Founded in 1972, The Door is a youth-development agency serving 8,000 youths aged 12 to 21 each year with free, confidential services that include primary health care, prenatal care and health education, mental health counseling, legal services, GED, ESL and computer classes, career development, and recreational activities. It even provides daily meals, says Kate Guenther, director of development for the organization, who adds that often young people who come needing one service become involved in others.
While offering such a breadth of service makes The Door one of New York City’s premier youth agencies, it can present fundraising challenges for the six-person development staff, which relies on an annual appeal and an annual event to make up the 25 percent of its budget not supported by government funding.
Here, Guenther discusses these challenges and how the organization meets them.
FundRaising Success: What are some funding challenges your organization faces?
Kate Guenther: Offering services and addressing people’s needs across funding lines is very challenging. When a young person has access to all of our programs at any time, and we don’t really close our programs, we’re constantly dealing with a moving target, if you will. A program can change very quickly if there’s an influx of young people interested in it or a change in the population that we’re serving.
So, we may have to respond very quickly to an emerging need or a change in behavior. For instance, we’ve seen a gradual increase in the number of immigrants we see at The Door, so we’ve integrated into all of our programs some bilingual staffing, programs that address the social and cultural and educational needs of immigrant young people. Catch up from the funding end is something that is sometimes very challenging.
FS: How does your organization address that challenge?
KG: We use it as a strength. It’s something that we are prepared to do institutionally and programmatically. The staff expects it [and] is, I would say, always poised to respond to this kind of changing need. What we’re very apt to do is to assess the situation and approach a funder, and say we’re seeing this change and it is undoubtedly affecting other youth agencies. We apply for funding based on our strengths and our capacity to address needs, and by the time we are really quantifying a change, such as an influx of a certain type of population, we’re able to demonstrate our understanding of that population by making some very specific observations and program design ideas to funders that can support our leadership in the field. And that has been a pretty successful strategy. Just to turn it into a strength and say, “This is what we’re seeing, this is what we’re doing about it, and this is why we need your support.”