Carjacking Is Not A Viable Way To Get A Van, Right?
March 17, 2014 2:37 PM   Subscribe

Small not-for-profit health care-focused agency in Ontario, Canada wants to increase their outreach program by creating a mobile service. The problem is that funds are limited and we're confused about what our next best step could be - since none of us has done this before! Apologies in advance for the wall of text that's about to hit you, but I don't want to leave out anything important.

Our agency is has less than 10 employees and features outreach, education, prevention, support, and medical treatment, that's focused on a specific illness. The agency is mandated to focus on "marginalized populations" (rather than, say, middle class people, though we certainly have patients in that category!) and, if I may be blunt, we're really awesome at what we do and how we do it.

To date, I've been providing all of the outreach and prevention services using my personal vehicle. This has become less ideal now that our client base is expanding. We want to increase the services we offer, too, and can't do it from my Kia.

You'll have to trust me when I say that providing mobile service is what we need to do - we've looked at all the other options (additional offices, sharing office spaces, etc.) Our entire team is on board with the idea of a mobile outreach van and our Executive Director is highly enthusiastic. Outreach is my department - so I've been tasked with making it happen.

We've determined that we need a vehicle that's at least cargo van-sized to meet our needs - something along the lines of this, for example. We'll be using the van to provide home delivery of large quantities of harm reduction supplies, transporting 3 staff members (outreach, counsellor, nurse, for example), allowing space for our nurses to do blood draws and administer vaccines, we're hoping to offer medical treatment in the future, etc. The van will travel between rural areas of our region, some of the outlying areas of our city, and to any location that we've identified as high-needs for our services.

We have $50,000 that was given to us as a grant to get this program up and running. No matter how we roll the numbers, that money either buys the van and retrofits it OR pays for the operating costs. Not both. We started investigating how best to make this happen a few months ago and, really, haven't made a lot of progress yet.

A few years ago, a bunch of agencies in our city attempted to put together a "mobile outreach van" - and, after months of discussion and investigation, most of the agencies involved pulled out because they couldn't agree on some important details of how it would be run. I have all the documentation from those meetings and have read them thoroughly - things tanked because no one wanted to take the lead (or couldn't afford to take the lead). These agencies all serve the same population that we do, albeit in different ways (housing, employment, psych outreach, addictions, etc.)

We've approached many of those same agencies about our plan, asking if anyone would like to partner with us, and received a lot of positive responses - all of which included some variant of, "We'd love to be a part of this.. once we see how it's going to work." It is unlikely that those agencies can afford to contribute financially - but very likely that they'd contribute staff hours, supplies, and other things that would make a legitimately positive contribution to our outreach efforts. We feel very strongly that "if we build it, they will come".

How do I get this mobile outreach project up and running when our budget seems to be about half of what we need?

Ideas thrown around:

- find a local car dealership that would be willing to donate a new or used van in exchange for a tax credit and/or free advertising. This seems less and less likely as I investigate it further - there isn't a huge benefit to the dealership; our clients are generally from marginalized populations and not buying cars regularly. I have no idea what to say in a letter to dealerships - or even if a letter is the way to go with this.

- use the $50,000 to purchase and retrofit the van, hopefully at a discount, and find some way to raise the funds for operating costs. This is a challenge because our clients can't afford to donate and our agency's focus, while really really important, is not as compelling to people as a lot of other fundraising campaigns in our community. It's also challenging because we're a small agency and we all have full-time jobs to do!

- use some of the funds to lease a van and accept that we won't be able to modify it. Hope that, when the lease ends, we're either in a position to purchase it OR that we can afford to purchase a different vehicle, and that we have some great community partners on board who have seen the benefits to the program. This pains me because of the costs involved in leasing.

- some other option?

