Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is one of the fastest-growing developmental disabilities. From 2000 to 2010, the prevalence of ASD increased by 119.4%. In the U.S., 500,000 teens with autism will transition to adulthood over the next decade. Illinois-based nonprofit Have Dreams is a leader in helping people with ASD realize their full potential.
Have Dreams is a place of joy. Though this environment is key to the success of their participants, the staff had never been able to properly convey it to supporters and the community. With a 25th anniversary milestone approaching, Small Forces partnered with Have Dreams to tell their story of inclusion and opportunity.
Our documentary work was to premiere at their 25th anniversary gala event in April, kicking off a year-long campaign. Then, COVID-19 forced the country to shut down, and everything changed for Have Dreams The gala was cancelled, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars of projected revenue the event was expected to bring in were lost. They were forced to halt their programming. The program participants, who rely on Have Dreams for education, structure, support and fellowship, were now stuck at home. All of the program staff, some who had worked for the organization for decades, were furloughed. With no programs, no staff and no income, Have Dreams was in crisis.
Small Forces was ready to meet the challenge. Our objective grew from creating compelling storytelling content to mobilizing a multi-faceted campaign in an effort to keep the organization alive.
Small Forces is a team of creative strategists who bring the missions of grassroots advocates to life. Key to our mission is tracking impact, as we strive to help organizations reach supporters, secure partnerships, raise significant incremental funds, and inspire action. With Have Dreams, our approach was centered on creating an effective storytelling tool in celebration of their 25th anniversary with a goal of energizing longtime supporters and reaching new donors. When Covid-19 hit, we pivoted our strategy to use storytelling and digital marketing for revitalization.
Build Trust, Center Joy
As founder Kris Johnsen explained, “Autism shouldn’t be sad.” Have Dreams takes this to heart, centering joy to create a place of comfort and success. However, past marketing materials created for Have Dreams didn’t reflect this. Our strategy was to produce a documentary short film that highlighted Have Dreams’ evolution, while never losing sight of the one element, present in abundance: joy.
During production, our team formed relationships with the young adults with autism who make Have Dreams special. We attended workshops, meetings, and internships. We shadowed their outings into town. This purposeful production process takes time but ultimately builds trust, which was key to capturing moments of joy across all program areas. The scenes of humor we captured were key to our strategy of humanizing the beneficiaries of Have Dreams, to help donors understand the spirit behind mission and methods.
Key to our production strategy was spotlighting community leaders who have invested time and resources into Have Dreams. In order to recruit new supporters, we position Have Dreams as a community organization worthy of resources. We featured high-powered people like CEOs and the President of Northwestern University, as well as important community members like teachers and small business owners. This swell of local support complimented the intimate look inside Have Dreams to tell a complete story.
After the pandemic sent Have Dreams into crisis mode, Small Forces assembled a team to help the organization efficiently strategize and mobilize a virtual plan of action. The Small Forces marketing and technology resources, over the course of ten days, designed, built and launched a new Have Dreams website to host fundraising and video content. The new site also allowed for Have Dreams to continue their ASD programming online.
You can view the website here: https://www.wearehavedreams.org
Small Forces created a series of 8 short vignette videos to promote engagement from past, present, and future supporters, highlighting the many programs of Have Dreams, as well as the local community leaders who champion the organization. These vignettes led up to the larger piece of video storytelling conveying the Have Dreams mission. The stories will live on past the initial fundraising, introducing the mission to key partners for Have Dreams’ ability to reach more people with ASD: teachers and educators.
“The impact was so far reaching,” said founder Kris Johnsen. “I was astounded by the response. A lot of our donors started looking at us in a different light. That we are innovative. That we are able to pivot.”
Have Dreams was able to successfully fundraise virtually, enabling them to re-hire all of their program staff. That staff was able to further build out their virtual programming on the foundation Small Forces built, and re-engage their participants remotely. Limited in-person programming began again in June.
The Small Forces impact continues to ripple throughout the organization. The staff members report a renewed sense of purpose and a deeper respect for their colleagues across the service areas of Have Dreams, having seen their work reflected through the Small Forces lens.
The results of this effort create lasting change for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This campaign has led to more engaged and sustaining donors, which will provide long-term benefits for those who need it most. As the organization continues to use our work as part of teacher and educator training, the Have Dreams method has an exponentially positive effect for young people with ASD. The joy spreads on.
“With everything that has happened in the past few months, I cannot imagine where we would be if Small Forces hadn’t given us the tools and the capacity to change and pivot our programs and our message,” said Kris Johnsen. “It goes to Small Forces’ capacity to help us believe more in ourselves.”