development consultant/ former development director
Women Empowered Against Violence
Truth be told, it was this nomination from Lauren Hines, development director at the Council for Court Excellence and a colleague of Miriam Isserow's, that prompted us to go with the "superhero" theme for this year's awards.
Last year was difficult for so many organizations, but few have lived as close to the edge as the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Women Empowered Against Violence. When WEAVE faced the very real possibility of having to close its doors because of the economic downturn, Miriam made for the phone booth and donned her (invisible) cape.
WEAVE provides holistic services including legal support and counseling to survivors of domestic violence. The organization reaches across communities by employing a bilingual staff and targeting efforts to D.C.'s gay and lesbian population, as well.
Its troubles began in 2008, when the District of Columbia announced it would provide the organization $200,000 less than it had requested. WEAVE drew on savings and made cost-cutting efforts, bracing against the first blows of the economic downturn. It initially cut four staff positions, then cut more; it outsourced accounting, gave up half its main office space and pinched every possible penny.
But a year later, in September 2009, WEAVE found itself in the same situation — only worse — when the District of Columbia announced it would cut its funding to WEAVE's emergency and counseling services — two critical components of its holistic model — as of Oct. 1, 2009. About 75 percent of WEAVE's $2 million budget was supported by federal and local government funding, and the massive reductions hit WEAVE hard and fast. On Sept. 9, WEAVE's board voted to close the organization after 13 years of operations.
The director of development at the time, Miriam was determined to keep WEAVE alive. Along with Interim Executive Director Katherine Morrison, Miriam reached out to both the grant-making community and to long-term donors of the organization. They also reached out to media contacts and got the story out to major media, including NBC Washington Channel 4, NPR, The Washington Post and the local Washington City Paper.
Miriam and Katherine mobilized employees, board members, clients, founders, donors and community supporters to leverage their individual relationships and spread the message even further.
One of the first people they spoke to was one of WEAVE's founders, Lydia Watts, who had served as the organization's first director of development until 2005. Lydia mobilized other early WEAVE supporters, including the organization's first director of development, Stacie Mruk, and they launched a new Web site, www.SaveWeave.org, and established WEAVE on Facebook, Twitter and several blogs. They launched an $85,000 "Save WEAVE" campaign that spread the message to every corner of the D.C. community. They had less than two weeks to meet the $85,000 goal to make up for the money that would have come in from government funding and keep WEAVE's doors open — if only temporarily.
Through it all, the messaging never strayed: Help WEAVE so WEAVE can help women.
And it got through: Donors made 700 gifts in 10 days, a total of $85,952, and enough to keep the organization's doors open.
In the midst of her efforts, Miriam was laid off from her staff position at WEAVE as the result of ongoing budget cuts, but she stayed with the organization as a consultant and continued to lead its fundraising efforts … her passion for the organization's mission undiminished.
From Lauren: "Because of this fierce determination, considerable dedication and masterful fundraising despite obstacles that would force most to give up hope … Miriam is an inspiration to all of us to hang in there and to work for causes we believe in, even when the challenges seem overwhelming.
"Like the consummate professional that she is, Miriam applied every tactic and spared no effort in a holistic, broad and deep fundraising campaign that reached strategically into the community and achieved results for WEAVE. Under the pressure of knowing she was engaged in a fight for survival, Miriam seized every opportunity to rally support for her organization. And she did all this with a genuine and unwavering commitment to WEAVE's work and mission. Certainly it was her passion that spread to all the donors and supporters who answered her call with an inspirational demonstration of true generosity and hope."