Story by Mary King Moore. Photos courtesy of Rescue Her.
According to Google, the top two tips for using Facebook Live are to 1) have a strong connection and 2) engage your audience. The first tip relates to wifi connection, but for the nonprofit organization, Rescue Her, strong connection in the Dallas community is what led to successful Giving Day last year. Using video production and Facebook Live, the Rescue Her team was able to bring their supporters right into the middle of the cause, even in the middle of a pandemic.
Since 2009 North Texas Giving Day has helped to raise over $375 million for our community. Created by Communities Foundation of Texas, Giving Day is an 18-hour online giving event designed to empower every person to give back to their community by supporting local nonprofits and causes they care about in one easy-to-use platform. The event provides support for nonprofits in the community, but the organizations themselves must create the interest. Last year organizations had to re-think their event strategies due to the pandemic.
The Rescue Her organization was no exception. The organization has helped victims and survivors of sex trafficking for over a decade. Their mission is to help survivors of trafficking by raising awareness, rescue initiatives, and restorative services. They believe every survivor is capable, is worthy, and has a future worth fighting for. To deliver their mission they rely on donations and have generally used traditional events to fundraise. Like many small nonprofits, they had to get creative in 2020. By partnering with other small businesses and utilizing social media platforms, they were able to not only create a new event, but also triple the amount of donations and increase awareness of their mission to end human trafficking.
Rescue Her employees attend a lot of events put on by other people in order to generate awareness and communicate needs. They attend church conferences or schools, when they are invited, to educate people about trafficking. At events they sell merchandise to fundraise and in doing so are getting their name out there and promoting their services in the community. The merchandise is also available through their online store. The proceeds from sales go directly back into the organization.
The Race to Rescue 5K is another event they hold in the spring. Rescue Her’s major fundraiser is the Night for Freedom Gala. Donors are invited to the event where the vision is shared, accomplishments from the past year are announced, and there is usually a speaker followed by a meal. With the pandemic, the number of in-person events decreased. The 5K race, and Night for Freedom Gala were cancelled. Despite these setbacks, Courtney and the Rescue Her team were able to still raise money and surpass their goal set for North Texas Giving Day.
The programs at Rescue Her are two fold. They initiate crisis response for adult victims in the DFW area and then long-term services for adult survivors of sex trafficking specifically. “We work with adult female sex trafficking victims and survivors here in DFW,”says Courtney Heathcock, Empower Advocate for Long-Term Rescue Services. “We operate a crisis hotline and when a victim is recovered by law enforcement or makes an outcry in a hospital or they find us online and they reach out then we offer crisis services to help them get to a safe location and help them get to the next step for long term stability. Whether that’s connecting them with family or connecting them with a restoration home, or helping them get set up in school or whatever it may be. Crisis services are more of that immediate service. Oftentimes there is a safety risk involved or urgent need. Then we also have our long-term Empower Program. In this program, we serve survivors long-term and it looks different for each survivor. We really work case by case and what long-term looks like for them. The really unique part is that the program does not have an end date. We can work with the survivors in the long-term program as long as they want and can continue to be consistent for them.”
Rescue Her provides services for each victim by appointing an advocate who is with them throughout both tracks. One of the most-asked questions the organization receives is “what does trafficking look like in our city?” This question became the central focus for their 2020 Giving Day event. Rescue Her partnered with a local film studio to create a video called “Sex Trafficking In Our City.” The Facebook Live event they held last year shows how other organizations can implement similar strategies to create unique events that can continue to make an impact long after Giving Day.
“We met with the studio staff and shared our ideas. It was around the time when a lot of events were being streamed using FaceBook Live. So we decided to join the trend. After throwing around a couple of ideas like having a speaker, and listening to the studio staff suggestions, we realized that the main thing that people care about is they want to know what it (trafficking) looks like here (in our city) and so we just decided to take that opportunity to share our experiences,” Courtney says.
ISP Studios put together the 30-minute video of two advocates driving around the Dallas/Fort Worth area sharing Rescue Her experience and what trafficking looks like here locally. The video explored different areas of the metroplex where women that they work with were exploited and shared places where exploitation commonly takes place, but may go unnoticed. The advocates spoke directly to the camera giving you the feeling you were right there with them on their route. Courtney says, “The video addresses the realistic view of trafficking in our city and it also shows how donated funds are put to use. By filming ahead of time, and not actually being ‘live’ for the event, we were able to create a piece that could be used over and over.” It also gave them time to troubleshoot and overcome any obstacles.
Leading up to Giving Day, Rescue Her posted about the live event on both the organization page and on the event page. Courtney was assigned the task of replying to comments that came through social media on the day of the event during the Live. The video was played and those who tuned in were able to get immediate responses to questions in real time. “It made it more engaging and more personal,” Courtney said about posting responses. She also included links throughout the Live stream. For example, when the advocates in the video were discussing some of the needs of the organization, Courtney shared the Giving Day link. Donations came throughout the event and were more frequent towards the end of the event. The video was also shared numerous times which also led to the increase in donations.
Rescue Her shares three tips that any organization thinking about a Facebook Live event could implement.
Collaborate with people in the community. “We knew that our expertise is not videos, filming and editing. So we brought our expertise to the table and collaborated with another organization in the community that is an expert at something we needed.”
Stay focused. “We only shared based on our experience. We didn’t film in certain areas and share things that we don’t know firsthand.”
Know your audience. “People have questions that they want answered and so that’s kind of how we chose what direction of content to go in and so I think just paying attention to what people are asking. And engage in what they are interested in.”
The FaceBook Live event was successful across the board. Rescue Her saw multiple volunteer sign-ups, trafficking tips were reported on the website, several new donors set up recurring donations, and a victim called the crisis hotline as a result of the event. Their team increased funds raised from the previous year and surpassed their goal set for Giving Day. A portion of the funds raised from this virtual event went to hiring new advocates to expand the team and in turn expanding their reach in the sex trafficking community. Having the ability to hire new advocates is important because their focus is on the depth of care and the longevity in the long-term program.
And that is what makes this organization unique. Because they are in the process of training, their plans for North Texas Giving Day are different this year. Courtney shared, “Rescue Her will be sharing impactful conversations with the survivors in the long-term program and about what it has been like to work with us. We want to use the platform to amplify their voices.”
Their video, “Sex Trafficking In Our City” is on YouTube and continues to be a profound educational tool for the organization. If you are interested in getting involved, Rescue Her has several volunteer and donation options. The Base Team is responsible for administrative tasks, the Celebrations Team helps with celebrating survivors’ birthdays, holidays, and baby showers. The Volunteer Team makes a dedicated commitment to mentor survivors, partnering with both advocates and survivors.