Jim Watson - Five decades of doing great work
Whether as a professional fundraiser or a staunchly dedicated volunteer, Mr. Jim Watson has made it his mission over the past five decades to support the nonprofit and charitable sector in this country, using his skills, energy and passion to help those most in need. Thanks to his tireless efforts and profound dedication, organizations stand stronger today than they did yesterday.
He began his career in broadcasting and it’s where he remained for close to 30 years, eventually starting his own production company, On Track Productions and then On Track Management producing programming for CBC and CTV. He established an impressive reputation creating documentaries and videos for nonprofit organizations, helping them advance their causes through storytelling in the visual medium. Though he’s long since left the world of production, Jim still turns to his company to complement his fundraising work.
In fact, Jim Watson uses whatever tools in his disposal to help nonprofits pursue their causes and fulfill their mission. It’s been his focus practically from the start. “Hearing the plight of nonprofit organizations on a continual basis motivated me to want to help as much as I could,” he says. It’s what prompted a long list of voluntary duties over the years, including becoming an active member of The Association of Kinsmen Clubs of Canada in 1963 and then Rotary International in 1985.
As a member of Kin Canada, Watson would eventually work his way across the provinces—Saskatchewan in 1964, Winnipeg in 1967, Kelowna and the Okanagan for 15 years—before becoming provincial governor of BC in 1978 and the National President in 1980. In fact, he's held every available Kinsmen office. He was bestowed a Life Membership, and most recently was awarded Kin Canada Foundation's top award, the Hal Rogers Fellow.
The Kinsmen relationship would prove to be a seminal one for Watson, fueling him toward his role as one of Canada’s foremost nonprofit advocates. “It was my early introduction to helping people,” says Watson of his involvement. Initially, he invested his effort and time into support of many of the Kinsmen’s national programs such as raising money to find a cure for cystic fibrosis. Later on, when he moved to BC, he got involved with the Kinsmen Rehabilitation Foundation, dedicated to helping people with disabilities.
He remained on the Kinsmen board for many years and is still heavily involved today, crediting the group for inspiring his priorities throughout his life. “They motivated me a lot to continue to find ways to raise funds to improve their quality of life,” he says. “Their motto is to serve the community’s greatest need and it left the door open to do lots of things.”
Things like joining the Rick Hansen Foundation in 1986. When the Kinsmen group volunteered to bring Rick across Canada for his celebrated tour, the organization called Jim up and asked for his assistance. He agreed but little did he know what he signed up for. “My first meeting with the Board of the Rick Hansen group became my first day as Chair,” he recalls with a laugh.
The Rick Hansen Foundation would benefit immensely from Watson’s help, so much so in fact, they wouldn’t let him leave. He’s currently celebrating the 25th anniversary of Rick’s famous Canadian tour, having joined Rick and his team at Cape Spear this past August to commemorate where it all began. “Its hard to believe that I’ve been with Rick for 25 years,” he muses, explaining he’s one of the only people who’s remained with the Foundation since the beginning. His titles may have changed over the years—including as the aforementioned Tour Chair, ten years as Board Chair and today as Board Secretary—but his commitment has remained steadfast throughout.
That motivational fodder explains why fundraising has been his profession of choice since he left broadcasting. He joined DVA Navion, an international fundraising company in 1997 to manage their Western Canadian region. Jim was handling a total of 15 capital campaigns by the time he left six years later. But it wasn’t the end of fundraising for Watson. Instead, he re-activated his On-Track Management company and began working with local nonprofits, effectively leveraging his experience, knowledge and contacts from his years as a volunteer. Later, he joined forces with former colleague, George Stanois, helping Canada’s prominent fundraising company, The Goldie Company broaden its base out West.
Currently juggling a full load of clients, it’s clear Watson is not slowing down. “The nice thing about this profession is you can work till you drop,” he says half-seriously. “I thrive on it, as long as I know that I’m accomplishing something good for the people I’m working with and for.” He relates how satisfied he felt on a recent trip to a rehab centre in BC, watching a roomful of disabled people using breathing and other assistive devices he helped fund. “It’s very gratifying to see a brand new hospital or research centre and see the light in the eyes of the people who know we’re working on their behalf; you can’t buy that,” he says. “It’s a feel good thing.”