Okanagan College Foundation executive director stepping down

Kathy Butler ready to retire after 17 years heading up foundation

Kathy Butler has left her mark on two significant institutions in the Okanagan.

As executive director of the Kelowna Hospital Foundation for 17 years before taking over as head of the Okanagan College Foundation in 2003, Butler has guided several major fundraising initiatives to help create new facilities at the hospital and campuses across the OC spectrum.

Having announced her intent to retire from OC Foundation Dec. 31, Butler said those moments of realization about the impact of the OC Foundation’s legacy sometimes unexpectedly strike an emotional chord.

“It’s kind of funny but it’s one of those things where you have your head down embedded in your work at times, you are just chugging along doing it, and then you have that wow moment,” Butler said, reflecting specifically on completion of the $8.5 fundraising campaign behind the new trades complex built on the Kelowna campus of OC.

“When we finally finished the trades building, I had been taking people through there in hard hats and goggles for the previous two years. But when the building was finished and students were walking the hallways, it actually got a bit emotional. It was like a ‘Wow, we’ve really done this’ kind of moment for me.”

RELATED: Trades training enhanced at Vernon campus

Back in 2003, Butler was looking for a new challenge as her tenure with the KGH Foundation was coming to an end.

Butler said in her last year with KGH Foundation, she attended 12 funerals, mostly for donors who had made financial contributions to enhance hospital facilities in the latter years of their lives. And it had an impact on her.

“In health care, donations tend to be drive-by crisis and a personal connection to the hospital, and that process can be a bit emotionally draining,” she said.

She saw the college foundation as a new challenge at the other end of the life spectrum, helping make a difference for students at a transformational point in their lives.

Butler’s arrival at OC came in the midst of a post-secondary transition stage in Kelowna—the UBC Okanagan campus was opening its doors, the Okanagan University College was about to be revert back to its previous college status roots, and fundraising assets and staff were being divided between the two schools.

“It was a bit of a shock to realize I had come on board with one organization and was now dealing with a completely different organization. It was not the happiest of times and it really divided a lot of people about what was happening,” she recalled.

“There were fears at the time we would be overshadowed by the larger university, but ultimately it has worked out well. UBCO has done fabulously well in developing new buildings and programs for its students, and the same can be said for the college.”

RELATED: OC strengthens ties with B.C. Wine Institute

Butler recalls in the first year after the Okanagan College realignment, she dedicated herself to meet individually with the more than 370 past donors to the former OUC, to solidify those relationships while helping forge a path to complement potential donations with the college’s future facility and student needs.

Those relationships building formed the groundwork for OC to establish a presence in the competitive fundraising market that by then included UBCO, establishing both an identity for the college and also overcoming a lack of history and alumni identification that most colleges don’t have compared to universities.

In fundraising dollars, the college has since raised $35 million and hands out bursaries and scholarships well over $600,000 annually.

A turning point for OC’s fundraising efforts was the $9.2 million Centre for Excellence built at the Penticton campus which Butler says gave the college a tremendous credibility in the corporate community.

“We did that fundraising campaign during a harsh recessionary period in our economy and were able to engage Jim Pattison to support that. I think that opened a lot of eyes in B.C. that showed a college was a valid place for post-secondary education and that donors would support colleges.”

That belief was further solidified with the $8.5 million trades complex campaign, a project that while located in Kelowna drew support from across the valley because the trades industry realized graduating students would have a valley-wide benefit.

RELATED: Jacobsen family donates $1 million to trades complex

With more major fundraising projects in the works, Butler thought now was the best time to step aside before the college foundation launches into its next significant campaign—a $19-million health and science centre on the Kelowna campus.

And beyond that is the goal to build a gymnasium and health and wellness centre, also on the Kelowna campus.

As for other campuses, Butler noted Vernon has just expanded its trades training facility, Penticton enhanced its welding program resources and added a childcare centre and Salmon Arm—the smallest of the satellite campuses—will be targeting expanded student housing.

Butler said she plans to keep her hand in fundraising consulting work and give more time to helping her partner manage his family homestead farm, 320 acres at Oyen near Medicine Hat, Ab., while maintaining a residence in Kelowna.

The college has started a cross-Canada search to hire a replacement for Butler.

“My experience here has been very satisfying,” she said. “I think sometimes people think of fundraising in a negative connotation, to be extracting things out of people or twisting their arms,. But I can honestly say I never had that experience at the college.

“Nobody has given us money that didn’t want to make a donation. It’s been about alignment of their interests with the needs of the college and the opportunity to give people the feeling of joy that comes from giving to help others.

“I always say do what you love and love what you do, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet some extraordinary people.”


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