A look into how Dressember chooses grant partners


It’s the end of January, which means that both the Dressember style challenge and the U.S. National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month is almost over. You and your team have managed to raise $3,500, which is half the cost of a mission to rescue a victim of human trafficking from their situation, and your $3,500 has contributed to Dressember’s overall goal of raising over $2,300,000! It has been another successful year of raising money to combat human trafficking.

Yay! Woohoo! Yeah!

The crowds go wild!

But just where do those funds go?

You’ll be happy to know that Dressember partners with 12 organizations that are actively working to combat human trafficking on the front lines, proudly promising that “your gifts go toward life-changing efforts that work to truly aid the fight for human dignity!”

But every organization says this, right?

Fortunately, Dressember’s founder and CEO, Blythe Hill, was willing to disclose the nitty-gritty details that go into choosing Dressember’s grant partners, and here is what she had to share:

Photo of Blythe Hill, Dressember’s Founder and CEO.

Photo of Blythe Hill, Dressember’s Founder and CEO.

Blythe, as of 2019, Dressember has 12 grant partners. Would you be willing to share how you begin the search process for partner organizations?

This part of the process happens in a number of different ways. We have a team that proactively searches for organizations working in areas and ways that we’d like to have an impact, but we also gain insight from Dressember supporters that inform us of organizations they respect. There are also instances in which representatives from organizations contact us and ask to be considered as partners. The next step is then to gather as much information as we can about the organization so that we can determine whether to invite them to apply for partnership.

The Dressember “Impact” page states that in order for an organization to qualify for a partnership, they must meet five key criteria: Collaboration, Cultural Sensitivity, Measurable Impact, Innovation, and Sustainability. How do you assure that the partnership applicants truly meet these criteria?

The first step of the application process is a questionnaire for current and prospective partners to fill out. We ask for full transparency with their budget, key staff, and impact measurement of key programs. We explicitly ask them how their organization and work incorporates our five key grant values. If there is ever any doubt on our end, we engage potential partners in conversations to better understand the values that drive their approach. It’s a very thorough, time-consuming process, intended to spot any and all yellow and red flags early on. Fortunately, we have not encountered any red flags with our current or past partners who have advanced past the application phase. When we encounter yellow flags, our concerns can always be assuaged through conversation, questions, and clarification requests.

Grant Partners

Okay, so an organization has passed the test and they have become a new grant partner…What does Dressember’s relationship with them now look like?

We let organizations direct the conversation around impact, encouraging them to share with us where their greatest needs are, and then assessing which areas of great need overlap with our desired impact areas. In order to get a clearer projection of the potential impact of our grant for their organization, we ask for an explanation of how the money will fit both within their organization and within the larger anti-trafficking landscape. Many of our partnerships are newer in the past year, but for the ones we’ve worked with for years, the relationships have deepened and we’ve become more familiar with other programs and aspects of their work that aren’t necessarily directly related to Dressember. We have a really wonderful, mutually grateful relationship with our partners: they are grateful for the support, and we are grateful for the chance to support such incredible, rigorously vetted organizations.

Photo Courtesy of International Justice Mission.

Photo Courtesy of International Justice Mission.

How does the money that is raised through Dressember get delegated out to the 12 grant partners?

I decided early on that I never wanted any organization to completely rely on Dressember funding. In the event that Dressember is not able to give an organization a grant, I wanted to ensure that they would not have to shut down operations. In light of this, we cap all grants at 10% of an organization’s budget.

The next thing we consider is the history of the partnership, and both the historic and potential impact of our grants to an organization. Our newer partners receive our smallest grants since the partnership is developing and our impact is untested. Our hope is to grow partnerships over time, both financially and through impact.

International Justice Mission (IJM) is our largest partner, both as an organization and in terms of our grant size. Their 2018 operating budget was roughly $80MM USD. Our 2018 grant of $1.2MM to IJM didn’t run the risk of hitting 10% of their budget, but we funded their entire operations in an area of South Asia.

What a blessing it is to be a part of a transparent organization that strives for so much good! Thank you for sharing, Blythe!

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About the Author

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Emily James is currently a junior at Azusa Pacific University, pursuing an English degree with a concentration in Writing. She has big plans to travel and see the vibrant colors of the world, and to write of the marginalized and unheard people she meets along her nomad journey (Dressember is fitting!). When she is not in class or working as an elementary reading and writing tutor, she loves to rock climb, hike, read, and watch romance movies with the girls.