Whirlwind Kaye steps away


Fundraiser extraordinaire Kaye Parker has been the face of Cure Kids and the Queenstown Trails Trust. She talks to Philip Chandler as she prepares to leave her now part-time trust role

Queenstown should be very grateful that a bubbly blonde advertising executive decided to move here 20 years ago.

Since then, the woman once dubbed the ‘Queenstown dynamo’ has raised millions for both a child health research charity and a stunningly popular cycle trail network.

Kaye Parker, however, admits she and her husband Michael only shifted from Auckland on a whim.

“We came for my 40th, actually, and our best friends were here.

“A High Court lawyer and an advertising strategic director shouldn’t have come here, but we just fell in love with Queenstown and made it work.”

So how did she become this fundraising whirlwind who was rated among the 50 most influential New Zealanders by a national magazine?

Parker says soon after arriving she was approached by locals Fraser Skinner and Wayne Cafe about an idea for an international ski race.

“Fraser said someone from Auckland had said I’d be a good person to help them get some sponsorship.”

The beneficiary of that 50K of Coronet ski race, the Child Health Research Foundation, morphed into the Cure Kids charity. Charities have to have short names, Parker explains.

“They’d shortened it to Child Health and it sounded like a government department, so I gave Michael a couple of red wines and said, ‘come up with a name that means ‘research for kids’ and he said, ‘Cure Kids’.”

Parker then spent 10 years with the charity, taking over as chief executive after about 18 months.

When she left, it was raising $4 million to $5m a year for world-class research into treating children’s illnesses, and Cure Kids had become one of NZ’s most respected charities.

Parker says she resigned for three reasons.

“I was shattered, I was losing my Queenstown life as I was travelling so much, and I was thinking, ‘where are we going to go next?’

“I didn’t have a plan and I thought, ‘time for new, fresh eyes’.”

Soon after, she was told by Queenstowner Sir Eion Edgar the Wakatipu Trails Trust chief executive’s job was about to be advertised.

“I thought, after Cure Kids, I can’t have a passion again for selling a product so I went ‘oh my gosh, that sounds fantastic’, so I went for the interview.”

Having gained the job, “I thought that was going to be a little three-day-a-week job”.

“Then [Prime Minister] John Key got the rush of blood to his head and put up a competitive pot of gold of $50m and said, ‘trails people, you come and apply’.”

Parker was thrust again into a hectic bout of fundraising to meet tight deadlines for matching government funds.

Fired by her inspiration, the trust raised more than $5m and opened, on time, a 100 kilometre-plus trails network in 2012.

“We raised the most money of any [trails group] in NZ which means I was stupid - I didn’t ask for enough in the first place.”

She can’t say enough for Queenstowners’ generosity, both towards the trails trust and Cure Kids.

“Queenstown just gives and gives, and then gives again.”

Is there a secret to fundraising?

Parker says it’s about “developing relationships with people who are passionate about what you do, and then asking them for far more money than they ever expected to give me”.

“One lovely person said, ‘Kaye says she’ll shout you coffee and it ends up costing you thousands’.

“Once I’m passionate about something, I’ll die trying to make it happen.

“But I’ll always think about all the key people that I know will have the skills to help me ‘cos I can never do it alone.”

Then there’s Parker’s bubbly charm: “I’m just naturally that way anyway.

“I’m 90 per cent up, most of my life - people energise me.”

After grooming her successor, Mandy Kennedy, Parker’s worked part-time for the trust for the past two-plus years, but says it’s now time to step aside.

“I think the trust has got the most fantastic leadership, it’s got a great new 10-year strategy and it’s time for fresh new blood.”

As she prepares to start her own business in the luxury holiday home market, Parker - who turns 60 in June - is more than happy with her legacy.

“I would be devastated if Cure Kids and the trust had fallen over, but both have actually got bigger and bigger without me.”

And she remains delighted with her move to Queenstown.

“I’ll go out in a box - I’ve never felt like that at any place I’ve lived in.

“Ninety per cent of the people who live here, choose to - that creates passion and that creates a can-do attitude.

“I just think it’s the best little town in the world.”