100 km for cancer research: Why?

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Robert Merkley at a pre-event fund-raising BBQ
Robert Merkley at a pre-event fund-raising BBQ

In a few moments, I’ll be heading to the starting point for a 100 km bicycle ride in support of cancer research at the Ottawa Hospital. Of course, cancer affects virtually every family, though this serious disease hasn’t been our main issue (the heart and diabetes have come closer to personal experience). So the passion here is less about immediate personal interest than business — and that fact raises some important issues about why we support worthy causes, and how we can achieve support for issues and causes that are important to us.

The story traces back four years, and an experience involving local developer Roger Greenberg and two building supply firm leaders, Robert Merkley of Merkley Supply Ltd. and Claude DesRosiers, of Boone Plumbing and Heating Supply. After observing a successful cycling fund-raiser in Toronto, they decided to bring the idea to Ottawa, contacted the local Ottawa hospital fund-raising charitable foundation, and set to work on the project.

(Canadian hospitals are virtually all publicly owned. While most funds arise from government funding, they have charitable and fund-raising foundations, which generally operate with extreme efficiency, meaning that most funds raised truly go for research and patient support rather than administration and fund-raising fees.)

Since I’ve published the Ottawa region’s specialized construction media for 25 years, and Merkley and DesRosiers’ businesses focus on the trades, not surprisingly we’ve done plenty of business over the years.  (I can trace Merkley’s relationship to the first issue of Ottawa Construction News in 1989.)  When a good, long-standing client asks for you to help in a community service initiative, would you even think of declining? And so, the work began.

I couldn’t ride in the first event in 2010 because of a conflict, but I gave $500.00 personally, and offered significant editorial support.  (Merkley wanted to take things further, so he purchased several pages of advertising space beyond the resources we could provide for free — I priced the advertising at cost, rather than for profit, however.)  Two years ago, I completed the ride, 100 km, a gruelling, if inspiring experience on a 30-year-old bicycle.  Last year, I started on the ride in a newly purchased but not broken in bicycle — thunderstorms (thankfully) ended the ride just a quarter of the way through the process. The weather today is cloudy but organizers are confident we won’t be rained out.  So I’ll ride.

My overall contribution, other than the publicity support both before and after the event, is modest. I’ve raised $1,500, of which only about $100 is personal funds. Of course, media support can be worth its weight in gold, and we’ve provided several thousand dollars in advertising, without any request for endorsement or recognition of the contribution.

Merkley, DesRosiers and Greenberg, not surprisingly have used their extended networks to involve others, and while other businesses and organizations outside of the architectural, engineering and construction community participate, the industry sector here is the largest event supporter. Relationships count.