‘You Can Make a Difference’
The homeless epidemic in the United States is not something most Americans like to talk about — especially since we live in one of the richest nations in the world. But the sad fact remains that anywhere from 700,000 to 2 million people are homeless in America, according to estimates of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. A December 2000 report of the U.S. Conference of Mayors found:
- Single men comprise 44 percent of the homeless, families with children 36 percent, single women 13 percent and unaccompanied minors 7 percent.
- The homeless population is about 50 percent African-American, 35 percent white, 12 percent Hispanic, 2 percent Native American and 1 percent Asian.
A 1996 National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients found:
- 44 percent did paid work during the previous month.
- 21 percent received income from family members or friends.
- 30 percent had been homeless for more than two years.
These statistics are humbling. They show that even with help from family and friends, even when homeless persons find work, it’s not always enough to get them off the streets.
A unique organization in Philadelphia is fighting to change those numbers. The mission of the Project H.O.M.E. community is to “empower adults, children and families to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty, to alleviate the underlying causes of poverty, and to enable all of us to attain our fullest potential as individuals and as members of the broader society.”
Project H.O.M.E. does this through street outreach, supportive housing and comprehensive services, tackling the root causes of homelessness through neighborhood-based affordable housing, economic development and environmental enhancement programs, as well as through providing access to employment opportunities, adult and youth education, and health care.
Anyone who has tried to raise funds for homeless support efforts knows there can be challenges. It’s not a glamorous cause. It can be a problem we walk quickly away from when we see it on the streets. But Project H.O.M.E. has found some effective techniques to keep its efforts going.
We spoke with Amanda Aronoff, director of development and public relations for Project H.O.M.E. and one of FundRaising Success’ 2006 Top Women in Fundraising, about the unique challenges of raising money for homelessness-alleviation efforts, and how her organization is overcoming those challenges.
FundRaising Success: What should homeless support programs keep in mind when trying to garner support for their causes?
Amanda Aronoff: It is absolutely critical that the prospective donor understands that homelessness is a solvable problem — given proper resources and political goodwill. Project H.O.M.E. unconditionally believes this is true.
It is equally important to be able to communicate how even one person can make a difference (whether it’s through donations of time, talent or resources). Communicating these messages, as well as meaningful outcomes and accomplishments, is an integral part of our outreach and fundraising efforts. Donors need to know that their “investment” can make a meaningful difference in the lives of real people. We find that it is important to tie homelessness to the wellness of the larger community because some people feel distant from the issue.
We have found that our best advocates — from a fundraising or public-policy perspective — are our constituents. The voice of a formerly homeless person is the most powerful and authentic means for communicating your mission, and it simultaneously works to break down stereotypes and bring a human face to the issue of homelessness.
FS: What are the most effective ways to encourage donations to your cause?
AA: Project H.O.M.E. undertakes all of its work — including fundraising — in a spirit of building relationships and community. To that end, we believe that it is critical to connect donors (actual and prospective) with the real people impacted by their gifts. We work hard to keep them actively involved and advised of various events and real success stories.
Our Volunteer Program is integral to this process. The ultimate ask often comes organically either following or in conjunction with this engagement process. We have never done a telephone campaign and no longer rely as heavily on direct mail, although we do an annual appeal and Mother’s Day appeal — both of which have been tremendously successful as fundraising and communication tools.
FS: What fundraising challenges are unique to homeless support programs?
AA: One major fundraising challenge for homeless and housing organizations is the rapidly diminishing support from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for housing and support services. Project H.O.M.E. has worked over the past two years to develop an ongoing contingency plan for funding these growing gaps and to restructure our fundraising team to adapt to changes in the funding environment. For us, at least for the short-term, there must be an increased focus on connecting with the private sector — particularly corporations and individuals. Therefore, our restructuring, among other things, has included shifting staff to individual (or major-gifts) fundraising. Our education and advocacy department is also working tirelessly with housing and homeless organizations across the country to promote the idea that cutbacks at the HUD should be offset by increases at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Christine Weiser is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and publisher of the nonprofit literary-arts publication Philadelphia Stories.