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Celebrating Milestones: HomeAid Northern Virginia Completes 150th Project Renovating Homeless Shelters & Rebuilding Lives

Written by Kristyn Burr, Executive Director and CEO of HomeAid Northern Virginia

This summer, HomeAid Northern Virginia proudly completed its 150th project of building and upgrading emergency shelters and supportive housing facilities for those experiencing homelessness! These 150 projects have spanned:

  • building a brand new residence for runaway teens (Youth for Tomorrow in Bristow, VA)
  • renovating residences for female veterans experiencing homelessness (Final Salute in Fairfax, VA)
  • updating multi-unit supportive housing properties (Community Lodgings in Alexandria, VA)
  • expanding local food pantries (Loudoun Hunger Relief in Loudoun, VA)
  • installing upgraded security at domestic violence shelters (Artemis House in Fairfax, VA)

See a complete listing of HomeAid projects here.

We do this by connecting regional homebuilders and housing industry professionals with local nonprofit organizations focused on ending homelessness. Our building industry partners donate their expertise, time, and resources to renovate or build homeless shelters, housing facilities, and other spaces at little to no cost to the nonprofit service provider. Importantly, this allows HomeAid’s nonprofit partners to allocate their scarce resources on programming and supportive interventions such as job skills training and mental health services that improve lives and greatly facilitate the transition out of homelessness, rather than on construction/renovation costs.

150th Renovation: Winchester Rescue Mission

WRM_Outside

Our milestone 150th project is our recent renovation of the Winchester Rescue Mission, which provides safe and secure housing for 33 individuals, serves up to 80 individuals at its nightly dinner, and operates a community food pantry — all within a historic 1930′s building that was in dire need of upgrade. HomeAid Northern Virginia with our “Builder Captain” Dan Ryan Builders and three construction trade partners installed new flooring throughout the building, repainted the entire interior, and replaced flooring and tiling throughout.

“This facility is critical to carrying out our mission of supporting individuals who are experiencing homelessness, and some of our programs — such as providing meals and offering laundry and shower facilities for resident and community use — are components that we feel can keep others from becoming homeless,” said Winchester Rescue Mission Executive Director Brandan Thomas, “There are so many in our community who are on the verge, and losing our ability to serve because of issues with our building would be truly devastating. We haven’t been able to make any updates to the building since 1985, so this renovation is a gamechanger. The cafeteria is probably the most incredible example, with luxury plank replacing a really worn concrete floor that had layers of peeling paint. It is a beautiful facility now, and all of the other changes allow us to service people more fully and more efficiently. This building is a source of pride for our whole community now, and we are so grateful.”

Winchester Rescue Mission

Winchester Rescue Mission

Winchester Rescue Mission

Winchester Rescue Mission

The Unique Challenge of Renovating Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

It is important to note that the COVID-19 pandemic did not halt our work. Through deliberative and creative coordination with building crews, we were able to complete the Winchester Rescue Mission project and other projects already underway when the pandemic took hold. Balancing the need for worker safety, we and our building partners deployed small crews at different time intervals to finish projects.

In fact, construction is considered essential during these uncertain times, and new HomeAid projects continue to move forward today as housing and service providers prepare for a potential homelessness crisis in the region as coronavirus emergency protections end — and evictions begin. The need for supportive and affordable housing programs will be more keenly felt than ever. We are ready to serve and are looking strategically ahead to the next 150 projects in the coming years to build sustainable solutions to prevent and end homelessness and rebuild lives.

Real World Impact: Each Project Brings Hope & Dignity

Across our 150 projects, HomeAid Northern Virginia has invested more than $18 millionin building a better community and has generously donated $11 million in labor, time, materials, and expertise. This has real-world impact. This is money that our shelter partners can invest in people rather than on building projects, helping them with things like life skills and job training, rather than on building maintenance. This is money that means children have somewhere safe to go after school.

This is funding that helps close the enormous funding gaps that exist between what our community nonprofits need versus have — making a real difference in our ability to provide safe and stable places for the 167,000 people who have benefitted from our enhanced spaces as they work to regain their independence.

