The Hearing Foundation of Canada (THFC): Feasibility Study of Earned Income Venture

The Hearing Foundation of Canada (THFC), a non-profit dedicated to minimizing the hearing loss in Canada, sought Endeavour’s advice to assess the feasibility and options for a sustainable earned income venture. Endeavour conducted a feasibility study by analyzing the market and competitors, as well as the start-up and operating costs for potential income streams. Although THFC did not attempt the earned income venture due to tight resources, the leadership at THFC maintained that the Endeavour engagement was valuable in providing them with insights into the viability of the strategy and the decision not to proceed.

About the Client

The Hearing Foundation of Canada (THFC) is a non-profit organization committed to minimizing the devastating effect of hearing loss in Canada, by promoting prevention, early diagnosis, leading-edge medical research, and successful interventions.

The organization supports medical research related to hearing loss prevention and also participates in public education and advocacy to raise awareness of hearing-related issues.
THFC makes a difference in the lives of Canadians by:

The following are highlights from this phase:

“We had an idea that might help the Foundation’s revenue stream but we did not have the resources to test it. Endeavour provided those resources at no cost to the Foundation and our donors.”

Heather Ferguson, CFRE, ABC
Former President, 2004 to 2010
The Hearing Foundation of Canada (THFC)

  • Providing grants to Canadian researchers to conduct clinical and biological medical research in hearing-related fields.
  • Educating the public on how to detect and prevent hearing loss.
  • Advocating to raise awareness of hearing-related issues with different levels of government, the media, and the public.

The Project

Most of THFC’s funding was from private donations, which have restrictions and stipulate specific mandates for use. With initiatives other than those identified by the private donors on hand, THFC wanted to investigate the establishment of an augmented earned income stream.

Specifically, THFC was looking into the following income streams: co-operative advertising, printed materials, and websites. Co-operative advertising would involve partnering with hearing industry manufacturers and retailers in the traditional media such as television, radio, newspaper, and printed advertising (pamphlets and brochures), to promote a common message of protecting one’s hearing. In addition, a website option would provide online services such as a store locator or online advertisements.

The Work

The Endeavour consulting team started by breaking their investigation and research into three phases, as outlined below.

The hearing Foundation

Consulting team for The Hearing Foundation of Canada

Phase 1 – Initial Feasibility Assessment

This phase placed Endeavour in THFC’s shoes — identifying their constraints, strengths, market, etc. to gauge where the charity stood in general. The assessment was completed through a combination of interviews and research, in line with the project goal that the team wanted to accomplish.

The team identified the following constraints:

  • The project was completed during one of the most severe economic downturns that the international and national financial markets had seen and, thus, might not have been representative of the status quo.
  • Each of the income streams was investigated as a stand-alone solution, which may not be realistically implemented.
  • With limited resources, the sample size for the interviews was small. Endeavour recommended studying a bigger sample size to minimize the error margin.

“Being able to work with ambitious like-minded individuals from a variety of backgrounds provided an extremely valuable experience. I was able to learn from very intelligent individuals. Also, it was great seeing a project in its infant stages progress to the final recommendations.”

David Tron, BA
Foreign Equity Associate, Dundee Securities

Phase 2 – Key Informant Interviews

The objective of this phase was to conduct primary research and get in touch with people in the hearing aid industry who might be interested in this kind of partnership as part of their marketing strategy. This was a key step, as this is capturing the Voice of the Customer (both ways), the guiding star towards providing any service or product. Here the team identified and highlighted specific points from the interviews, which established credibility in Endeavour’s research and investigation, as well as gave THFC a strong motive to follow Endeavour’s recommendations.

The following are highlights from this phase:

  • Being easily accessible — contact information, maps, etc. help the buyer in taking the first step
  • Print media is the most feasible option for creating awareness, given its relatively low cost and high interest amongst interviewees. There was a high level of interest for television, and THFC had good creative which could have been easily altered to accommodate a partnership. However, it required a substantial investment capital for the ad buy that retailers were not prepared to enter into and manufacturers were not prepared to subsidize.
  • Online advertising should be comprehensive, bringing all different pieces together — advertising on television, print media, information about the charity, facilitating donations, etc.
  • Presence of other options for retailers and manufacturers, both in Canada and United States.

