A profile of Steve Thomas: the fundraising pioneer in Canada.

Written by
Paula Attfield
January 25, 2011

'How Steve changed the landscape of Canadian fundraising'

Steve Thomas has been described as both the ‘guru’ and the ‘godfather’ of Canadian direct mail fundraising. Though he started off life as a historical geographer and a teacher, he has been a fundraiser for close to 40 years.

But I prefer to call him a pioneer. Why? Because his effort, persistence and determination have truly had a lasting impact on the fundraising sector, not only in Canada, but across the world.

Steve is responsible for bringing direct mail fundraising to Canada. After studying the techniques in the United States, he came back to Canada where he implemented the first ever direct mail programme for Oxfam Canada. In doing so, Steve shaped Canada’s first modern and scientific use of the medium. In the 1970s Oxfam grew to become one of Canada’s leading charities, mainly through the successful use of direct mail. No one else in Canada had raised money in this way before and today direct mail is the mainstay of many Canadian fundraising programmes.

Throughout his career, Steve has admirably sought to connect fundraisers and share knowledge, techniques and ideas. Steve is one of the original founders and past chair of the Canadian Fundraising Congress. He is also past president of the AFP Greater Toronto Chapter. His work with the AFP led him to work with the International Fundraising Congress (IFC) in Holland, and he was selected as the chair of the IFC in 2004 and 2005. Steve has recently completed his term as co-chair of the London- (UK) based Resource Alliance, the organisation that runs the IFC. His efforts have helped to create a sense of community within the fundraising profession and have importantly established ways and means to share ideas and learn from one another.

Steve also deserves recognition for the many other achievements that characterise his career as a fundraiser. In 1980, Steve founded Stephen Thomas Associates (now Stephen Thomas Ltd), Canada’s first direct response fundraising agency working exclusively in the nonprofit sector. Steve brought together and trained some of the best fundraising professionals in Canada. Over the years, Steve and his team have worked with hundreds of charitable and not-for-profit organisations. Just a few of these include: Amnesty International, Canadian Cancer Society, Kids Help Phone, Médecins Sans Frontières, Surf Life Saving Australia, TVOntario, The Lung Association, Canadian Diabetes Association, the New Democratic Party, Muscular Dystrophy Society, Osteoporosis Canada, The Arthritis Society, Easter Seal Society, March of Dimes, Royal Canadian Geographical Society, Canadian Olympic Foundation and many more. Today, Steve remains as chairman and creative director of the company, a position he very much still enjoys.

Steve’s outstanding contribution to the sector has been recognised several times. In 1998, he was awarded the Director’s Choice Lifetime Achievement Award by the Canadian (Direct) Marketing Association. In 2002, Steve was recognized by the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ (AFP) Greater Toronto Chapter where he received the Outstanding Fundraising Executive Award and in 2006, Steve was honoured by Amnesty International for 25 years of service. In 2008 Steve was named fundraiser in residence at York University. He is now chairman of the Amnesty International Canada Human Rights House Campaign.

Recently Steve has begun writing his own fundraising blog. Visit it by clicking here: Steve’s Blog . To find out more about the ‘house that Steve built’ visit his website here.

© Paula Attfield, 2011.

About the author: Paula Attfield

Paula Attfield

Paula Attfield, vice-president, Stephen Thomas Ltd and Steve's stepdaughter.

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