Providing Youth Advocacy and Career Services during COVID

Social Advocates for Youth (SAY) was founded in 1971 to provide a constructive alternative to juvenile hall for runaway and at-risk youth. Their formula incorporates three pillars: housing, counseling and career.

This month’s HERO is Dawnn Montgomery, a Career Services Specialist + Housing for SAY. She has worked for the non-profit agency based in Santa Rosa since April 2019. Her position at SAY allows her to provide immediate response to youth in crisis who experience homelessness, extreme trauma, and struggle with moderate to severe mental health issues including substance abuse.

Dawnn supports clients who are cultural and socioeconomically diverse who are in short-term and long-term housing programs with immediate needs to reach employment and educational goals. When the pandemic hit in March 2020, Dawnn’s early priorities were to quickly focus the services for everyone currently involved in the program, especially as job insecurity would be on the rise.

“Like most of us, we didn’t know how long this was going to last,” said Dawnn. “So early on we took a targeted approach to focus on our youth who may be experiencing gaps in their wages, assistance in information and tracking of stimulus checks, and help with unemployment filings and process.”

The ages of the youth primarily served by these programs are between 18-24. The career services focus is to begin by helping youth where they are at, obtain and sustain employment, and balance time management and positive patterns to maintain their work schedules. They also work to develop life and career skills, such as conflict resolution and management, and asking for raises.

One upside, Dawnn shared, were so many essential jobs were still available and many in the programs were able to continue work. “We did have to switch gears and prepare them for online interviews over Zoom. Our mock interviews went all online, so we were really able to move quickly,” shared Dawnn. Santa Rosa Junior Community College provided laptops and wifi for SAY.

“With the support they get from SAY, so many of these youth have been very resilient during the pandemic, working hard through the issues and barriers COVID brought,” reflected Dawnn. “We have all been on the same page – even with our skeleton crew. SAY also has been able to retain all employees and manage the new safety precautions, such as wearing masks all the time.”

“We are making a difference to our community. It is so worth it,” said HERO Dawnn.

When “Because I Said So” Just Isn’t Enough

Contributed by Melissa Irish, PRG Managing Associate

I can’t count how many times colleagues and clients have come to us with the presenting problem of needing to raise more money – often lots more – but can’t articulate why. To call us to ask for help makes sense, we ARE fundraising counsel but before we say, “yes,” a deeper exploration must begin because at its core fundraising is only a means to an end. The presenting problem cannot be the money you need to raise but rather the impact and value you can bring to your clients and communities that answers a pressing need.

So, our first question back to any prospective client is, “WHY do you need the money?” And we listen for the story that tells of greater, urgent needs in their communities, the creative, unique solutions that will answer those needs and/or the historic opportunity that fell into their laps that can catapult their mission to greater heights. If this part of the tale can be spun, our next question is, “HOW do you plan to do this?” This is where most organizations will start to falter (if not sooner), the answers become a bit opaque and the mumbling begins.

Being able to answer the WHY and the HOW is the nexus where strategy and fundraising meet.

Launching into a fundraising initiative without a clear strategic plan often results in time and money squandered instead of leveraged. Any savvy donor will want to know the answers to WHY and HOW before taking the leap – rightfully so. And the more money you want to raise, the better those answers must be to compete in a challenging fundraising market.

The thought of “strategic planning” can put sweat on the brow of any leader, however, FEAR NOT – there is new art and science to effective planning that avoids the pit falls of analysis paralysis and aligns all stakeholders towards a common goal.

To help assess how deep and wide your strategic (re)alignment may need to go, here are 8 questions to consider:

1. Why do we need to raise this money?
2. Who will benefit? How?
3. What has changed that has made this need so great (both programmatic and financial)?
4. How aligned are we internally in defining the problem and solutions?
5. What are others doing out there to solve this problem and where do we fit in the continuum of service that is unique and vital?
6. How will new resources (financial and capital) be leveraged to answer this compelling need?
7. What does success look like?
8. What has COVID-era fundraising taught us that we think we want to carry over?

If the answers to these questions roll off the tongue of your Board Chair, Executive Director and Management Team, you are ready for a major fundraising campaign. If some can be answered but others a bit dodgy, a focused strategic realignment may be needed to get everyone on the same page.

If all this leaves you with a severe headache, you’re not alone. At PRG we stand ready to help with our expanded team of great strategic planners, who also understand transformative fundraising and are always honored and excited to set our clients on a successful journey.

Photo Credit: Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels