A Silent and Significant Challenge - Fundraising and Advocating for the Hard of Hearing
by Eleanor Cater, FINZ
Louise Carroll, QSO, is an experienced and passionate advocate for the hard of hearing. As CEO of The National Foundation for the Deaf she collaborates and works across sectors to address the issues and inequities facing the deaf and hard of hearing. Eleanor Cater chats to Louise about the challenges of advocacy in new Zealand and the charity's widely diversified funding model.
Fundraising is particularly challenging at The National Foundation for the Deaf as they receive no Government funding. "We have found that Government funding is a bit of a waste of time in New Zealand. We have rather limited resources available to put into funding programmes so, when we know that a door is glued shut do we want to put into funding programmes so, when we know that a door is glued shut do we want to put our time and resources into that? We could keep head banging but, in my experience, it's a waste of valuable resource and time" says Louise Carroll.
So, without government funding, what is the funding model for The National Foundation for the Deaf, how does it work? Louise explains, "We fundraise using every stream including direct marketing, event marketing, cause marketing, right across the board. Diversification is the key, because if there is a downturn in one area we've always got support in another. And it gives the public the opportunity to support us in the way that they prefer; diversification really works both ways for our charity and for our donors." Is it risky? "Yes, our funding base is a risk because we have no certainty of funding in any one year."
The Foundation certainly diversified in setting up their own company, Good Sounds Limited which markets the Safe Sound Indicator, and Louise says this brings in the equivalent of what a small government contract would. "The Safe Sound Indicator is a box that looks like a traffic light, and it measures decibels; going red for 80 decibels, amber for 75 decibels, and green for 70 decibels (which is safe).
"It goes into classrooms and preschools promoting one of our key messages: protect your hearing. It teaches young children lifelong skills in an effort to meet our mandate of hearing loss prevention." It all came about as a concept from a 12 year old school girl, Jamie Fenton.
Has the Safe Sound Indicator been a success? "Oh yes, very much so! When it goes red they have to be quiet and, incredibly, children do that. Of course at first it is fun to make it go red all the time but after a while the novelty wears off and children start to recognise the key message and the difference it makes. The classrooms self-regulate, it's amazing to see."
The Foundation has sold over 1,500 units. "Our ambassador, Lance Cairns, has said that every baby should get one for hanging on the wall in their nursery as a welcome to the world. It's not a bad idea, but unfortunately, rather than investing in hearing loss prevention, it seems that this government would invest in hearing aids at the other end of the spectrum."
Another major fundraiser in recent years has been the 'Silent Leadership Challenge'. At this event in August around 50-60 community leaders will put on a pair of bright yellow hearing protectors and complete four 10 minute tasks; a one to one meeting; a team meeting; a meeting in a public place (restaurant or cafe) and a time at home at night watching television with no captioning. Each participant has an online fundraising platform, collects sponsorship, and the Foundation provides them with support tools.
Louise says, "Participants write back to us about their experiences and, in October, we have awards for the highest earners."
Now in its fourth year, the event has raised over $130K. "It's an amazing event; yes it is a fundraiser but more importantly we see it changing attitudes, which we are really pleased about because hearing loss is often seen as a bit of a joke. It is great when people start to realise that it's really quite a big challenge to be hard of hearing."
With all of these different income streams and no reliance on government does this give the Foundation more autonomy? Louise believes so. "Well it certainly gives us an independent voice; we are able to advocate and able to talk about human rights breaches.
It's a kind of an opportunity really, if we know of an issue that is really burning we can take it to the media and we are not contractually silenced. We are able to operate independently from control, within reason of course - our member organisations expect us to consult and act responsibly so of course we can't stand up and shoot off like a cannon!"
What is Louise's advice for other charities, what can other fundraisers learn from their fundraising model? "Diversification. Identify the risks in funding and work to address the risks in funding and work to address the risks but also don't be afraid to be novel, don't be stuck just with your prudent ways of fundraising. If we hadn't listened to a 12 year old girl we wouldn't have Safe Sound Indicators and a new income stream. If I hadn't brainstormed one sunny morning with one of our senior managers we wouldn't have our very successful 'Silent Leadership Challenge' so my message to other is: don't be afraid to have those creative discussions!"
"Sometimes it is hard to see the forest for the trees. You have to allow yourself some time to be creative. Awful things happen to people with hearing loss in New Zealand, and we could get bogged down with the detail, so you have to take the time to see the opportunities; it's really important to make that time."
As well as being CEO of The National Foundation for the Deaf, Louise also Chairs the New Zealand cross-sector Deaf and Hard of Hearing Captioning Working Group, and spearheaded a Human Rights Commission mediation for those seeking ACC compensation for noise-induced hearing loss.
Louise has written and recently submitted a PhD thesis on the marginalisation of New Zealand prisoners with hearing loss and it International Federation of Hard of Hearing People's Board Member-at-large with Human Rights responsibilities. In 1996 Louise was awarded the Queen's Service Order for public services to New Zealand.