Julia Rivard, a Canadian Olympic canoer and graduate of Dalhousie’s recreation administration program, may have retired from competition in 2000, but she is still finding ways to foster Olympic spirit among Canadians.
Rivard’s new project, a microfunding website called Pursu.it, connects Canadian athletes training for the Olympics with donors who become part of the athlete’s journey by providing financial support.
Launched last month by Rivard and four other volunteers based in Halifax, Pursu.it features athletes for a period of 60 days appearing in videos they create themselves, detailing a specific goal in their training and a targeted amount of money needed to achieve it. This might be anything from a year’s travel expenses to a key piece of equipment to advance their training.
When individual donors pledge small amounts to a project, they receive personal ‘give-backs’ from the athletes, such as hand-crocheted toques or postcards from the road. One athlete has even offered to write the names of donors on the inside of her uniform, saying that her supporters will cross the finish line with her.
“I want to find a way for our kids who are passionate about sport to be able to follow through on their dreams because they’re supported by the Canadian fan who wants to help them,” says Rivard.
While some crowd-funding platforms, such as projects on popular Kickstarter website, provide donors with a copy of the final product they helped launch, “in this case, you’re investing in a dream,” she explains. “It’s not tangible.”
Pursu.it has an “all or nothing” model of fundraising that may even put athletes in competition with each other. At the close of an athlete’s 60-day window, if he or she has not fundraised the entire targeted amount, none of those donations are processed, encouraging the athlete to ask for only as much funding as they need for their specified goal.
Rivard says she loves that aspect of Pursu.it, and the athletes seem to as well. “It does work with their competitive nature,” she says.
Six athletes are presently featured, but the site will continue to expand. Over 350 aspiring Canadian Olympians have inquired about the platform already.
Daniel Yetman, a member of Dal’s track and field team, believes that Pursu.it could be helpful to athletes like him, whose ultimate dream is to compete for Canada internationally. “I like how the give-backs connect the athlete with the people who are donating so they start to build a relationship.”
Pursu.it selects athletes who show the passion to produce a quality video and follow through on fundraising, as projects are primarily athlete-driven.
Dal swimming coach Lance Cansdale has seen how funding impacts Canadian amateur athletes, causing some to quit before they want to do so.
“Some really good kids have to make decisions because they can’t afford to do it,” says Cansdale, who swam competitively and coached in both Canada and the U.S.
He appreciates initiatives such as Pursu.it, but says it is important to manage the amount of time athletes spend on these commitments. He believes that while such efforts may augment individual athletes, there remains a need for corporate and government support.
“We need to build things that can help our best, but we also need to build an environment that our best can excel from,” he says. He points to the importance of infrastructure such as pools that cost millions to build, as well as the impact a strong team structure can have on fostering individual success.
Rivard says Pursu.it is trying to address a gap in funding for many aspiring Olympians because corporate and government funding often goes only to elite athletes competing in the most high-profile sports.
“I think our competitiveness on the world stage is a direct reflection of the level of support we give our athletes,” says Rivard.
“Vancouver was an amazing time because we really saw the power of pride. I’m really hoping that Pursu.it allows people the chance to stand at the podium at the Olympic Games and be a part of the process with these athletes.”