Help a Mother Out

Help a Mother Out is a Community Initiatives project that works to improve baby and family well being by increasing access to diapers for families in need. We spoke with founder Lisa Truong about their remarkable growth, valuing individual and collective impact, the importance of diverse funding streams, and more.

What’s ONE thing you wish other people knew about your project and its cause?

Small things make a big impact! A small thing like diapers can make a big impact for families in need.

Tell us about the most exciting day or week your project has experienced in the last year or two.

In November 2015 we launched our San Francisco diaper bank program. That was an exciting week because it was the first launch of public assistance for diapers in the country. This was groundbreaking because we are operating the program of public funding that is addressing this need. We launched with twelve distribution sites and the story was covered in the San Francisco Chronicle!

What partnerships have been key to your project’s success?

Starting in the middle of the great recession, it was crucial to work with partner organizations that were already serving low income populations. Instead of handing diapers out on the corner, using the existing infrastructure of community-based organizations has been key to our success.

We look at diapers as a hand-up, not a hand-out, and they become an engagement tool in working with distribution partners who offer an array of resources. Word spreads fast when we give out free diapers and this brings many people in our partners’ doors. The recipients then may become interested in a play group, for example, so they access other resources AND they become a part of a community!

This was an unexpected result that we hadn’t envisioned in the beginning, but working with partners who are already embedded in the community has been the most efficient model. The diapers enhance our partners’ service offerings and help all of us to grow.

Describe how small, gradual action steps of your project have yielded big results.

When we started we spent $100 on donation bins and $20 to register our domain; everything grew from there! When a social worker brought a pack of diapers to a mom in need, that small step was the gateway towards building trust with a new client. Providing diapers means that the new mom can buy more food for her family or pay a bill. These small steps allowed us to gradually prove the impact of our concept. With our grassroots beginnings we depended on our small donors, our early adopters, thanks to them, we evolved to where we now have government funding from the City and County of San Francisco, three staff members, and volunteers!

What do hope your project will look like in 5 years?

We would love to grow our impact, our diaper distribution, and to get there we are focused on diversifying our funding stream for more sustainability— to be a better mix of private and public funding.

How has fiscal sponsorship helped you achieve your goals?

In my past work I became familiar with the fiscal sponsorship model and I’m a total advocate, particularly for very new projects that are just starting to incubate. Help a Mother Out was three years old and very grassroots when we came to Community Initiatives and I can’t tell you how helpful it was to have infrastructure in place once we got major funding. Fiscal sponsorship has allowed us to focus on our program and fundraising, knowing that we have the CI team helping with grant management, human resources, legal, auditing, insurance and more.

Tell us about a nonprofit or business leader who inspires you.

I have followed charity: water for a long time and am so impressed with how fast they were able to grow and get advocates and investors. Their marketing and communication is really good and makes it easy for people to give and to know what the impact is.

Is there a major milestone coming up for Help a Mother Out?

Right now we’re at 4.4 million diapers distributed and we’re hoping to hit 5 million this quarter.

Do you have any advice for our community?

I would tell them to keep on keepin’ on! There is so much in the world that can be depressing, but what we all do individually and collectively for the greater good matters. It goes back to the small, gradual steps that are so important.

Learn more about Help a Mother Out, and donate today.