Mary’s Place meet Facebook.
Mary’s Place, the venerable organization serving homeless families, is, for the first time, using social media to raise money. The campaign, No Child Sleeps Outside, hopes to raise $250,000 by Dec. 23 to open a crisis-response winter shelter for up to 60 homeless women and children.
Marty Hartman, executive director and founder of Mary’s Place, said the campaign “took off on social media.” At press time, No Child Sleeps Outside had raised $153,258 — more than half of it through Crowdrise, a for-profit company that uses crowdsourcing to raise charitable donations.
No Child Sleeps Outside is the brainchild of Saul Spady, a Mary’s Place board member and social media wunderkind. At 25, Spady is not your typical human services board member. He is the grandson of Dick Spady, who co-founded the beloved local burger chain, Dick’s Drive-In, and he is president of Cre8tive Empowerment, an advertising agency founded by his mother, Fawn. “This [campaign] puts together all of my skills to help with an issue that is at the forefront of our minds,” said Saul.
This is not Cre8tive Empowerment’s first foray into community involvement. The firm has worked with other nonprofits — Arizona School Choice Trust and Pilgrim Africa — as well as Republican political campaigns. Saul also worked as a page for U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Bellevue.
Saul’s parents have always been community-minded. In fact, it was Fawn who encouraged her son to join the board of Mary’s Place. Saul said Fawn had seen a news report about Nickelsville and was shocked to discover that children were homeless in Seattle. That awareness prompted her to encourage her son to join Mary's Place's board.
In September, the U.S. Department of Education released one of the most reliable measures of family homelessness: The number of homeless children in public schools. In the 2012-13 school year, 34 states and the District of Columbia enrolled more than 1.2 million homeless children — an all-time high. During the same school year, Washington state’s number of homeless students jumped by 12 percent to 30,609.
Fifteen years ago, Hartman founded Mary’s Place to deal with the crisis of family homelessness. “I saw the need,” said Hartman, adding that homeless families needed “a place to go rebuild their lives and deal with grief, pain and loss.”
Now Mary’s Place operates four night shelters for a variety of homeless families: Single moms and children, single dads and children and two-parent families. Mary’s Place also runs a day center where single moms and children receive “two hot meals a day, showers, laundry, clothing, medical care, and connections to housing, employment and financial benefits,” according to the group’s website. Last year, Mary’s Place served 2,335 individuals and provided emergency shelter 23,025 times. The charity received 27 percent of its funding from individual donors.
Saul is convinced there are more people who want to help homeless families. “It’s not a lack of caring; it’s not knowing how to help,” he said.
He started the campaign by soliciting donations from local corporations. Several contributed, including Dick’s Drive-In, which gave $10,000; evo, an outdoor sport company, $10,000; and Evolution Projects, a development company, $5,000. Eventually corporation donations totaled $45,000. Saul took that seed money onto social media, including Facebook, and got PR buzz. “On Facebook you can target those who have done charitable giving in the past,” Saul said.
The campaign hummed along and had raised $60,000 when The Seattle Times came calling. Columnist Nicole Brodeur wrote an article about No Child Sleeps Outside and donations jumped to $120,000. “A long-form article helps people understand the story,” Saul said. TV coverage followed.
Then, Saul used social media to “amplify the positive effect” of news coverage.
Hartman is optimistic that Mary’s Place will reach its fundraising goal. “The sense of community that you want to have inside the shelter, that’s what you find through crowdfunding,” said Hartman. “Who doesn’t want to be part of that?”