There is nothing much that leaves Laura Edwards ’74, York House School’s Executive Director of Advancement, speechless but one phone call in September of this year did just that. It was a phone call from Cary Gaymond from the Association of Fundraising Professionals letting her know that she had been chosen unanimously by the Board of the AFP to receive the Giving Hearts Award for Outstanding Professional Fundraiser. Still in shock when she got off the phone, she burst into tears before she could tell her partner Ross the good news. It wasn’t until the following week that she shared the news with Head of School, Chantal Gionet.
Commenting on what it means to have been given this award, Laura said, “I am so absolutely humbled by this award. There are so many big fundraising shops in this city, hospitals, foundations etc. To be recognized in their company is truly an honour.”
While the Giving Hearts Awards happen every year on National Philanthropy Day, the award for Outstanding Professional Fundraiser is only selected every two years. Highlighting the significance of this award, you cannot be nominated to receive this award, it is the Board of the AFP that must reach complete agreement on the recipient.
“To be chosen in this way by the AFP Board, who are essentially my fundraising peers, makes this award that much more special,” added Laura.
Laura’s history with York House School is a long one. In addition to being a student here, Laura has been involved with fundraising and community building at York House School, in various capacities, for over 20 years now. A student here in the 70s, Laura has always been deeply passionate about York House School. Laura returned again to York House in 1993 to join the Alumnae Association. A mother with two young daughters (“Lifers” Devon ’10 and Amelia ’08), she knew she wanted them to go to York House but she thought she better take a closer look first. In 1995, she became President of the Alumnae Association and later, Chair of the Advancement Committee. In 1997, the Board invited her to join York House as an employee to lead the school’s much needed advancement efforts. She said she would do it…for 18 months. Eighteen years later she is still going strong.
Just to give you a sense of what she has accomplished in her tenure, when she started in 1997, the York House Annual Fund was less than $10,000. With a very strong Advancement and Alumnae team, a great group of volunteers, and the support of the YHS community, she has since grown that fund to exceed $1 million. As part of the L2G capital campaign to build the underground performing arts centre, gym renewal, new playfields, and purchase the Little School, then rebuild the Senior School in L2G2, she led her team in raising in excess of $50 million!
Fuelled by her love for York House and her competitive nature, she focused on creating a true culture of giving and establishing meaningful relationships throughout the community.
“I knew the strength of this community and didn’t think we should settle for second best. I wanted our competition to feel our breath on their necks and to really build on our reputation for excellence,” commented Laura.
In addition to her commitment to York House, she has demonstrated a clear commitment to community over the years. Notably, Laura was a member of the Board of Directors of CARE Canada for 13 years, volunteering in Africa, India and Indonesia and she co-founded the CARE Canada “I Am Powerful” Vancouver Women’s Council in 2011 to benefit and support women’s projects in developing countries. She also sat on the Canuck Place Hospice Board, Westcoast Women’s Health Foundation, and was President of the Canadian Accredited Independent Schools Advancement Professionals.
Laura’s sheer determination and her passion for the community have not gone unnoticed. Adding to her list of accomplishments, in 2013, Laura was presented with the Sam Heaman Award from her colleagues of the Canadian Accredited Independent School Advancement Professionals (CAISP) for outstanding service to the association and profession. In 2008, York House created a ‘Dream to Reality Award’ in recognition of her having made “history in the world of independent schools in Canada by attracting the largest number of donors to a single campaign.” Laura was also awarded the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2004 and the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 for volunteerism.
Commenting on Laura’s most recent acknowledgement, Lisa (Greczmiel) Roberts ‘82, President of the Alumnae Association, said “I have had the pleasure of knowing Laura for over 20 years and what she has accomplished for York House in her unique individual way is truly amazing. Her perseverance, dedication and true passion for the people and cause she is working with have made her a truly gifted fundraiser. We are very fortunate to have her at our school.”
Adding to what makes Laura’s so deserving of this award, “Laura has innate ability to connect with people. Her genuine passion and enthusiasm is infectious and people can’t help but feel that making a contribution to the school is a wonderful idea! We are absolutely thrilled that she has been recognized for this award,” said YHS Foundation Chair, Richenda Crawford. If you ask Laura herself what has motivated her as a fundraiser over the years, it has been the words of her father that come to mind, “As my dad, who was a proud and enthusiastic door-to-door salesman would say, ‘every day is like a fishing trip, you never know what you are going to pull up’. What greater joy can there be than to have discovered this honourable calling that allows me to work hard in service to philanthropists, people with giving hearts, those who can and do change our world.”