It’s always interesting and instructive to see how things happen. How a home chef makes a perfect lemon meringue pie. How an interior designer pulls together a room. How a nonprofit cultivates a community.
In Chicago, as with cities around the United States, nonprofits have responded to the Syrian refugee crisis in massive and impressive ways. With an estimated 5 million Syrians forced to flee their homes and scatter around the world because of war and atrocities, agencies large and small have stepped in to help.
We talked to Chicago’s Syrian Community Network to find out how they handled the organization’s rapid growth as the crisis escalated from 2015 to 2017, and how they maintain communication with their audience as it cycles in and out of the daily headlines. Syrian Community Network’s Programs and Development Coordinator, Maya Atassi, shared a brief peek behind the scenes of this dynamic Chicago nonprofit’s remarkable work.
Question: When did Syrian Community Network start? And how many people were onboard in the beginning—both in your staffing and in your donor base?
Syrian Community Network: SCN began in the spring of 2015. Essentially it was a group of community members who came together and formed what we now consider our board of directors. My colleague Salam and I were the first staff hires, and we began in December 2015. In terms of donors, the first few months’ donors consisted mostly of members from the Syrian diaspora community that are living in the West Suburbs and have been living there for many years.
Q: How big are you now? And how would you describe your growth? I see seven board members, as well as an advisory board, and a deep list of partner organizations. How did you grow? And how quickly did you ramp up?
SCN: The board and advisory board have been on since Day 1. They were there before I was hired. Since Salam and I were hired, we hired Rama, our case manager for the West Suburbs, and Danyah, a case manager for the North Side. Danyah left us in the spring of this year because she will be starting a master’s program this fall. We have recently hired two case managers for the North Side and are looking to hire an additional case manager for the West Suburbs.
Q: What tools have you used to reach a bigger audience? You have an easy-to-access website as well as a Constant Contact newsletter that informs your audience. How have you used these tools? And other social media?
SCN: Our Facebook page and Constant Contact are the two biggest tools we use to spread awareness of goings on. We also have Twitter and Instagram pages.
Q: What has been the most effective way to get your message out? Website? Email blast? Facebook? Traditional media, like newspaper or TV interviews? Word of mouth?
SCN: Facebook seems to get the most response—along with when people read something in the paper or hear something on the radio. We also get a decent amount of response to Constant Contact communication.
Q: While online accessibility is essential, how about good old-fashioned human contact? What do you do to connect with your audience—both current and prospective donors—on a human, face-to-face level?
SCN: We try to be really responsive to people who want to meet with us or come into the office. Our donors are really the backbone of our organization’s financial support, and without them we don’t have an organization.
Q: Looking ahead, what is SCN’s biggest need in the coming year? And how will you convey that need to your audience?
SCN: Our biggest need is always funding, and we will continue to perform as much outreach as we can to help spread the word about our cause and our purpose. Also, as family needs are changing (housing, jobs, etc.), we will continue to try and make connections to community resources that our families will benefit from.
To learn more and donate, please visit Syrian Community Network.
Also see: Behind The Scenes Of A Global Nonprofit Providing Bicycle Relief for another inside look at successful social good efforts.