Like non-profit organizations across the country, 2020 has been a challenging year for BIIN when it comes to fundraising.  The pandemic has made it unwise to pursue plans for in-person fundraising events, such as the gala originally planned for BIIN’s ten-year anniversary in October. At the same time, we have witnessed the suffering and precariousness that the pandemic and associated economic downturn have brought:  especially to people from low-income households, who have been disproportionately impacted, because their work and living conditions often make it difficult to effectively isolate at home, to get affordable health care or to pay for rent, food or other basic needs. 

When BIIN launched the BIIN CARES Fund in the spring of 2020, it was the first time in the organization’s history that it had offered direct economic assistance to our neighbors.  As the year comes to an end, over $63,500 have been raised and used to help pay for rent and utilities for local families impacted by the pandemic. The success of the BIIN CARES Fund is a sign of the deep generosity of the Brazos Valley community, and a clear, bright spot in a year marked by difficulties and loss.  

At the same time, BIIN’s needs as an organization continue. In order to pursue its mission, and to be able to offer classes, programs and services that are free and accessible to anyone in need, BIIN must ensure that its own operating expenses can be covered. BIIN needs to pay for internet access and Zoom, for rent and insurance, for textbooks and course materials. BIIN manages to get by on a shoestring, relying heavily on interns and volunteers to play essential roles in running programs, but it also needs a handful of part-time staffers to provide continuity and support behind the scenes. Without the means to meet its annual budget, BIIN would not be able to provide the welcome, opportunities and support that it offers to immigrants in the Brazos Valley.  

Fortunately, BIIN has had a couple of notable successes on the development front in the last month or so. Our first piece of good news is that BIIN was selected for a $5000 Community Grant from the Strategic Philanthropy program at the Mays School of Business at Texas A&M. 

This program, led since 2016 by Professor Kyle Gammenthaler, enables TAMU students to learn about the work of philanthropy by putting them in the position to evaluate and decide whether and how to allocate funds among a number of local non-profits who apply for these grants. Funds for the program are provided by the George and Barbara Bush Foundation, and individual donors Cheryl Mellinthin and George Michael Swift.  

Prospective grantees must complete an extensive application, providing information about their mission, history, operations, impact and a detailed budget supporting their request.  After a preliminary selection of top candidates is made, a team of students is then assigned to each non-profit, to learn more about its specific work and needs, so that they can convince their peers as to why that organization would be a worthy recipient of one of the grants. Students interview staff members and, where possible, make “site visits” to get a better sense for how each organization works. Given the pandemic, these parts of the process had to be virtual this year, but the TAMU team assigned to BIIN spoke at length with Jaimi Washburn and Janet Morford, they were invited to attend several of BIIN’s classes and on-going programs, and came away inspired by what they learned and saw.  

At the online award ceremony on December 2, one of the students who advocated for BIIN to receive one of the grants pointed out how impressed he and his peers had been with how “engaged and motivated” both students and teachers were, in BIIN’s online citizenship classes. He also explained that in the process of evaluating BIIN’s application, the team had come to understand the disproportionate impact that the pandemic had had on immigrants as well as the many ways that BIIN had mobilized to respond to those needs, by creating the BIIN CARES Fund and adapting its established offerings to new formats. 

Besides BIIN, other local non-profits that received Community Grants in the Fall 2020 cycle include Health for All, the REACH project (benefiting “invisible Aggie” employees on campus) and Voices for Children. In announcing the results of this round’s competition, Kyle Gammenthaler voiced appreciation for the often unrecognized, but essential work that local non-profits do: “Thank you for stepping into the gap that others have chosen not to step into. Those of us involved in this class clearly see your work, commitment and passion, and the people you serve also see it.  Thank you!”  BIIN is grateful to the Strategic Philanthropy program for this recognition and for providing funds that can be used to support the organization’s operating expenses.

At the awards ceremony on December 2, attendees listened as James Sechler (third from top) shared the factors that led his team to advocate granting funds to BIIN, among many deserving applicants.  Several members of the BIIN board, including Esmeralda Casas, Rich Woodward, Amy Klinkovsky, Jackie Zimmerman, along with staff members Jaimi Washburn and Janet Morford, attended the online event, making BIIN the best represented organization of those honored by the program.

The second piece of good news in regards to fundraising is that BIIN did well on Giving Tuesday, the annual day of charitable giving that this year occurred on December 1st.  Thanks to a matching challenge made by the Joyce Nies and Peter Witt Foundation, BIIN’s original goal was to raise $3000 in individual donations in 24 hours. When that goal was unexpectedly met by midday, the Nies and Witt Foundation generously agreed to expand the challenge to $5000. In response to a coordinated campaign of social media posts and emails, donations continued to come in. By the time the dust settled, BIIN had raised a record for the organization on this annual event:  $7454 in individual donations.  

In addition to our generous sponsors and donors, many people contributed behind the scenes to the success of this year’s Giving Tuesday campaign. Marketing volunteer Mollie Collins created a new promotional video for BIIN in record time. Marketing interns Madison Breeding and Mary Kate Maltsberger launched BIIN’s Instagram account and helped create designs and text for social media posts. Board Chair Jackie Zimmerman and Vice Chair Amy Klinkovsky worked with Director Jaimi Washburn and staffer Janet Morford to plan the campaign and draft emails.  Webmaster Adriana Stowe helped update the website, resolve technical issues, send mass emails, and generate reports from the donor database, while Jaimi and Janet coordinated all the moving pieces. In other words, it was very much a team effort, and an exciting opportunity to witness the support that friends, neighbors and acquaintances from many circles show for BIIN and its work, when invited and inspired to do so.

Coming at the conclusion of a year in which BIIN has had to revise our expectations and ways of connecting with those we serve so many times, these two recent successes in our efforts to ensure that the organization can pay its bills and sustain its operations moving forward are good news indeed!  If you missed the excitement of December 1stbut wanted to make a donation  to BIIN before year’s end, there is still time to do so.  Donations of any size are always appreciated and are tax-deductible.