I had the opportunity to sit down with Michele Hall Duncan, CEO enCourage Kids Foundation and speak to her about what we can expect now that their signature food tasting event, Serving Up Smiles is behind us. It is always a pleasure to speak with Michele and continue to spread the great work of the organization with our readers.
AF: Since we last saw you a month ago at the incredible Serving Up Smiles tasting event at The Lighthouse at Chelsea Piers, what have you been working on at enCourage Kids?
MHD: Wasn’t Serving Up Smiles fun?! It was such an incredible evening and so great to be together in person again with so many of our supporters and talented chefs! With SUS now in our rearview mirror, in the immediate future, we’re focusing on our Giving Tuesday campaign and our Year-end direct mail appeal. Both will not only show our donors the impact their contributions have made throughout the year, but also the many ways they can continue to make a difference by helping us to provide critical resources to some of the most vulnerable communities across the country. We’ve been working on new ways to broaden our donor base and recently redesigned our website, www.encourage-kids.org, with messaging that more clearly conveys our mission and hopefully will more fully engage donors. We also have a couple of fun initiatives in the planning stages right now so be sure to follow us on social media to learn more as they roll out.
AF: What does Giving Tuesday mean for the enCourage Kids?
MHD: Giving Tuesday is an amazing fundraising opportunity for us and it’s incredible how the concept has grown since it was first created in 2012. Giving Tuesday reimagines a world built upon shared humanity and generosity. It’s a powerful example of philanthropy at a grassroots level that has worldwide impact. For the past couple of years, we’ve used it as an opportunity to fundraise for a particular project or program, but this year, we’re broadening our campaign. One thing we’ve learned from our hundreds of partners in the child life community throughout the past 18 months is that their needs vary almost day to day. We’ve been adapting our programming and fundraising efforts to meet those needs, and our social media messaging has been focused on promoting their amazing work and how we support them and the children in their care. So, this year, our Giving Tuesday campaign will amplify that message.
AF: Do you feel like this is an overcrowded day and that there are too many organizations trying to get donors’ attention?
MHD: Well, I won’t lie, the competition is fierce and so many organizations are doing such incredible work, some with missions that overlap each other. That’s why it’s important for us to have faith in the strength of our mission and to be authentic when talking to donors. In a field of thousands of worthy causes, it’s critical to highlight what sets us apart from other organizations. The biggest difference is the relationships we have with the child life community across the country. These are the professionals who work directly with pediatric patients and families to help them navigate the many challenges of illness and hospitalization. We’ve built relationships with our child life contacts over the past 30+ years and they know they can rely on us to respond to their individual needs in ways most organizations don’t. Every medical facility is different, and the fact that we’ll ask them “What does your hospital need?” and then follow through with what they ask—well, it’s a game changer for them.
AF: What can we expect to see in 2022 from the enCourage Kids Foundation that might be different from 2021?
MHD: We’re excited to get back to doing in-person events again. We tested the waters this past year with our summer Golf Outing and our recent Serving Up Smiles tasting event, but we can’t wait to get back to our full calendar of events. Our Young Professionals Board is planning their annual spring fundraiser, Starry Night, and of course, there’s our Annual Gala. On the programming side, we’ve expanded our outreach to our hospital partners and plan to refocus our programming to better address their changing needs. In many ways, we were in reaction mode as they were, responding in the moment to an ever-changing landscape. Many of them are coming out of crisis mode and navigating a new world of occupying different spaces and responding to different needs in their communities. One hospital recently told us that during the pandemic their entire pediatric unit had been moved to a new floor that they are sharing with another unit with a completely different patient demographic, and they don’t expect to get their old space back. So having lost their playroom and other child-friendly spaces, they now have to adjust and try to recreate what they had in a completely new environment with a very limited budget. These are the kinds of situations we’ll be trying to support where we can.
AF: What would you like to ask of our readers who want to get behind a charity?
MHD: I think it’s important for people to look for a charity that speaks to their hearts, and then jump in! People are more likely to remain committed if they believe in the mission and aren’t just following the latest trending cause. I would love for people to visit our website and follow us on social media so you can see the kids we serve and the many ways we are partnering with hospitals across the country to elevate the level of care they provide to their patients. Look at the critical programs that we are funding and see what interests you. There are many ways you can support enCourage Kids’ mission without writing a check of your own. We are always looking for supporters to fundraise for us and would love to help you in any way we can. If you want to stand in the gap between a sick child and the trauma that illness can inflict, consider joining us to bring joy, hope, resilience, and healing to kids all across the country!