Most importantly, each of the 150 projects bring hope and dignity to individuals and families struggling to obtain stable housing and in need of critical wrap-around services. Adults and children experiencing homelessness can rebuild their lives in safe and dignified spaces thanks to our partnerships with homebuilders and construction trade partners who collaborate with us and our nonprofit partners to build solutions to end homelessness. These collaborative partnerships enable homebuilders to do what they do best (build!) and service providers to do what they do best (provide supportive programs and wrap-around services!). At the end of the day, our building projects rebuild lives and, as one of our nonprofit partners recently told us, “serve as a launchpad for new beginnings.”

HomeAid Northern Virginia launched the HomeAid 150 Campaign to commemorate this milestone, engage supporters, and make a difference in the lives of those experiencing homelessness.

“It is so special for the women in our program to move into a beautiful and newly upgraded residence like this. It helps them to feel, sometimes for the first time, that they themselves deserve to live in a beautiful space. It really reinforces to them that they are in the next chapter of their story. It reinforces to them their responsibilities to themselves and to the program. When you live in a space that is beautiful, you have to maintain it. You have to put in the work– both in this house and in their lives, inside and out. HomeAid Northern Virginia truly created a beautiful space to serve as a launch pad for new beginnings.”-Friends of Guest House executive director Kari Galloway

 

Adapting Project Soapbox in the Time of COVID-19

Written by Justine Hipsky, Program Director of Mikva Challenge DC

A bustling auditorium. Dozens of middle and high school students pouring in the front doors and following the signs down the escalators, some springing with excitement and some whispering to their friends and their teachers about how nervous they’re starting to feel. A lively registration table with pump-up music playing in the background and an assortment of colorful nametags out for the taking. The sound of 120 young people playing musical questions to start the day before launching into a spirited Rock Paper Scissors tournament, building community and shaking off any nerves. This is a typical start of Mikva Challenge DC’s annual Citywide Project Soapbox event, an electrifying in-person celebration of youth expertise.

One of Mikva Challenge DC's in-person Soapbox events, prior to COVID-19

One of Mikva Challenge DC’s in-person Soapbox events, prior to COVID-19

Mikva DC’s work revolves around amplifying youth voice and creating meaningful opportunities for DC’s young people to “learn democracy by doing democracy” through Action Civics, with one of our cornerstone programs being Project Soapbox. Project Soapbox asks young people to, well, get up on their soapboxes! Answering the prompt of “What is the most pressing issue facing your community, and what should be done about it?”, over a thousand middle and high school students from all eight Wards of DC write and deliver a 2-3 minute-long soapbox speech in their classrooms during the fall semester – on topics ranging from housing costs to gun violence to the inequities of public education – with finalists from every classroom attending our annual Citywide event each December.

Throughout a typical fall, we host professional learning community dinners and curriculum trainings for our incredible partner teachers. We visit schools, run guest lessons to kick off the Project Soapbox unit, and coordinate over 75 adult allies to visit these classrooms as civic partners and guest judges.

One of Mikva Challenge DC's in-person Soapbox events, prior to COVID-19

One of Mikva Challenge DC’s in-person Soapbox events, prior to COVID-19

Of course, now, as we look ahead to the start of a new school that seems anything but “typical,” we’ve been asking ourselves the same questions as so many others. How do we continue to support our teachers and students effectively in the lead up to Soapbox and beyond? And how do we meet this moment to not only adapt our existing model but to also innovate and improve?

A huge piece of this innovation has been to adapt our Issues to Action curriculum to accommodate both asynchronous and synchronous remote learning. Mikva’s Issues to Action curriculum guides students through six steps of community problem-solving:

  1. Identity and Community Analysis
  2. Project Soapbox: Issue Identification and Envisioning Change
  3. Research
  4. Power Analysis
  5. Strategizing and Taking Action
  6. Showcase and Reflection.

Not long after social distancing began, we collaborated as a national team to convert key lessons and activities to be student-facing. From media literacy to how to create a community asset map to how to identify a Project Soapbox issue, we’ve compiled an array of resources for this age of physically distanced education. After receiving teacher input, we are continuing to expand our digital activity offerings to cover the span of the Issues to Action curriculum and to create and share fun instructional videos, student-facing PowerPoints, as well as opportunities for students to attend virtual election events this fall.

