Fundraising for the homeless and hungry

Written by Katie Mathison, FPRINZ, New Zealand Customs Service

Homelessness isn’t the rough-sleeping stereotype you see on the street; it can be out of sight – people sleeping on friends’ couches or in spare rooms, in cars, or sharing someone else’s home. Incredibly, one in 120 people are now homeless. And most people are only two pay packets away from homelessness.

These are issues the Salvation Army sought to raise awareness of, and funds for, on World Homeless Day on 10 October. Wellington PRINZ members gathered with Fundraising Institute colleagues to hear Public Relations Coordinator David Smith explain how they brought the challenge to life. Attendees then heard from Kaibosh Food Rescue General Manager Matt Dagger, who ran the Make a Meal in May campaign to raise funds to redistribute surplus food to community groups.

David Smith from Salvation Army, presenting at the Wellington event 'The impact of great communications on fundraising campaigns'

14 Hours Homeless

In Wellington, the Salvation Army got together with its sister welfare organisations DCM, Wellington Night Shelter, Soup Kitchen, and Wellington Homeless Women’s Trust, to raise funds to help them address homelessness in Wellington. This collaborative approach was unique to Wellington and comes under the umbrella strategy Te Mahana, which means the warmth that comes from a home both in the physical and wellbeing sense. City Mission and Wellington Free Ambulance were also non-fundraising supporting partners.

The services held an event called ’14 hours homeless’, inviting ordinary people like you and me to experience 14 hours as a homeless person, sleeping in a cardboard box, on a couch, or in a car. Two hundred and thirty participants chose the cardboard box option, and gathered to spend the night at a safe, well-lit location outside Wesley Methodist church: the organisers had to strike a careful balance between authenticity and safety.

The participants also toured the agencies involved, and watched a Kiwi-made movie on homelessness, The Insatiable Moon. They had a debrief session afterwards, and were invited to write their thoughts about this experience on a piece of cardboard. Photos of these cardboard billboards were then posted on the 14 hours homeless website. Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown took part, sleeping rough alongside fellow Wellingtonians, which helped raise the profile.

While the event didn’t raise as much money as expected; it is money the agencies would not otherwise have had, and the organisers are hopeful the event will build momentum next year. A registration fee might be considered in future, as people seem to be willing to pay such fees to participate in other sporting-type fundraising events.

David spoke about some of the lessons learned. He said that it was interesting most people chose the cardboard box sleeping option, even though the main purpose was to raise awareness of the more hidden side of homelessness: the couch and car sleepers.

In terms of target audience, the event did not draw in corporate teams as might have been expected, and the people who took part were mostly already strongly aligned with social justice issues, rather than ‘new’ audiences.

Some of the participants wanted to hear from homeless people rather than the agencies who serve them, but David said that gets tricky because it might be seen as intruding, particularly as these people are already under stress simply trying to live from one day to the next.

Working collaboratively with other agencies has its upsides and downsides. At times there were tensions amongst the governance committee as to what everyone wanted. The event has its own branding, which came at the expense of individual brands like the Salvation Army’s. But overall David agreed there was strength through collaboration.

He said that the online fundraising platform Everyday Hero was good for a multiple agency event, as it allowed each organisation to register the participants it brought in and claim those funds (although one drawback was that Salvation Army had to collect the total and distribute it). The site featured videos of homeless situations to get visitors thinking, and showed how many funds has been raised.

Matt Dagger from Kaibosh, presenting at the Wellington event 'The impact of great communications on fundraising campaigns'

Make a Meal in May

Last year, Kaibosh ran the ‘Miss a Meal in May’ campaign, but General Manager Matt Dagger told us that this year they repositioned the fundraising event more positively as ‘Make a Meal in May’. This meant that people were raising funds with friends around a dining table, rather than the ironically less popular choice of going hungry alone. Matt said the change in emphasis worked and they raised more funds as a result.

The target audience was gen x/y, and so the campaign was relaxed and fun-focussed, and was mostly based on email and social media, with no registration needed. Matt said that one of the best tactics was spending some money on Facebook advertising, as they got a good reach for a relatively small outlay. John Campbell also gave the campaign a welcome TV boost by doing a segment on ‘a day in the life of Kaibosh’.

A social media competition – post a picture of your meal and win a La Boca Loca chef to cook at your home – proved popular and kept the event alive for longer. A downloadable meal pack with games, fun facts, and an infographic showing how many meals a donation would buy, was also a great success.

Matt shared some of the things that didn’t work so well. A drawing competition where Kaibosh engaged with families face to face in public areas to get kids to draw a picture of a meal and submit it with their parents’ email addresses, resulted in only a few parents then taking part in the campaign. A launch party where guests signed a donation pledge card was well-attended, but not many people actually honoured their pledge. Similarly to the Salvation Army’s experience, corporates did not take part.

Matt said they now need to work out how to collect the email addresses of the ‘Make a Meal’ guests who attended dinner parties, and encourage them to hold their own next year. This will help spread the word, raise awareness and hopefully the funds Kaibosh needs to keep distributing food to those in need.