Determined to bring radiotherapy services to regional Victoria, Vicki Jellie tells Nicole Richards how she raised a staggering $5 million through the Peter’s Project in just nine months.

Six years ago, Vicki Jellie’s beloved 49-year-old husband Peter received a devastating cancer diagnosis. The radiotherapy treatment Peter needed was only available in Melbourne – three hours from their Warrnambool home in regional Victoria. “From the time Peter was diagnosed to the time he died was just 20 weeks and nine were spent in Melbourne,” Vicki painfully recalls.

Distance from metropolitan centres impacts a patient’s treatment options and their prognosis. “For every 100 kilometres you live away from radiotherapy treatment, your chance of dying increases 6%,” Vicki explains. “That means Peter had an 18% increased risk; for someone living in Portland that jumps to 24%.”

Vicki and Peter realised they weren’t alone. With no radiotherapy service between Geelong and Adelaide, Mt Gambier patients were forced to travel five and a half hours each way for treatment. “One third of people here choose not to receive radiotherapy because it’s too far away and they’re too sick, don’t want to travel and leave their family, or they can’t afford to leave their business or farm.”

When Peter passed away in September 2008, Vicki discovered a list of fundraising plans he’d made to bring radiotherapy services to the region. She began Peter’s Project five days later, asking mourners to donate money not flowers, raising $3,500. The following March, a dinner for 200 people celebrating what would have been Peter’s 50th birthday raised $27,000. Later that month Vicki gathered 30 business owners and community leaders to begin plans to achieve Peter’s vision.

Inspired by the wishes of her late husband Peter (inset),Vicki Jellie celebrated reaching her $5 million goal in May with Victorian Premier and Peter’s Project Committee member, Denis Napthine (right), and Dan Tehan, Federal Member for Wannon:

Vicki Jellie

Hard-won political backing laid a foundation

Vicki spent the next four years researching and lobbying the Victorian State Government resulting in the promise of a feasibility study in mid-2010. “We were making a lot of noise and getting a lot of media attention – I think they were hoping the feasibility study would shut us up,” Vicki says with a laugh. “It was an election year and the opposition party said they’d give us $5 million to build a treatment centre if they got in and sure enough, they did!”

“We came to realise quickly how political the health sector is,” Vicki says. “We stood on a few toes – with respect – but our efforts paid off.” A submission for a further $10 million in the 2013 State Budget was also successful.

Vicki next set her sights on the nation’s capital, taking her chutzpah to Canberra to meet the Minister and Shadow Minister for Health. Three weeks before the 2013 federal election, the opposition pledged $10 million, and when they won, Peter’s Project was assured of $25 million in funding.

Government funding, local news inspired community giving

Local media coverage not only pressured political representatives, it spurred unprompted community donations. “We had local people who’ve since passed who shared their stories in the local paper and that was very powerful,” Vicki says. “We’d never asked the community for money but bits and pieces started trickling in. We had ladies doing a quilt show that raised $20,000, we had schools sending in $200 – it was all beginning to add up.” Peter’s Project received $800,000 over four years, valuable but well short of the $5 million necessary to build the best centre possible.

Vicki, who had been working fulltime while running Peter’s Project “from the kitchen table,” decided to leave her job and volunteer as a project officer to coordinate fundraising. The community rallied after a relaunch in July 2013 and again, Vicki’s timing was excellent. “We did up our website and our local NAB helped us set up an office, so suddenly we had a face in the community and that really helped. We’d put in the hard yards for four years and people trusted us. With the government commitment, they knew the project was real and the support just mushroomed.”        

A small group of local philanthropic trusts promised $1 million; Peter’s former employer Colin McKenna gave $200,000; five local councils and shires contributed $740,000; high profile local employers Murray Goulburn and Warrnambool Cheese and Butter donated $300,000 and $250,000 respectively. “We needed the big donations to come in to inspire others to give and that’s exactly what happened,” Vicki says. Schools, sporting clubs and local associations all turned out to help by hosting events, balls, head shaves and high teas.

Not so ordinary people

This May, Vicki proudly announced the $5 million target had been achieved in just nine months. “People stop me at the supermarket to say thank you but my response is thank you to the community because without them it wouldn’t have happened. We’re just ordinary people trying to help ourselves.”

With the tender process for construction and facilitation of the centre underway, community spirit remains strong. A local builder is completing a house for Peter’s Project to auction at the end of 2014 and fundraising will continue with donations to cover the cost of comfort facilities within the centre as well as scholarships for health professionals.

Key lessons

Community engagement was critical to success and Vicki cites local media along with Facebook as powerful community motivators. Transparency and timing, she says, were also key factors. “We’re everyday people with a real story and I think that’s why it worked. When business owners started putting little stories in the paper about their support that led to others jumping on board too.”

“It’s consumed my life and it hasn’t always been easy. I look back and think I’d give it all back if my Peter was alive. Though it started off about my Peter, the truth is this project is for all the Peters in our region. The day that I can walk in the door of that cancer centre – that will be a very emotional time.”

Figure A: Peter’s Project campaign gift table

Gift amount

Type of donors

No. of donors

Total Amount ($)

$5,000 –$300,000

Local trusts and foundations

8

$1,130,000

$250,000 – $300,000

Regional dairy companies

2

$550,000

$90,000 – $300,000

Regional councils / shires

 

5

$740,000

$25,000 – 200,000

Larger regional business

6

$400,000

$1,000 – 50,000

Smaller regional business

30

$200,000

$1,000 – 40,000

Regional service clubs

20

$110,000

$1 – $50,000

General public – south west Victorian regional community

1,000s

$900,000

$1 – $50,000

Community fundraising events

100s

$870,000

$20 – 6,000

Regional farmers – livestock sales contributions

80

$100,000

Total:

 

1,000s

$5,000,000

Nicole Richards is a freelance writer specialising in the nonprofit sector and a regular contributor to Fundraising and Philanthropy Magazine.

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