New nabs model makes fundraising a team effort

When nabs approached Dave Lafond about leading the charity’s fundraising efforts for the next year, he agreed in part because he’s seen the damage caused mental illness first-hand.

But the No Fixed Address CEO also wanted to work with nabs to create a new system capable of relieving the constant pressure of chasing corporate donations from agencies and other industry employers. “I said I’ll be the chair, but only if we can go with a teams approach. We need a team that kind of leads this to the future,” he says.

The new model announced this week will see Lafond serve as fundraising chair, but with (as of now) 13 co-chairs from across the industry—including, for the first time, client-side representatives. They are:

  • No Fixed Address: Dave Lafond
  • Publicis: Brett McIntosh
  • Local Collective: Matt Litzinger
  • BIMM: Mike Da Ponte
  • Cossette: Janis Lindenbergs
  • Rethink: Dhavall Bhatt
  • Hello Fresh: Candy Lee
  • BBDO: Rebecca Flaman
  • ROM: Lori Davison
  • Sobey’s: Erika DeHaas
  • Starcom: Christine Saunders
  • FCB: Tyler Turnbull
  • Western Market: John Voiles
  • Quebec: Daniel Rabinowicz

Rather than rely on the small staff at nabs to constantly chase agency leadership to donate, this new vision asks people from across the industry to pick up some of the load—to not only ask their network to support, but also to raise awareness and engagement and spread the message that because nabs is for everyone, everyone should be helping out.

It’s like a pyramid scheme for good, says Lafond, with each co-chair working their network to donate to nabs and, if they’re willing, sign on as co-chairs to recruit other donors and possible co-chairs. “We’re at 14 co-chairs now, but maybe we get to 100 co-chairs,” he says. “I want to grow the movement, because we all own it, because it’s our people.”

Part of the problem for nabs is that because everyone is so busy all of the time, the prospect of trying to tackle a monumental challenge like the industry’s overall health and wellness can feel overwhelming, says Matt Litzinger, president and chief creative officer of The Local Collective.

“But if you get a whole bunch of us to just dedicate a little bit of time, then the greater good of all of us doing that makes the job a little bit easier for each of us,” he says. “If we all just do a little bit, collectively we do a lot.”

A big part of donor stewardship is constant communication and building ongoing engagement so donors feel connected to the charity and its causes, says Mark Neves, nabs’ director, central. This new model of many co-chairs will be invaluable in that regard.

“Through their leadership, we feel like we can build a long-term engagement with the biggest leaders in the business and, importantly, the next generation of leadership,” he says. This will not be just about presidents and SVPs, he says. The goal is to connect with people who will be leaders in the years ahead to give them a sense of ownership in nabs both today and for the future.

The new approach comes at a time when demand for nabs services has surged. The nabs’ LifeSpeak online health and wellness library has gone from 1,627 uses in 2019 to a projected 8,000+ this year. Calls to the nabs Supportline actually dropped during the crisis, but nabs believes that’s a reflection of people not wanting to call when they are home with their family. “The reduction on calls simply confirms that the stigma attached to mental health issues still persists,” it said in its recent 2021 Impact Report.

Part of the mission for the co-chairs is to help get as many people involved and talking about the issues in order to remove that stigma, says Litzinger.

Attitudes and understanding about mental health have changed in the last couple of years, partly because of the pandemic, but more needs to be done, he says. “I’ll just speak for myself personally, it has taken me a bit of time to fully understand—and I’m still learning every day—that because you can’t see the cast, because you can’t see the bandage, because you can’t see the stitches, you automatically assume something’s not broken.”

And Lafond has seen first-hand just how destructive mental illness can be, which is why he wants to help now. “I’ve grown up around mental health issues with my parents; I’m very passionate and connected to this because 15 years ago my dad died by suicide,” he says. “I just think mental health issues—which I have been around, I battle my own stuff all the time—are a team sport. You can’t do it alone.”

The Message asked some of the other co-chairs why they signed on. Here’s what they told us:

Rebecca Flaman, BBDO: “The past year-and-a-half has forced this industry to hold a mirror up and come to terms with the stresses and pressure that come with our day-to-day work lives. Expanded support by a broader range of industry leaders and influential senior clients creates a collective of very talented creative problem-solvers who recognize the necessity of nabs and the incredible resources they provide to our industry. It’s really up to us to support one another by continuing to erase the stigmas associated with mental health and ensuring help is always there if needed.”

Dhavall Bhatt, Rethink: “I think after two  years of the extraordinary toll taken on our collective mental health, the support that nabs provides is more important than ever. So for me joining the nabs fundraising co-chair committee was a simple way to give back to something that directly affects all of us in this industry. And I truly believe that this new approach with multiple co-chairs from across the industry spectrum is a great way to fundraise. Not only does it help share the load, but it also provides a range of perspectives and fundraising opportunities that previously would have not been a part of the mix for nabs.”

Brett McIntosh, Publicis: “Last year we stepped up our support of nabs beyond historical levels. What was a short-term pandemic relief commitment is now a recognition of the role nabs plays in supporting our industry and its people, who continue to feel the pressure of balancing life and work. I personally wanted to do more myself as well, and that’s why I’ve signed on as a co-chair.”

David Brown