all of us realized that these kids needed to get back together. So we started thinking, ‘What can we do to get these kids back together?’ We were worried about renting out the other campsites and not having them up to the standards we were going to need for COVID so we said, ‘Okay this property is 26 buildings can we remodel and come up with something since the camps should be smaller?’ So we had smaller and shorter camps at our new site. One of the main reasons we were able to do this was because of a grant from a donor-advised fund. »
“A $500,000 grant from the Murdock Foundation enabled us to retrofit a lodge for outdoor dining, as our COVID protocol limited all camp-wide activities indoors and updated the old kitchen business to make it work. With those last two pieces of the puzzle, we ran our first camps with over 120 kids and we were safe and, very excitingly, healthy. There was no COVID and we learned a lot as owners.
“Having donor-advised funds absolutely got us through COVID, and not just writing checks. The donor advised funds provided training, support, information and even just took the time to register. A local Idaho fund reached out and said, “What are your challenges? Are you getting answers to your questions? Inquiring about PPP? Here is a training. I have to tell you, it feels like they really care about our organization. I’m not saying other donors and corporations don’t, but donor-advised funds seem to have a capability that goes beyond writing a check and saying, “Hey, give us a report on the how you spend the money.’ This is really valuable for nonprofits because sometimes as a nonprofit we don’t have the resources to access this additional information. »
“Donor-advised funds were important even before COVID. One of them in particular is organized to have staff that we meet regularly and who share our vision beyond our internal capacities. So when they meet new people coming into the donor-advised fund, they can then identify donors, connect us and make sure we meet. By having some kind of guardian, all those people interested in investing can learn more about our organization and know that our foundations are solid. It gives us the platform to introduce ourselves and say, “This is our story, this is how we are strong” and meet many different donors that we wouldn’t otherwise have access to. »
“Are we in all the categories that donor-advised funds want to support and invest in? No. And do they have any guidelines and structure that we have to follow? Sure! We do grant reports, and sometimes we are even audited more thoroughly. Here’s the thing – the process we go through to get vetted more thoroughly and by a wider variety of potential donors ups our game. It helps us become even better at crossing our Ts and pointing our I’s. other donors outside of this fund, to sit in front of them and be able to confidently say, ‘Here is our finances, here is the return, here is what we do.’ And again, there’s also the additional training and other supports.
“Any nonprofit executive will tell you that their organization grants reports, you do other processes, you have to establish the relationship. Well, it’s no different than with these funds. I met the Foundation Murdock first around 2015 and I sat down with Terry when he was here in Boise, he listened to our project, he advised and we maintained our relationship as you would any other donor. spoke and walked us through and said ‘edit this’ or do ‘this’ and I would say that’s comparable to working with any donor.
“Comparable to any other donor, donor-advised funds are about relationships and getting the right information to the right people. We know who brings us the funds and we have the opportunity to meet them and/or thank them personally. I also always feel a very personal relationship, even with fund staff. Staff from the Community Foundation of Idaho just came to visit our new property, and that’s a big deal! They are the contact with the donors, and that’s the first step you take. They are honest with us about who they talk to and what funds they might approach. It’s about the people in the relationships, it’s not about the name on the check.
“One of the coolest things about the Murdock Foundation grant is when they asked if we would be willing to match some of their donation, and that was awesome from their end. We didn’t think of it! They immediately released funds that allowed us to jump in and get started and then put the rest into line. This idea and support only strengthens our story and allows us to achieve even more people. That’s what you expect from donors.
“We had a fire and it was mitigated by COVID. The donor-advised funds have really fueled our fire again and most importantly allowed us to run our in-person camps this summer, and we will be forever grateful. It is magic.
-Elizabeth Lizberg, CEO and Executive Director of Camp Rainbow Gold in Boise, Idaho.
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