Changing Our Strategy

We set out with a grand vision of helping thousands of people find homes. But there was a grand barrier: our plan didn’t appeal enough to those who needed the help. We had launched an effort to find participants for a demonstration version of the Care For Us site. Should be easy, right? It wasn’t. While people found the concept “interesting,” it wasn’t enough to get them to sign up. Out of a dozen people we invited, only one person signed up. The people we asked were sober, had income, and could not be picked out of a crowd behaving as an outlier. Some had non-vehicular roofs over their heads; some didn’t.

We didn’t ask their reasons for not joining, though one person declined after reading our waiver which stated that this program had no guarantees and that participants were responsible for the information they share on the site.

We are Learning

Learning from this failure, we decided to pursue affordable housing in a more practical manner: build housing. We still believe that connecting people to vacant units is possible, but the approach needs to be different. Since building a web platform and building housing both take time, we weighed their differences and decided that providing places to live — with consideration of my architectural design study in Scandinavia — is the direction that is wiser and more likely to be effective.

Focused on Outcomes

At the same time, we want to produce outcomes. So far, Care Association has provided individuals and charities with goods, and we have supported individuals’ mental health assisting them in emotional regulation. While providing goods is intended through the still-planned Care For Us website, mental health support requires one-on-one contact. To provide this support, we are currently exploring ways to expand our reach.

These changes require more manpower, which seem to be timely since the number of volunteers on our roster increased from zero in May 2018 to twelve as of this month, including five who are currently active. We hope that by June we will have a volunteer taking over Executive Director duties to help us grow.

Slow and Steady

Building Care Association is like construction. It’s taking longer than expected. In spite of the setbacks, we are still hopeful and remain focused on our vision of affordable housing for all.

It’s too soon to share the details of our plan to create positive outcomes. I will say this: history has a lot to teach us, and we are applying those lessons to our approach.

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The Care For Us Website

Care Association is developing an affordable housing technology solution, a platform to enable homeowners with vacant rooms or units to offer housing to lower-income tenants who tell their stories on the CareForUs.us site. We have found that many homeowners wish to help those in need of affordable housing yet don’t know where to find tenants who are suitable for them.

The Care For Us site will also enable donors to search for, choose, and give goods and services to individuals and charities in need. Goods provided through the program are items that assist individuals in achieving a U.S. standard of living or quality of life and nonprofits in procuring supplies and equipment for their charitable operations. Services may be educational, legal, financial, or health-related. Beneficiaries are verified by Care Association as “in need” based on financial criteria and knowledge of individuals and organizations.

When I first started this nonprofit, I was providing nonprofits with equipment and supplies. I was also providing pro bono emotional regulation care. The website idea came after talking with people about their hesitance getting rid of things that are meaningful to them. Knowing who benefits from donations gets lost when donating to thrift stores. How can we find recipients who would appreciate them? Others mentioned their desire to help people, but didn’t have a way to help without committing to a program. Care For Us would enable pro bono services directly to people in need. But I realized that lack of affordable housing is probably the cause of most low-income stress. If the Care For Us site can connect donors to beneficiaries, why not connect landlords to prospective tenants?

The Care For Us Demo

Today, the Care For Us demonstration website is under construction. We need a demo in order to raise funds, and to show that the Care For Us site will work. Results will enable us to effectively apply for grants. For this demo, I wanted at least five participants who needed affordable housing to be “users” and beneficiaries of the site. I put together an online form where prospective beneficiaries could upload photos and write their stories. I learned that few people are willing to allow someone else to choose housing for them, and that those who struggle with low income do not want to broadcast their needs. Our society looks down on people with low income, leading to shame and embarrassment. Only one out of ten people invited to become participants of the demo completed the form.

The demo site is meant to be a working prototype. So far, the participant who completed our form has a live page hosted at careforus.us. We have been reaching out to landlords and property managers and will soon place an ad to find the participant’s family a home.

