Alberta Cancer Foundation

Above Par

Charissa Spencer is on the sixth hole of Blackhawk Golf Club in Spruce Grove. Today’s shining sun, gentle breeze and clear blue sky is a stark contrast to Spencer’s previous weekend on the golf course. There, at the ninth annual Bryan Mudryk Golf Classic in Boyle, Alberta, the fairways were covered with puddles and golfers faced heavy rain, “like a monsoon,” says Spencer. Despite the weather, both days were successful, raising more than $100,000 for the Alberta Cancer Foundation.

Photo by 3ten

“It’s a treat to be out on days like this,” says Spencer, who is a fundraising event specialist with the Alberta Cancer Foundation. At the golf course, it’s easy to think she’s one of the players, but Spencer is on the job. She greets each group of golfers in the Bennett Jones LLP Edmonton Golf Classic as they arrive at the sixth hole. She asks the golfers how their day is going and then introduces them to Ryan Haskins, a golf pro who can be “hired” for this hole for a minimum donation of $20. “I’m the fifth member of your team on this hole,” Haskins explains to the golfers.

Spencer interacts with each new team of golfers with the same enthusiasm as the first group. By the day’s end, the efforts of Spencer and Haskins will have raised $800 for the Alberta Cancer Foundation. With two “hire a pro” holes, mulligan sales and a putting contest, the Bennett Jones LLP Edmonton Golf Classic raised close to $4,000, a number that Spencer attributes directly to the generosity of the 124 players.

Her behind-the-scenes work played a role too, as Spencer spent many hours planning the event before it even began. She met with the volunteer organizer months in advance and continued to co-ordinate the logistics of the event from her office, in order to ensure today’s day on the green runs smoothly. Spencer, who has a business degree, uses that background on the job. Each event, she says, becomes a valuable platform to share information and resources about cancer with the people who attend.

The money raised from the golf classic will support a new PET/CT scanner for Edmonton’s Cross Cancer Institute, a machine that allows staff to detect cancers in their earliest stages and identify much smaller masses than current equipment allows. The money raised from the previous weekend’s Bryan Mudryk Golf Classic, a record-setting $100,000, will also support the Cross Cancer Institute.

Events such as today’s golf classic are about much more than just dollars raised, though. “The best part of the fundraising events is the relationships that we get to build with the participants, volunteers, and donors who come and support these events,” Spencer says. “Usually, when someone throws a fundraising event they have a close connection to cancer, a relative that’s been affected or a friend. The event gives them an opportunity to share their story, and there’s nothing more powerful than hearing their experiences firsthand.”

Today’s golf course banter is typical for Spencer, who works long hours planning, preparing for, and attending 10 to 15 charity golf tournaments in the summer months. She’s also the friendly face from the Alberta Cancer Foundation at 20 head shaves a year (“The little ones are fearless,” she says.) and a variety of other fundraising events, from sports like the World’s Longest Hockey Game to charity auctions, runs and walks.

“Every day of my job is different,” says Spencer. With 450 fundraising events benefiting the Alberta Cancer Foundation in Alberta every year, Spencer, along with counterparts working across the province, stays very busy. The job also involves many hours of behind-the-scenes planning with the volunteer organizers who put on each event. “Our role is almost like a coach,” Spencer says. “For the majority of the events, someone has the idea and will call us and tell us their idea and we’ll chat about it. We know what works and can make suggestions to them and offer our assistance that way.”

Those volunteers, says Spencer, are a dream to work with. “They have such a passion and heart for the cause. I feel very honoured that they would invite me to share the day with them.”

Another part of Spencer’s job is organizing signature events, which are planned internally by the Alberta Cancer Foundation. Spencer is the lead staff at the Cross Cancer Institute Golf Classic, a summer tournament that raises close to $1 million each year.

Back on the sixth hole at the Blackhawk Golf Club, Spencer and Haskins continue to talk with the players. For Spencer, the result of her many hours of event planning and preparation are realized in such interactions. “The most important thing to me is meeting with people, engaging them, hearing their stories and building relationships with them,” says Spencer.