On the morning of Jan. 1, as if by design to ring in the New Year, the 723rd donation to our 2014 Winter Fund Drive arrived. It put us over the top of our $200,000 goal. We are profoundly grateful to all of you for this gift of abundance.
In any other organization, having to count on the last two weeks of the year to bring in one-third of your donations would be nerve-wracking. While I’d be lying to say we weren’t holding our breath, it’s equally true that underneath the uncertainty, we had a deep confidence that our wide base of individual donors would come through again. Like you did during last year’s spring fund drive and 20th Annual Breakfast. And like you always have in years past.
It’s not just the money that is so gratifying, but also the expressions of appreciation.
We made an effort to call every donor during our most recent fund drive. As we made these calls, a funny thing happened. The intent was to express our gratitude to the donors for supporting our work. What ended up happening, more often than not, was that the call quickly became about the donors thanking us for our work.
Often we get “love notes” with the checks people send. One of my favorite this season came from a supporter who sent in $100: “This check represents a token of what I would like to be able to give you but know that as every penny bears the message e pluribus unum, the 10,000 pennies represented in my check bear the message of my pride in your collective work, my encouragement not to lose heart, and my long-term faith that it is exactly in the reporting, recording, inspiring, thinking critically that community is made and justice made more likely to be carried out in our lives — all through the advocacy and ethics you manifest collectively at Real Change, week by week, person by person.”
Indeed, we had an amazing year. Our newspaper won 16 first-place journalism awards. Our OutsideIn campaign capped a busy year of advocacy that helped move the unsheltered crisis to the top of the city’s agenda and contributed to a budget increase of $1.2 million for homeless services. Our vendor program successfully transitioned to new leadership, and it served 750 vendors who sold over 600,000 papers and earned another $1 million.
Despite our programmatic accomplishments, the money didn’t always follow. One of our main challenges was our circulation income took an unexpected dip in the aftermath of our price increase. It’s not that customers balked at the higher price, but that as our vendors started earning more, they were threatened with the loss of public benefits such as housing subsidies and Medicaid. Thus they were forced to cut back on the numbers of papers they bought.
In a year when we faced challenges with circulation and grants income, the continued strength of our grassroots donor base ensures we head into 2015 strong. We can forge ahead with ambitious plans to reach new populations of vendors, to publish a digital version of the paper customers can buy with a smartphone app, to host North America’s first ever international conference of street newspapers and to mobilize the community to confront economic inequality and take action for racial and social justice.
A total of 1,743 donors supported our work last year. You were there for us throughout 2014. Because of your support, 750 poor and homeless vendors took advantage of an opportunity to earn income, tens of thousands of readers learned about issues often overlooked by other local papers and thousands of them signed petitions, attended protest rallies, wrote their elected representatives and talked to their friends and neighbors about events in their community. At the center of this was Real Change. Out of many, comes one. E pluribus unum. And you make it possible.