Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Mass confusion at the Sacramento Steps Forward website? or mass confusion in SSF's offices?

The organization’s Winter Sanctuary AND Give One Day [the acronym is “GOD”] campaign is beset by internally contradictory information about how money that is raised will be spent. If SSF has set up discrete pools of donations, it cannot launch a confused donations campaign that is likely to misinform potential donors, and put it astray of the rules for running a 501(3)c charity.
Sacramento Steps Forward has launched a campaign to raise money. The organization hopes to raise $300,000, but in wording at the SSF website and in literature available through the Sacramento Bee, contradictory information is put out about how the money would be used.

In one instance we are told, declaratively, “Winter Sanctuary: We are raising $300,000 to make sure individuals experiencing homelessness have a warm place to sleep and a hot meal each night from Novermber 24 – March 31.”  [See graphic from SSF's website, at right.]

In another instance, in the next panel, you get the graphic shown at left where we are told “Give One Day. On any given night 2,600 families and individuals are homeless in Sacramento. Give one day's worth of your rent or mortgage payment and help us move those individuals into safe housing tonight."

It is immediately explained, thus:

WHAT WE ARE DOING: Starting September 23rd, 2013 Sacramento Steps Forward, with the help of the faith and business communities, challenges every Sacramentan to Give One Day – donating the amount they spend on one day’s mortgage or rent to end homelessness.   It is our goal to raise $300,000 to move families and individuals into safe housing before the onset of the winter months.  Funds raised by this campaign will support priority programs that:
     Provide permanent housing for families and individuals, moving them into housing as rapidly as they are ready.
     Provide training and job placement to individuals to obtain and maintain permanent housing.
     Transition our Winter Sanctuary into a year-round emergency shelter, known as Sanctuary, to support the growing shelter needs of Sacramento’s homeless population.

THIS task -- or, rather, these three bulleted tasks -- represent a set of worthy projects, none of which has anything to do with funding Winter Sanctuary in winter. It's a whole other thing, apparently. Yet, the money goal is the same, raise $300,000 to fund the work.

To donate to this second project, what do you do? BY MAIL, you just send a check to Sacramento Steps Forward with the notation Give One Day. To Sign Up to Join the Campaign, you visit sacramentowintersanctuary.org . [See graphic at left.]HUH? WHAT? But that is Winter Sanctuary. What is headed "Give One Day" funds something else. It says so at the SSF website!

We have two very different, distinct efforts. One narrowly has to do with funding Winter Sanctuary for the four months of an extended winter. The other has the three bulleted tasks that are wholly separate from operating Winter Sanctuary.

Next, there is a page at the SSF website that is TITLED Winter Sanctuary but then is subtitled "Give One Day to End Homelessness in our region." At the end of the text, it seeks funds. Yet, in the last sentence of the first paragraph what's discussed is housing that's needed, which is NOT what Winter Sanctuary funding is about. Winter Sanctuary funding, as described earlier by Sacramento Steps Forward, is all and only about space in churches (and elsewhere occasionally, maybe) for homeless people to sleep on the floor at night, safely sheltered from the cold and the rain and to be fed such to survive for another day.

AND. Note the further confusion that has been added: the idea of "End(ing) Homelessness in our Region." I would aver that neither Winter Shelter nor any fund-raising project in its name (or other confusing names) is going to end homelessness. Winter Sanctuary (or just Sanctuary, if it ever gets consistant full-year funding) is NEVER going to end homelessness. Please hear this truth: "Sanctuary IS HOMELESSNESS!" Staying at the Union Gospel Mission IS HOMELESSNESS. Sleeping in any mass shelter IS HOMELESSNESS. And this isn't my vain definition. Being in a shelter IS being homeless. I am not knocking it; just that when we are in this maze of confusion that is the Sacramento Steps Forward website, let us begin getting the terms straight.

Beyond what I have talked about there is a lot at the SSF website and Facebook site and in auxiliary sites about Ending Homelessness. Hooray that. But NOBODY is organizing the Full Frontal Attack that might achieve THAT lofty goal for our region any year soon. People are nibbling away at it, and very likely Sacramento Steps Forward will be the major player when by pluck and craftiness the bugles are sounded and the Marines land at Normandy.  I mean, when the last dozen stray homeless folk are whisked away in a limousine, with a Bee reporter in the shotgun seat, and these stray homeless folk are taken to see their very nice apartments that will keep them cozy and allow them to build a life of meaning and purpose. THAT will be the ultimate GOD project; but it is to come. It's not yet. It's not near. And the apartments won't be mansions.

Homelessness gets ended when the great majority of homeless folk get some kind of disability income (or win the Lotto, or, in one case I know of, gets an inheritance) that will partially fund a spare, but noble and secure, life. Other money, to meet necessary expenses will come from the government. And, yes, the apartment will be subsidized in most cases. The "easy pickings," people who most evidently are entitled to disability income, are already in situations -- mostly, in apartments in the county -- and are in "a better life" now. But homelessness remains a plague with thousands still suffering and struggling to get by.

Now. Back to the Winter Sanctuary-Give One Day confusion. Sacramento Steps Forward describes these areas of need as two distinct projects. At their website, they appeal for funds for "sacramentowintersanctuary" and for "Give One Day," mostly with the sense of things THAT THESE ARE TWO DISTINCT FUNDING DRIVES. And, yet, too, there is confusion that would make people suppose that, contradictorily, there is just one pot of donated money. Both projects have a fundraising campaign goal of gathering $300,000.

The confusion from SSF's Siamese-Twins campaign IS NOT OK. Potential donors are not the "marks" that charities, acting like the Mafia, are supposed to steal from. These potential donors are, instead, good-hearted, usually-rich people who are wanting to trust organizations that will better society.

Sacramento Steps Forward needs to step forward and CLEAN UP ITS ACT. Immediately, if not yesterday, SSF needs to clarify as to whether it is conducting two campaigns (and NOT ending homelessness, for crying out loud) or whether it is collecting money that will be used, at its discretion, for any of several projects. It cannot benefit from the confusion IT has created and end up using money for one function that a donor has been fooled into believing was donated for something else.

Per information at the website 5013c.org -- [SSF is a 501(3)c charity, per their most recent Form 990 filing found online] -- there is this:
Solicited designations. A solicitation means that your organization asked for donations for a particular cause.  Maybe it was by letter, email, website, radio spot…it doesn’t really matter.  What matters is that donations given in response to a direct solicitation are to be permanently dedicated to that purpose.  In our soup kitchen example, the board cannot move that money around, no matter how dire the circumstances, if those funds are the result of a solicitation.  Just last week, many of you may have read the story of the director of a large, national charity resigning after it was found he did just this very thing.  Was it for a good reason?  Yes.  Was it illegal? Unfortunately, yes.
Right now, Sacramento Steps Forward is describing need for funds for various and sometimes overlapping purposes. That doesn't mean that all the money goes into one bucket and that SSF can do whatever it wants. It means the charity doesn't know what it's doing and it can be that it is entering a world of trouble that might frustrate an effort to fully fund Winter Shelter and might complicate SSF getting use of donations it has in its own bank accounts.

Donors, beware. Demand that charities you contribute money to are careful, capable and operate with integrity such that they are worthy of your trust.

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