Phase 3 – Cost Models

With specific assumptions, each of the income streams was assessed based on start-up and operational costs. This was the largest research-based piece of the project in costing and estimating various options. The team conducted further research and interviews with suppliers of advertising media, mediums and distribution channels. This research was combined with the findings from the prior phase to provide THFC with a practical perspective on what the potential start up and recurring costs would be for each investment model. Additional options for implementation were also identified during this phase.

The Recommendation

A combination of website and printed material was recommended. Specifically, the website would contain a store locator, where the users can obtain information on where the nearest hearing test locations can be found—increasing the awareness as well as making themselves more accessible. In addition, the printed material would supplement further information that a potential contact may require.

However, one of the key findings of the study were that many of the identified initiatives, while having some financial merit, require a substantial investment both in terms of cost and time. Given the current economic climate and THFC’s limited manpower, it was decided that these initiatives were not feasible in the current time frame. Endeavour’s website recommendations would be rolled up and implemented in the next iteration of THFC’s website upgrade project.

The Impact

Heather Ferguson, President of The Hearing Foundation of Canada (THFC), 2004 to 2010, had this to say about the Endeavour consulting engagement and team.

“We engaged Endeavour because we needed answers before we decided to pursue our idea of establishing a sustainable funding initiative, but did not have the funding for a feasibility study. The best part about working with the Endeavour consulting team was having someone doing the work and providing insights into the viability of the earned income strategy.

After working with the Endeavour consultants, we concluded that we would have to divert resources to get the initiative up and running, and decided that we did not get a strong enough positive response from the marketplace to take that risk. But that does not make this any less valuable an exercise.

The Endeavour engagement manager and consultants were great, very tenacious. They just kept at it. We absolutely see the benefit in working with Endeavour again, especially when we have another project that is on the cusp like this one – where it might work, but then again, it might not.

I would recommend Endeavour to both small- and medium-sized charities. They do not generally have the resources to plan, and even if they do, they are usually so resource stretched that there is no wiggle room if what they are doing goes awry. They don’t have the extra resources to get out of a bad decision. Working with Endeavour will allow them to plan and to ask more “what if” questions without spending big dollars on something that might not be feasible in the end.”

The Consulting Team

The Endeavour team working on the THFC consulting engagement was made up of professionals from the consulting and financial services industries, as well as graduate students. The advisor for the project was Dr. Agnes Meinhard, who was instrumental in establishing Canada’s first undergraduate interdisciplinary curriculum in non-profit and voluntary sector management at Ryerson University. As well, Dr. Meinhard teaches courses in developing effective non-profit organizations and leading non-profit organizations through change.

Project Advisor

Dr. Agnes Meinhard
Founder and Director, Centre for Voluntary Sector Studies, Ryerson University
Associate Professor, Organizational Behaviour, Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University

Engagement Manager

Brian Chau, BASc, Electrical Engineering, University of Toronto
Juris Doctor Candidate, Osgoode Hall Law School;
Formerly a Senior Associate in Advisory Services at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP

Consultants

Barry Dion, BSc, MSc Candidate, University of Toronto
Jennifer Harris, BSc, BPHE
Conrad Lochovsky, BASc, MASc Candidate, Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering, University of Toronto
David Tron, BA, Foreign Equity Associate, Dundee Securities
Herman Wong, BASc, MASc Candidate, University of Toronto

Contributing Writers and Editors

Brian Chau, Engagement Manager, Endeavour
Heather Ferguson, President, The Hearing Foundation of Canada (THFC)
Debbie Kelsall, Editor, Endeavour
Judith Lau, Director, Evaluation, Endeavour
Banu Raghuraman, Writer, Endeavour
Andrea Wong, President, Endeavour

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