It was a Thursday morning, and I had just gotten into the office when the phone rang. It was a counselor from a local school district. She was trying to help a student who was homeless and had learning disabilities. He and his mother lived in their car. She suffered from physical disabilities and couldn’t work. I hate to tell you how common this story is in Silicon Valley, but that’s another issue.
The counselor didn’t know much about homelessness but instinctively understood that the first priority in helping this child was finding agencies that could provide his family with shelter or housing. In our sector, we call that “Housing First.” Find people a place to live then go to work on their other challenges such health, employment, addiction, and so on. It works–when your community has affordable housing. But that’s another issue.
I hadn’t been at the agency very long but had had the sense to gather as much information as I could about services available to those living in poverty and those without homes in our community. I sensibly posted it within easy reach of the phone. I quickly gave her a number of options and the relief in her voice was my reward.
Later that year, I befriended a wonderful donor I’d met at volunteer events for our agency. Like many of our donors, he didn’t just give money to charities; he was involved in direct service to people in need. He was very concerned about a struggling family in his parish. They weren’t homeless–yet. This time, I was able to draw on my experience at Catholic Charities, Second Harvest Food Bank, and other places to suggest resources for them.
I’m not saying this is a fundraising strategy per se, but we always talk about providing value to our donors. Find out all the ways they are connected to your cause or related causes, and try to be of assistance.
Since that time, I’ve taken over the “info@” email address for the agency. Every week I receive messages from people needing help. It’s something I never thought I’d do as a Communications Director but as my knowledge of the agency and our sector has grown, I can provide useful information. And sympathy. Of course, there are never enough resources for people who are homeless or at-risk, but that’s another issue.
Another way this broader knowledge comes in handy is for media inquiries. Sometimes the story a journalist is working on is just not right for your agency, and you know who would be a better match. Or because you’ve been following issues in your sector, you might know of some recent research data s/he can draw upon to enrich the story. Then you’ve made a friend in the media business. This is getting increasingly hard to do, but that’s another issue…