Volunteers Are the Heart of Care Association

While we wait for more people to sign up for our demo, there is a lot of work to do. I have been building the demo site by typing out the html markup. It’s not super pretty, but it functions. One volunteer is working on our technology infrastructure with Salesforce at its center. Another volunteer has written an article to boost marketing. Soon we will look for a web architect to plan construction of the launch site. Since we were unable to raise enough funds to hire an engineer, I will be coordinating site construction with volunteers. We had an original beta launch date of January 2019, but it will be much later than that. I am also a volunteer, enabled by loved ones to carry on with this venture. This means 100% of funds received will go toward operations and housing assistance. Currently, we have a GoFundMe campaign to raise a security deposit to help our participant find a home.

Six months ago, when someone told me that nonprofits take a long time to make accomplishments, I thought that I would be the exception and be able to launch our project expeditiously. Now humbled with a fourth revision to our business plan, I still have hope to make this world a better place for some.

Humble Beginnings for a Grand Plan

Building a business is difficult, but building a nonprofit has its own unique challenges.  For starters, nonprofits like ours don’t have anything to offer in return for revenue except a sense of goodwill.  Many nonprofits rely on donations to complete their missions.

To make things more difficult, our project is based on technology — the WWW.  The site needs to provide an easy-to-use interface, to be safe with its data secure, and to connect to secure third-party software for income verification.  And it needs to look good. Building a site that accomplishes what we want, provides the security its users need, and functions in a way that benefits and doesn’t frustrate is no small feat.  To accomplish this successfully, we need money, and a lot of it.  Unfortunately, relying on volunteers is neither efficient nor effective for a technology product that is not about technology.  The computer platform Ubuntu was built by volunteers but for computer purposes.

On September 1, we began fundraising so that we can hire developers to build the site.  We found a table for free on Craigslist and covered it with an old sheet with Sharpie-colored words, “Make Affordable Housing Happen Now.”  Since we are starting from nothing, we had to start somewhere.  At least a picture of our table gave us something interesting to post on our Instagram account (@careforus.us).

Beginning Care Association

When this project first started, it was just me with an idea: create a networking site where people who needed things for a better quality of life could connect with people who had something to give.  Care For Us went on the drawing board.  Unfortunately, someone else in California had the name, another nonprofit that serves children with autism.  As opposed to supporting a silo of people who had differences from others, I wanted to create a nonprofit that could involve anyone in the United States.  With Bruce Wolfe as Treasurer and Cedric Bertelli as Secretary, and with the help of Larry Ross, CPA, we formed Care Association and applied for 501(c)(3) status, but kept the Care For Us name for the project.

When our status letter arrived in the mail, it came as a surprise having been months after the window of time in which the IRS said they would inform us of our status. By then, I had started graduate school thinking the project would never happen unless I funded it myself.  I needed to make money if I were to fund it, and there weren’t any jobs out there that interested me enough.  Someone at the Internal Revenue Service believed in what we want to do… or we just completed Form 1023 correctly, thanks to Mr. Ross.

More than a year after applying, our business plan is written, the organization’s website is up, and wireframes are in process.  Most important, our focus has changed to affordable housing.  While writing the business plan and looking for feedback, I realized that exchanging goods and services wasn’t on the forefront of people’s minds.  But many people, perhaps most in the San Francisco Bay Area have been struggling with the lack of affordable housing.  Even people with money that can afford the high prices are unhappy with the costs.

As with any business, building a nonprofit takes a lot of work.  But unlike for-profit businesses, we rely on donations to help us get started.  Having a business plan and applying for a loan isn’t really an option right now.  Our first project is the Care For Us site, and it won’t be providing revenues right away if at all.  Not only are we not for profit, we are also tech-related.  We don’t have a program with active volunteers going out and meeting people’s needs, but we do have a plan and a vision.  That vision includes bringing the nonprofit world to the frontier of technology.