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Calgary’s Next Economy: Shop My Fundraising is connecting community groups and local biz

If you have kids in extra-curricular activities, you know that fundraising is a major part of the parental contribution to the organization’s success.

Two Calgary-based founders of Shop My Fundraising have built a system to smooth over the oft-frustrating foray into raising cash for community organizations.

“People have a lot of pain when you say the words team fundraising,” said Blair Houston, co-founder along with Robert Gregoire.

The pair met as employees at Sysco Foods. They worked with vendors regularly and developed relationships around Calgary and area.   Both were doing fundraising for their own kids online or through Sysco, too.

“It was all cash and trying to collect and manage orders,” Houston said.

“It was very unorganized and chaotic, as you know, most fundraising is.”

When they were laid off during the Covid-19 pandemic, the pair realized that there was reasonable demand and margin in food fundraising. That’s when they first launched UR Fundraising here in Calgary.

“During Covid, we got crushed,” Houston said.

“There was no access. There was no fundraising demand. But we did have that vendor community.”

They figured the team fundraising would come back soon enough. Houston and Gregoire took the time to reach out to vendors like Calgary’s Spolumbos to talk about integrating an online platform to make it easy for folks to fundraise using a local company’s products.

Customized e-commerce for fundraising

Houston said that they’re essentially pop-up stores for Calgary companies. It’s all built through the Shop My Fundraising platform.

“There’s so many small businesses in Calgary, in Canada, and North-America wide, that do not have the tools or cashflow or staff to go into that fundraising lane because of the chaos that’s involved,” Houston said.

“We made it easy.”

A community, school or sports group can search the Shop My Fundraising database for companies they want to fundraise with. Likewise, when companies are set up, they can advertise a fundraising portal on their website.

“We’re trying to build that ownership for small business to get access to these new opportunities,” Houston said.

“If you have kids or you’re involved with an organization or a church or anything, everybody’s fundraising and I think people need other options other than 50/50 raffles, bottle drives or almond chocolates.”

Houston said that all a business really needs to do after the setup is fill their orders. While their experience was in food fundraising, any small business can set up a platform.

The company operates on a small transaction fee per sale.

Tapping into the network

Houston said one of the big things they’re getting from the new Alberta Catalyzer – Velocity program is a wider network.

He admitted they’ve had some missteps over the past two years that, had they participated in an accelerator, they may have avoided.

One of the key things for them to move forward is to fine tune their message. Fundraising can actually be quite confusing, Houston said.

“To have a more defined message and to drill down to really what is the message we’re trying to push to people, what we do, has been helpful through this program,” Houston said.

“We’re still not there, as you can tell, but we’re getting closer.”

Fine tuning what they do is one step towards scaling up.  Houston said they want to tackle the Calgary market first. They want to fine tune and build a robust fundraising platform used by groups and businesses all over the city.

Within a year, they hope to be Canada-wide. After that, across North America.

“I know we will saturate Calgary markets and give every business owner a chance to succeed and find out a path to getting your product out there,” Houston said.