By Elisa Birnbaum
Since its inception in 1970 by Murray Dryden, Sleeping Children Around the World (SCAW) has become a formidable presence in 33 countries, raising more than $23 million and providing bedkits for children who need them most. In fact, Kiwanis International recently named SCAW its 2010 World Service Medal recipient. In 2009, the organization reached its millionth child and though its founder is no longer with them, the tremendous volunteers at SCAW are working tirelessly at keeping his vision alive. CharityVillage® spoke with SCAW's,executive director, Linda Webb, about the organization's inspirational founder, its accomplishments, and the unique mandate to which that they remain ever-committed.
CharityVillage®: Tell me about Murray Dryden and what inspired him to launch SCAW.
Linda Webb: There are a couple of things that came together. First, during the depression in Manitoba, he himself didn't have a bed to sleep in and would sleep wherever he could. And it gets to be 30 below there in winter. So he had that personal experience and often said "unless you've done it, you cannot begin to understand what it's like to have no place to sleep."
The second thing is Murray loved photography, particularly photographing sleeping children. His byline was, "there's nothing more peaceful than a sleeping child." He used to photograph his own children and then branched out to his friends. Then, on one trip to India, he tripped over what he thought was garbage in the street. He realized it was a child and thought, "we have to do something about this."
Murray was very successful in business and when he retired, he and his wife Margaret put $3,000 of their own money for the first distribution of 50 bed kits in Pune, India in 1970. And that was the founding of the organization.
CV: How did the organization evolve from that first distribution?
LW: Murray photographed the sleeping children but to get all the 50 kids asleep at the same time, they had to sit for hours, waiting. He brought the pictures back home and showed them to his friends who said, "We want to get in on this, how can we give you money for the next one?" And that's literally how it grew. And then it got to the point where he simply couldn't photograph all the children sleeping so he decided to do it in groups of three. He realized, logistically, it wouldn't work if the number of bedkits kept growing but he realized the appeal of the photographs.
And that probably is our biggest marketing tool. The wisdom of the man astounds me for two reasons. He decided he would never take a penny for administrative costs out of donations. And he realized there would be no marketing because he didn't have the money for it. So he took a photo and a few months' down the line, when the bedkits got delivered, the donor gets a photo of that child. What better marketing tool than that?
And we don't send out solicitations either.
CV: With zero going to administrative costs and no government funding or solicitations, what keeps the organization alive?
LW: Well first of all, initially Murray paid the administrative costs out of his own pocket. Then, as the organization grew, he put the money into a legacy fund...and he had a Christmas tree farm, so he devoted all the sales of the Christmas trees to the administrative costs.
When Murray passed away, he left the house to SCAW as well as the tree farm. And when they were sold, the money went into the Legacy Fund, managed by our volunteer finance committee. The interest earned pays all of our operating expenses. So the actual capital is never touched.
Most recently, because we're constantly looking at the future, we had a whole year of strategic planning. Our finance committee wondered, if we keep growing at the rate we are, how realistic is would be to run an operation on about $100,000 a year. One group decided we needed to grow the Legacy Fund so they started an annual breakfast for the business community — the one community with money but who don't know about us. And this year the breakfasts generated $120,000, all going into legacy fund. In addition, we got another $12,000 in donations for bedkits.
CV: And the volunteers seem to make a big difference too.
LW: Yes, because when you commit to a distribution [overseas] we ask you if you are willing to spread the word to other people. We call ourselves more of a relationship organization. We're not very proactive and don't ask "do you want me to do a presentation?" But at least when we're asked to do it we're all willing to go out and tell the story.
The volunteers are unbelievable. They commit to half day a week every week. Some people have been here for 30 years; we are really volunteer-driven. All our committees have great talent. I think, essentially, people just fall in love with the organization and develop such a strong passion for it. So it just runs beautifully.
We have a two-year waiting list for volunteers. We have a distribution trip once a month to 16 places, with on average of six volunteers per team, including the leaders. Each person pays their own way for accommodations, meals, transport within the country and without the benefit of a tax receipt. They pay everything.
CV: What inspired you to get involved?
LW: I started as a volunteer way back when my son was in kindergarten; he's now 27. And I've been in this job since 2001. There was something so touching about the fact that my kids had a place to sleep and other kids didn't. It's such a basic need because you know if you don't have a good night's sleep, you're miserable the next day. And children grow as they sleep and if they don't have a blanket, all their energy to grow is lost. And also if you have a good night's sleep, you're better able to learn in school. And that's really the way you're going to break the cycle of poverty. And so all of those things I found extremely appealing as mother of young children.
CV: The organization recently passed a huge milestone, how did you celebrate?
LW: In 2009, the year of the millionth bedkit, most of the Dryden family went back to Pune as a team to celebrate the anniversary. They were able to find a few of the original bedkit recipients who told their stories, now archived as part of blogs online. One person said they still had that first blanket and another told how she learned her alphabet from the pattern on the quilt.
CV: Now that you passed the millionth bedkit mark, what's next? Do you foresee change?
LW: This is such a dynamic organization. Our core values never change but we do change with technology. For example, we used to save all our photos on CDs and now we wonder what to do with all these CDs. We're also trying to be responsible with the environment. But change is hard, especially with older people. We try to explain that you can use a jump stick now. "A what?" they ask. So some things are very basic but essentially what we're doing is trying to create a foundation where our core values will never change. We will never ever take a penny for administrative costs, we'll never ask the government for help or do solicitations. But we want to be dynamic in terms of whatever we need to incorporate to make the organization thrive.