We’ve all heard of “the latte factor” in personal finance, which tells us that if we skipped our daily caffeine fix and saved that money instead, we’d be well on our way to a secure retirement. One new website is trying to turn the small change represented by the latte factor into a big boost for families.
SmallCanBeBig.org is an all-volunteer project initiated by the good folks at Boathouse Group, Inc., an advertising agency in the Boston area that was started by John Connors 6 years ago. Currently in the process of applying for its 501(c)(3) status as an independent charity, SmallCanBeBig.org is developing a new model for communities to come together to prevent homelessness among their neighbors.
“Our website connects those with just a little extra with famlies who don’t have enough,” says Amanda Zarle, the Boathouse consultant who has turned SmallCanBeBig.org into a passion project.
Here’s How it Works
SmallCanBeBig.org identified 10 agencies in the Boston area working with families. The agencies identify families on the verge of homelessness–those who just got a little behind on their bills because of an unexpected illness, or a car that broke down and needed costly repairs, or a cut back in their hours at work because of the recession. According to the web site, these are “Hardworking members of the community who find themselves in a difficult position: one step away from homelessness, but more importantly, one urgent payment away from getting back on their feet.”
Boathouse staff writers turn the family’s story into a compelling narrative and they post it on the site. There are 10 stories at a time, a number carefully chosen, Amanda tells me. “We wanted to avoid presenting people with a ‘paradox of choice,’ where the number of stories becomes overwhelming and keeps people from funding anyone. And for the families who are featured on the site, the deadlines are immediate and meaningful. So rather than having 50 partially funded families, we want to have 10 families who get funded quickly.”
Your tax-deductible donation gets deposited into a Google Check-out account for the sponsoring agency, who in turn cuts a check directly to the landlord, utility company or other vendor. SmallCanBeBig.org doesn’t take a single penny. All web hosting, labor, banner advertising and other resources have been donated by Boathouse and their friends and family, and the project was further supported by the Paul and Phyllis Fireman Foundation.
So How Is It Working?
As of last week, 10 families had already received full funding in the three weeks since they launched the site. Their goal is to help 100 families before the end of the winter. With support from the City of Boston and coverage by major Boston newspapers, SmallCanBeBig.org is bound to grow.
Compelling stories put a very human face on homelessness. By collecting small donations from hundreds of people, SmallCanBeBig.org has the potential to make a real, tangible difference in the lives of these families. And because they use Google Check-out, it’s so fast and easy to donate that I’m afraid it will become addictive! I made my first donation this week and feel confident that I’ll be back soon.
The social and financial return for individuals and for our communities of helping families avoid homelessness has honestly got to be one of the most cost-effective social services out there. Once a family loses their home, their job is at risk, their children’s stability, education and health are threatened, and they often end up needing far more expensive social services paid from our tax dollars. As Boston mayor (and inspiration for SmallCanBeBig.org) Thomas Menino says on their site: “I have always believed that the best way to end family homelessness is to keep it from ever happening to begin with.” For the health of our communities and our society, small truly can be big.
In addition to making a donation, SmallCanBeBig.org also provides other ways you can get involved, officially or unofficially. Check out this page of their web site for information on their “Street Team.” Print and distribute flyers, add their logo to your web page (although I find it’s too small to read if you try to use it as an avatar), or become a FaceBook fan.
What About My City?
“Yeah, it’s on our radar,” says Amanda. “We’re trying to figure this out in Massachusetts first, but if it’s successful we could put together a team and try to work in other cities.” One challenge will be to tap into the best organizations working in those cities (something much easier with face-to-face meetings in their local communities), and to find the political support they’ve enjoyed from working closely with Mayor Menino and his office.
If you’d be a willing volunteer for getting SmallCanBeBig.org up and running in your city, email Amanda at email@example.com and let her know.