We are thrilled to continue to provide as many digital resources to our teachers and students as possible to amplify youth voices remotely, but we also know that teaching and learning don’t happen in a bubble. Since we sadly can’t bring our teacher cohort together in person for training and fellowship in the coming months as we normally would, we hosted a highly interactive, three-day Action Civics Institute over Zoom in early August. During this institute, we modeled how to build community and develop empathy in virtual classroom spaces in preparation for Project Soapbox and held two immersive Project Soapbox sessions where teachers got to explore how to facilitate digitally, as well as write and deliver their very own powerful speeches! To close, we asked participating teachers to encapsulate their professional development experience in one word. Some of the responses included:

“Ready!”

“Inspired!”

“Invigorated!”

A recent Mikva Challenge DC's virtual teacher training

A recent Mikva Challenge DC’s virtual teacher training

To build on this momentum and further foster our professional learning community as we move from summer to fall, we have planned out a series of virtual teacher “dinners,” where programming will allow for community-building, best practice-sharing, and a chance to connect with Mikva DC staff.

As we move from summer into an unchartered new school year, we will be continuing to partner with our teachers to find out just what Mikva DC’s 2020 Project Soapbox will look like, sound like, and feel like. However, what we are certain of is that there is no stopping youth voices, and that DC’s young people need a microphone and a platform now more than ever. Project Soapbox speeches will still be delivered by middle and high school students from all eight Wards of the District, and we will be showcasing the finalists through an online platform.

We look forward to continuing to connect young people from across the city, as well as bringing youth voices directly to adult community members and elected officials. We may not have an auditorium this year, but we have this city’s leading community experts and they deserve to be heard.

If you are interested in learning more or serving as a Project Soapbox adult ally to support and celebrate DC youth voice this fall through our Project Soapbox program, please email Mikva Challenge DC’s Issues to Action Program Director, Justine Hipsky, at justine@mikvachallenge.org.

6 Strategies to Secure Foundation Funding

For nonprofits, foundation grants are a highly competitive source of financial support, with the ability to provide significant financial resources. These steady sources of income are more important than ever for smaller organizations, especially due to the cancellations of in-person fundraising events and the increased cost of shifting virtual or remaining in-person. Here, we have a list of 6 strategies for nonprofit professionals to secure sustainable foundation funding to support their mission.

Strengthening Foundation Relationships

Strategy #1. Survey the Foundation Landscape

Educate yourself on new trends of the ever-adjusting world of foundation funding. Given the ongoing interconnected crises of 2020, many foundations are shifting their funding priorities. The three most common themes that we’ve noticed are emergency funding for basic needs (e.g. food, housing, health), more funding for structural equity (e.g. racial justice, systemic injustices, representation), and a focus on collaboration. Examine the work being done by other organizations in your community – where does your nonprofit fit into the wider ecosystem? How do you stand apart? How can you align your work to these emerging focus areas? Are there opportunities for collaboration? When in doubt, ask your program officer about how their priorities are changing.

Strategy #2. Cultivate Personal Relationships

As with all major donors, now is the time to engage foundation staff one-on-one. Personal relationships with program officers are vital during shifting priorities. If these individuals know you, then they’ll be more likely to advocate for you when the time comes to make difficult financial decisions! Share programming updates more frequently and before you make public announcements – this will make them feel like a priority and keep your organization at the top of their mind. Reach out to simply say thank you, demonstrating your appreciation for their past support. Invite them to attend virtual events, which are more convenient to hop onto than in-person events used to be. Even if they don’t join, they’ll feel engaged by the invitation and will be reminded of your ongoing programming.

Strategy #3. Ask for Non-Financial Support

Foundations can provide more than just funds! Take advantage of their expertise, by inquiring about pro bono legal consulting, financial counseling, or general strategic advice. Foundations are also excellent networking hubs, able to connect you with a wide variety of funders, experts, and opportunities you might not be able to find through an internet search. For ongoing grants, consider asking for more administrative flexibility given the unprecedented current circumstances. For example, they might choose to extend or eliminate reporting deadlines, or allow you to use previously restricted funding for general operations purposes.

