Bethlehem House focus groups look at giving strategies

Published October 10, 2017 at 2:00 p.m.
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CONWAY — A 20-year-old likely has different motivations to give to a nonprofit than a 50-year-old does, and Bethlehem House in Conway is gathering focus groups to find out how to market to all ages.

The impetus is to raise more money to replace the dwindling Housing and Urban Development grants and their potential impact on the shelter, said Judi Lively, executive director of the homeless shelter.

“We know that funding for transitional housing with HUD is decreasing greatly,” Lively said. “Nationally, HUD has taken focus off transitional housing to focus on permanent, supported housing or rapid rehousing,” she said.

Lively said that in 2014, HUD gave $325.5 million in grants nationally for transitional housing. In 2016, that number fell to $108 million.

In Conway, the homeless shelter’s HUD grant has dropped from $221,000 to $199,114 the past couple of years, Lively said.

“We kind of see the writing on the wall, if you will,” she said. “Our HUD people remind us that HUD is about housing. When we see that kind of drop in money allocated toward the work we do and strongly believe in — I strongly believe transitional housing is what makes a long-term difference — we are trying to prepare ahead.”

Lively said she submitted the HUD grant application in late September to cover the 2019 calendar year.

Bethlehem House is a United Way agency, but grants and donations are essential to the organization’s operations, too, Lively said.

“It’s just one of our strategic-planning goals to understand how people give and why they give. It really is trying to find out about giving patterns and marketing tools, if you will — what is the best way to communicate?” Lively said.

“The way I give is very different than the way the 25-year-old would give,” she said. “What would make them not want to give?”

Lively said the goal is to keep the focus groups to eight to 10 people.

The idea came out of a strategic-planning session, Lively said, and so far, Bethlehem House employees have met with what they called “traditional-aged” residents, born before 1946, and baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964.

The meetings will be from 5:30-7 p.m. at the shelter, 1115 Parkway St., in downtown Conway. A “light dinner” will be provided.

Other focus-group meetings include the following:

• Generation X (1965-1976) — Oct. 24.

• Millennial (1977-1995) — Oct. 30.

• Centennials (1996 and later) — Nov. 2.

The focus groups are open to the public, but space is limited. To participate in one of the groups or to make a donation, visit www.bethlehemhouse.net, or contact Bethlehem House at (501) 329-4862 or info@bethlehemhouse.net.

Lively said the idea for the focus groups came from one of the shelter’s newer board members, Kristy Carter, director of marketing for Outreach and Community Engagement at the University of Central Arkansas.

Carter joined the board in April.

“We started the strategic-planning process, and in that process, what came out was we didn’t really know much about people’s giving patterns and what motivated people to give their time, talents and treasures to any nonprofit, not just Bethlehem House,” Carter said. “With my marketing background, I said, ‘Maybe we should have focus groups.’”

She said the nonprofit organization especially wants to know about millennials and their giving patterns.

“We said, ‘Let’s just break it down and do focus groups on the generations,’” Carter said.

Carter said the first focus-group meeting was successful. It brought together residents born before 1946.

“We had folks over 70 years old in there. They were very forthcoming with ideas and talked about why they give, so we got a lot of good information from them,” she said.

A meeting with baby boomers was scheduled for Thursday, after press time.

Carter said giving is important in light of the changes in the HUD grant.

“[Lively] doesn’t know if we won’t get it, but at the same time, it’s a possibility that we could lose it,” Carter said.

Carter said the goal is to learn how to promote Bethlehem House better, “and hopefully, we’ll know how to establish better relationships with people across all age groups and draw awareness to the cause.”

Bethlehem House opened 26 years ago. Residents must be drug-free and find a job within 30 days. Sixty percent of their earnings goes into a savings account; 10 percent goes to the house as an occupancy fee. Residents may live in the shelter for up to two years.

Bethlehem House has room for 44 residents, including eight emergency beds. In addition to housing, showers are available for homeless people from 4:30-7 p.m. daily, and a food pantry and a free meal for the public are provided at 6 each evening.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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