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43: How the Black Fairy Godmother Runs Campaigns that Activate Grassroot Donors with Simone Gordon

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“I just want to make a witness to people as to what is going on with these big non-profits that there’s some sort of discrimination that’s happening between marginalized families.”

– Simone Gordon
Episode #43

Overview

In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast

I talk to the loving, giving, and magical Simone Gordon, The Black Fairy Godmother. Simone is a single mother of a severely autistic son and a huge advocate for women and families. Her story in the nonprofit world began when she was looking for assistance for her son and despite visiting countless organizations, the place where she found real help was in differently connecting with other women. 

Since then Simone started the Black Fairy Godmother Organization which helps marginalized black and brown families. To date, Simone has helped over 500 families and has housed more than 122 through grassroot efforts. All of that while being the single caretaker of her son and a full-time nursing student.

Simone talks to me about the broken parts of the nonprofit world and how her assistance work looks to stop putting people in boxes and really listen to their needs. How are people receiving nonprofit organization’s services? It isn’t easy to listen to every part of this episode, it might trigger some feelings around our own work, but it’s necessary to acknowledge the ways in which we are falling short as a sector.

The conversation poses important questions about the role the sector can play in customized support for individuals, ways to connect grassroot donors with recipients, and how to listen to the needs of individuals and let them define what support looks like for them. Join this real and raw conversation with The Black Fairy Godmother to get an inside look at her work and walk away with some great takeaways for how to run your next grassroots campaigns.

This episode is a part of a mini-series on What Funders Want thanks to our incredible sponsors at Givebutter. To learn more about how you can get started on Givebutter, head on over to givebutter.com/mallory.

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Many thanks to Givebutter for making this episode possible. Givebutter is an amazing free fundraising platform with modern donation forms, fundraising pages, and events! Givebutter raises more than $150 million annually in support of more than 35,000 meaningful causes – from local youth groups to world-renowned charities. Learn more about Givebutter here.

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I teach nonprofit fundraisers to bring in more gifts from the RIGHT donors… so they can stop hounding people for money. Fundraising doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.

MALLORY ERICKSON

episode transcript

Mallory Erickson: Hi. How are you doing? 

Simone Gordon: I’m doing okay.

Mallory Erickson: I’m so excited to meet you.

Simone Gordon: I just want to let you know that I have a severely autistic son and I don’t have a lot of support, he requires 24-hour care. So if you do hear yelling in the background, I do apologize. But this is the norm of what I’m going to speak to you about what the foundation is about. 

Mallory Erickson: No problem at all, and whatever you need to do if you need to stop at any point and take care of him or respond to him, whatever you need to do during this time, just tell me. 

Simone Gordon: Awesome. 

Mallory Erickson: So why don’t we just start Simone with what brings you to this moment in the work that you are doing.

Simone Gordon: In 2017, I lost my job. I was working at a bank and I’m a single mom of a severely autistic child and I was only making $200 a week when I was receiving unemployment. So many non-profits I applied for, I did the 211, I did everything that you can imagine. Most people will tell you, there’s a website here, there’s a website to go for help. So I’d done all work. And it was for three months straight, I kept calling, kept getting the runaround, I kept getting the voicemails, that yeah you’re on a waiting list, things of that nature.

But there were other people before me who were getting service before me, my son wasn’t as well. In big non-profits, a lot of people don’t know is that they’re paying people salary. And at the same time, they are assisting very little. There are people in urban communities who are not receiving the same systems. 

What I’ve done was, I went on Facebook and I asked where can I get help for my son who has autism. And they told me that it was a group that helped women who are minority and they would advocate for me or assist me anyways. And I went ahead and I joined that group. When I joined that group, there were four strangers, one in California, one in Maryland, one in New York and other one in Washington who helped me get on my feet. I put the story out there that my son is severely autistic, he requires 24-hour assistance, I am a single mom. I researched every non-profit in every children’s specialized hospital there were. And most people will say you receive Medicaid and you can get diapers through Medicaid, but people don’t understand those diapers that Medicaid provides to you, as soon as he does his business in that diaper, it sinks through, the child or the person with a disability is covered, so those diapers are no good. So I feel as though, regardless if a person is poor, regardless of their disability, they deserve the same as others. 