Any advice or help on what I should do would be REALLY appreciated, especially if you have any experience with fund-raising or mobile outreach programs!
posted by VioletU to Work & Money (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My experience has been that it is much easier to get funding for capital costs rather than operating. I would go with the leased van option (retrofitting would be nice but since you've been doing this fine from your Kia it obviously isn't necessary). If you get the programme up and running with a short-term lease you can build the programme up and solicit for capital costs to replace with a more suitable vehicle with a sense of urgency about the end of the lease. I would try to see if you could get a discount on the lease.
posted by saucysault at 3:13 PM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Approach car and truck dealerships and mechanics. You need to know the kind of vehicle you need, how it will be outfitted, how many miles per year. You need to be flexible about the make and model and see what can be gotten. Prepare a budget but aim to at least get a free monthly vehicle checkup from a certified technician. You might be able to get the city to provide the service but talk to everyone. Don't be afraid to move progressively toward a choice vehicle, like by starting with one size larger car while focusing on the big picture.
posted by parmanparman at 3:17 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you considered approaching your local EMS service about getting a retiring Ambulance? A local organization here uses one for 'street nursing' and it might be easily adaptable to your needs. Many local contractors seem to use them here, so blandly painted it could be fairly discreet, or painted as loudly as possible to increase visibility.

In Ontario ambulances tend to be retired for legislated reasons with lots of good life left in them. It would allow for three people to ride, and be easily adapted for medical care or delivery.
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 3:17 PM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Totally agree with saucysault, it's a heck of a lot easier to get funding for capital costs than operating costs.

It may sound weird, but have you approached any banks? Check their sponsorship application pages to see what their donations are focused on--Scotiabank likes to fund arts and culture/sports stuff, as does RBC. TD likes to sponsor education programs--for example, they are funders for the social program Women Moving Forward at Jane/Finch in Toronto. In Vancouver, VanCity (a credit union with pretty good social conscience) specifically invests in the communities surrounding the Downtown East Side through sponsorships, partnerships, and grants--they're quite focused on Aboriginal communities, women's programs, the environment. On the BMO community donations application page they specifically mention being interested in funding health programs.

It's worth applying to banks because they have lots of money and their processes for grant applications are already in place and very smooth. They do need to spend a certain amount on corporate giving or whatever they're calling it these days. A van with their logo prominently displayed on the side is exactly the sort of thing banks like.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:26 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Most corporate dealerships are required by the holding company to do X number of charity dollars every year, assuming your org qualifies that could get a decent used van. You want to get a hold of the corporate offices though as the dealership manager isn't going to want to spend his time on a non-commission paying customer (and this is why they tend to always be looking for a local charity to donate too that wants their product, the site managers don't want the hassle). Non corporate ones are going to be hit or miss.

BTW the Nissan NV series van and the Ford Transit Connect are both really well liked in the small business world due to their very low operating costs-usually cheaper than a pickup and very easy to modify/maintain. If anyone on your team is handy, you can do an amazing job outfitting one like you will need with homemade wood construction on the interior.

BTW I would stay away from ambulances-they have very, very high operating costs-they usually get horrible mileage and have large engines that require a lot of maintenance and are built on heavy truck chassis that is expensive to repair.
posted by bartonlong at 4:16 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't know the answer but The Night Ministries in Chicago IL does something similar. You may try and contact them for ideas.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:10 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I know of a couple cases of the Canadian Auto Workers Social Justice Fund has helped with vehicles for non-profits. I don't know any specifics but I think it's worth looking into.
posted by beau jackson at 8:23 AM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Here's how you approach dealerships. Start calling and ask to speak to someone in the owner's office (you'll rarely get the owner on the first pass.)

Refine your pitch, but start of with a quick, "Hi, I'm calling from the Agency. We provide health and outreach services to the X community here in Y city. We have a grant to start this awesome new service and we're looking for a Van. The budget needs to cover the costs of the Van as well as operating costs for the first year. Do you have any late model vans with the capacity for this, that you would be willing to donate to us, or to sell us at a greatly discounted price? We'll be happy to provide you with a receipt for a tax deduction."

Now, I'm not saying that everyone will be falling all over themselves to donate a van to you, but you might be able to get one pretty cheap, or you may hit the jackpot and the owner of the dealership may have a van that's taking up space in his world that he'd LOVE to give to you.

As you end your call, ask politely for a donation towards your Van Fund. You might get some dough that way.

Fundraising takes balls. But it's no big deal. So someone says no. Just pick up the phone and try again.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:59 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

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