Q&A: HandUp CEO and COO on how the online platform helps fight homelessness

HandUp, an online fundraising platform established in San Francisco in 2014 to give citizens the opportunity to receive donations and assistance for specific issues, was acquired by the metro Detroit-based South Oakland Shelter (SOS) in November 2017. SOS, which was founded in 1985, also operates as an emergency shelter and provides short -term rental assistance, long-term housing and follow-up care

Model D spoke with HandUp CEO Ryan Hertz and COO Jenny Poma about the value of the platform, why they wanted to bring it to metro Detroit, and more. 

What makes HandUp a unique and useful platform?

Jenny: I like the collaboration that the platform offers to agencies. Many of the agencies that are on the platform focus specifically on homelessness and housing issues. HandUp offers us a way as a community, not as just an individual agency, to collectively have an impact with a wide range of people experiencing housing difficulties in a very personal and direct way. There's mission impact for the agencies that are all involved to help improve the lives of the people we are serving. HandUp gives us a way to do that directly. 

For our supporters, it really helps to specify the needs that we have and the needs that our clients have in a very individualized way. They can say, "This is what my major need is right now. I'm having a hard time securing the resources to meet that need. This is a little bit of who I am." That empowers them because they get to express it in their own words. Donors have a personal connection so they know exactly where their funds will be used and they can see the impact of their donation.

Ryan: I'm a part of SOS because I believe that homelessness is a human rights catastrophe. We live in a community that fails to meet the basic needs of its members. The fact that we leave people experiencing disabilities and special needs on their own on the street reflects poorly on the community and on society and I want to be a part of solving that. What HandUp does that's impactful in that regard is empowers other people who feel similarly to take action with their giving and be able to directly donate to address barriers to people's long-term stability to take ownership of the problem. I think that it’s a privilege to help enable that for people.

What areas of Detroit does HandUp focus on?

Jenny: HandUp is a national platform with 112 agencies. It was established in the San Francisco bay area so a majority of the agencies exist in that region. In 2016, SOS initiated a HandUp Detroit collaborative. For a couple of years, South Oakland Shelter was the only agency in Michigan using HandUp. We said this is an awesome tool; our clients really love it; they're getting their needs met when we don't have all the resources to help. We want to bring it to more agencies. 

We're located in Oakland County so we decided to focus on Oakland County, other agencies in Oakland County, and also the city of Detroit. We have plans to expand both locally and nationally. There's nine metro Detroit agencies on the platform.

What other organizations do you partner with to help people receive the donations that they need?

Jenny: Locally, it would be those nine agencies. Community Housing Network, Community Home Support, Neighborhood Service Organization, Mariner's Inn, Tot's, Travelers Aid, Detroit Central City, and Neighborhood Legal Services Michigan are the main local partners right now. The donors are individuals and sometimes groups. But mostly it's individual giving.

How much money does the website raise?

Jenny: Since we've been on the platform, we've raised over $300,000. Nationally it has raised $2.6 million. 

What are some scenarios that a person may want to have their fundraiser hosted on HandUp?

Ryan: If you're an organization looking to help homeless people, human service organization, non-profit, people who are homeless or in poverty, you can use HandUp for specific clients of your organization as well as for specific needs. For example, your church has a warming center program and you want to raise money for bus tickets, you can do a fundraiser for that. On the other side, if you're an individual or company, you can lead a campaign for an organization that you care about and provide resources.

The individual people are clients for this organization. For example, if you’re somebody who is at risk of eviction or have utility bills that you need to pay in order to get your heat turned back on, you can fundraise through the site, but you have to do so through a service provider. Unlike other company websites, people who are fundraising for their own personal needs are verified by a non-profit who is providing services to them.

Jenny: Our clients see the benefit because they get to self-identify with what their goal is. They get to tell their own story. This is the opportunity to open up and share about them as a human being, their goals and aspirations. It's very personal.
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Chanel Stitt is a Model D editorial intern and currently studying journalism at U-M Dearborn.