I am frequently awestruck by the generosity of our vendors, and last week it happened again. On the day we launched in Bellevue, we’d taken one of our experienced vendors, Buddy McArdle, with us to talk with media and boost the morale of new vendors. I was moved to see how Buddy took one of the nervous new vendors under his wing. “Don’t worry about it. I can tell that you are going to be great at this,” said Buddy.
The new vendor was unconvinced and fidgeted as he waited for his badge. “Listen,” Buddy continued, “I’ll tell you: There is no big secret to doing this. It’s just about showing up, being persistent and acting friendly.” Buddy grabbed a few of his papers and said, “I’ll be right back,” as he headed for the street corner in front of Congregations for the Homeless. He was back in five minutes, having made his first sale. He promptly handed $2 to the new vendor he’d mentored. “This is for you. It’s good luck to get you started.”
Buddy’s been selling Real Change on and off for 10 years. We’ve always been there for him, and that’s because our supporters have always been there for us. For 19 years, we’ve relied on grassroots donations as the anchor of our funding model. Specifically, individual gifts account for approximately 55 percent of our budget, with 35 percent coming from sales of the paper. Individual donations, unlike corporate grants and government contracts, allow us the flexibility to meet vendor needs. They allow us to pursue fierce advocacy journalism without feeling beholden to government or corporate interests. They provide a diverse base of financial support.
I just entered my fifth year at Real Change. During the first three, we instituted financial controls, created a donor database, implemented human resource systems and improved an obsolete IT infrastructure. We also moved to a more suitable facility. It wasn’t the most glamorous work we’ve ever done, but it was essential to Real Change’s long-term viability. And it set the stage for the explosion of new programming that we have seen this year.
To me, the most exciting aspect of our program growth right now is the launch of our two new distribution sites. No North American street newspaper has attempted satellite distribution. It’s complicated, cumbersome and has its share of logistical challenges. So far, we have about a half-dozen vendors selling in Kitsap and another handful in Bellevue. Not bad for starters. When Real Change began in Seattle, we had two vendors. Through the sale of Real Change in Kitsap and East King counties, we will extend our reach to thousands of new readers, lay the groundwork for advocacy work in new communities and provide immediate income opportunities for more low-income and homeless people.
Most important, we will create a bridge between the majority of people in those communities and the growing number of economically vulnerable folks being left behind. We’re also building a vendor internship program, doubling the size of our board of directors, initiating a cross-class organizing project and introducing a smartphone app for cashless sales of the paper. We want to grow but know from past experience the perils of not investing in the foundation to support that growth.
Your tax-deductible gift to our winter fund drive is vital to our maintaining a solid foundation. Please give online at realchangenews.org or mail your support to Real Change, 219 First Ave. S., Ste. 220, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for your generosity.