Lessons in recruiting a powerful sponsor or champion from Project Homeless Connect

blogimage_ComeHomeNYCFrom The Intersector Project Case Library: Providing Care to the Homeless Population in San Francisco

San Francisco’s homeless population is among the highest per capita in the country. In 2003, when Gavin Newsom was elected mayor, he recognized that existing initiatives and funding streams were failing to address the growing humanitarian and economic crisis. Mayor Newsom tapped Alex Tourk, then Deputy Chief of Staff, to collaboratively create a new strategy for helping the city’s homeless population. Alex began with the Department of Public Health’s Homeless Outreach Team (HOT), organizing their efforts into a larger, city-wide coordination service.

Alex’s efforts resulted in Project Homeless Connect (PHC), an organization that united City agencies, the business community, several non-profit organizations, and a wide network of volunteers to create one-day events that provide homeless individuals with access to a variety of social and health services. By August of 2013, PHC had registered as an independent charitable organization and is now jointly funded by public and private sources, offering the homeless community ongoing, sustainable access to services.

Recruit a Powerful Sponsor or Champion
The homeless issue was one of Mayor Newsom’s campaign promises. He supported a “Care Not Cash” initiative that reduced the monetary assistance provided to homeless individuals and provided, instead, service-based assistance. This initiative, later voted on as Proposition N, was implemented in 2004. His continued public and financial support of HOT and, eventually, PHC provided star power to the effort, which Alex operationalized to create both momentum and a clear path forward. The engagement of so many business and civic leaders, including the San Francisco Giants, added visibility to PHC’s events.

Mayor Newsom’s involvement illustrates a tactic The Intersector Project Toolkit refers to as Recruit a Powerful Sponsor or Champion — the engagement of a person, a group of persons, or an organization committed to leveraging their influence, resources, and skills to help the collaboration achieve its objectives.

Sponsors and champions are distinct roles, each bringing unique benefits to a collaboration. Sponsors, while not usually involved in the day-to-day operations of the collaboration, provide prestige, access to networks, convening power, and can mobilize financial and non-financial resources to support the collaboration. The collaboration may enlist a sponsor to build perceptions of legitimacy and prestige, to develop relationships with constituencies or stakeholders that are key to the collaboration’s goals, or to gain access to additional financial and/or non-financial resources. Champions, who often are involved in the day-to-day operations of the collaboration, typically offer expertise on the issue targeted by the collaboration and/or processes that are critical to the collaboration’s effort. The collaboration may enlist a champion to provide needed expertise, increasing perceptions of credibility among partners and external stakeholders. If the collaboration does not involve sponsors or champions, it misses the opportunity to benefit from the unique influence, resources, and skills that these individuals and organizations provide, ultimately limiting its capacity.

For further guidance on recruiting a powerful sponsor or champion, we suggest that partners reflect on these questions:

  • What are our gaps in influence, resources, and skills — areas where a sponsor or champion could assist?
  • Do we need both a sponsor and a champion? One or the other?
  • How will we identify individuals who are well-suited to act as a sponsor or champion for our collaboration?
  • How will we approach individuals we wish to ask to join the collaboration as a sponsor or champion?
  • What will the role of our sponsor and/or champion be? Will they have decision-making power and a place in our governance structure?

For additional guidance, we recommend partners review these resources:
“The Partnering Toolbook” from The Partnering Initiative
Especially see Tool 2: Stakeholder Mapping on p. 43. This tool, intended for use in the early partnership phases, leads partners to map potential stakeholders according to their influence over partnership objectives — a useful framework for identifying sponsors and champions that can easily be adapted for this use. “The Partnering Toolbook” is a comprehensive guide to partnering across sectors.

“Involving Key Influentials in the Work” from Community Toolbox
“Involving Key Influentials in the Work” provides guidance and activities to assist collaboration partners in identifying and approaching influential sponsors or champions. Community Toolbox is an online collection of toolkits and resources for individuals seeking to work collaboratively to bring about social change.

With Mayor Newsom’s support, and under Alex’s leadership, by August of 2013, Project Homeless Connect had held 52 volunteer events, with more than 45,000 volunteers providing services to almost 70,000 homeless and low-income San Franciscans. PHC is a truly collaborative effort, with business and government playing an important role in the non-profit organization reaching as many individuals as possible. Three sectors have come together in a comprehensive model, the focus of which is to give each client access to every service that could potentially improve his or her situation. The organization’s ability to engage and maintain an active and involved volunteer network, along with partnerships with the private sector, corporations, and foundations, ensures that PHC is representative of the entire San Francisco community and thus can best serve most needy members of that community.