Jul. 29

Breaking Down Walls Between Donors and Recipients to Make Disaster Relief Personal

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Fanatical Change Foundation. Read their story and nominate an outstanding volunteer, family or organization as a Point of Light.

Steven Kaufman, founder of Fanatical Change Foundation, meets with woman helped by the organization.

In the wake of disasters, large and small, people often look to help by contributing to charitable organizations. But, some get frustrated because it is not always clear where their money ends up.

Steven Kaufman was no different. Following Hurricane Ike in 2008, he wanted to donate money to help families devastated by the storm. However, he struggled to find an organization that would specify who would benefit from his donation.  So, Kaufman created a new option.

Called the Fanatical Change Foundation, Kaufman’s nonprofit organization breaks down the walls between donors and recipients.

From left to right: David Winters, Fanatical Change Program Director; Kevin Ward, UPS Corporate and Fundraising Co-Chair; Steven Kaufman, Fanatical Change President

“The mission is really to restore the intimacy between donors and recipients, and to do it in a transparent way,” he says. “We don’t keep any of the money. We’re just the middle man – a steward of the donor that moves funds to those who need it.”

Founded in 2009, Fanatical Change collects and distributes 100 percent of the donations it receives. Volunteers videotape each delivery, giving donors the opportunity to see exactly how their donations make an impact. To date, the organization has held four fundraising events, collecting $1 million to benefit 90 families.

In addition to ensuring transparency, Fanatical Change focuses their aid on people who have experienced life-changing incidents within the week preceding their fundraisers, says board member Kathy Bilyea. The organization also reviews the circumstances surrounding the disaster event or tragedy, including media coverage, and seeks recipients that do not have access to other support services.

Rather than providing cash donations, Fanatical Change pays for services – they pay rent, purchase headstones, pay for funerals, or covers daycare bills, depending on recipient needs.

“We buy all the goods and services, and we’ve also given counseling,” Kaufman says. In one instance, the organization paid for a home security system for a woman whose husband and daughter were shot during a home invasion.

Finding families willing to receive assistance is harder than you would think, Kaufman says. In some cases, recipients are suspicious of receiving no-strings-attached assistance. Consequently, Fanatical Change staff gather information from news reporters, police officers, and fire fighters to learn about families and individuals that would benefit the most. After interviewing and choosing recipients, volunteers arrange a visit and present the funds on videotape. The entire process, Kaufman said, takes approximately 15 minutes.

Like many nonprofits, Fanatical Change collects donations through a major annual fundraiser, which builds momentum for the organization. Each year, 25 to 40 people are invited and asked to recruit other people to attend. Tickets start at $20, but upgraded tickets can be purchased for $150. According to Bilyea, almost 70 percent of attendees opt to upgrade.

Roughly 300 people attended the first event, in 2009, which raised $13,800. This year, 1,000 people attended. The money collected doesn’t stay in Fanatical Change’s hands for long, though, as volunteers begin disseminating proceeds the very next day to families in need.

“Our hearts are full, and our pockets are empty,” Bilyea says.

As much good as the Houston-based organization has done since its creation, there is still more that could be done, Kaufman says. In the next five to 10 years, he would like to see other major American cities develop their own Fanatical Change Foundation programs.

“I would love to see other people using our model. We have a charity-in-a-box that we can let them use,” he says. “We will guide them and give them advice for everything we’ve learned. I want other people in other cities doing the same thing we’ve been doing.”

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