Last week we shared information with you about “The Listeners,” a new documentary film that goes inside the work of suicide prevention helplines and the listeners who work there.
My hometown is one of the locations hosting a screening in the coming weeks, and my local paper published this article about the upcoming screening, the film itself, and the work of the local helpline (where I used to work!) which is a program of the Mental Health Association of Frederick County in Maryland. In fact, this showing is at capacity, having sold out all available tickets.
The article provides information about the services of the helpline in Frederick, Maryland and highlights the tough but valuable work they do. The publication also interviewed Robert Hurst, the director of the film, and he shares his thoughts on the work of the service where he filmed the documentary. He even participated in the volunteer training so he could get a first-hand feeling of what the volunteers go through, and he shares his feelings and experiences on that process.
A final thing to note about the newspaper article is that the author identifies herself as a suicide attempt survivor with lived experience, and shares her thoughts and comments on helpline services. She had valuable insight to provide that is not only interesting and adds a unique and important perspective to the topic, but may be worth sharing with the listeners at your own helpline.
The screening and local media attend around will undoubtedly lead to increased awareness of the hotline’s services, and integrated fundraising both at the screening and online associated with it, will likely lead to a donation boost as well. I’m excited to attend our local screening of “The Listeners” tomorrow and I’ll be sure to share my thoughts after.
UPDATE: The film was awesome and very well-received by the sold out audience of community supporters, mental health advocates, and helpline staff and volunteers. I can’t wait to share my thoughts — stay tuned!
According to Larry C. Johnson’s Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising, few non-profit organizations see their donors as investors. Often times a non-profit will focus on events where donors get some kind of premium for their one-time donation. Johnson ask us to re-imagine this — to move from a transactional construct to one that is more relational. When we ask people to give, we are inviting them to partner with us, to share in our vision and support our mission and programmatic goals. Before any event we should be asking: Does the event fit in with our mission? Is it worth the time, volunteer and staff effort, and upfront costs? How will we continue to engage our donors afterward? Regardless of the event, be it outreach or fundraising focused, it’s helpful to have a donor management system in place beforehand, to capture data and continue engagement post-event.
My center, the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline, has held multiple fundraising and outreach events — a concert with an out of town performer who’d played previous benefits for our local NAMI chapter; a semicolon tattoo event — almost 100 people got permanent ink of henna tattoos that evening; hosting the film “The Mask You Live In”, a documentary about the risks of toxic masculinity, at our local art house theater; and a golf tournament this summer.
We have learned that the best fundraisers are the ones with the lowest initial overhead and the least amount of logistical work!
We have learned to not be too attached to dollar amounts, but to see these events first and foremost as outreach and volunteer engagement/recruitment opportunities. The concert required the most work and capital outlay, and we just broke even financially. We saw it as an overall success as the press surrounding the event did a lot to raise awareness of our service, and bring more prospective volunteers through our doors. The tattoo and film fundraisers were fairly easy to stage, cost relatively little up front and raised decent money between them. Finally, our golf fundraiser was hosted and staged by a person who had lost a family member to suicide some years prior and approached us with the offer.
We also held an outreach event at a local arts festival where we created “listening stations” (booths with hard wired phones inside and out). One trained volunteer inside each booth played a caller with a thought provoking but non-suicidal/ on-super acute crisis story to tell. We asked participants to pick up the phone and simply listen, while our volunteers, in role, shared their stories. The volunteer then thanked the participant for listening.
With the exception of the concert, our goal with each of these events is to have them be, if possible, “The First Annual…” which lowers the logistical bar for us for next year, and starts to build culture, community and history around each event, both within our shop and in our larger community.
Get creative! Ask your volunteers, staff, and local community members for ideas that fit with your mission! Most of all, have fun with it. Treat your volunteers, staff, and participants well, make the most of community engagement opportunities presented, and keep up the dialogue with all of your new and existing partners/ investors! If you are considering a semicolon tattoo event, keep in mind that an organization called Project Semicolon has trademarked some of the associated imagery and verbiage. We reached out to them and got permission in writing before moving forward with the event.
Guest blogger John Reusser is Director of the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline, and serves on the Board of Directors for CONTACT USA. John is also a member of the Idaho Council on Suicide Prevention, a board member of the Livewilder Foundation, and Certified ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) Trainer and a licensed Designated Examiner.
It’s been awhile since we first told you about about TxtToday, a national texting warmline network spearheaded by CONTACT of Mercer County, NJ in partnership with other helplines across the country. We’re excited to share this update from Chris at TxtToday:
TxtToday is proud to announce that we will be attending the NASCOD Conference in Detroit this year! We are a national texting warmline with the mission of listening to those in need before their problems become crises. We have so far raised over $26,000 towards our launch goal! We will be distributing more information at the conference so stop by – we are looking forward to seeing all of you!
If you’re interested in finding out more about this exciting project, make sure you connect with Chris at the CUSA/NASCOD conference in Detroit, or . We’re thrilled at the progress of TxtToday and have enjoyed working with them as they use iCarol Helpline Software to build this network. We’re eager to see how this awesome service continues to grow and develop!