Reach out and engage granting agencies. We rely on funding from grants and we know they get asked for money all the time. Building strong relationships with granting agencies and continuing to steward those relationships will ensure they grow over time and help separate your nonprofit from the pack.
For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How To Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders and leaders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non-Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Allie Roth.
Allie Roth is the Founder and Director of Community Partnerships for With Love, a nonprofit organization that supports foster families by providing safe, clean and quality clothing and supplies for children ages 0–6. Since 2013, Allie has brought love and dignity to the forefront of foster care, changing the lives of thousands of families and kids in Portland, Oregon. For Allie, With Love is more than an organization with a cause, it’s a must-have movement. Prior to starting With Love in her living room, Allie taught grades four and five, and worked as a supervisor for student and first-year teachers in Marylhurst University’s education department.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?
I’ve had a heart for kids from an early, early age. When I was in high school, I really thought I would go work abroad for an orphanage because I wanted to help the most vulnerable kids, but I quickly realized there were opportunities to impact children in my own backyard. I recognized mission work could be done through education. I had the privilege of working for a local school district where I taught 4th and 5th grade. It was teaching that really opened my eyes to the foster care system. Schools need quality teachers, but we also really need quality foster families to serve arguably the most vulnerable kids in our area.
Additionally, I would say that growing up with really humble beginnings truly shaped who I am today as well as the work of With Love. I have first-hand experience being on the receiving end of hand-me-downs, which gave me an appreciation for generosity; however, I also know the significance of receiving quality items on overall self-esteem. Dignity is at the cornerstone of what we do at With Love. We want to ensure our foster families and kids in foster care are receiving the best of the best. We don’t call ourselves a charity; we call ourselves a support system.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.
Engaging. I think engaging community is a really important piece of the journey for With Love. I know I’ve been able to lead this organization as successfully as I have because of the community around me and the people who are walking alongside me. If I didn’t have the community of board members, volunteers, and staff, With Love would not be where it is today. Engaging the community to help compensate for my deficits has been huge to With Love’s success story.
Inviting. I really, really believe in what we’re doing and being able to share With Love’s mission with people at the grocery store and salon and my kids’ school has been instrumental in providing an onramp for others to get involved with the organization. When I’m evangelizing the work of With Love, it doesn’t feel like a job; it feels like an invitation. You might not be able to be a foster parent, but you can donate your kids’ new and like-new stuff. Someone might own a business and we really need a sponsor for our bags…would you consider that?
It’s also normalizing foster care. With Love is turning ten in May and my husband and I have been foster parents for the past five years. When you’re showing up to your kids’ basketball games and tennis matches and you have a little one next to you who is a new family member for a season, it’s really inviting other people to get to know kids who are in foster care and realize they’re just like everybody else and they’re wonderful. It doesn’t take a superhero to be a foster parent, you just need to care deeply and want to make a difference.
Strategic. Being strategic has also contributed to With Love’s success. I was really intentional going into this. For a year, I looked for other nonprofits that were doing what I wanted to do because I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I wanted to see what the landscape was and determine if something already existed where I could volunteer my time or if I needed to start something new. And then, as we’ve grown, being really strategic in who we are serving and how we are serving. Recognizing our best yeses and when and where we have to say no. Calculating when to take risks and learning from those that don’t pan out. Strategy has been really, really important to grow With Love to where it is today. Granted, we’ve had stumbling blocks. But we are so grassroots and so dependent on our community, if we weren’t really intentional with our growth strategy and constantly evaluating how to better serve our families, I think there would be a lot more bumps along the way.
What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?
I have learned what I’m good at. I recognize where I need help…sometimes a lot of help. And I’m not afraid to ask for assistance in areas in which I’m not as experienced. I went through college for a lot of things and have a lot of degrees [laughs]. And it turns out that I am leading something that I do not have a degree in. I have my teaching license. I have a degree in Communications. I have my reading endorsement. I have my Masters in Curriculum Instruction. And I did all of this schooling that was a huge part of my life for 15 years and I loved it — I absolutely loved it; however, this need in the community was there. While I never intended to start something of this magnitude, it was leaning on some of my other strengths that weren’t necessarily education-based, that has been most interesting.
Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?
