A convergence of circumstances sparked the Nova Scotia Firefighters weekly 50/50 jackpot into the huge success it has become.
Born out of necessity during the time of COVID-19, the province-wide fundraiser is administered by the Amherst Firefighters Association through Rafflebox, an online platform that enables charities and non-profits to raise money.
The first weekly draw, held on June 4, raised almost $11,500, which was split between eight fire departments. When the Christmas Eve draw took place 30 weeks later, the event brought in just over $400,000 in total, with 227 departments and agencies involved and more than half a million tickets sold.
The winner took home $200,058, the largest prize in Rafflebox history.
The draw has proved to be a big boon to fire departments struggling to make up for lost revenue, with many of their typical fundraising activities put on hold during the pandemic.
Nova Scotia’s volunteer fire departments rely on fundraising to purchase and upgrade equipment and provide training.
Greenfield and District Volunteer Fire Department is one of the fire departments grateful for the scheme. Fire Chief Moyal Conrad said the 50/50 has been a huge boost for department finances. The fire department normally takes in about $25,000 a year through Chase the Ace events, meals, hall rentals and other events.
However, due to the pandemic this year, all fundraisers were put on hold for about six months, drastically biting into revenue.
“The 50/50 has been great and most welcomed by us and all of the fire departments. It is a very easy fundraiser for us,” said the fire chief.
General maintenance and upgrade costs typically are high, and in 2020 an engine blew in one of the department’s trucks and must be replaced. Conrad said he hoped to order a new one early this year.
For the Christmas Eve draw, the department put an emphasis on raising money for the Chief William Saulis Families Fund. It brought in more than $8,000; the department’s share of the draw will be about $3,100.
John Long, captain of the Liverpool Fire Department, said that in a normal year the fire department raises about $30,000 to support its operations. Again, with other fundraising efforts stymied by the pandemic, the 50/50 draw has been a big help.
“It’s our biggest fundraiser that we have on the go. It has helped us replace some out-dated equipment,” said Long.
The department’s boat is in a state of disrepair, while work also needs to be done on the ladder truck. The 50/50 draw has brought the department about $5,000 with another quarterly payment soon to come, according to Long.
In Lunenburg County, Paula MacDonald, chief of the Blockhouse and District Fire Department, said that volunteer service was one of the first departments to jump on board with the 50/50.
“We were at that point where we honestly didn’t know what we were going to do,” she said.
According to MacDonald, the department was thinking it might have to raise taxes to cover the loss of revenue.
“We don’t want to raise the taxes for our ratepayers, but yet we didn’t have any means of fundraising. It has been very beneficial to us, and we have had a few expenses come up that we didn’t anticipate. We are very grateful to be a part of this,” said MacDonald.
Money is paid to the departments once every three months. The Blockhouse Fire Department’s share, paid out in November, was $5,000.
Typically the Blockhouse fire department will raise between $20,000 and $30,000 through its fundraising efforts. MacDonald was hoping it roughtly could match that with the 50/50 draw. She encouraged any department that has not come on board with the raffle to do so.
According to Lieutenant Andrew Wallis of the Amherst Fire Department, the timing of the launch of the 50/50 draw turned out to be a catalyst to a successful project.
He said he was part of the department’s Ways and Means committee in Amherst that was tasked in the fall of 2019 to come up with some ideas to bring in more revenue for the Amherst Firefighters Association because of declining revenues.
The association had been looking at options, such as an online game, when COVID-19 hit. He was approached by Rafflebox with the idea of the 50/50 raffle and got on board with them.
“The timing was perfect. COVID-19 had forced everybody to buy online and get comfortable using mobile devices. So we felt quite confident that we could make a go of it, if we could find fire departments to join us,” said Wallis.
Things got started at the end of May, 2020, just before businesses and activities began opening and gearing up again. He said that timing was key to their success.
“COVID-19 just provided a mechanism where we could turn this into a whole different direction and one that everybody could benefit from,” said Wallis.
A total of $1.87 million had been raised for the fire departments and agencies heading into the New Year’s Eve draw.
Although most agencies benefitting from the draw are fire departments, there are a few others involved, such as the Nova Scotia Firefighters School and the Firefighters’ Museum of Nova Scotia.
Wallis hoped to continue the fundraiser even after the association’s one-year licence runs out in May of this year.
Players purchase tickets online (one for $5, three for $10, 20 for $20 and 100 for $50) through Rafflebox. Buyers can indicate which fire department they wish to support at the time of purchase.
A winner is then drawn every Thursday and receives 50 per cent of that week’s total proceeds. The fire department and affiliate agencies get 35 per cent of the money raised. The other 15 per cent goes to pay taxes and administration fees.
Ticket buyers must be residents of Nova Scotia and at least 19 years of age. To enter go to www.rafflebox.ca/raffles/nsfd.
Kevin McBain, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, LighthouseNOW Progress Bulletin