Mill Creek Beacon - Your Hometown News Source

By Jana Hill
Mill Creek Beacon Editor 

Crashed websites do not stop fundraiser or donors

'I'm impressed that people still want to help'


Last updated 11/19/2020 at 8:55pm

Photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity

The Flores family is interviewed in their home during the making of the Raise the Roof production.

A crashed website did not stop Habitat for Humanity from surpassing its goal for the "Raise the Roof" fundraiser.

"We are still working on repairing our website," said Grace Hanolan after the Oct. 16 event posted online that officially ended on Nov. 10.

Aaron Olsen Resource Development Associate for Snohomish County Habitat for Humanity said they probably lost a couple hundred viewers who saw the site crash and never returned on day one of the event. Snippets were shared over time, to extend the online event into November, a method that was planned before the website crash. Habitat still raised $52,321.

"That's $12,321 over our goal," he said.

The online event was pulled together after the COVID-19 restrictions led to cancellation for onsite events. Olsen said they will probably do online fundraisers for the next several years.

"We had to completely shut down (the annual onsite fundraiser), and just put it back to October," he said. Then they started considering an online option and thought, "Do we have the capability?'" Olsen said.

To prepare, the group cobbled together resources, studied the virtual events completed by other nonprofits, and created a 32-minute recording on Habitat for Humanity. The agency constructs homes for people in need, and involves homeowners using 500 hours of work on their own home as a down payment.

For the remotely presented fundraiser, Habitat learned something important.

"Our IT infrastructure is terrible," Olsen said, "The average age of our computers is seven years old. ... We just got the cheapest option," and went with it.

Funds from the event are slated for Twin Creeks Village, a 24-unit townhouse community in south Everett, near Mill Creek, with an anticipated completion late next year. Some of the money will be used to come back from COVID-19 losses.

Volunteer James Chambers lives in the Aspen neighborhood of Mill Creek and has volunteered for Habitat for about five to six years. The Air Force veteran enjoys working with new residents as they contribute the 500 hours required to assist in the building of their new home – the work is the "sweat equity," he said. Some volunteers continue helping with Habitat homes after their required volunteer-time is complete, he said.

Chambers said he watched the fundraising event online as it kicked off on Oct. 16. As the site crashed, he said, many in the Habitat group were upset. But the fact that support came through anyway did not surprise him.

"Everybody understands. You know, I'm gonna say almost everybody I think has been in a room or a WebEx or even Facebook or something where there's been some snafu," he said. "It happens."

He said he was pleased with the video and was happy the group was able to reach outside of the state -- a perk of remote events seems to be more inclusion. Habitat staff reached out to family members and acquaintances who were happy to help, even though it was not a project specific to their town.

"We were able to plug in people from all parts of the country," he said.

The event, once completed, drew in more in part because costs were lower. Olsen said last year's onsite event was about $8,000, and visitors capped out at about 250 for a single-evening event. The online fundraiser cost about $6,000 and was able to accommodate 500 people the day of the event, and ran from Oct. 16 to Nov. 10.

The 32-minute posting is hosted by Marine, who learned of the volunteer opportunity through a Rotary contact. He dedicated about three and a half hours to the filming. After the Oct. 16 rollout, snippets of the video were run, drawing viewers back to the full production.

Marine said he saw the site crash the first day of the event, and he recalls thinking "Ah, what's happening?" But in viewing the project overall, he said, "I think it was done well."

He notes the current economic challenges combined with donor generosity, and sees something to admire.

"I'm impressed that people still want to help," Marine said. "We all can't wait till we can get back and do it (onsite), but people are still supporting it, and it's great to see."

In the recorded production, Marine spoke of the Twin Creeks Village site, a project still in process slated to house its last family in 2026. The 24-unit townhouse site in Everett is open to people who have lived in the county for at least a year, and are earning a steady income of 30% to 80% of the area median income.

According to Seattle Housing Authority, 30% of the AMI equates to $35,800 for a family of four or $25,100 for one person. At 80%, a single person would earn $66,700 and a family of four $92,250.

People who qualify for a Habitat home need a credit score of 620 or better, a score considered "acceptable" by Qualifications include a need for safe and affordable housing, which can include residence in a location where safety repairs or mold go unresolved. Another qualifying detail can be that a family simply needs more room, indicated by too many kids sharing the same bedroom.

The fundraiser is one of the revenue streams for the nonprofit. Habitat's retail stores take donations of building material, lumber, hardware, construction sites and overstock from building centers, selling those items for an additional revenue stream.

Snohomish County Habitat for Humanity lost $295,000 for the 11-week spring shutdown, Olsen said.

"(Stores) were shut down for almost three months" he said, which meant 17 full-time staffers were furloughed. He said he does not expect the same impact, for this shutdown.

Capacity limits are required for social distancing, but the stores can stay open and operational, Olsen said. He said this season usually is not that busy anyway, so the number of customers allowed may be similar to years past. The stores sell second-hand building materials.

The brick-and-mortar arm of Habitat's fundraising is building materials and tools, but they are second-hand. The ongoing need for help creates a workforce that is steady. Habitat has 17 full-time employees.

"Thankfully, we were able to pay for their health care benefits while they were furloughed, and were able to have them all open back up to Phase 2," he said.

Last year, 283 donations came in from Mill Creek and another 133 from Bothell. Edmonds donors numbered 720 in 2019, and Mukilteo had 267 donors, Olsen said. If not for the March shutdown, that number would have increased this year, Olsen said.

The fundraiser is dedicated to both Twin Creeks Village and some funds to bring them back from what was lost, due to COVID-19. For Twin Creeks, move-in dates are scheduled for late 2021 or early 2022, he said.

The overall goal is to raise $2 million to complete Twin Creeks, Marine said in the video. The one upside of this shutdown is that construction season has not yet begun.

"Every year, (it) goes up a little bit," Olsen said.


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