Strategy #4. Paint a Picture about Your Impact

During the 2008 Great Recession, one major shift was toward larger, but more competitive grants that leaned toward data-supported impact. When writing grants, we recommend taking a Past-Present-Future approach. This is a time of flux, so you need to cover your bases: traditional programming, new programming, and reopening plans. Use concise yet striking statistics to demonstrate your traditional programming’s effectiveness back during “normal” times – but be careful to not linger too long on the past. Then, explain how your organization has been addressing the ongoing crises, either through a scale-up of your workload or a completely novel programming pivot. Tell specific and memorable anecdotes about your clients’ challenges, your virtual programming’s successes, and your team’s innovation and resilience.

Strategy #5. Plan for an Uncertain Future

Even though nobody knows what the world will look like 6 weeks from now, foundations still want to know that you’re planning ahead. In grants, lay out your tentative strategy and budget for the next 6-12 months – even if you’re not sure! Include contingency plans for possible major variables (e.g. the presidential election, resurgences of social distancing mandates, the 2021 spring school semester) and explain how you would respond and adjust accordingly. Explain the financial implications of your new normal. What resources will you need: equipment, skill sets, software? Will your new strategy require fewer staff, new staff, or restructured staff? Be able to explain to foundations specifically how their financial support will drive your action now and in the future.

Strategy #6. Demonstrate Urgency

A foundation needs to know you are making a difference now, not just in the future post-COVID-19. Demonstrating your work’s urgency is always a crucial element to grants, even during non-crisis fundraising. Make the case about why your program needs funding now to address increased needs, emergency needs, and future needs. Explain your nonprofit’s place within the greater, long-term context of your community; you may need funds now to begin making shifts that will ensure that you will still be around to support clients during the post-crisis recovery.

 

 

The Right to Dream

Written by Koube Ngaaje, Executive Director of District Alliance for Safe Housing

Imagine being 18 years old again, about to begin the journey into adulthood. No longer a child, but not yet a grown up, navigating the enormous changes and new demands that come at this major transition point in life. You might be exploring numerous new roles and transitions, leaving behind your adolescent support networks, finding a job, and forming more complex intimate relationships. It can be an exciting time, but unfortunately it is also a time of intense vulnerability.

Transitioning youth (aged 18 to 24 years) are more likely to experience domestic or sexual violence during this phase of their life than at any other time. The 2015 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that almost half of women who experienced violence by an intimate partner first experienced it between 18 and 24 years of age. For marginalized populations, such as LGBTQ youth and those living in poverty, experiencing homelessness, or exiting the foster care system, this period is particularly precarious, and their risk level is even higher.

To compound this issue, transitioning youth often have the least contact with support services. Transition services that are geared specifically to smoothing the progression from adolescent to adult services are few and far between, so these young adults are often pushed into adult services that are ill-prepared to meet their needs, especially as they recover from abuse. In DC, the experience of domestic violence is the most defining characteristic of homelessness or housing instability for this age group.

The District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH) is the largest provider of safe housing for survivors of domestic and sexual violence in Washington, DC. We believe that all survivors deserve a safe place to call home, including transitioning youth. This is why we have created our newest, innovative program, Right to Dream.

What is Right to Dream?

Right to Dream is a scattered site housing program for transitioning youth (aged 18-24 years) who are survivors of domestic and/or sexual violence and are experiencing housing instability or homelessness. Like all of DASH’s programs, it is survivor-centered, low-barrier, voluntary, and trauma-informed.

DASH 1

Through Right to Dream, 20 transitioning youth survivors will receive wraparound supports and housing assistance for up to two years. They will be partnered with a DASH advocate who will help them find and set up their new home in the DC Metro area, check in with them regularly, and help them develop a plan for their safety. DASH advocates will support participants to identify their long-term goals and help them eliminate the barriers to achievement, helping them gain the skills, knowledge and supports to be confident adults who break the cycle of power and control their abusers forced on them.

Right to Dream participants will have access to educational opportunities, job training and career planning as well as a range of other community-based supports to help them recover from their trauma and become empowered. The goal at the end of the program is for each participant to be economically secure and able to maintain the lease on their own or, if they choose, to move to similar lease, and transition to self-sufficient adulthood.

DASH 2

Why are we doing this?

There are very few long-term transitional housing programs in our area that cater specifically to transitioning youth survivors. DASH saw the immense need for support services for this population and designed the Right to Dream initiative to start filling the gap. Right to Dream will expand the availability of youth-friendly, survivor-focused, long-term transitional housing and services.

