Written by: Chelsea Ziegmont
The Survive and Thrive Advocacy Center (STAC) works to coordinate various services for human trafficking victims, tailored to the individual needs of the victim. Victims may be in need of legal services, health-related treatments, education, housing or other assistance. STAC works to coordinate these services in order to streamline the process and provide the best possible care and experience for these victims who have already suffered so much.
Fundraising efforts are necessary to keep such a vital organization in place, yet so few people know the distressing details of human trafficking; nor do they realize the depth of its presence in the United States. Even fewer people know the details and impact of human trafficking in Tallahassee and the surrounding areas. STAC works to spread awareness to inform the community of the impact human trafficking currently has in today’s society.
About the Survive and Thrive Advocacy Center (STAC)
Human trafficking victims require a wide variety of services — from law enforcement to health needs, from education to housing — and STAC helps to coordinate these resources to fit the needs of the individual. STAC works to help all victims of human trafficking, regardless of age, gender, or citizenship. As a local non-profit agency, STAC works within the counties of Leon, Jefferson, Wakulla, Gadsden, Franklin and Liberty. However, the organizations that it coordinates with reach all over the globe.
In addition to its collaborative efforts with service providers, STAC works to spread awareness on the realities of human trafficking and its prevalence in society. STAC performs frequent information sessions within the community designed to increase awareness of human trafficking.
How does STAC leadership guide the organization?
Robin Hassler Thompson is the co-founder and executive director of STAC, as well as its primary fundraiser. As executive director, she oversees the day-to-day operations of the organization, as well as its financial operation. She must develop the annual budget, as well as ensure that the organization stays within its board-approved budget. This role takes strong leadership, as well as organization and management skills. Ms. Hassler Thompson has acquired these skills through an impressive educational background and a heavy involvement in the areas of human trafficking and human rights. Her efforts have earned a stream of honors and accolades, and provided opportunities for her to cultivate relationships in which she has served as both mentor and mentee. Ms. Hassler Thompson has accomplished much with hard work and dedication to a cause for which she clearly cares deeply. Seeing that passion is so crucial, because potential donors will be able to pick up on it. They will see that Ms. Hassler Thompson is someone who cares very deeply about what she’s doing — that she believes in STAC and its mission — and that her organization is a good investment and an important cause worthy of their support.
Currently, the organization does not have any one individual — other than Ms. Hassler Thompson — dedicated solely to fundraising. Rather, it is a function in which all members of the board of the directors as well as staff are engaged, along with spreading awareness of the organization. In addition to raising funds for the organization through sponsors, each board member also is expected to donate both time and money to the organization. Currently, each member donates a minimum of $250 per year. This is an excellent way to keep the board personally invested in their organization, as well as assure other potential sponsors of board members’ dedication and commitment. By backing up their own fundraising efforts with support of the organization with their own funds, it shows that the members believe in STAC, its mission, and that it is a worthwhile investment. Additionally, it should also bring comfort to potential sponsors that donated money will be used wisely, as the board members have their own money at stake as well. It also shows that board members do not ask for funds lightly, as they know first-hand what it is like to donate to this organization, and see all the good that it brings.
How does STAC do its fundraising?
STAC is a relatively young organization, being only six years old. Therefore, each and every donor matters. One of the beneficial sides of having a Board of Directors that has a minimum standard for donating themselves is the security of knowing some donors can be relied on to always be there.
One fundraising event that never fails to make a splash is STAC’s Imagining Freedom initiative. Imagining Freedom is a culinary event in which gourmet food is prepared for guests, with all of the food being obtained from non-trafficking sources. All of the components of food served are grown, picked and prepared using labor that has not been subjected to trafficking. The event shines a light on the reality that labor trafficking is more hidden from society than sex trafficking, making this event an important educational tool and critical opportunity for fundraising and public awareness. According to Ms. Hassler Thompson, the most successful events are those that are both informational as well as supportive.
As a relatively new organization, STAC does not have the discretionary funds to invest in sophisticated fundraising software, websites or other forms of membership. One website that is used is Charitable.com, which is a software used to connect charitable campaigns and grow media following, as well as increase an organization’s global exposure. STAC also has worked to increase its exposure through Facebook and, especially, through GivingTuesday. GivingTuesday is an initiative that takes place the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, in which Facebook matches donations of up to $7 million that are made to non-profits on its platform.
Keeping things up and going in such a young organization can be a bit of a challenge. A federal branch grant was sustaining the organization for a while. However, the grant is now drawing to a close, which is creating a sense of financial uncertainty. Luckily, a public relations firm has agreed to take on STAC as their pro bono recipient, which is a significant step in the right direction.
