Wanting to help refugee families start new lives in Canada - under Canada's Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program - first means fundraising.
Of course, fundraising is only one part of the resettlement process; there are already good resources to help groups learn how to do the many other things that need to be done, such find and furnish accommodations, navigate the healthcare and education systems, even how to make an airport welcome sign.
We’ve not, however, seen a single resource on how to fundraise. But this blog post is also not a “how to fundraise for your refugee family” either. It’s something between “how we made fundraising happen” and “how fundraising happened to us.” It’s a case study: a case in how our group - one of hundreds of private sponsorship groups - has raised over $50,000 so far to resettle a family of eight. Because we're not done. Human need is human need, and there's still a lot more out there unfortunately. So while we've raised enough for one family (from Syria) and are awaiting their imminent arrival, we continue to fundraise because we intend to sponsor and settle additional families. Our overall goal is to raise as much as possible. More money = more refugee families safe in Canada.
A lot of other groups have asked us how we've done it so far, and we find the same situation over and again: people who are fearless about assuming responsibility for a refugee family from somewhere they may not have heard of before recently, who will find and furnish shelter for them, and, for the next year, commit to supporting the family each step of the way as they integrate into life in Canada. All this the sponsor groups seem to take in stride.
But what scares them? The FUNDRAISING.
And so here's the fundraising part of The Ripple Refugee Project story to now. Some of this may read as superb luck meeting opportunity. It was. But there's an equal amount of opportunity meeting preparedness. If you’re also part of a group trying to fundraise for a refugee family, know that you have just as much luck, opportunity, and preparedness waiting for you as we did. It’s all a ripple effect when you want something so much for other people.
Here’s how we raised the money:
1. We gelled as a team. We didn’t all know each other four months ago, and together had taken on a big mandate. Our motivation is part of our shared common humanity, but still: the work must get done. We’ve also signed a Memorandum of Understanding amongst ourselves.
It’s taken us two or three months to really get humming, because we made sure to put in strong administrative processes before diving into the fundraising. Form, norm, storm.
We’ve a strong leader/chairperson in our group’s founder, and also made sure we had a firm understanding of our own roles. We’re know that fundraising is social, and that fundraising culture starts within - all our meetings start with a potluck dinner, which we linger over. Because it’s over these dinners that the culture of our group formed and is still forming, based on the different backgrounds, attitudes, and expectations each member brings. Because people are different, groups are all different. We continue to monitor our group dynamic and tweak our approach and philosophy as we deepen our relationships and understand each other more.
2. We set our financial goal. In educating ourselves on our sponsorship options as private citizens, we learned there were two streams we could consider:
- Named Case: where private citizens identify and put forth name(s) of people who should be considered refugees to bring to Canada. In this stream, it takes at least 12 months for the government to review the file, and the process could take years before resettlement is a reality. And the full cost of sponsorship is shouldered by the private citizens.
- BVOR (“Blended Visa Office-Referred” program): a three-way partnership among the UNHCR, Government of Canada, and private sponsorship groups. In this scenario, people's cases have already been reviewed and deemed eligible for refugee status in Canada. The advantage of this stream is the timeline is short: the file of the refugee has already been approved, and in many cases they’re ready to travel. Best of all, the government will pay around 40% of the cost of resettling.
Originally, we were targeting a family of four, which costs $27,000. As the government would be kicking in $10,000, we needed $17,000 in an account. As we have a large group (17 members) we felt that everyone’s portion was doable (though we didn’t then and have never monitored each group members’ fundraising progress; in notionally dividing the goal by the number of group members, we felt success was doable). $17,000 was our original fundraising goal to sponsor a family of four (though the situation changed for us).
3. We created a Bridge Fund. This was money that was on loan by us, Ripple Refugee Project members. Before we could even put our hand up to apply to sponsor a family, we had to have the money in our account. At the same time, we decided we didn’t want to start soliciting with a general pitch. We felt as a group that our fundraising would be most effective if we had a profile of “our” family and their story. It was a conundrum: we couldn’t get a profile until we had raised a lot of money, and yet we didn’t want to fundraise until we had the family's profile. So we put the money in ourselves on loan to trigger getting matched with a specific family whose story we could tell. As donations come in, members are reimbursed or decide to just leave their loans as additional gifts.
4. We created a web presence through our blog and Facebook page. These establish our legitimacy, we think, and also give us a place to solicit online donations, and update donors on our progress. They also give the outside world a way to contact us.
5. We ensured financial accountability and donor stewardship. We developed financial controls and wrote a financial policy, which is public. We’re always updating our donor FAQ (“how will you disburse money to the family?” or “what happens if you raise more money than your stated goal?”). And we’ve started sending email updates to our donor list as we get meaningful information to report.
6. The Syrian crisis and Ripple Refugee Group got strong media attention.
September 2, 2015: four years into the crisis, little Aylan Kurdi’s picture became a symbol of the unacceptable human suffering of the Syrian civil war. Finally, the world was paying attention.
September 5, 2015: Luck is what happens when preparedness meets opportunity. Ripple member Dr. Raghu Venugopal’s appearance on CBC's The Current was pivotal in getting us matched with a family by Lifeline Syria (the executive director was listening to the interview), and kick-started our fundraising.
7. We got adopted. After seeing the picture of lifeless Aylan on the Turkish beach, Dr. Jennifer Bryan, emergency physician at University Health Network, sent out an email to a group of 70 doctors, suggesting that they together should help with this humanitarian crisis. On the distribution list was Raghu Venugopal, just fresh from his national media appearance on Ripple's behalf. At that point, we’d been matched with our family, and Raghu was able to tell his colleague, Jennifer, this news and suggested the UHN group of doctors work through The Ripple Refugee Project.
Now, the family we’d just been matched with was a special case: three generations comprising of eight family members, one of whom has mobility issues. Our fundraising goal had just necessarily more than doubled, but the UHN doctors agreed it made sense to partner with a larger family and one with medical needs. As individuals, the doctors pledged a total amount together of $44,000 (THANK YOU AGAIN AND MERCI, UHN DOCTORS!).
Traditionally, refugee sponsorship has been done predominantly by the church/synagogue/mosque model. In this age, it makes sense that a congregation of doctors also fulfils this role.
8. We got the ability to give our donors tax receipts. One of our members, a public nurse, is also a Ryerson graduate and we were accepted as part of the Ryerson University Lifeline Syria Challenge campaign. After the media interest, this was the other huge breakthrough to help our fundraising: our donors were able to receive tax receipts, and we could take advantage of Ryerson’s online donation page and gift processing. Thank you Ryerson!
9. We solicited donations. We finally had momentum and gift processing capability. Through letters, email, face-to-face meetings and by social media, we talked about our project all the time, and asked for donations. Through Ryerson, we get a weekly confidential update on new donors to our fund (without showing the individual amounts).
10. We’re always motivated by the ripple effect. You just never know what can happen. The friend of one of our members saw the solicitation request on Facebook, and forwarded it to a friend. Who sent it to another friend. Who showed it to a client. This client came forward and pledged up to $1 million to resettle 20 families (note: this philanthropist will not be working through our group. There's no way we can manage more than one family at a time).
The concentric circles of our ripple effect also manifest in the hours we spend speaking at rotary clubs and with other private sponsorship groups just starting out. We aim to work in the open, and have a public Google drive with all the documents we've created that others may find useful.
And we hope that if you’re in such a group, that you find our fundraising story inspiring. And if you’re not, that you consider forming your own group to resettle one family of the four million refugees who've had to flee their home country, or making a donation.
By Rebecca Davies (this post was also published on the 101Fundraising blog)