So I went ahead and a woman from California said I will order you Depends and I will gather up some gift cards so that we could do a monthly Depends subscription for you. A woman in Washington, Kimberly and Steve said, what’s something that you want to do. I said, I want to go back to school, I want to go back to college. They went ahead and said, well let’s enroll you in a community college because I dropped out when I was in school in 2007 because I couldn’t afford it and that’s how I got my banker job doing customer service and making great money at the age of 19. 

So I told them I couldn’t go back to community college and they said, but everybody could go to community college, what’s the problem, I said I owe a  balance of $784 or $783. And they said, we’ll pay off that balance, we will re-enroll you online and pay for your tuition and that’s what they did.

For the first, they went ahead and paid my tuition and I enrolled into nursing school and I have a 3.8 GPA at this present time. And I said to myself, I’m not going to sit here and let women like myself feel like it’s over, it’s done. I have no family. I have nowhere to go. 

So I went ahead and started fundraising on my personal Facebook page. 2017, I created something called Wishlist Angels, and I just took off from there. I just want to make awareness to people as to what is going on with these big non-profits, that there’s some sort of discrimination that’s happening between marginalized families. And I am becoming the voice where I am showing receipts, showing how families are working class. It can be your secretary, your janitor, even school teachers are having it rough. And I’m showing the essentials that people do not have, the things that a lot of us take for granted, as far as a bed. Who would imagine a mother making sure that her children go to school with clean uniforms, food, etc? She doesn’t have a bed, she doesn’t have a car, but she makes it work. 

So that’s my initiative and that’s my awareness. I’m putting it out there, showing people when they donate to the foundation where the money is actually going, We don’t get any money from this larger percent of volunteers. 

Mallory Erickson: One of the things that really stands out to me about the way you fundraise and hearing that story, actually, it also makes a lot of sense is that you had this experience where people were like, Okay, your needs need to fit into this box, right? We’ll give you this type of diaper and that’s it because that’s the way we provide this service. And that wasn’t even from a non-profit, that was a government program. But the way that you do it as well, let’s just take a step back and really see what is needed, what is the thing that is actually needed? And I just feel like there’s no, like sometimes when we get into the bureaucracy of non-profits, people are then like, yeah, we’ll just donate used versions of that.

And you’re like, no, we’re going to set up a wishlist and you’re going to buy a new version of that because these women deserve that too. And you just cut out a lot of them, I think, scarcity mindset that holds back access to a lot of these things. 

Simone Gordon: Exactly and if you look at the Amazon wishlist and the Target wishlist, I created something to where they are clearance items. If a mom needs a bed that is under $150 and the sheets are $30. We spent $30 in less than two days at Starbucks and that can go to a child to having some bedding on their bed.

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. But there’s no judgment. There’s no judgment about the things that are needed. And I think that’s the other thing that’s so different about the way you talk about the women in your community and that you talk about the supporters in your community too, which is really just that life is complicated. The world is complicated and people are not getting what they need. And we want to take care of each other. And so who can step up right now to just do this thing? 

Simone Gordon: Yeah. And I had a couple who were getting married and the boyfriend didn’t want to give up his furniture because he was moving in with his soon-to-be wife and he said, wow, what can I do to make an impact? So he wrote a big, long email and donated all of the furniture that he had for the apartment for someone else. 

Mallory Erickson: Wow, that’s a great one. I was just going to ask you, what’s been a  story of what’s happened since you started doing this that’s really inspired you.

Simone Gordon: The recent story would be, give me one second. The foreclosure, they were going to foreclose on a woman, who is 75 years old, home within 48 hours and we were able to raise that almost $5,000 and pay it directly to make sure that they didn’t foreclose. So we did that and she cried because she really thought that she was going to have to sleep at her friend’s house who lives in a senior building. Because she raised her children, her grandchildren, neighbors in that home and times is hard. And who would think that someone who’s 75, would end up losing their home? 

Then we had a woman in Oklahoma whose home was going to be auctioned off because she owed taxes because she was a crossing guard. But because of the pandemic, they didn’t need crossguards so they laid her off and her unemployment is not a lot of money. So we stopped that. 

