By Julie Holdaway

Published in the Orange County Register on August 26, 2013

Nothing makes need so obvious as seeing it firsthand.

Kristi has been a friend for years. We grew up together and, over the years, we've both been involved in a myriad of nonprofits in typical ways: collections, runs and donating blood.

A few years back, Kristi told me she wanted to get more involved. She lived in the coast area, so I suggested Share Our Selves (SOS) in Costa Mesa to connect her with their adopt-a-family program.

Through SOS Kristi was introduced, via a story card, to Maria. As a single mom, Maria supports her three kids and her mother. They live in a one-bedroom apartment.

That Christmas, Kristi outfitted Maria's family with clothing, presents, food and grocery cards. Kristi felt the exhilaration of making someone's holidays happier.

Then she called me. Kristi had delivered the packages and, indeed, her five-person family does live in a one-bedroom apartment. They rent out the living room and share the apartment with another family.

Kristi was wowed—maybe aghast—at this all-too-typical scenario. For Kristi, the lesson was transformative, and she has volunteered with SOS ever since.

One of the keys to engaging stakeholders—whether they're donors, volunteers or just good neighbors—is to create "proximity" to your mission. Specifically, that often means direct contact with beneficiaries.

When I first met Mercy House CEO Larry Haynes, in a very straightforward fashion he explained, "We are not a petting zoo."

Mercy House, a leading provider in homeless services, understand the precarious balance of helping stakeholders experience the impacts of their works while also not exploiting the organization's clients.

It is our job to protect clients and to create innovative ways for others to experience our mission.

Videos definitely tell a story. YouTube is the second-most-visited website on the planet. For inspiration check out Taller San Jose's "Second Chances," Girls Inc.'s "portraits" and Casa Teresa's "full movie."

There are many ways to be creative. When UCI started using students to run its phone banks, donations jumped 42 percent. At Ronald McDonald House, you do not always meet the families who are being helped (often, they're with their hospitalized loved ones), but you are invited into the Ronald McDonald "home" to cook meals and create support.

It's tough to do that and not be moved to help.

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