Avery Staples is the development specialist at Side By Side Kids, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering kids to see their full potential in a safe environment. For the past year and a half, Avery has overseen SBSK’s communications and fundraising efforts. On any given day, she is planning fundraising events, managing the database, reconciling donations, writing social media and blog posts, and working on donor retention and cultivation.
Q&A with Featured Fundraiser, Avery Staples
How did Side By Side Kids start?
We’ve been around for about 20 years. We started as a church’s community outreach program for the St John’s neighborhood in Austin; which is historically and currently an underserved population with a lot of immigrant-migrant families living in low-income situations. Over time, we saw there was a large need for free after school care, and evolved into who we are today. For the past 10 years, we’ve been providing our after school program for elementary school students. In 2011 we rebranded and became Side by Side Kids.
What drew you to this cause?
I’m passionate about the population we serve, and our ability to create spaces for safety and acceptance. I was immediately drawn in by the way that SBSK strives to love the kids in a real and authentic way. Many of our kids come to us discouraged or stressed. They are aware that they’re disadvantaged, or not reading at the level they should be, or not as good at math as the person sitting next to them. Without our program they would just go home. We offer a safe, supportive place to go after school.
You oversee Side By Side Kids’ communications program. How often do you contact supporters?
We send an e-newsletter once a month and a direct mail appeal twice a year. For our big year-end campaign we send direct mail accompanied by email, and segment based on giving history. For example, we have a big fall fundraising event, so we don’t send our year-end appeal to anyone who gave a large amount at the event. Instead, we target people who usually give at the end of the year and anyone who hasn’t given in the past six months. Then we do the same thing with our summer appeal and segment by who typically gives at that time of year. We also partner our direct mail with personal follow up. We strive for a layered, two-to-three touch approach.
How do you use Network for Good’s fundraising software?
We recently did a huge overhaul of how we’re using the fundraising software. We’re not a huge organization, but we wanted to see how we can be smarter about how we’re using the fundraising software. We utilize custom fields a lot, which has been very helpful in our segmenting and reporting. For example, I care about when a donor makes their gift, but our accountant cares about when the gift hits the bank. I added a custom field for disbursement date so that we can easily reconcile our records and reports. I use the fundraising software to generate our year-end tax receipts, which makes my job so much easier during a really busy time of year. I also use the segmenting tools for targeting specific donors for each campaign.
What has been the organization’s greatest obstacle?
We are a faith-based organization, but we operate in the Austin Independent School District on public school campuses. We use bible stories to teach character development, but we respect that boundary so much. In terms of branding and programming, making sure the greater community fully understands who we are and what we do can sometimes be an obstacle.
How do you approach a school?
We work with the individual principals to see if we would be a good fit at their school, and then the principal advocates on our behalf to the school district to allow us to use the space for free. It’s really powerful to have these principals of large elementary schools take the time to make sure we’re on their campus, and that we don’t have to pay for it.
What’s involved in an SBSK program?
We start off with a snack in the school cafeteria, followed by homework time. We pair one teacher and one volunteer per every ten students for personalized help. Then we have “crew time,” which is our character development period. We look at a particular character trait, like thankfulness or courage, and pair it with a bible story that reflects that trait. We focus on that trait for the entire week, discussing practical ways to apply it in their daily life. Finally, there’s “rec time,” where they play on the school playground before their parents pick them up. It’s a lot tacked into a three hour time period.
That is a lot to take on. How big is your staff?
We have seven full-time staff. In addition, seven part-time staff (four site coordinators and three program support staff) run the programs, and a team of university students who serve as our part-time teachers.
When T.A. Brown Elementary closed and the kids moved to Barrington Elementary, SBSK created one of your largest after school programs. What have you seen in the years since the schools merged?
Typically, for a single school we try to have 30-60 kids in our program. The closing of T.A. Brown was a really interesting situation because we saw an opportunity to merge two school programs. We worked out the agreement with Barrington Elementary and now we’re at 90 kids. We almost doubled our participant capacity. It’s been great, actually. It kick started our growth. We’ve been undergoing an expansion and that experience made us realize we can serve more kids in our schools. And now J.J. Pickle Elementary is also up to an 80-kid headcount. It’s very exciting.