Interview with Sherri Lewis Wood, chair and national founder, One Warm Coat
BB: Logistics and managing over 3000 coat drives per year must be nearly overwhelming. How do you stay so efficient with so many separate events?
SLW: Well for one thing we have a very efficient database, which was donated to us by Salesforce Foundation, of all the organizations and agencies that we have worked with in the past, organizations such as St. Anthony’s Foundation San Francisco, St. Vincent de Paul in Seattle, Detroit Rescue Mission in Detroit, Open Door Mission in Omaha and so many more. These are the organizations that receive and distribute the donated coats from our coat dries and pass them out to those in need.
BB: So who collects the coats?
SLW: Last year we had over 3000 coat drives all across the country and these drives are organized by a wide assortment of people such as churches, schools, Girl Scouts, small and large companies, really, a very wide assortment of organizations wanting to help. If a 5th grade kid wants to do a coat drive, they come on to our site and they come to our guide book and it says how to do a coat drive.
BB: How do you manage your brand and with so many and diverse organizations?
SLW: They tell us their dates, their plans, where the coats are going to go, what agency they selected and we make sure that they meet our criteria before they do a coat drive. Then we provide a free marketing kit to each one of our coat drives which gives them all the necessary marketing materials, such as a banner, flyers, One Warm Coat logos, suggestions on how to do a successful coat drive, and more. We will also suggest a local agency to receive the donated coats if they don’t already have one. We encourage people do “do their thing” and each coat drive is unique.
BB: How do you know how many coats were collected and distributed, and any other information that would be important to have?
SLW: as part of our agreement, each person who was directing a coat drive reports back to us as to how many coats were collected, how many were provided to the agency and other information.
BB: You are growing at 30% a year and most of this is through viral communication. How do you stimulate interest for new coat drives?
SLW: We have a newsletter that goes out to approximately 4,000 people who have asked to be a part of our mailing list. We also had tremendous media support. For example, we have been featured in Oprah, Seventeen, More and Redbook magazines, and all of it came to us. And additionally, our corporate sponsors create a lot of “buzz” about the coat drive. Good Morning America has been a partner for the past 5 years.
BB: Obviously, One Warm Coat is a cause that can be easily communicated and stimulates tremendous grass-roots interest. This is an excellent case study for small organizations who have a great idea but little in the way of fundraising bandwidth.
SLW: I think that is a strong message because we don’t do fundraising appeals. I’ve spent 20 years with Girl Scouts USA on boards and I was president of the San Francisco Bay Area Girl Scout Council; I know fund development committees. When I set up One Warm Coat I was somewhat rebellious or wanted to try something new and said, no, we’re not going to do that. This is about encouraging people to help somebody in need. It’s not about building an organization that has overhead that has to be met each and every year. That takes away from the program.