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More Than a Thank-you Call: How Guiding Light’s Donor Relations Team Supports its Community as the Pandemic Rages On

Written by WMCN Editor on . Posted in Local

glm90In a time when the world is convulsing with one crisis after another, the team at Guiding Light is focusing on gratitude for those who support the nonprofit.

What starts as a simple thank-you call from the donor relations team often leads to a deeper conversation, especially during this time when so many are isolated. Donors, it turns out, appreciate the support and the ability to connect meaningfully.

As donor relations officers, Bob Evans, Brad Myers and Steve Pratt are continually engaging with those who give their time, money, resources or advocacy to help Guiding Light achieve its mission of partnering with individuals to fulfill their God-given potential.

In pre-pandemic times, the team would normally visit donors to deliver gift receipts and say thank you in person, but now the team is reaching donors only by phone in order to keep everyone safe. Combined, they make hundreds of phone calls and spend up to 75 hours per week simply thanking those who have supported the nonprofit and checking in to see how donors are faring in a coronavirus-infected world.

Their goal for calling? Put simply: To offer gratitude, a listening ear and an open heart.

Gratitude is a cornerstone

The only cost for men to enroll in Guiding Light's programs is their willingness to change – a model that's sustained only through the help of generous donors, volunteers and supporters. For this reason, Guiding Light notes that any contribution, no matter how small, makes a true difference. All donors get a handwritten note from Executive Director Stuart Ray on their receipt and a personal thank-you call from one of the team.

"We have a corporate commitment to gratitude," Evans explains. "No one has to give us a dime, but if they do, we say thanks and share how much they're appreciated."

"We are extremely grateful for every single donor we have," Myers echoes. "We can't accomplish the work we do as an organization without their support."

Time and time again, donors are surprised that's all Guiding Light is calling about.

"Gratitude is a cornerstone of recovery. That's why it is a major part of our intensive drug and alcohol treatment program," Pratt adds. "As a staff, we practice what we preach. Just as we expect from the men in our programs, we all show actionable gratitude in helping others, as well as verbal gratitude."

Many donors say they have never been called by a nonprofit just to say thank you, let alone for a $10 donation.

"Of course, we want them to give again, but we never ask for money," Pratt says. "Some donors find that odd, but once they realize it's true, their guard goes down. We really get to know them and enjoy the opportunity to talk with them in-depth about our programs."

Sharing life-changing results in rescue, recovery and re-engagement

When donors answer their call, the donor relations team will often share stories about how the men in Guiding Light's programs are doing. They're honest about the up-and-down journeys of clients, as well as the resources and spiritual direction helping them transform their lives.

"Such an important part of the equation is having donors be able to connect with what we're doing," Myers says. "Because of our focus on transparency, we're able to let donors know exactly where their donations are going and how that ties with how our programs are positively affecting the men – and also how, in turn, the men are giving back to the community.

"The success stories of the men coming out of the programs help show how donations are going to a cause that cares and really does work."

Guiding Light is known in the recovery community for its excellent succuss rates. Of the men who complete the Foundations portion of the program, 77% who find employment and move to Iron House, Guiding Light's own sober living community, remain sober over a year. This is in stark contrast to a 2007 study conducted by the social-research journal, Evaluation Review, showing on average only 33% of those who attempt to get sober can maintain it for a year or longer.

"I like to affirm to our donors we're a good investment. So, when there's an opportunity to educate people about what we do, I explain what makes Guiding Light so effective," Evans says. "I think if you give someone the tools, encouragement and time they need, it's pretty remarkable what people can do with their lives.

"Guiding Light has an open-ended approach to re-engagement in that we really allow the men to take time to figure out the best formula that will work for them and then we make sure they get support from people and the spiritual direction they need to be successful."

Pastoral care for the weary

Evans, Myers and Pratt have found that many donors simply appreciate having someone to talk to during these times. The trio offer a listening ear and prayers to those who may be in need themselves.

"We're sensitive to whether donors really want to talk or not. You can tell pretty quickly," Pratt explains. "Sometimes you catch someone at just the right time, and you just know you're the only person they were going to talk to about that issue or emotion that day. We really foster a sense of family by staying in touch with people the way we do."

"Many times, all of us will actually pray with an individual if they need it for themself or for other family members," Myers adds. "I think our calls often come at a really good time where they just need to hear another person's voice, and to be able to pray with them is so supportive."

Myers admits he gets as much solace from the thank-you calls as the donors themselves do.

"When we're not talking about our programs, a big thing I talk to donors about is just the uncertainty of things right now and how important faith is to be able to continue to move forward," he explains.

"A lot of the honest conversations we're having personally helps me to realize we're not alone and many of us share the same struggles – whether they be mental, financial or something else. It really becomes a unity conversation sometimes."

Some donors have a heart for what Guiding Light does because the struggles the men in programming are working to overcome hit close to home. The donor relations team often prays with donors about family members who are suffering from homelessness or addiction.

"As a former pastor, I welcome the opportunity to encourage someone who is feeling discouraged," Evans says. "Many people have relatives who have drank too much and need some kind of program and you hear that reflected in people's voices. They'll say, 'We need to support you so you can be open in case Uncle Fred decides he's ready to get help.'

"People appreciate the work we do and how we do it. It is a pleasure to be a part of this community, keep these programs running and say thank you to donors for a very good and reputable organization."

About Guiding Light:

Founded in 1929 as the West Fulton St. Mission, Guiding Light has grown into a robust recovery and re-engagement community designed to help those living at society's margins fulfill their God-given potential. The nonprofit has been building on a near century of compassion and celebrated 90 years of serving Grand Rapids in 2019. Through its Back to Work, Recovery and Iron House programs, Guiding Light works with men struggling with addiction and homelessness to return to society. Since 2017, Guiding Light has earned a Platinum Seal of Transparency from GuideStar, which underscores our commitment to accountability and transparency. For more information, visit www.guidinglightworks.org

Author Information
WMCN Editor
Author: WMCN EditorWebsite: http://MannaMedia.org
The West Michigan Christian News desires to glorify God while providing global, national, and local news to the West Michigan community. The West Michigan Christian News is a non-denominational, Christ-centered, advertiser-supported monthly newspaper published in Grand Rapids, Michigan by Manna Media Inc. It is unabashedly biased in its Christian presentation of news and views. It is also dedicated to the promotion of Christian unity by focusing on the 95 percent of the Christian faith on which all Christians agree while refusing to get drawn into controversies about the 5 percent on which we might differ.

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