What are we hoping to accomplish?

Our Right to Dream program has two primary goals: to ensure short-term and long-term stability for transitioning youth survivors. We want to assist youth survivors to get stable housing right away, and we want to help them find long-term economic and housing stability, meaning a secure job, and a place they can call home. But ultimately, this program is about more than just providing safe housing. For many of these young people, the support DASH provides will help break intergenerational cycles of abuse and enable them to build lives free of violence.

You can learn more about the program on our website or contact us by emailing righttodream@dashdc.org.

DASH 3

 

The Poverty Pandemic

Written by Leah Paley, Executive Director of Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services

What a year it has been. COVID-19 served a devastating blow to those who were already experiencing hunger, homelessness, and fear of an uncertain future. I will personally never forget the shaky voice of the mother who called us from a motel with her four children crying in the background. At the height of the pandemic, she was running low on food and money to keep her family sheltered for another night. This call was just one of hundreds we have received over the past six months.

I asked our frontline staff to reflect on what things have been like at Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services (LARS) since the start of the pandemic. This is what our Emergency Services Manager, Alli Milner, shared with me:

What has work and/or life in general been like for you over the past few months since the pandemic started?

“During the pandemic it seems like even the simplest task has become complicated. Before, we could easily unlock our doors and allow clients to come in and sit down. We could easily hand them clipboards with their paperwork and collect their information. Now, our doors are locked and we have to wear masks and gloves. We try to avoid handing things like pens and clipboards to clients, and when we do, they are sanitized after use.”

What feelings have you had?

“Some days, I feel like we go non-stop. Right now, there are so many people who need support and it can get overwhelming. But, it has been great to see how people in the community are stepping up and supporting one another.”

What feelings or worries have your clients expressed?

“Clients are expressing a lot of concern for the future. Many of our clients have lost employment or they have been furloughed. There are also concerns for safety and some feel that by leaving their home to get help they are putting their health at risk.”

Although Maryland’s infection rate is declining, thousands of residents across Prince George’s County are terrified of losing their housing now that the moratorium on evictions has been lifted. The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) reported that “Before the pandemic struck, a quarter of all renters – and 71 percent of extremely low-income renters – were paying over half their incomes for housing, too often leaving them one emergency away from eviction. Now we’re seeing millions of people all have those emergencies at once.”

Across Laurel’s four zip codes, the average housing wage (the hourly wage one must earn to afford a modest two-bedroom rental home without spending more than 30% of their income on rent) is $34.80, or $72,400 per year. This is more than three times the earnings of a minimum wage worker. A single parent working as a grocery store cashier would need to work over 120 hours PER WEEK just to afford basic shelter for their family. Essential workers in food, transportation, health, and other service industries are the backbone of our community, and this pandemic has made that even clearer. Yet these vital members of our community are up against impossible odds. The numbers simply don’t add up.

Despite the disheartening state of the world right now, we have also witnessed incredible acts of kindness in our community, like City of Laurel employees who helped us quickly transport food to that family in the motel, along with many of our senior and immuno-compromised clients. Or the young man who collected over 200 bags of toiletries for LARS in lieu of birthday gifts. And LARS’ Permanent Supportive Housing participant who called us to meet him at Giant to collect a cart full of groceries he had just purchased for our food pantry. Or LARS’ Self-Sufficiency Program participant who received a bonus at work and donated it to LARS to pass on to someone in greater need. Often, we see that those who have the least give the most. Because they know what it’s like to go without their basic needs met, and the difference it makes when that worry is lifted.

LARS Donation

 

 

Kindness, gratitude, and hope have propelled our organization forward through this dark time. Let us make this collective experience a lesson on the importance of caring for all members of our society in good times and in bad.

For more information on LARS and how to get involved, visit www.laureladvocacy.org.

8 Tips on Running a Nonprofit Virtual Board Meeting

Board engagement is a perennial challenge, and that was before COVID-19. We know that board meetings can be an important point of engagement – but with meetings remaining virtual for the foreseeable future, how do we keep our boards engaged? In order to help answer that question, we have eight things to keep in mind when planning your next virtual board meeting.

