Door-to-Door Fundraising

LINCOLN, Neb. (WOMENSENEWS)–Diane Vollmar’s abuser put a gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger. When the gun jammed, she pushed it away and, in the ensuing struggle, he fired a shot into the floor. She fled their apartment and managed to reach a friend’s house, where she hid for four days.

The incident pushed Vollmar over the brink, she says, after having endured eight months ofliving in fear for her life, afraid even toclose her eyes and sleep. Vollmar called Friendship Home battered women’s shelter, where she had been receiving counseling for several months. She had made a decision. At 11:30 that night, with the assistance of a Friendship Home counselor and with the help of shelter funds, she boarded a bus to another state to start a new life.

That was two years ago. Last month, Vollmar (not her real name) returned to Lincoln to try to save the service that she thinks saved her life. She walked with 2,000 other volunteers in this city with a population of a quarter million, collecting spare change to support services for victims of domestic violence. The campaign, called Safe Quarters, so far has raised $139,000 out of a goal of $225,000, or $1 for every resident.

This extraordinary effort to financially support a battered women’s shelter is just one of hundreds of examples of organizations that serve domestic-violence victims creating community based fund-raising campaigns. Federal funds to these groups have been slashed and state and local government resources have also fallen dramatically.

At the same time, shelters–like Friendship Home–are coping with a rising demand for services, leaving many struggling to meet the needs of an estimated 1.3 million women who are victims of a physical assault by an intimate partner each year.

“With these economics, justice advocacy has disappeared,” says Kirsten Faisal, training coordinator for the Des Moines-based Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “There is simply not time to do them.” Shelters and domestic-violence advocates, she says, are trimming everything but core services.

Across the country, shelters such as Friendship Home are scurrying to raise money in whatever way they can, from rattling their fundraising cups in door-to-door campaigns, to stepping up their paid-speaker tours to reaching out to local corporations.

Cuts at Every Level

Battered women’s programs have lost up to 10 percent in federal funding from the Victims of Crime Act funding, a key source of revenue, according to Lynn Rosenthal, director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence in Washington, D.C., an organization that represents state domestic violence coalitions.

Changes in the way Victims of Crime Act funds were distributed resulted in the loss of more than $30 million to programs serving victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse and other crimes, Rosenthal says. “And this year we’re expecting even greater cuts,” she adds. “Additional cuts in the fund may cause the same programs to lay off staff, scale back services and even close shelter doors.”

South Carolina shelters have seen a 10 percent loss in federal allocations, major cuts in state funds, reduced community donations and decreased United Way funding in the past year.

Alabama shelters have also lost much of their state funding, says Rosenthal, which makes federal funding even more crucial.

In Iowa, outreach offices and shelters across the state have felt the pinch, according to Faisal, the training coordinator for the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence. She says that in the past two years 15 outreach offices have folded. One shelter in Jefferson, Iowa, closed and another in Knoxville kept its outreach services going, but stopped running the shelter.

Filling Fewer Beds

Lincoln’s Friendship Home has 50 beds, but on average, only 30 of those beds are filled because of funding shortfalls, says Wendy McCown, development director. “Not a day goes by without people on a waiting list to get into the shelter.”

Anticipating the need for increased funding last spring, Friendship Home’s board and volunteers started planning fundraisers and settled on the concept of “Safe Quarters” campaign, a door-to-door canvass of Lincoln to collect spare change.

“We kind of thought it was a pie in the sky goal,” McCown says. “But, the community got so excited . . . it was a very humbling experience.” With the money the shelter has raised so far it has enough to add 14 beds next year.

While many shelters have responded to the recession by cutting staff, services and closing programs, other shelters have geared up their fundraising.

Daybreak Domestic Violence Program in Jasper, Ala., which serves a county of 72,000, is counting on several special events to bring in desperately-needed dollars.

“We’re putting on a concert and dinner at a local country club in December,” says Director Jan Hulsey. “We are expecting to raise about $25,000 from that and another upcoming concert.”

Turning to Corporations for Help

In Oregon, where nearly 12,000 women and children were turned away from emergency shelter last year, as state legislators struggled with huge budget deficits, a Milwaukie shelter is turning to corporations for help.

Clackamas Women’s Services, which serves the second-most populated county statewide, has lost 19 percent–or about $90,000–of its funding this year. “We’re trying hard to diversify our fund-raising efforts,” says Kathy Moore, shelter director. Moore says this month a corporate sponsorship luncheon brought in about $30,000.

At the Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse, a shelter in Delray Beach, Fla., director Pam O’Brien says they too have been trying to add funding from private sources. “Contributions are about one half of what they were before the downturn,” O’Brien says. “We have been totally fearless about going after new dollars. And, we’re finding new donors.”

“We have tripled the number of people that are public speakers,” she adds. “Basically we say yes to any speaking engagement. The emphasis is on getting out there and talking to anyone who shows the least bit of interest in finding out more about us.”

Back in Lincoln, Neb., Friendship Home’s director Amy Evans says she intends to keep a promise she and staff have made to battered women and their children.

“We promised we would be there in their time of need,” Evans says. “The money is tighter than ever, but we must be creative to sustain the services we offer. People in the community care about this issue, and that is what is going to get us through the rough spots.”

Judith Spitzer is a freelance journalist and education reporter living in Portland, Ore.

For more information:

National Network to End Domestic Violence:

National Domestic Violence Hotline
1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY)

Violence Against Women Online Resources: