$200K Needed To Launch Emergency Relief Fund For Canadian Music Industry Workers

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Members of the Canadian music industry now have somewhere to turn when they experience hard times.

Operating under the slogan "Created by the music community for the music community," The Unison Benevolent Fund (UBF) will eventually provide emergency relief for the estimated 12,800-strong Canadian music industry workforce that are self-employed or contract workers and aren't eligible for the benefits usually earned by salaried workers. 

However, UBF executive director Sheila Hamilton tells Samaritanmag the fund isn't quite operational, despite the generous contributions of several corporate and individual benefactors to the tune of $800,000.

"We're very close," says Hamilton, a former president and executive director of the Canadian Country Music Association. "We need $1 million in the endowment fund to really be operational."

Hamilton says the $1 million figure is the benchmark dollar amount set by the non-profit charity's board of directors for the endowment fund to start generating significant interest and become self-sufficient.

The brainchild of Jodie Ferneyhough, president of CCS Rights Management and Catherine Saxberg, executive director of the Canadian Music Publishers Association Vice-President, the Toronto-based Unison Benevolent Fund (UBF) was established in 2010 as an assistance and referral program designed to provide discreet emergency relief to members of the Canadian music industry in times of personal hardship.

Once it is fully up and running, the UBF will provide various forms of emergency relief to those music industry personnel who have registered for free at www.unisonfund.ca, ranging from counseling services (the not-for-profit charity recently signed an agreement with Shepell-fgi for 24-7 counseling services available in 147 languages) to financial support (urgent transportation, temporary mortgage payment subsidy, medical costs) and other needs that are individually applicable on a case-by-case basis.

"For example, if somebody was in Germany and they couldn't get home for an emergency, they would give me a call and I would book them a ticket," Hamilton explains, adding that the UBF will pay directly to the third party on behalf of the emergency relief recipient.

"We don't hand over money like FACTOR. If somebody phones up and needs resources, we pay their mortgage payment for a couple of months to get them on their feet, or send a cheque to the dentist. That's how we will handle it. We will help them pay for what they need at that time."

Hamilton also emphasizes that the charity's services also extends to the individual applicant's immediate family members as well.

"If someone's child falls and chips a tooth and the family can't afford the dental work, they'd apply to us for funding," she asserts.

There are some stipulations: qualifiers should be working in the music industry "for two years," says Hamilton, and derive at least 55 percent of their income from a music-related job, but that definition embodies a wide range of job descriptions.

"Basically it includes anybody in the music community, from artists, producers, musicians, songwriters, roadies, journalists - anyone who earns their living from the music industry."

At the moment, Hamilton says the Fund is restricting claims to a cap of "$5000 per request," but quickly adds that all requests will be considered and handled on a case-by-case basis.

"We're still very much a work in progress," says Hamilton. "In certain cases, we'd contribute as much as we could, and perhaps co-ordinate with other organizations that might be able to share the cost and help out. But until we get the Endowment Fund built up, it will not be endless money."

While everyone will be eligible for counseling regardless of  their financial status, only those suffering from economic hardship will be eligible for other benefits, Hamilton reveals. But once the UBF becomes self-sufficient, Hamilton says the charity intends to expand other areas, including insurance coverage, pension plans and retail discounts on such products as musical instruments.

That's why she says it's important to register.

"It doesn't mean you're going to need the fund, but it means that we have strength in numbers: we would know how many people are in the community, build up our databases, and approach insurance providers with this information."

Another priority is fundraising: thanks to substantial start-up donations from such organizations as The Slaight Foundation ($250,000); Music Canada ($250,000); the Canadian Music Publishers Association ($100,000); founding legal patron Cassels Brock ($25,000); Shalinsky & Company and EBA ($25,000) and a few years of operation costs from the Audio-Video Licensing Agency (AVLA), and gifts from individual fundraisers, including $10,000 personally contributed by The Agency Group's Ralph James; $4200 raised by Manitoba Music via a charity bonspiel; $3000 procured by musician Jaymz Bee at his annual birthday party and $2000 amassed by SOCAN staffers during their office cleanup, Hamilton sees the UBF opening its doors to the public within a short period of time.

When it comes to contributing, Hamilton says donations can be made either by cheque or online via credit card or Pay Pal, and says tax receipts will be issued for all contributions that are $10 and over.

She says that no donation is too small or unappreciated. "Every dollar helps."

Samaritanmag.com is an online magazine covering the good deeds of individuals, charities and businesses.