Board Meeting Engagement

  1. Communicate more frequently. Given the constantly evolving situation, you need your board to have regular, up-to-date information to inform timely decisions they might need to make. Consider a monthly check-in with your board chair and/or an email update to the entire board. The more proactively you communicate with the board, the more they will feel that your organization is under control. Monthly executive committee check-ins and a monthly all-board email is a good place to start.
  2. Use video. Despite possible technical hiccups and Zoom-fatigue, video is necessary to engage your board. Onscreen video is better for dialogue, emotional connection, and keeping your board members actively engaged during meetings.
  3. Start with a Roll Call. The simple act of asking board members to introduce themselves and share a quick update at the beginning of your virtual meetings will make them more likely to participate throughout and feel more comfortable unmuting themselves.
  4. Ask for Ideas. Provide prompting questions to stimulate conversation if you encounter pauses – but be specific. Don’t ask the overly broad question “Does anyone have an idea for fundraising?” when what you really want to know is “Does anyone have an idea about how we can engage with medium-sized local businesses?” Also, don’t be afraid to directly call on certain people during the meeting by asking for their expert opinion or advice.
  5. Chat more. Encourage the use of the chat function in video meetings; it has a lower barrier to entry than speaking up and will solicit viewpoints from more members. The poll function is an efficient way to get a quick group “pulse check” on certain topics and may save you time as well.
  6. Delegate. Before the meeting, assign various board members to lead certain sections of your agenda. This will not only give you a break, but also get others in the habit of talking and gives them a sense of ownership over the topic. Plus, more voices make it likelier that others will jump in too.
  7. Use a Consent Agenda. Send materials a week ahead of time to the board, including some of the more straightforward items. These include items like the last meeting’s minutes or programming reports. Having read these materials ahead of time, board members only need to vote Yes or No before moving on, saving everyone time. Focus the majority of your conversation on 1-2 key points that need more discussion.
  8. Craft an Engaging Agenda How you organize, phrase, and relay information in the agenda sets the meeting’s tone and focus. Try to keep your meeting to 90 minutes in length, at most. Consider the following 1-hour structure:
    • Check-In/Consent Agenda: 10 minutes
    • Financial Update: 10 minutes
    • Discussion #1: 15 minutes
    • Discussion #2: 15 minutes
    • Wrap Up and Votes: 5 minutes
    • Executive Session: 5 minutes

With these eight tips in mind, your board will feel more engaged, informed, and ready to respond to potential future challenges your nonprofit faces.

 

Adapting to COVID-19 and Moving Forward

Written by Jessica McLaughlin, Development and Communications Fellow of DC SAFE

Long before national headlines began highlighting the rise of domestic violence amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, DC SAFE– the District’s only 24/7 crisis intervention agency for domestic violence– was preparing for a surge. We understood that survivors forced to stay inside with their abusers could only lead to one outcome.

All at once, COVID-19 further isolated survivors from their personal support networks and resources. Family and friends who could once offer temporary help, even spaces of refuge, could no longer afford to do so amidst their own health and financial concerns. Along with that, many community resources were cut off. As such, we knew we had to do everything we could to ensure that DC SAFE was fully operational and that survivors had a reliable resource for immediate support.

We swiftly shifted gears the day that Mayor Muriel Bowser initiated stay-at-home orders, going almost fully remote on March 13, 2020. There was no time to be stunned; the situation called for immediate action. Our first priority was to figure out how to maintain normal operations for our 24/7 Crisis Response program and SAFE Space Crisis Shelter.

COVID Data Dashboard (1)

We had to invest in new equipment, like Voice over IP phones, for advocates to facilitate our Response Line from home. The Response Line has historically operated as a hotline for first responders, such as police officers, hospital personnel, and other community partners. However, amidst COVID-19, along with the increasing demand for more alternatives to 911 throughout the summer, our Response Line has become an even more vital community resource.

Furthermore, while the DC Superior Court’s two Domestic Violence Intake Centers have remained closed, we have been diligent in adapting to newly instated online processes for survivors seeking Civil Protection Orders and other court-based services. We have even provided virtual court accompaniments!

