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Pride Society fires sponsorship coordinator

'Just time for us to move in different directions': GM

"We wouldn't be where we are today without the efforts of Caryl [Dolinko, above]," says VPS general manager Scott Blythe. "But things grow and change, and it's just part of an evolution." Credit: Natasha Barsotti photo

Just two weeks before Pride, the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) terminated its contract with longstanding sponsorship coordinator Caryl Dolinko, even though the contract was scheduled to expire in August.

“They wouldn’t give me their reasoning [for terminating the contract] two weeks before Pride,” says Dolinko, who has been the organization’s sponsorship coordinator for seven years but was already planning to make this year her last.

Dolinko told Xtra on July 27 that VPS general manager Scott Blythe handed her the termination letter.

Asked if there was a personality clash involved, Dolinko says she’s “not about personal issues. We’ve got a job to do, contracts to uphold.”

“I actually don’t comment on HR issues to the media, sorry,” says Blythe when asked why Dolinko was fired on the eve of Pride. “It’s inappropriate” to comment, he says.

Blythe says both the Pride Society and Smart Cookie Consulting, Dolinko’s business, acknowledged earlier in the year that “we would be moving in different directions.”

Blythe, who became the VPS’s general manager last October, says he identified “right at the beginning” that it was time for the organization to handle sponsorship in-house, “rather than contracting externally.”

As the Pride season got closer, he says, “we just felt that we needed to be managing our sponsorship program directly to ensure that we could build upon the foundation created by both the board and by Caryl over the past seven years.”

Asked why it was necessary to terminate Dolinko’s contract when it was about to expire, Blythe repeats that it was important for the VPS to make sure it was fulfilling its obligations to sponsors, and to be able to manage those relationships directly.

“It was, of course, nothing negative,” he assures. “We have been very proud to have worked with Caryl, and we certainly hope that other groups continue to support and benefit from Caryl’s effort. It was just time for us to move in different directions,” he repeats.

Asked if the sudden termination on the eve of Pride might seem strange to sponsors who have been dealing with Dolinko over the years, Blythe says people leave organizations all the time. He says a message was sent out to all the sponsors informing them that he would assume responsibility for sponsor relationships.

In a July 14 email to sponsors and the community, Dolinko says it’s an exciting time for her and Pride “as we move forward and grow in different directions.”

When she started with Pride in 2005, “we had no sponsors, no communications plan, no community contact, 150,000 people at the parade and a reputation that preceded us,” Dolinko writes. Now, she says, “we expect close to 700,000 at the parade.”

“We have the respect of you, our sponsors, and our community both locally and internationally, and I couldn’t have wished for a better way to end my tenure with the Vancouver Pride Society. I walk away knowing what I gave to Pride, and what Pride has given me, and I will continue to embrace it as I proudly pass the torch along,” she writes.

Pride will continue to expand sponsorship with corporations and partnerships with community groups “under new guidance and organizational structure,” she adds. “I know Pride will continue to benefit from the foundation I created for their sponsorship and communications program.”

Blythe refused to say if any particular situation or issue arose that led to Dolinko’s premature termination. That’s personal and confidential information, he says, which “won’t be discussed.”

“It wasn’t just one decision,” he adds. “The entire executive and personnel committee made that decision.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without the efforts of Caryl,” he acknowledges, “but things grow and change, and it’s just part of an evolution.”

Blythe says the board has initiated a three-year strategic plan, which includes developing new policies for sponsorship, advertising, donations and community engagement.

It’s about the Pride Society “owning our intellectual property with respect to managing our relationships directly,” he says.

Asked if the ongoing debate about the increasingly corporate nature of Pride has influenced the organization’s decisions about sponsorship, Blythe says he feels the VPS has always balanced its corporate and grassroots relationships well.

“It’s not to say, though, that we’re not going to have relationships with corporations. It’s really about making sure we are transparent and representative,” he clarifies.

Engagement includes corporations, Blythe continues. “For us, it’s just about making sure that businesses we choose to work with — whether they’re corporations or agencies or small not-for-profits — are aligned with our goals.”

He says the VPS membership will learn more at this fall’s annual general meeting.

Blythe says the duties of sponsorship coordinator will eventually become part of an internal staff position, which will be advertised some time this fall.

Dolinko says she’s not worried about the impact her absence will have on Pride sponsorship. “I have faith in the structures I created.”

All you can do, she adds, is hope you “leave a good legacy” that others can build on.

“It will be weird not to be a big part of this weekend,” she adds. “It’s sad that I’m passing the torch. It’s kind of bittersweet.”

Asked why she was not planning to renew her contract with VPS, Dolinko says it was time to move on.

“Somebody once said to me, ‘You need to know when to put down the brush.’ I prefer to put down the brush now and walk away while the canvas is still beautiful.”