This is part of a series of posts that highlight some of the amazing RallyBound organizations (and their fundraising directors) who will be attending the Peer to Peer Forum on February 24th.
Homes for Our Troops (HFOT) is a national nonprofit that builds and gifts mortgage free homes to veterans that have been severely injured post 9/11, giving them freedom and independence to rebuild their lives. Cara Yanosick started working for HFOT in 2009 and is now Events Manager, overseeing the running team, as well as both fundraising and internal events. We chatted with Cara about her work with HFOT.
How did you get into the nonprofit world?
My mom actually works at Homes for Our Troops too, in our intake department, and my senior year of college I needed to do an internship. I did it with HFOT, and they asked me to come back after I graduated to fill in for the receptionist, who was on maternity leave. She never came back, and I never left! They offered me a spot in fundraising a few months later, and the rest is history. I didn’t grow up thinking “I want to manage fundraising events,”but things have kind of just fallen into place and I love it.
What do you enjoy most about working at Homes for our Troops?
There are too many to choose from! We don’t just turn the keys over to a home. The veterans who receive those homes become family. I know that every year, the events that I go to there’s going to be a certain group of veterans there and I get to see them and hang out and they’re all around my age. It’s really like this huge extended group of friends and family around the country. I’ve gone to one of their weddings, I’ve gone to see their homes after they’ve been living there for a few years. That’s the most unique aspect of working here. I don’t know any of my friends who are really good friends with their clients.
As far as my job, my favorite part is working with Team HFOT which is our running team. It’s really cool to help people from across the country. We had 500 runners in 2015, across 10 events. We have a lot of people who do their first 5k with us, or we’ve had people qualify for the Boston Marathon running the Marine Corps Marathon. So just being a very small part of that and just helping each of them accomplish a personal goal. We try to make it about the team and the event and less about raising money.
What social media channel do you think nonprofits should leverage more in their fundraising strategy?
I think Facebook is still a really great tool as far as team building goes. We have a closed group for our team, and have seen a huge increase in participation because of it. Runners share their fundraising ideas with each other and it’s a place where they can connect, instead of just meeting during race weekend.
For actual fundraising, I think social media can sometimes be unhelpful. I’m not too social media savvy (I don’t even have Twitter or Instagram accounts!), but I know my Facebook newsfeed is full of people asking for money for one cause or another. I think personal, handwritten asks are the way to go right now. We have some ambitious fundraisers and the ones who either host events or write personal asks actually end up raising more funds than just those who post on social media. Social media can definitely help, but with so much over-saturation, it doesn’t always get you to your goal.
How do you inspire people to fundraise for your organization?
The biggest thing I do is share motivation from our mission. Our veterans have given up so much of their own independence for our nation’s freedom, the least we can do is give back to them. Sharing photos of “key” ceremonies and the homes we build, how they help the veteran and their families, it speaks for itself.
I also do my best to inspire our team with their training, not just fundraising. I do team emails about every two or three weeks, and always try to include a piece of motivation from our veterans. One veteran climbed Mount Kilimanjaro this year! How could you not run a mile or two after hearing about a double leg amputee climbing a mountain on his prosthetic legs? I also try to get our veterans to join our team whenever possible. We had two of them do their first post-injury 10K together with us in September. They were the last two to cross the finish line, and runDisney really gave them a hero’s welcome. Everyone in the area stopped to cheer them on. It was so emotional and triumphant. They were in pain, but they did it!
What is your new year’s resolution?
To actually train for a race! I hate running, but feel guilty for not participating when I’m coaching 500+ runners each year. I started off slow, doing a 5K here and there for a couple years. In 2015, I did my first 10K and my first half marathon. The half marathon was on a whim – we had an extra registration two weeks before the race, so I took it, thinking I could give it to someone else. No one came along, and the team convinced me to do it. I did it with four of our teammates and we all finished together. I’m doing a 10K and half marathon in a week, on back to back days… I’ve only done one training run!! I hate training, I need a reason to run, like a fancy medal or a road race for something that’s close to my heart. I’m doing the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon for my 29th birthday in April – I want to get a really good finish time for that one!
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