While we do our very best every day to provide high quality services remotely, some emergency services still demand in-person attention. For example, our On Call advocates continue to meet clients after hours to check into shelter or bring grocery store gift cards to survivors placed in hotels. Our advocates in the field have been pillars of strength during this difficult time, and we have relied on them tremendously to provide support and comfort to survivors in crisis.

Other equally critical work takes place more behind the scenes. In mid-June, for instance, we joined many of our partners, including the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, to campaign for a FY21 District budget that prioritized the needs of survivors. In anticipating a second surge in requests for services as stay-at-home orders began to lift, we had to advocate for a budget that would match those future needs. We asked for a $5 million dollar addition to victim services across the city.

Included in the $5 million ask was $3 million to be allocated toward a new facility for our SAFE Space Crisis Shelter, which will be able to house over 700 survivors and their families each year when completed. This will double our current capacity. We are proud to report that the DC Council voted unanimously to include the $3 million in their final budget. This allows us to move forward with the project; and we are planning to break ground in early 2021!

Crisis Shelter Rendering

While the $3 million allocation is a success worthy of celebration, there remains substantial needs around domestic violence in our community and we hope you’ll consider showing solidarity with survivors as COVID-19 continues. We will continue to do our part to remain clear and transparent about our needs and progress. We have taken several steps to accomplish this so far:

  • Starting June 18th, we have shared weekly graphs on our social media accounts to showcase the work of our Response Line, reporting the total incoming calls and total minutes spent on the phone.
  • We’ve also included important updates in our monthly newsletters.
  • And we just launched a brand new COVID-19 Impact Dashboard on our website that provides up-to-date information regarding the work of our Response Line, SAFE Space Crisis Shelter, hotel placements, legal support. This page also contains links to helpful resources for clients and other providers amidst the pandemic.

Our goal is to show our community the most up-to-date data to display the real-time impact we see every day.

Lastly, we have seen the imperative to share our newfound knowledge and expertise both locally and globally. In partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank, two of our team members led a training seminar, “Practical Guidance for Hotline Services for Women Survivors of Violence in the Context of COVID-19,” for domestic violence service providers located throughout Latin America. We are all in this together and we know there is enormous value in sharing our resources.

Amidst all of our efforts throughout the pandemic, we have been so acutely focused on our responsibility to survivors, so it was a real honor to hear our colleague, Cortney Fisher, Deputy Director of the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse, recently share this: “We often think about in our office when things can’t seem crazier and we actually say to ourselves ‘DC SAFE does this and more!’ You’re literally holding DC together right now, and as much as it doesn’t feel like it, you’re one speck of hope and help in what may seem like a no win situation for many, many people.”

We are so grateful for our incredible community of supporters, partner organizations, fellow advocates, survivors, and neighbors. The immediate future is still very uncertain, and at times overwhelming. But we have a network of formidable women and forward-thinking men who will see us through COVID-19 to the other side. And we will move forward together.

 

7 Tips on Engaging Grassroots Donors Virtually

Grassroots donors are a valuable asset to your nonprofit’s community. Their individual donations might be humble, but in aggregate, they come together to make your organization’s work possible. It’s vital for smaller nonprofits to solicit their donors, but even large organizations lack the time to individually reach out to every single person. In this article, we have collected 7 tips on how your organization can engage your grassroots donors virtually, especially right now during COVID-19.

Grassroots Donor Engagement
Tip #1: Make a Plan
It’s possible that your organization’s original annual communication strategy has long since been rendered outdated. If your organization has not done so already, it’s time to formally plan a new communication strategy for engaging your grassroots donors. This plan should include which team member is accomplishing what task, which messages will go out where (email, snail mail, social media, etc.), your short-term goals for donor engagement, and messaging details to ensure cohesion across platforms.

Tip #2: Communicate More Frequently
Now is not the time to be silent. Even if your organization has paused programming, it’s important to stay present on your main channels so that supporters are reminded of your mission. Your messages can be brief, but should still be filtered through the lens of current events. We suggest sending emails to donors monthly with succinct updates and plans.

Tip #3: Focus on the Short-Term
When sharing information with your supporters, keep your updates limited to the next 2-8 weeks, depending on the level of change at your organization. Right now, because of widespread uncertainty in our community, people are struggling to imagine too far into the future. Your goal is to keep supporters informed but not overwhelmed with information.


