Donor Focus: Tackling an "Icky" Topic
One of TV’s hottest shows right now is “Law & Order: SVU,” which dramatizes the society-wide problem of sexual and domestic violence. The sorrowful stories make for great TV, but what about when it comes to raising money for organizations that support its victims and work to eradicate it?
Begun in 1975, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape does just that. Its work focuses on public awareness, prevention, policy and education at the state level, and it administers government contracts to a statewide network of local sexual-violence centers to provide free and confidential crisis intervention; individual and group counseling; hospital, court and police accompaniment; prevention education; and referral services.
PCAR is primarily funded with federal grants, with additional aid from state, local and private sources. In 1997, the PCAR board of directors approved creation of a development office to generate non-restricted income.
Here, Executive Director Delilah Rumburg talks more about the special challenges of raising money for organizations that rally against sexual and domestic violence.
FundRaising Success: How your organization is funded?
Delilah Rumburg: PCAR is primarily funded with federal grants. We also receive funding from state, local and private sources. Some of PCAR’s funding sources include the Department of Public Welfare, the Department of Health, the Office of Justice Programs, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Office of Violence Against Women, and the Office of Victims of Crime.
FS: Who is the typical donor to organizations that deal with domestic/sexual violence?
DR: The typical, obvious donors are primarily women who comprehend the realities of sexual violence/violence against women and children either directly or indirectly. For the past several decades, rape and sexual assault has been largely perceived as a “women’s issue.”
Back in the 1980s, Junior League organizations began to take on the issue of domestic violence and offer their name and resources to create awareness of this issue and concurrently committed valuable funding and volunteer support to improve shelter conditions. The end result was one of legitimatization, giving the issue of domestic violence much-needed visibility and credibility, which in turn made domestic violence a “trendy” issue worthy of support. This ultimately led to significant corporate and community support, which is sustained today.
Sadly, when it comes to sexual violence, there is no image of what a sexual abuse victim looks like. Unlike domestic violence where the bruises and scars are obvious and convey an immediate picture of hurt and need, the wounds of a sexual-abuse victim are internal and commonly cloaked in blame, guilt, shame and secrecy. Moreover, from a public perspective, sexual violence is an issue that is mired in broad misconceptions and misunderstanding leading to two typical reactions: ignore the situation (the public cannot “go there”), especially when it comes to children; or blame the victim. This is especially true when the victim is an adult.
There has been incremental progress over the course of the past several years. Much of that has been the result of deliberate cultivation of new partners (corporations and individuals), creative fundraising, education, perseverance, and belief in our mission.
FS: How do you reach the most likely donors?
DR: Our efforts begin with sustained broad-based awareness programs that serve to inform and educate on so many levels — such efforts involve the media (responding to issues to dispel myths and misconceptions and communicate the real face of sexual victimization); developing innovative campaigns that target differing constituencies (men as victims, men as partners, teens as victims and partners, etc.); and committing to multiple- layered strategies that not only inform, but outrage and then engage.
Some of our most recently implemented and highly successful fundraising initiatives include:
- PCAR’s Catalog of Products: Known for our materials (products from public awareness campaigns and curricula developed for distribution within the state), we created a venue to market these materials outside of Pennsylvania to state coalitions, sexual-assault programs, educational facilities, hospitals, police, et al. This has proven to be an extremely successful undertaking generating mor than $75,000 annually. In addition, we created opportunities for our centers/subcontractors to participate by submitting their materials on consignment, thereby creating income-earning opportunities for them as well.
- Engaging New Partners/Leadership Breakfasts: These events utilize key leaders in business, government, etc. who are supportive of our work to invite their colleagues to a continental breakfast to learn about PCAR. The colleagues come out of respect for the relationship and, during the breakfast, the leader introduces his or her guest to the executive director . After breakfast, a formal program is held where our CEO talks about PCAR (focusing on our mission; shocking statistics that show sexual assault is primarily a crime committed against children and youths; our challenges and needs). At this time, there is no mention of fundraising, simply opportunities for the corporate/government leader to become engaged by utilizing his/her expertise to assist PCAR in short-term projects that are dependent upon and/or are enhanced by outside expertise. This can be accomplished by their own direct involvement or through another employee who brings the level of expertise that we are seeking. Such events have been highly successful on several levels as they serve to increase awareness of PCAR, our issues and, most importantly, generate buy-in from community/state leaders who are typically outside our purview or reach. By engaging in this level of relationship-building, we find that leaders become invested in PCAR and bring personal and professional resources (financial, expertise, etc.) to advance our cause.
- Vision of Hope Luncheon and Fund: Utilizing the premise of involving new partners, reaching out to new constituents and recognizing the outstanding contributions of advocates, PCAR wanted to create a special event that would live in perpetuity. Late last year, PCAR contacted former first lady Michele Ridge to serve as honorary chairperson of our first annual Vision of Hope Luncheon. The luncheon, held on July 14, 2005, served as PCAR’s opportunity to recognize activists, leaders and policymakers whose advocacy on behalf of victims and their families resulted in long-lasting social and system change. As a significant highlight to this event, the Vision of Hope Fund was created in honor of Mrs. Ridge’s exemplary leadership in child-abuse prevention at the state and national level. This fund will be utilized to direct critical funding support to build effective and innovative prevention resources throughout the country. (Mrs. Ridge will serve as Chairperson of the Fund’s Advisory Board).
This event surpassed everybody’s expectation, bringing in old and new allies who possess renewed interest and capacity to build the fund, knowing that it holds the hope and promise of change for generations of children.
FS: Are there any inherent roadblocks to raising money for organizations dealing with domestic/sexual violence?
DR: Yes, there are many. First and foremost, sexual violence is perceived by the public as an “icky” issue. While there is acknowledgement that it exists (thanks to the intense media focus over the last several years with high-profile cases involving sexual abuse by clergy and celebrities, sexual assault in the military), the resulting impact appears to be one of two reactions: intense victim-blaming or ignoring the issue altogether.
FS: Do shows such as “Law & Order: SVU” or high-profile real-life cases help or hurt your efforts?
DR: Clearly from one perspective, shows that address rape and sexual assault create much-needed awareness of sexual violence and its prevalence, not to mention the legal complexities that surround these cases. Conversely, the down side of these programs is that they are perceived as fictionalized dramas that are developed to entertain and, in turn, viewers take themselves “off the hook” for any accountability.