The one thing that got me was today, there was a pregnant woman and her two children who’s been living in their car. And she works, she works at KFC and she was so embarrassed to let them know that she was living this way. She reached out to the foundation, as you can see, we raised funds for a hotel. We had a follower in one of our volunteers to get them clean clothing, feminine toiletry things, and make sure she contacted her doctor to see if the baby was healthy. Thank God the baby is ok, she reached out to an urgent care. I reached out to a realtor, because we have some realtors who help us out with apartments or relationships they have with different landlords and apartment complexes. And she got her keys today. We raised the funds, she got her keys today and it’s affordable, $683 a month that she can afford it. She was just crying because she doesn’t have family, she went to social services three times. They couldn’t help her the way they want to because the housing need is so extreme.

And yes, people said she can go to a shelter. Do they know since she has little girls, sometimes shelters are unsafe? And shelters, when a child is homeless or a child is going through a domestic situation at home, they call child protective services and that’s the only thing she has, so that was why she slept in her car for safety. 

Mallory Erickson: Wow. First of all, all of those stories are so amazing. And I think the other thing that’s just so important that you’re saying is, people are so quick to say go here cause that’ll fix it, right, then go here, that things for that. And I think what you’re really calling attention to is there’s a lot of broken stuff.

There are a lot of broken non-profits. There are a lot of broken government systems. There’s a lot of broken and I’m a huge advocate for the non-profit sector. I do believe that it has the potential to solve some really big problems, but I do agree with you that there are quite a few of them that got too big and the bureaucracy that now governs their decision-making and their actual support to people is upside down.

Simone Gordon: And that’s why I tell people to please, please support grassroots non-profits. 

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. Oh, I lost you for a second. I think you’re muted, is that good.

Simone Gordon: It is so important. Yes. I’m muted because my son is autistic, as we all know, and sometimes he can be a little screaming guy so, sorry about that, but he’s my heart. 

And that’s another thing, some single women don’t have childcare or they don’t have the care to help their children and I’m one of them and I’m still doing the work that I do. 

Mallory Erickson: I’m curious as someone who wants to advocate for you too. I know the non-profit sector like there are those organizations that are way too much money is going into them, essentially being an employer and not enough of it is getting to the people in need, but I also believe that you deserve to be paid for what you’re doing.

Simone Gordon: I do, but there’s not a lot of money that’s coming into the foundation because once we have families who have needs. Like social, I might have 40,000 followers, but I don’t have 1.8 million. So most of the time we don’t get a lot and we make things stretch. So that’s how I’m not able to get a salary or anything like that towards what I am doing.

Hopefully, God will bless me in the future where I can get a transitional home or I could get more followers or people who can donate, but that’s where me and the volunteers are at. And I’m just happy I have now 50 volunteers versus 12 who see the work because they’re doing the work themselves with me. And they’re like, what can we do for you? I said, Hey, just buy a $5 gift card or something, but that’s not where I’m at, because I have my son who requires 24 hours attendance. I will love that opportunity because my message is so bold and broad and it’s working. Yeah, we have helped 502 families within the past two years and housed 122 families.

Mallory Erickson: It’s amazing. And the other thing is, and I’m covered in chills and I’m trying not to cry, but I think the thing that is so amazing about what you do, is yes, you can grow based on the number of donors and the number of followers that you have. But what you’ve done is amazing. And the ripple effect and the lives that are changed, you hearing how your experience in being supported by those women has now created this ripple effect of wanting to show up for these other women.

And I think the thing about you, Simone, that I have always admired is I think that not only have you provided that many beds or all those different things, but the way that you’re inspiring the people who are giving, you’re changing them too, to feel like they can do something, they can make a difference. And that is also something that I think people desperately need and want in order to show up for their community. 

Simone Gordon: Absolutely. I’m even telling people on their birthdays, when each person says Happy Birthday to them, ask them to donate $5 or $10 to the food fund or to donate to an Amazon list because it’s making a difference. And it has worked, people are, Hey, today’s my birthday and I want to sponsor a family today who just moved, or I want to sponsor a family who needs medical supplies. I want to sponsor a family who needs groceries, can you guys do that and it worked. Or for many families who were facing eviction and some people took bills and food requests and they got it done.

