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Downside Up Charitable Foundation has survived two crises in twenty-two years and has helped ten thousand three hundred families with teenagers and young people with Down syndrome. The director manages the Downside Up Charitable Foundation as a company. Maybe that's why the organization survived all the crises?
- Sometimes it is believed that non-profit foundations and organizations exist according to their own laws. And in general: "Hey, they have grants!" - says Anna Portugalova, director of Downside Up CF. She quickly found time to communicate with the journalist - she extended the schedule.
- Of course, NPO have powerful specifics. We always think about the social results we are producing. The rest is based on business logic: clear goal setting, clear plan and constant analysis.
By the beginning of the 2000, Anna, a stock market specialist, was tired of traders and stocks. She devoted six years to the capital world. On the seventh, I saw an ad: a charitable foundation was looking for a financial director. Anna knew little about Down syndrome, but her old job was boring to the point of gnashing teeth, and here people with burning eyes. Since then, together with the foundation, she has been going through every difficult period. For the first time, the skills of a crisis manager were needed in 2009.
- Before that crisis, every year we watched more and more families turn to us for help. In 2008 there were one thousand ninety, the next year - already one and a half times more. We conducted group and individual classes, went online, provided psychological, pedagogical, social support - and everything is absolutely free. We have our own building. We hired new teachers. There were about forty people in the staff - they were going to expand directions. And then the crisis has come. Our budget dropped by twenty percent at once.
On the eve of the perfect storm, Downside Up hosts a sacred ceremony. The strategic core of the fund (people who make decisions) are closed in the office and think. What has already changed in the world and what will change soon? This is the first thing. Second: what is important to preserve and what can be discarded for now? If they argue about what to put on the back burner, then they always retain the team, competencies.
- The topic of supporting people with Down syndrome is still underdeveloped in our country, -explains Anna. - And twelve years ago it was unrealistic to find qualified personnel. For example, only a specialist who has worked in the foundation for at least five years will be able to advise on the Downside Up forum. - There will be no these people - there will be no support for families with special children. Therefore, in order not to lay off employees, we have mothballed expenses and slowed down the expansion of in-person services, - says Anna in a calm voice of a financier who temporarily defeated a quivering benefactor. - Then we thought: what will we offer in return? The question hung in the air: how to support more families and spend less money? Face-to-face classes are expensive and are designed for small groups. Educators began to develop an Internet forum for remote assistance. It worked like this: one topic - one family. Private problems were discussed on the network, where there were no delicate nuances. The recommendations of the experts were in the public domain. Families read them, plus colleagues from other NPO learned from Downside Up. Selected topics have received thousands of views. This confirmed that the foundation has stepped right into the Internet. Early departure to virtual is bearing fruit so far. In self-isolation, its "yield" has grown even more: Downside Up has completely switched to online. Various remote formats have appeared: parents with children with Down syndrome perform tasks at home, record the process on video and send them to a curator. Fund employees are in touch with families in Whatsapp and Zoom every day - the crisis is coming, the process does not stop.
In business, they say: crisis is a time of opportunity. In the sense that the weak leave the market, and those who do not give up and find their bearings in the new situation, live and prosper. Since 2009, Downside Up has been engaged in what businessmen call diversification of funding sources, and the foundation has been looking for new donors. We decided to develop private fundraising. Previously, it was approached in so far as. - Our topic is not clear to society, - says Anna. - It is difficult to compare it with acute targeted assistance. The child needs surgery. We need to raise funds, otherwise he will die, and if I give money, he will survive. In the case of Down syndrome, it is not easy even to explain why you should help at all. It's not a disease, it's for life. Downside Up has been looking for major corporate donors for a long time. Finding a common language with several companies is easier than with a thousand people. But companies also have difficult times during a crisis. They cut expenses through charity.
In 2009, the question of private donors came to the fore. We searched for them on different sites, among different audiences. We carried out a joint campaign with Sberbank and covered its clients. We opened a blog in the then popular “LiveJournal” - caught the eye of the network community. We attracted public people, with them - their fans. Downside Up used every opportunity to flash and draw attention to their topic. As a result, the flow of funds increased even amid the crisis. The NPO is going this way in 2020 as well.
- Even symbolic amounts in significant amounts are a more reliable support than a corporate donor. When you count on a large donation, and the company gets into a crisis and can't give anything, you suddenly lose everything at once, - explains Anna. Investors and businessmen in such cases say: "Don't put your eggs in one basket".
According to Anna Portugalova, the main skill of a director of a charitable organization is communicative, the ability to negotiate and persuade. During a crisis, you will have to talk a lot and immediately with everyone: donors, employees, parents and society. The sooner the interaction starts, the better. Then everyone is paralyzed by the fear of what is happening. - When the situation is just developing, I quickly call and write to the trustees of the fund and large long-term donors: “We are, we continue and need help more than ever. If not with money, how else can you support us?”. Now it is difficult to attract new benefactors. You go to warm, close partners. They are loyal, already yours.
And how can you prove to donors that the fund's relevance during the crisis is growing? In 2009, the director of Downside Up turned to her parents for arguments. The most initiative created an asset that communicated with the media, talked about the fund, and participated in fundraising events. Donors saw the faces of the people they help live. Downside Up has found a new voice - the beneficiary.
Eleven years later, this tool has not become obsolete. Now the management has convinced teachers to join fundraising. They collect feedback from families with whom they communicate online, asking to remove the video thank you. Materials confirming the need for the fund are distributed through social networks, a website, mailing lists.
“In a crisis, it is necessary to powerfully tell people what the foundation continues to do, how it reacts to changes and what it needs”, Anna convinces. And again, like in business: advertise yourself, when others have their ears flattened, go in the opposite direction - and people will reach out to you.
- Twelve years ago it was tight, a strong decline was in donations. Two thousand twelve and thirteen were also difficult years. Two thousand fifteen was not easy for us. For the last few years, too, when you listen to Anna Portugalova, you get the feeling that Downside Up Charitable Foundation is not getting out of crises. On the other hand, it has existed for twenty-two years, has helped ten thousand families and has overcome everything.
- I learned how to build management processes and activities, relationships in a team, manage finances in the stock market, - says Anna. - If we compare NPO with business, we win: people with non-commercial motivation come to us. We make sure that everyone who is on the team is burning with the mission. We help families and children with Down syndrome.
In crises, people unite around this goal. Non-working days have been announced now. Any employee has the right to say: "I cannot work, and you are paying me a salary". But in our team, no one did that. I just turned to everyone: “Friends, this is the situation. As you know, it is harder for families than for us. They still need our help. I continue to work and I urge you. And yes, we will face tough times, but we hope we will survive. We will fight for this".
Source: “Magazine for specialists in the field of family arrangement and prevention of social orphanhood " № 2 (10) June 2020
Authors: Anna Guryanova, editor, journalist \ Elena Maksimova, journalist