Tip #4: Use a Realistic, Yet Hopeful Tone
Mastering the right tone in your communications is an art. Your goal is a sweet spot of realistic optimism without leaning too far toward despair (which leaves donors feeling helpless) or sugarcoating (which comes across as tone-deaf). During these difficult times, donors are looking for positive content, such as stories of resilience or neighbors helping others. Try focusing your content on your programming pivot’s creativity, work, and impact.


Tip #5: Know Your Audience
Consider the “user experience.” Who is your typical grassroots donor and what do they want right now? Are they feeling isolated and looking for community? Are they younger donors interested in social media? Are they politically frustrated and looking for a way to make a difference? Given those experiences, identify their likely “pain points.” What are they missing from your programming or fundraising? Let these questions guide your team when designing resources for donors to engage in, whether it be emotionally-compelling success stories, calls-to-action, or opportunities to connect with fellow supporters.

Tip #6: Stay on Brand
Although your organization has possibly been compelled to pivot, you should still remain recognizable to your supporters. Stay in your lane and remember your organization’s values and mission. Take the time to ask yourself “does it make sense that we are doing this or saying this?” Your donors should not feel confused; they should be reminded about why they gave to your organization in the first place.

Tip #7: Provide Call-to-Actions
Asking your donors to do something aside from just donating money is an excellent way to solidify their engagement. Your organization does not necessarily have to reinvent the wheel, depending on your capacity. You can either create or curate resources for them. Some ideas for actions include a social media challenge, virtual volunteer opportunities, at-home education resources, advocacy, or participating in live-streamed events.

Empowering Girls – Still Vital, Now Virtual!

Written by Carly Abarbanel, Program Director of Girls on the Run-DC

At Girls on the Run-DC, we believe that every girl, everywhere, in every circumstance deserves the resources and support to activate her limitless potential. While no one can be sure of what this school year holds, we are sure of one thing: joy, empowerment, and confidence are NOT cancelled!

As Girls on the Run-DC coaches, we teach our girls to cope with difficult feelings and situations, to do what’s right, to set goals and work to achieve them, and support their friends and communities; at the Girls on the Run-DC office, we’re putting those same lessons to work.

While we are still offering Fall 2020 in-person programming for a limited number of sites who are choosing to implement our safety guidelines, Girls on the Run-DC will be hosting a mostly virtual season this fall.

At Girls on the Run-DC, we’re excited for a strong virtual season running September 8th through November 14th, and we hope that by the end of this post, you will be too!

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Why should I care?

  • 97% of Girls on the Run participants report learning critical skills to manage emotions, resolve conflict, help others, and make intentional decisions. These skills are essential to our girls’ success this year, and they will continue to be vital through and past the pandemic.
  • Girls on the Run-DC serves as an additional level of support for our girls as they navigate these challenging times with the leadership of our trauma-informed and inclusivity-trained coaches.
  • Girls on the Run was one of the only three after school programs recognized by researchers at Harvard University as a top research-based Social and Emotional Learning program.

What’s the same?

  • The skills and lessons in the curriculum tailored to 3-5th graders (Girls on the Run) and 6th-8th graders (Heart & Sole)
  • Teams will remain the same throughout the season, facilitating an environment for the girls to create lasting connections and friendships
  • Teams will still meet twice per week
  • A celebratory 5K equivalent
  • Girls get t-shirts and medals
  • Two certified Girls on the Run-DC trained coaches per team of 6-12 girls
  • Payment will still be collected on sliding scale based on self-reported household income

What’s new?

  • Virtual practices last only 45 minutes on the team’s online platform. Though the practice times will include a lot of movement and activity as part of the lesson, the lesson will end with a preview of the workout girls then complete on their own in or around their homes.
  • Every girl will receive a Girls on the Run program journal to use throughout the season to track her goals and progress.
  • The Virtual 5K Week (November 8th- 14th) provides girls and Community Runners the chance to participate in the celebratory event in a way, space, and time that meets their unique needs.

If you know a girl interested in finding joy, friendship, confidence, grit, and a number of other social emotional skills while she develops healthy and active habits, have her check out our website, gotrdc.org/register-now, and sign up for a life-changing virtual season!

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