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. And I just want to say, and I am going to put this on the podcast if you’re okay with it. I just want to say for anyone who’s listening to this right now, and anyone who’s a donor with big capacity, you could do some huge work with Simone and you could really help her build the infrastructure she needs to support her as the leader of this organization. And I think it’s so helpful to see, okay, $20 buys this thing, but for a donor to be able to come in and truly support the infrastructure of your organization, that is tremendously powerful. That’s what allows all of the other donors and all the other community members to be able to really participate in impactful and powerful ways.

And so sometimes within the sector, we get caught up in how much goes to overhead and how much goes directly to the people in need. And I think it’s an important conversation when we’re talking about big non-profits where the services are not being provided. But like you said, with grassroots organizations, a lot of those organizations get so much pushback about their overhead and it’s those people who deserve to get paid and they deserve to not be stressed, like you with all the work that you’re doing. I do not want you to have financial stress, like the way you’re are. 

Simone Gordon: Nope. 4 am every morning, I’m cleaning my son up, making sure his diapers is changed, because he’s 11 and he’s on the severe end of the spectrum and I do it alone. But I also have to make sure that my foundation is 100% at a capacity where we can help people who are filling out applications. Everybody is vetted, they give us their ID, they give us documentation, so everything is vetted and it’s through. And at times I’m like, okay, I’m feeding someone. I’m doing all the work, but I just feel like my blessing is when I get a child or a parent smiling, having a place to live, plan from domestic violence, having food, even though I’m marginalized myself, but that’s just the joy of it.

I know I will get to a place where I’m able to have a salary. I’m able to have a small office space where I can fully run. But these 50 volunteers, I’m so grateful for that are across the United States. They are doing it in their own home and have a computer, having a phone, we’re doing a lot. And some people say you’re doing more work than the actual social services places that I’ve been to.

Mallory Erickson: Because you’re listening. You’re listening, you’re not just saying, Hey, get in this line for this very specific thing or submit this form for this very specific thing. And oh, you need that, we don’t do that. You’re just listening. And you’re just asking them, asking people what they need. And what you’re finding is that there are, and what you knew, is that there are so many gaps in all of it.

So it sounds like the thing that sort of keeps you going every day is the impact that you’re making. And I can imagine that one of the hardest things is obviously balancing your own life and running this organization and the full-time job of caring for your son. What else is really hard? If the people listening to this could solve one problem for you, what would it be?

Simone Gordon: I’ve never been on a vacation before, I never experienced beach life. I never experienced anything from that. And I just want one week of self-care. I would love a week in Miami and looking at Groupon, it’s only about $500 bucks, people are like, that’s not a lot of money, but that’s money that I don’t have and I will not be able to go on a vacation. Have somebody care for my son for the weekend while I just have some me-time. 

A lot of people just say, oh, she’s on TV, she’s this and that. But I’m more than just that, you can hear it in the background. You could hear it in my voice. You can see me face to face. I’m more than just that. I am actually in school, full-time. I was doing virtual learning while my son was doing virtual learning. And at times I did break. I had a breakdown not being able to be outside with friends and family or not experienced the mall and have to do everything through UberEats or Instacart or ordering off Amazon is hard.

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. It’s a lot. And I can imagine, even just talking to you, like in sensing how like sensitive and empathetic you are, that even the stories that come in from the folks you want to be helping is probably a lot.

Simone Gordon: Yeah it is.

Mallory Erickson:What would you say to someone else who’s thinking about doing something like this, like grassroots, crowd fundraising, direct service, who is, I want to do what she’s doing in my community. What would you say to them?

Simone Gordon: Make sure you have a heart, make sure you work with the right people that’s ready. Make sure that you are in a no-judgment zone because once you have that type of mind, you will soar and you would get more things done. Also at times it mentally takes you down. So be prepared at times to have that mental meltdown, that mental takedown, but always remember you’re doing a cause for your own community. This could be you, in two months, in a year or 10 years, because always remember that somebody needs help. 

Mallory Erickson: Will you tell me about that judgment piece? I think that’s so important, but I’m curious from your perspective, what do you mean by that?