STAC is hoping to both create and expand upon several initiatives in the future. It is hoping to grow its social media presence, as social media will be able to reach a wide demographic of individuals in a quick, efficient, and economic manner. It also hopes to coordinate a human trafficking fundraising concert next year. The pandemic has left the details of the event uncertain, but a concert hopefully will bring much needed attention to a significant issue and a worthy organization. Additionally, STAC is looking to develop a more economical version of the Text-to-Give option, which allows donors to give to STAC at any time from the comfort of their own cell phones through a simple text. The social media and Text-to-Give campaigns will be used in conjugation with the initiatives already in place. Ms. Hassler Thompson has expressed the importance of in-person connections and the personal touch that is imperative in both networking and fundraising. Therefore, these media campaigns are just to add another option for donors, rather than replace the face-to-face contact that is so necessary in this line of work.
What’s next for STAC?
STAC has a couple of long-term goals that are related to fundraising. First, and perhaps most important, is for the organization to eventually gain a development director that would be the principal organizer of fundraising events. However, Ms. Hassler Thompson stresses the importance of having a board of directors that is actively engaged in the organization, both financially and through the investment of their time. While the development director would be a wonderful asset for organizing and planning events as well as streamlining information, the intention is not to diminish the role of the board of directors nor their involvement in the organization.
For Ms. Hassler Thompson, finding the ideal fundraising team member is less about having an extroverted personality and more about what they can bring to the organization as a whole. Some traits in particular that are ideal for a fundraiser would be a local individual, due to the fact that this is a small local organization. Additionally, this individual would need to be able to conduct their work from a broad-based approach. Human trafficking does not only happen to women, or only to teenagers, or only to US citizens. Rather, this is a far-reaching crime from which no one group of individuals can be guaranteed immunity. Having a development director who is able to reach some of the most vulnerable populations, such as immigrants, those suffering from domestic abuse and those who identify as LGBTQ, can help get these demographics of individuals the best resources and services catered to their individual and unique needs.
However, the most important trait for a development director would be someone who not only has knowledge of the organization, but also has a desire to engage deeply in its mission and to help it thrive. In essence, what a successful fundraiser needs is passion. Passion for your organization, your cause. A good fundraiser is someone who is working for an organization that is supporting issues that they actually believe in. Being involved and invested in both the organization and the issue will make all the difference. Passion is what will distinguish a good fundraiser from a great one.
What has changed since COVID-19?
The COVID-19 pandemic altered the way in which virtually all business is conducted, and STAC was not immune to this. Fundraisers were moved to online platforms. Additionally, community training to spread awareness about human trafficking also was moved online. This migration had its own pros and cons. On one hand, the online platform saw an increase in the number of attendees, which is a significant step in the right direction for human trafficking awareness. However, due to the online nature of both training and fundraisers, that same level of personal connection wasn’t being made. Big-impact donors in particular like face-to-face communication, and STAC likes to give them their own personal attention, whether it’s over a cup of coffee or a discussion over lunch. However, with so many restrictions in place during the pandemic, that sort of in-person meeting wasn’t feasible. STAC is hoping to develop a plan of action post-COVID. One important activity will be for training to be conducted in-person as well as online. This will allow more individuals to be able to tune-in, but also provide opportunities for more personal connections through in-person training.
The future of STAC fundraising
The pandemic has changed the way traditional day-to-day business is conducted, and Ms. Hassler Thompson does not want fundraising to suffer permanently from that change. During the pandemic, more of STAC’s fundraising had to switch to online platforms. In the aftermath of the pandemic and beyond STAC will continue to do digital requests online. However, STAC doesn’t want all fundraising to go online. Ms. Hassler Thompson has said, “We’ll have a menu, not a particular single course”. The world is becoming more digital, it’s true, but for fundraising, that in-person connection is so valuable that its significance cannot be overstated. Relationships are the key to fundraising, and deeper relationships are created in-person rather than online.
While larger national non-profit organizations may have the advantage of top-of-the-line fundraising software and a seemingly endless supply of resources, being a local non-profit has allowed for a personal touch that can make a significant difference in the fundraising game. Donors want to know and trust you, and they’ll donate through you and your personal connections. When it comes to donating to a cause or to individuals, Ms. Hassler Thompson described it as “a harmonic convergence. It is the perfect combination of factors, rather than just one thing. It is pulling together a team to get everything together”.