With 2017 quickly winding to a close, Amanda Holm caught up with Kathryn Benjamin, Director of Development for the Somerville Homeless Coalition. SHC used #GivingTuesday as a remarkable springboard for end of year giving (see below), raising nearly $20,000 and expanding their #GivingTuesday success nearly tenfold. Kathryn talked to us about the power of individual donors, and why she’s so passionate about her work.
Amanda: Thanks so much for speaking with us Kathryn, it’s such a pleasure to learn more about your work. Can you start by sharing more about the Somerville Homeless Coalition (SHC) and how you first got involved?
Kathryn: Thanks so much for having me! Somerville Homeless Coalition has been around for 32 years. It was originally formed by community-minded folks who responded to the overwhelming need in the Somerville/Arlington area, especially after the Red Line expansion in the 1980s. We’ve grown so much over the years- from one shelter with 4 beds to 16 beds now and a second shelter for families, adding a food pantry, and providing wraparound services for our clients.
I’ve been there for 5 years as the Director of Development, but I first got involved almost 10 years ago. I was driving through Alewife with my children in the backseat when my children got concerned by the obvious need. They asked, “We have enough money- why don’t we share?” From there, I called the Coalition for more information, and the Executive Director came to speak at my church. He so impressed me with his passion and knowledge of homelessness and the underlying causes, that when a position opened up, I applied!
Amanda: Thanks for sharing such a wonderful personal story. I’m so impressed by your relationship with your individual donors. About $900,000- almost 1/3 of your annual budget- comes from individuals. Can you talk about how you get, and stay, connected with them?
Kathryn: We are lucky to work in Somerville- a wonderful community with people that really care about helping others. They see SHC as an effective organization that really has an impact. We have a strong core of long term supporters, including many local small businesses. Our supporters host block parties, musical events, yard sales, lemonade stands on our behalf- they come up with so many creative ways to help us meet our goals.
Just recently at our 22nd Annual Road Race, our 2nd highest fundraiser was a 12 year old boy named Connor who raised $1,500! Our highest fundraiser brought in $5,000. He was compelled by our statistic that $1,000 can help prevent a family from becoming homeless. He was really able to feel the impact of his fundraising.
Amanda: That’s remarkable - it really speaks to the power of storytelling with individual donors.
I know you’ve been involved with #GivingTuesday for the last 5 years. Can you share a little about how your strategy has changed over the years?
Kathryn: When #GivingTuesday was brand new, we started really simply. We sent out a couple of emails, did some tracking, and brought in about $2,000. We were really happy with that - because it was $2,000 more than we had before! But as time went on, we tried to get more creative. We fundraised collaboratively with several local nonprofits, conducted a telethon through the local cable station one year and a party and auction the next year.
We learned was that donors really wanted to give to individual nonprofits so they could direct their gift to a specific cause that spoke most to them. This year, we changed our messaging a bit and really emphasized, thanks to The Boston Foundation underwriting credit card fees, that 100% of donations would go to the mission of the Somerville Homeless Coalition. It really connected with our donors. Your support was a little wind in our sails!
Amanda: I’m so glad to hear that! We love being able to support our nonprofits. Now that we’re coming to the close of our interview, what is one thing you’d like our readers to know about SHC?
Kathryn: If you’ve ever been moved by seeing someone on the street and you want to be confident that your donation will make a difference in the lives of people, please consider donating to the Somerville Homeless Coalition. You can be confident that your donation will help the lives of hundreds of people in Somerville.
To learn more about the Somerville Homeless Coalition and nearly 1,200 other nonprofits doing incredible work in Massachusetts, please visit www.givingcommon.org.