Sunday, September 25, 2005

I'm up to my neck in alligators. No time to drain the swamp.

This past week Cabrini Connections started its 13th year of service to teens living in the Cabrini-Green neighborhood of Chicago. We’ve more than 80 teens on the roster, which is the most we’ve started with since 1999. Of our volunteers, two are alumni who started with us between 1993 and 1996 as 7th and 8th graders. One has already graduated from college and the other is a senior.

You can read about this program at It’s doing great things.

It just doesn’t have any money. Because we’re a small charity our cash flow is always low during September and October and then picks up during November and December when we do holiday fund raising. This means we struggle to pay the rent while at the same time we’re doing work that has great value to many people.

I’ve written about how difficult it is to raise money in previous blog entries. I’m not sure how much the Hurricanes are going to impact me, but I’m sure that since 2000 the economy, the 9/11 attack, the war, the highly contested presidential elections, the 2004 hurricanes, the December 2004 Tsunami, and now Katrina, have contributed to me raising about 70% as much now as I was in 2000.

I’m sure this is a problem for other volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs, too. That’s why we created the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993. We think it’s always been tough to find consistent funding. Thus, we’re trying to create a more consistent public awareness that would draw more volunteers and donors to support tutor/mentor programs in all parts of Chicago (and in other cities), not just our program. We’re also working to help business and professional groups form leadership strategies where they use their own visibility and resources to draw volunteers and donors to tutor/mentor programs. The Chicago Bar Association’s Lend A Hand Program is the best example of this strategy. See

So, since we’re all struggling, why is it so hard to get programs to come together to innovate new ways to increase public awareness, increase volunteer turnout, and increase the amount of money available for volunteer-based programs?

This year we had fewer programs participate in planning the Aug./Sept. Volunteer Recruitment Campaign than in past years. Part of the problem was that I no longer have funds to pay a part-time person to reach out and draw programs together. But since we all need volunteers as school starts, it would seem that more programs would want to find ways to increase the pool of potential volunteers.

On Nov. 17 and 18 I’m hosting a 24th Tutor/Mentor Leadership Conference. I’m going to hold a two-day symposium where leaders of tutor/mentor programs talk about why our work is important, ways we can improve what we do, and ways we can collaborate to increase visibility, volunteers and dollars distributed to all programs in any major city. If we can create some media attention, this could have an impact on year-end fund raising for many tutor/mentor programs.

I’m hoping that leaders of other programs are as desperate as I am for finding new ways to generate revenue and that we’ll have a number of organizations offer to participate on panels, or to help facilitate each discussion. I’m also hoping that people who cannot come to Chicago to participate directly will come to our Internet portal to take part in this discussion on-line.

I believe that “we” working together can overcome some of the challenges that individual programs working alone cannot. However, we must make time to participate in this process, even though we’re up to our neck in alligators in trying to keep the rent and other bills paid while supporting effective connections between youth and volunteer tutors/mentors in our own programs.

If you’d like to get involved, e-mail me at You can see details about the conference at

Dan Bassill
Tutor/Mentor Connection

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