We are really trying to change the narrative around foster care. Many people have perceptions of foster families or kids in foster care largely driven by the media, but we want to provide more exposure to what foster care really is and the life-changing impact it can have on a child’s life. Dignity is the cornerstone of all we do at With Love and providing kids with new and like-new items, creating meaningful community experiences, and offering instructional classes on specific topics like textured hair and sensory processing are all meant to uplevel the experience for kids and families alike.
We’re also trying to change the narrative on social media. We don’t say foster children, we say children who are in foster care. We are engaging the community via our social media channels to recognize the need and offering solutions for how to be a part of making foster care in Oregon better. Instead of standing back and saying, “I’m not a foster parent so I can’t help,” we’re encouraging involvement in other ways such as donating new and like-new items or making a monthly contribution. We are also inviting people to not only donate financially but to come in and volunteer at the warehouse so they can see where their funds are going and hear stories from foster parents (we have three on-staff!) who are open about sharing experiences and demystifying foster care to help create a new narrative, a new belief about how people can support foster families, and real-life insight about who the children and families are who are in foster care.
What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?
Kids go into foster care by no fault of their own. We know 39 percent of the kids in foster care are between the ages of 0–5. Those are really large numbers for a critical time in development for children. With Love started out by providing tangible goods that would make it easier for a foster family to say yes to bringing in a child — which is super important — but over the years, we’ve learned that we’re actually retaining foster parents which is an incredible testament to the ongoing support With Love is providing. If we can retain these amazing foster families, I think it’s going to make foster care a much kinder and better place. The dream is that when a child goes into care, we would have so many homes that would be a good fit for that little one, that we could choose the best case scenario — which isn’t the case right now. Right now, we’re asking, “Who has a space?” “Who has an opening?” and that doesn’t necessarily put the child in the best placement. So if we can change the narrative about what foster care is, if we can retain quality foster parents and keep them opening their doors and saying yes, and if we are consistently walking with these foster parents providing quality items and creating a community in which they’re not so isolated and alone, then I think we will be supporting the most vulnerable kids in our state in the best way possible.
Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?
In Oregon, 48 percent of kids go into foster care due to drug abuse. It’s also important to note that one of the main intentions of DHS is reunification of children with their birth families, so as a foster parent, when we say yes to a little one, we know that reunification is the goal of DHS if it is a safe situation.
There was a young mother who didn’t know she was pregnant until she was about 5 months along and she was using heroin. When her daughter was born, she was born addicted and needed to go into foster care. Neither the mom or dad wanted this lifestyle for their baby or themselves. So, when the baby went into foster care, they both went into treatment. They showed up for their daughter’s doctors’ appointments when they could, maintained a journal for her, and worked on healing.
In the meantime, the baby — who was the couple’s first child — was going through withdrawals. She had a lot of doctors’ appointments and a lot of needs for specialized items due to the physical challenges of her situation. With Love supported her foster family from the day she was born with everything she needed to thrive. When her birth parents needed to stay in rehab a little longer, the baby went from short-term foster care to long-term care. When she transitioned to her long-term care placement, she had an entire car full of her own things — her stroller, her car seat, her special swing, all of her clothes, her special bottles and formulas, her special creams — all because of the support of With Love.
The foster parent that took the baby girl long-term, continued to request donations from With Love every 90 days — as often as the organization allows. Both foster families were really rooting for the birth parents in rehab because they truly wanted them to turn their lives around for this little girl. To see these foster families working together to ensure this little girl had a community around her and was so loved from day one was really beautiful and encouraging. She was eventually reunited with her birth parents and while it certainly hasn’t been easy — there have been challenges and difficulties along the way — she is school-aged now and still has the love and support from multiple families. She still visits them to this day — not because she needs care, but because of the relationships they’ve built. It’s really quite a gift to this little girl.
We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?
Find something you’re passionate about. It might be foster care, but it could also be delivering meals to seniors or working with animals. But in finding your passion, you are really going to help an organization and support a cause you truly believe in. Sometimes it might take trying different places out to determine what that passion is. You might think it’s one thing and you try it out and it’s not [laughs] — and that’s ok. But just be willing to discover what lights a fire in you.
