Statewide Habitat aims to boost affiliates

Habitat for Humanity of North Carolina
Habitat for Humanity of North Carolina

Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — As president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Valley of the Sun in Phoenix, Christine H. Odom oversaw one merger between local Habitat affiliates and set a second merger in motion.

A Greensboro native and former social worker, Odom had joined the Phoenix affiliate to raise money from churches in a region that was home to four affiliates, then became development director and eventually CEO.

“I knew there was capacity for more fundraising and potential homeowners to be served,” she says.

Now, after eight years in Phoenix and then four years at Habitat International in Atlanta, most recently as senior director of global engagement, Odom on June 21 became the first president and executive director of the newly formed Habitat for Humanity of North Carolina.

North Carolina is home to 81 Habitat affiliates, with roughly 25 of them run solely by volunteers, and ranks third among the states in production, with 430 units completed in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2010, mainly new houses but also those that were repaired or rehabilitated.

Habitat affiliates serve all but 10 of the state’s 100 counties, although tiny affiliates serve roughly half the state, Odom says.

Building the organizational capacity of the state’s Habitat affiliates, particularly smaller affiliates, represents one of the big goals of the new statewide group, one of nearly 30 statewide Habitat groups in the U.S.

The statewide groups aim to provide technical assistance and training to Habitat affiliates as they increasingly move beyond just building new houses in their effort to fight poverty and now are weatherizing, repairing or rehabilitating existing houses.

“If you really want to eliminate poverty housing, you have to have something in addition to building single-family, detached, brand-new houses,” Odom says. “In most communities, a large segment of the population has substandard housing.”

A big challenge for Habitat affiliates in North Carolina, Odom says, is a lack of fundraising experience.

“Most people who come in to lead an affiliate do not have formal training in fundraising,” she says. “And they’re going after the wrong money. They don’t know most money comes from individuals.”

Affiliates typically raise most of their money from churches, corporations, government and special events, with smaller affiliates getting most of their money from government grants and special events.

With the economy making donors more selective and hurting corporate giving and federal, state and local funding, she says, Habitat needs to do a better job connecting its fundraising to its well-known brand, raising awareness throughout the state about the role that Habitat plays, providing training for local affiliates, and looking for opportunities to help them collaborate with one another.

A new website for Habitat for Humanity of North Carolina, for example, will list all the affiliates in the state, include links to the websites of affiliates that have them, and classify the affiliates based on their size.

And an internal intranet will provide resources for affiliates, such as best practices on running their organizations, as well as opportunities for them to share information and communicate with one another.

With a start-up grant of $100,000 from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem, smaller grants from Habitat International and voluntary contributions from most affiliates in the state, the statewide group will focus on providing training for affiliates’ staff, board and volunteers, offered at a statewide summit and at regional workshops.

It also will encourage smaller affiliates to share development positions, and will try to coordinate funding requests by multiple affiliates to foundations and corporations.

“The ultimate goal of this position,” Odom says, “is to get more families served.”

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