Advocating through Stories

Advocating through Stories

The Advocacy Center

New Orleans, Louisiana—Gregory, a ten-year-old boy with autism, frequently acted out in school, got kicked out of class, and had to be picked up early. His mom, Tina, couldn't communicate successfully with teachers and school officials during their meetings. She didn't know how to articulate Gregory's needs, or how to request the services to accommodate those needs.

Two women speaking in sign language.

That all changed with the help of Advocacy Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. The center connected Tina with one of their attorneys, Melissa, who specialized in special education. Melissa immediately began observing Gregory to figure out what services he needed. She also accompanied Tina to school meetings, modeling advocacy for her until Tina was able to do it herself.

In a matter of months, Gregory was receiving the services he needed, and Tina, inspired by Melissa's work, began helping other parents whose children also needed special education services.

That's just one story to emerge from Advocacy Center, though there are thousands like it. Advocacy Center offers their legal services, information and referral, and outreach and training to some 20,000 people with disabilities and the elderly every year.

For as wide a scope as the organization had, Advocacy Center's budget was minimal. Pamela Fisher, director of development, says that the yearly award ceremony they held, combined with their direct mail campaign, was bringing in only $8,000 per year.

"We knew that we didn't have the skills to increase the money as much as we needed to. We always had a problem with people knowing who we were—lots of people don't even know what the word means," Fisher says, adding that she and her team frequently made the mistake of using large words or legal jargon when explaining the mission to people.

Then Fisher heard about Benevon through other organizations that were using the model.

"If we could do just a percentage of what those groups were doing, it would be a complete change for our agency," Fisher thought.

At their first Benevon workshop, Fisher's team learned how to explain their organization's mission clearly and successfully through the use of testimonials.

"We need to be telling our story with stories—that changed our whole world," she says.

Special needs man driving a truck.

Advocacy Center began holding "Peapods," their Point of Entry, which were critical for increasing public awareness of the organization.

"After the Points of Entry, people were basically begging us to be involved. It was almost overwhelming at first. We weren't prepared for it, and it changed everything for us," Fisher says.

Special needs man at his job.

Since their start with Benevon, Advocacy Center has raised $222,000—an amount which Fisher says is "bigger than we ever dreamed it would be."

Those funds have allowed the center to keep afloat all of their programs, to continue providing their services, to avoid having to lay off any of their employees, and to move into their own building, which will be much more accessible for their disabled clients.

Benevon has also helped Advocacy Center establish long-term goals, including raising $200,000 per year to be allocated to their reserve fund, increasing individual donations to 10% of the organization's budget, and launching a capital campaign to raise $500,000 for their new building.

"We started off thinking so small because we had never done anything in terms of fundraising," Fisher says. "We went to our first workshop thinking, 'Maybe we can raise $10,000.' We were all scared to think big because we didn't want to fail. Now we realize you have to think big in order to get anything done. If you think small you'll never grow out of that. You have to dream big in order to make it happen. The way we've been going, I just don't think there's any stopping us."

These organizations have generously contributed their stories with the understanding that our readers will not contact them directly. Instead, please contact us with your questions. Thank you for your consideration.

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