Simone Gordon: I get a lot of nasty inboxes where people are judging people for being in hardship. They did not wake up one day and say, I want to be in hardship. I want to lose my job. I want to lose my house. I want to lose everything. I want to be a domestic violence victim. I want to not have food in my refrigerator, but there is a systematic trouble that is going on. And that has been going on for years and now everyone is waking up to it.

So I just want people to not be judgmental. There was a mom who put on an Amazon list because she just left a shelter. She put a pot set that was from Rachel Ray. Someone goes, oh, for somebody who’s living in a shelter, why are they asking for Rachel Ray products? Was that appropriate? She’s not asking for Mercedes Benz. She’s asking for the pots that she would want to cook her food in with someone that maybe she idolized, Rachel Ray. That’s what the Black Fairy Godmother did, I wrote to Rachel Ray and they sent her a free pot set.

Mallory Erickson: No, I think that’s such an important message around, yeah I think the judgment piece is so important, right? That this is about, there are so many stories of people falling into hardship that other people can relate to. But to me, it’s also like that doesn’t even really matter. It’s just like people are in a hard situation and don’t we want to help them not be in a hard situation because we can because you can just buy those pots. 

Simone Gordon: Absolutely. 

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. So I love that. I love so much of what you do, I think is critical for nonprofits to be thinking about.

I hope that nonprofits folks who are listening to this are also taking a step back and looking at their own organizations and saying, okay, how are people receiving our services? Where are the gaps in what we’re providing? I think I’ve seen a number of different organizations, who they are doing good work. Their staff is working so hard. They don’t have crazy overhead, but they have overhead because they need to attract talent and they need to build a staff team. And I am an advocate for all of those things, of course. And I think one of the things that they don’t often do, which I think your work is highlighting, is that what are the patterns of inquiry that your organization is constantly getting that you haven’t solved for?

If you provide a service, right? If you provide a specific service and you’re noticing that there’s a pattern of inquiry around a tangential service or an adjusted service. Take a step back and recognize that there might be a response to the community need that’s really important instead of just sending the wrong type of diapers to a family and telling them to make it work.

Simone Gordon: It’s like I tell people, we have shelters for families but do we have actual social workers who can build something for them to become stabilized? We don’t have any of that. 

Mallory Erickson: Right. Exactly. We pick one kind of point on the line and then we’re like, okay, this should solve the whole thing. And there are so many reasons why folks have found themselves at that point and they need support around multiple pieces of that puzzle.

Simone Gordon: Absolutely. Yeah that’s what I am doing. 

Mallory Erickson: And that’s the other thing that I’ve noticed is that you provide sometimes diverse needs like a family needs this and they need this. And you’re we’re just going to fundraise for both of them at the same time. Does that, do you find that to be just as effective? 

Simone Gordon: Absolutely.

Mallory Erickson: I hope everyone goes, I will make sure below this episode, there are all the links to the foundation to you on Instagram. Everyone needs to go and follow you right away and make sure that you’re liking her posts and resharing her posts and giving when you can, to the different things that they are fundraising for because that also helps with the social media algorithms of making sure that the messages are getting out there.

And I think so often. You’re like, okay I need five people to give $20 to do this one thing. And so there are just so many amazing ways for folks to plugin and support. 

Simone Gordon: Absolutely. Thank you so much. 

Mallory Erickson: Is there anything else you want to make sure people hear from you specifically.

Simone Gordon: Not at this time, just go to my website at theblackfairygodmother.org. There are so many things and ways to give, and also ways to contact me to learn more on how you could be a part of our foundation and volunteer. You don’t always have to give money. There’s always certain things that you can do. We need more resume writers. We need more peer assistance to help some of these families become stabilized after 90 days of going through the trauma that they went through.

Mallory Erickson: Yes. I think giving people other opportunities to engage is critical so we’ll make sure all of that is down below. Thank you so much for joining me today and talking about this, really you’re such an inspiration and there’s so much that non-profit professionals and fundraisers can learn from you and the work that you’re doing, I’m really grateful.

Simone Gordon: I’m grateful for everything that you’re doing, especially for non-profits. So thank you for having me today. 

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