Albany Community Foundation: BIG Sleepout interview with Stacey Murnane

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Last month, Albany community members contributed $35,000 toward the ACF Homelessness Fund – $20,000 over the initial target! Clare Gregory had a chat with Stacey Murnane of Albany Community Foundation to hear just how they did it!

What encouraged people to donate to the ACF Homelessness Fund?

Each year in August in the lead up to Homelessness Week, Albany Community Foundation organises several fundraising events and donation drives. Money raised goes toward the ACF Homelessness Fund. We close the fundraising effort with a BIG Sleepout event.

What is involved in the BIG Sleepout?

The BIG Sleepout is a national initiative to create awareness around homelessness by having a collective ‘sleepover’. Communities, business, and schools can coordinate a BIG Sleepout to raise funds and awareness in their local area. This year, the Albany Agricultural Shed generously donated their space to host the event.

How do you raise awareness around homelessness at the BIG Sleepout?

The agencies represented by the ACF Homelessness Fund committee and other local service providers attend the evening with information stalls and various activities.

How does the Homelessness Fund work? Who makes up the committee?

The ACF Homelessness Fund is stewarded by five key service providers in Albany: Pivot, Albany Youth Support Association (AYSA), RUAH, Anglicare, and Palmerston. At ACF we believe the best people to apply the funds we’re raising for homelessness are people who work with the homeless who have a first-hand understanding of priority needs. Formed two years ago, the Homelessness Fund committee created its own terms of reference for how and when funds are to be used. This year’s fundraising went so well that we are planning to revisit those terms to make sure it’s all appropriate for allocating a larger pool of money.

What resources do you use to promote and organise the BIG Sleepout?

For event organisation, I like to use Trello to assign and manage tasks. As for materials, we take a lot of ideas from the Vinnies BIG Sleepout resources kits. (Go here to view their free resources).

Are most of the funds raised at the BIG Sleepout event?

No, in fact, most funds raised were from events surrounding the BIG Sleepout. We received
$30,000 leading up to the Sleepout and raised another $5,000 on the evening. The BIG Sleepout itself is more about awareness raising than fundraising. It’s also a good way to get the word out in the community about what ACF is up to.

How did you encourage community members to donate?

We did a mail out to existing members, held School-based fundraising events, and tapped into our Homelessness Fund committee contacts to spread the word. The ACF Board approaches all our initiatives as a team; this is key to our success.

Why do you think this year’s fundraising efforts were so successful?

Having a break last year due to COVID-19, we based our fundraising goal of $15,000 on the $10,000 that was raised in 2019. We didn’t foresee gaining an extra $20,000 over our initial target and had to raise the goal three times!

Each time we have an event or fundraising effort, we learn something and then build on those learnings the next time we hold a similar event.

In 2019, we found it difficult to tap into schools. Since then, our Youth Engagement and Grants Sub-Committee board member, Ashley McPhail has made incredible headway and connections with youths and schools. Ashley provided a creative solution for schools becoming involved even if they are apprehensive about attending the actual BIG Sleepout. School were encouraged to hold casual dress days, morning teas or sausage sizzles. This way schools can now participate in fundraising towards Homelessness Week / the Homelessness Fund even if the students are not joining in the BIG Sleepout.

Another reason we were able to raise more this year was the fact that we used an online giving platform – it made the donation process so simple! Though we are weary of security associated with online donation platforms.

Now that we have a great template for running this annual fundraising drive, we can implement the process next year in an efficient and time effective way. We may even be able to reduce time spent in committee meetings!

What did you learn this year that you will incorporate for next years’ event?

We learnt that there is a perception among some community members that ‘sleeping out’ indoors is not experiencing homelessness. We realised we needed to explain that the event isn’t to sleep rough per se, but to gather people in one place to raise awareness of issues surrounding homelessness. One of those issues is the perception that only people ‘sleeping rough’ are considered homeless.

To improve communications around this we are going to adapt our advertising. Previously we have used images that portray downtrodden, rough sleeping people. Next year we would like use imagery that captures the wider homelessness experience and communicate to participants that the evening is not solely about ‘sleeping rough’.

Thanks for your time Stacey. Huge congratulations to you and the entire ACF team, and all the best for next year!

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