Why this non-profit filled its empty office space with escape rooms

A non-profit organization in Charlottetown has found a creative way to improve its finances.

Voluntary Resource Council had to get creative with its fundraising

A Voluntary Resource Council board member got the idea for the escape rooms after a visit to Asia a few years ago. (Shane Ross/CBC)

A non-profit organization in Charlottetown has found a creative way to improve its finances.

The Voluntary Resource Council, which began in 1978, is a registered charity that supports the volunteer sector on P.E.I. by renting offices and providing other affordable services and equipment.

But when some of those non-profit organizations lost funding a few years ago, they could no longer afford to rent the rooms. Four of the 12 rooms sat empty, putting a financial strain on the council, which owns and operates the building on Prince Street.

That's when one of the board members got a bright idea — turn the four empty rooms into escape rooms and charge admission. 

"It has helped for our financial stability," said the council's executive director Sylvie Arsenault. "The escape rooms, this is like an ongoing fundraiser."

One of the escape rooms at the Voluntary Resource Council is next door to an office rented by the P.E.I. Lung Association. (Shane Ross/CBC)

Arsenault said the board member got the idea when she visited her partner in Asia, where escape rooms are popular. They are themed rooms where groups gather, sometimes in the dark, and try to escape the locked room by solving a series of clues and puzzles to find the key. 

We've had a few marriage proposals happen in our room.— Sylvie Arsenault

The escape rooms can accommodate anywhere from two to 10 participants. They've been able to hire four part-time employees who are on hand to assist if necessary. 

"It's to make money but all the income goes to the non-profit organization. So that's called a social enterprise."

Sylvie Arsenault, executive director of the Voluntary Resource Council, says the escape rooms have helped pay for renovations to their building. (Shane Ross/CBC)

Arsenault said the escape rooms are popular for birthday and stag parties and for companies doing team-building exercises. 

They can also make a fun date night.

"We've had a few marriage proposals happen in our room," she said. "We knew beforehand because the person proposing wanted a little help with setting it up."

Additional revenue

The additional revenue has allowed them to do renovations on the 100-year-old building and continue to provide administrative and other support for the voluntary sector.

Four of the 12 rooms are used as escape rooms. The other eight are rented to non-profit groups. (Shane Ross/CBC)

But it may not be forever, Arsenault said. If it ever gets back to the point where the escape rooms are needed for non-profit groups to rent, then they would take priority.

"Our mandate is to support the voluntary sector, so if there was a flood of organizations that wanted and needed office space then we might have to change our plan," Arsenault said. 

"Right now, though, the income from the escape rooms provide some funding for us to run the centre."

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