Do the research to find a place that you feel really good about investing your time and finances. There are some larger nonprofit organizations that might be more well-known, but there could also be some smaller ones that support similar causes for which your time and money could make a huge impact. Again, it’s finding what feels good for you in regards to how they’re serving their clients, their cause, and their people.
Have a giving spirit. Depending on your season in life, you might not be able to volunteer your time each week, but maybe you could give financially. Other people may not have the financial means to donate money but perhaps they could start a drive amongst friends to serve a common goal or a need in the community. Or one could become a monthly donor — even $10 still makes a big difference to nonprofit organizations. It’s recognizing your limitations and challenges, but still carving out space to be part of the solution. Each one of us can play a part and if everyone was passionate about something and had a giving spirit — whether it be a financial donor, volunteer, or organizing a drive — I feel like the world would be such a different place. It would be so much kinder.
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?”
- Hone in on your mission. Being mission-driven is so important and honing in on who you are serving and how you are serving is critical to success. At With Love, we serve children ages 0–6 in foster care. We have a lot of foster parents who get really, really frustrated once their kids turn 7 and are no longer eligible for our services. But we know that once kids are in school, there are additional resources available to them that younger kids don’t have access to. Additionally, serving kids in a larger age range would water down what we do, so we link arms with other nonprofits which leads me to my next point.
- Partner with other like-minded organizations. We’ve gotten to know the other nonprofits in our area that support kids in foster care. Two times a year, With Love puts on an event in which we collaborate and problem solve together and talk about where our organizations are going. And what this does is enable us to support families and children throughout their foster care journey. If we have volunteers that want to become foster parents, we can link them to the other organizations that will focus on that. If kids are aging out of our program, we can tell them where to go next. If we have extra products, we know where to send them. Knowing who to partner with in our space and in our community has really allowed us to support these other nonprofits and they also are supporting us in-kind. By sharing, we are really serving our kids better.
- Know your strengths and weaknesses. I think this is really, really important because as a leader, I have a lot of deficits and so being able to hire people who are smarter than me in areas where I don’t have as much knowledge — to have a board that brings skills that I don’t have — really strengthens and sustains the organization, and allows us to grow and reach farther because of our collective gifts.
- Reach out and engage granting agencies. We rely on funding from grants and we know they get asked for money all the time. Building strong relationships with granting agencies and continuing to steward those relationships will ensure they grow over time and help separate your nonprofit from the pack.
- Keep a pulse on who you are serving and maintain an open dialogue. We really rely on our foster families for feedback and continually ask them, “How are you doing?” and “How can we serve you better?” With Love was part of a 9-month cohort in which we conducted a study and spent more than 60 hours interviewing our foster families. We supplemented that qualitative work with surveys that allowed us to determine areas in which With Love is helping, areas in which foster parents needed more support, and how With Love could pivot to service those families even better. Having these conversations has made us a lot more relevant in the foster care community and has allowed us to provide resources that better meet their needs — like classes that address specific topics impacting our families such as textured hair and sensory needs.
How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?
The pandemic was hard on multiple levels. With Love never shut down, which was really difficult, but we also knew there were a lot of foster parents that didn’t have the support systems they normally had and desperately needed — whether it be schools, daycare, or other family members — and they were under a lot of stress as well. We felt like we really needed to rise to the occasion. Because we weren’t taking donations from the community, we went to a couple key partners and asked for more funding since we were running low on some items. And so, we really worked hard on serving our families well and we actually grew 20 percent during the pandemic. Success for us is showing up and supporting our families — even and especially when it’s most challenging.
How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?
I love hanging out with the families and children we serve — watching them play, watching them pick out items, holding babies, making deliveries — it brings me such joy. Going back to the cause of my work is so important and it’s very, very easy to lose sight of that especially in leadership when I don’t always have the opportunity to interact with foster families. So when things get tough or frustrating, I make it a priority to go back to the why behind my work and make time to talk to the foster parents. It’s such a gift.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I love Viola Davis’s recent book. One of the things I appreciate is how eloquently she talks about the challenges of being impoverished. It is incredible how someone faced with such adversity can flourish when the right people believe and invest in them. I see her story in the families we serve. While a lot of our children may have challenging beginnings, with the right support and role models, they can overcome as well.
You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?
Please check out our website or follow us online. With Love is active on social media including Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.
Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.