Software Helps Nonprofit Continue Its Mission Despite Social Distancing

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Drawchange, a nonprofit, had to adapt quickly to continue providing art education to children quarantining in homeless shelters during the pandemic. Software helped them.

The instructor at the homeless shelter asked the children to put their heads down and imagine the best day ever. Then, they put their vision to paper. Bryson, a five-year-old experiencing homelessness, closed his eyes and imagined that such a day would include a rainbow, flowers, splashes of vivid colors, a feather, and lots of sparkle. He drew himself as well, but in the corner of the page as a spectator of his perfect day, not a participant.

Software helped Draw Change continue sharing art with children experiencing homelessness.

Bryson’s artwork featuring his idea of a perfect day (Source: Drawchange)

“If you have this beautiful day, do you want to look at it or do you want to go in and play with all the color?” said Jennie Lobato, founder and CEO of Drawchange. “The more you get to know children like Bryson, the more you can figure out tools to prompt him in his artwork to help him navigate that perspective he has of himself. He is worthy of playing in that imaginary day. He doesn’t have to just be observing it.”

Lobato founded Drawchange in 2009 to share art as a healing tool with children aged five to 10 experiencing poverty and homelessness. The goal is to help them visualize a break to their cycle of poverty, remind them that they are worthy of a different life, and build self-esteem.

Before the pandemic, Drawchange offered in-person art workshops in homeless shelters and community centers to meet these children where they are. But this was no longer possible when social distancing orders went into effect in March 2020.

“[The pandemic] just put an immediate stop to everything. All of our programming is in person. We didn’t rely on technology because you’re talking about homelessness and impoverished [children].”

COVID-19 made it impossible for Drawchange to continue their mission as it was, but Lobato said that stopping their programming wasn’t an option. If anything, their mission was more important than ever.

“We’ve done a lot of research on complex trauma,” Lobato explained. “There’s an immense amount of trauma from homelessness, period, never mind child homelessness, and then never mind quarantining homelessness …. It’s just trauma on top of trauma on top of trauma.”

And, so, Drawchange had to innovate, using technology and different software solutions to help its teams connect, communicate, and, ultimately, continue with its mission. Here are three things Drawchange did to restrategize in the face of disruption and how you can apply similar strategies to your own business.

3 ways to rethink technology’s role in your organization’s strategy

1. Take full advantage of your website

At the very least, Drawchange wanted to continue programming to give the children a sense of normalcy, and remind them they hadn’t been forgotten.

Drawchange reconsidered their curriculum—which is tailored to have an art teacher or art therapist leading it—and created a program called Drawchange DIY, designed so that any adult can guide children through it.

Drawchange has been emailing these lessons to homeless shelters and put them up online for anyone to access, using their website as a resource hub to continue sharing art lesson plans with children everywhere to help alleviate stress.

Businesses and organizations across industries can also use their website to connect with customers and build community by sharing resources.

 What you can do:  Optimize your website for a smoother user experience. Think about the most important aspects of your business, and what is most important to your customers. Consider your website a dynamic tool rather than a static page, and use it to connect with your customers.

2. Use software to stay connected

Drawchange not only had to figure out how to connect with homeless shelters, but also each other. Although Drawchange had some remote staff prior to the pandemic, the team had never needed to communicate while entirely remote.

“We’ve always been a little remote,” Lobato said. “If I had to guess [I’d say] 20% of our time was remote, but now it’s 100%.”

Lobato and her team had to figure out how to communicate and collaborate without being able to work together in person. To communicate more effectively, Drawchange upgraded to Workplace by Facebook to simulate in-person meetings.

“Sometimes, we call each other on the phone or on Facebook workplace, and we just sit there with our cameras off because that’s the best way to emulate an in-person meeting.”

Lobato and her team have also increased their use of Google Docs, a common document management software option, and Asana, an Agile project management tool.

Lobato said that even after the pandemic subsides, Drawchange will likely continue to use the software solutions it’s adopted during this time. “We’ve now started to organize things that weren’t so organized in the past.”

 What you can do:  Like Drawchange, many businesses have had to learn and adjust to remote work, and have adopted software solutions to make it easier. Necessary software systems for remote work include:

3. Host virtual events

Once Drawchange figured out how to connect with homeless shelters and each other, it had one more major challenge: How was it going to host its largest fundraiser of the year (art day camp) under social distancing?

“[The camp is] a livelihood for us, so we had to figure out what to do. We shifted the entire in-person art camp to a virtual art camp.”

Hosting the camp in-person was not an option, and neither was canceling it entirely; the only remaining option was to take it online, using Zoom (a web conferencing software offering).

This transition required Lobato to make curriculum changes and added additional considerations, such as internet safety pledges. Overall, Lobato said that the transition has worked but presented some challenges, especially when trying to teach concepts such as collaboration to children online. However, they can still communicate directly with the children, which according to Lobato, is one of the most important things.

“We empower [the children] by being in constant communication with them, giving them individual attention, asking them about their artwork, and asking them to talk to us about their artwork,” Lobato said. “That’s where the true therapy comes in.”

 What you can do:  Sometimes, the show simply must go on. If you have events such as fundraisers that can’t be hosted as originally planned but also can’t be completely canceled, web conferencing software can help.

Software brings people together, even if they’re apart

Software can’t solve every challenge organizations have—it’s impossible to replace the impact in-person togetherness can have on organizations with a humanitarian-focused mission.

Virtual togetherness, however, can still be impactful.

The children at Drawchange’s day camp still find connection through the computer screen, showing that software can bring people together even when they’re apart.

“They’re meeting new friends in a weird sort of way,” Lobato said. “You’ll hear the kids say, ‘Mommy, come meet my friend.’ They’re still getting a lot out of it.”

Drawchange will likely keep the software solutions it has adopted during this time, but will resume in-person classes once it is safe to do so.

Nonprofits and small organizations continue thinking of creative ways to solve their challenges and meet their clients and audience where they are.

We’re highlighting stories from real business leaders like you who innovated their way out of a crisis, emerging stronger and more prepared for whatever hardships awaited.

Note: The software applications referenced in this article were cited by the interviewee in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations.

Looking for Web Conferencing software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Web Conferencing software solutions.

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About the Author

Toby Cox

Toby Cox

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Toby Cox is a senior content writer for Capterra covering the accounting and business intelligence markets and contributing to the marketing and small-business trends markets. A journalist by trade, Toby enjoys the art of digging through the noise to find compelling narratives that provide clarity to her audience. She holds a B.A. in Foreign Affairs from the University of Virginia. When she's not typing away at her computer, you can catch her on the mats with her boxing gloves or tending to her beehives.


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