L-Istrina: The people’s Christmas gift...

Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

L-Istrina’s record-breaking success has been attributed to a number of factors – from the President himself to the people, the media and the seriously ill.

People are generous and they give with or without presents. They simply understand that people out there need help

Philanthropist Nathan Farrugia, who has ample experience in raising funds, said it was clear L-Istrina was a “much more well-thought-out, strategic and structured fund-raising system”.

One of the main ingredients of its success is that it has a “national identity”, according to the CEO of Inspire. “It is not perceived as just another charity, and draws everyone in Malta and Gozo.”

Of course, the fact that it does not just include the Boxing Day televised event, but many others in the run-up, means funds are already raised in the preceding two months. But that took away nothing from the success of L-Istrina, Mr Farrugia added.

Companies and groups create their own events – mostly for L-Istrina because it has a particular profile.

“It is credible and brings people together,” he said.

After summer, any fund-raising event is bound to have L-Istrina on its list, while more and more people are choosing it for their donations.

“From the management and leadership point of view, L-Istrina is not a question of luck but of cleverness” – and driving this is President George Abela, who has managed to focus everyone’s efforts on the event, he said.

“Leadership like that – inspirational – leads to followers, who support the cause… What he has done is brilliant both from a philanthropic and leadership point of view.”

L-Istrina’s success stems from a “personal thing”, according to paediatric oncologist Victor Calvagna, president of the Puttinu Cares Foundation, one of its beneficiaries.

He believes the success is also related to how much energy is injected into it and the President throws in a good dose.

Dr Abela “got so into the event” and his charisma plays a role too, Dr Calvagna said, pointing out that he managed to “unite both sides of the country”.

From a strategy point of view, the expansion of fund-raising activities outside the Boxing Day event has also worked.

Instead of offering prizes for donations, the President focused on organising other money-generating activities, which resulted in the country’s wider participation and more income. The previous formula worked too but the effect started to diminish, Dr Calvagna maintained.

President Emeritus Ugo Mifsud Bonnici, who like other Presidents under whose remit the Malta Community Chest Fund fell, was involved in the event, was most impressed by the involvement of popular presenters, who are used to communicating with the public, and the role of the media, apart from that of Dr Abela and the collective effort.

The use of Verdala Palace in Buskett was innovative, although it could have been counter-productive due to the bad weather, Dr Mifsud Bonnici said. “The most beautiful palace sparked the public’s imagination but repeating it could risk being run-of-the-mill,” he cautioned.

The Presidents’ involvement has always been there, he said, mentioning how they used to attend in the cold and singling out Ċensu Tabone, who participated despite his old age.

L-Istrina’s success was the accumulation of several factors but it was the media’s strong involvement over time that made the difference, he insisted.

For TV personality Peppi Azz-opardi, who was among the presenters during the 12-hour programme on Monday and who created the supposed one-time TV charity event from his Msida flat 16 years ago, L-Istrina is about the people.

“I never thought it would become a national feast of solidarity,” he said of the evolvement he has witnessed over the years.

Abroad, similar events have much more resources, yet they do not come close to what the Maltese raise, Mr Azzopardi said. “The difference is the people,” he insisted, adding he was convinced the upcoming fund-raising event for Id-Dar tal-Providenza would draw in donations too.

Mr Azzopardi attributed this year’s success to the seriously ill, including 35-year-old Karl Vella, the father of two, who is again riddled with cancer three years after beating the disease, but wanted to spend the whole 12 hours taking calls for donations.

“There he was, bent in pain, taking his medication, for 12 hours on end,” Mr Azzopardi said.

He was also impressed by Michael Saliba, who lost his five-year-old son Joseph last Easter but chose to lend a hand to others on Boxing Day.

“These people go beyond solidarity. They are the people who need our help but instead they choose to help others,” Mr Azzopardi said, praising their courage.

“If we are doing something good, can you imagine what these people are doing? They are the apex of solidarity.

“It is not about prizes or no prizes,” he said, referring to the “record” year of the tsunami in 2004, when over €3 million were raised.

“People are generous and they give with or without presents. They simply understand that people out there need help.”

Top five donations in 2011

The biggest fund-raisers were the events organised in the run-up to L-Istrina:
• The President’s Charity Fun Run supported by Banif Bank – €233,000
• Paqpaqli għall-Istrina – €150,000
• The Piggy Bank Campaign, supported by Bank of Valletta – €115,000
• The MCCF Tisjir mill-Qalb cookery book – €107,000
• HSBC sponsorship of L-Istrina – €100,000

Donation boxes over the years

L-Istrina 2011 – €2,566,539
The event was held at Verdala Palace, in Buskett, for the first time. As the global economic climate continued to show a gloomy outlook, many were surprised to see the amount surpass that collected the previous year.

L-Istrina 2010 – €2,332,410
This amount was slightly above that of the previous year. For the first time, the public could donate through a Facebook application.

L-Istrina 2009 – €2.3 million
For the first time, the event,previously organised by Public Broadcasting Services Ltd, was organised by the Malta Community Chest Fund. Prizes for donors were done away with.

L-Istrina 2008 – €1,227,009
The telethon was held amid global economic gloom and doom and higher utility tariffs.

L-Istrina 2007 – €1,398,313
The charity event was held in the aftermath of a budget that cut taxes and gave Children’s Allowance to all children.

L-Istrina 2006 – €1,164,687
Inflation hit hard in 2006 with the surcharge going above 60 per cent for a couple of months.

L-Istrina 2005 – €3,207,547
An extraordinary amount – bit it included €1.4 million netted from the auction sale of 59 BMWs used during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting that November.

L-Istrina 2004 – €1,899,350
The telethon was held in the midst of a controversy over the government’s decision to stop public holidays falling on weekends being added to an employee’s leave entitlement.


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