From The Great Depression to Hurricane Irma – Interview with Save the Children’s Courtney Nields: How the Organization Serves Others in Need

As part of our vetting process, we value interviews with members of the Organizations we recommend. Interviews give us important qualitative data that may not be evident from the Charity Watchdog sites.  We wanted to check in with Save the Children to hear about recent activities and to give a first-hand account of their founding, history, and relevant timely updates.  To do so, Global Grandmothers Treasurer, Mary Bevernick, interviewed Courtney Nields, Manager – Community Engagement & Fundraising, of Save the Children and got a fresh understanding of its unique mission.  

Courtney Nields, Manager – Community Engagement & Fundraising, Save the Children

Q.  How did you get started with Save the Children?

I wanted to explore working at an organization that makes a difference – and luckily, I live close to the Save the Children Northeast headquarters here in Connecticut. I started as a volunteer and this eventually lead to full-time employment working with our wonderful fundraisers who turn their passions into contributions to Save the Children. I consider it a privilege to work for this organization, and to help support our important work here in the U.S. and around the globe.

Q.  Can you share some history of Save the Children?

Yes. Save the Children was founded in England by Eglantyne Jebba prominent British female social reformer, teacher, and activist, in 1919.  The purpose was to help German and Austrian children after WWI – the children of the British enemy.

An extraordinary woman, she championed many national and international causes on behalf of children. In 1924, the League of Nations adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which was authored and promoted by Eglantyne Jebb – and became the main inspiration for the U.N.’s 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Save the Children Founder, Eglantyne Jebb

In response to the depression, by 1932 Save the Children was serving children in Kentucky with school supplies, clothing, and hot lunches. Save the Children has grown in response to children’s needs caused by natural and man-made disasters throughout its existence.  It has attracted the support of Eleanor Roosevelt and many notables. Today, our board is chaired by Dr. Jill Biden – a long time advocate for children and an educator.

Q. Today, what does Save the Children do and where are you helping children?

We are currently serving 157 million children in 120 countries all over the world, including the U.S.  We serve the most vulnerable and marginalized children worldwide.  At Save the Children, we put children first in everything we do – every day, in times of crisis and for our future. We want to make sure that children are healthy, protected, and educated. Please visit our website for specific information.

Q.  These must be busy times for Save the Children. Is it hard to deal with multiple crises at one time?

Of course, it is difficult but we are prepared to respond to need where and when it occurs – that is what we do! We mobilize to address each disaster conducting immediate assessments of the situation working with local partners.  For example, we are working closely with American Red Cross and FEMA to support children affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.  We assign our on-staff experts to lead the response and then, with the funds we raise for each emergency we hire local experts.

Q.  What do you provide in emergency situations? What special programs do you develop?

This is a difficult question to answer since there is no “formula” for emergencies. If we use Hurricane Harvey as an example, here is how we approach it. We immediately do an assessment on the ground and coordinate with FEMA, Red Cross, and others to offer our child-based expertise. We generally find that among other needs, there is a need to set up our Child Friendly Spaces (CFS) program, which we do in shelter spaces and wherever people are gathering. We did so for Harvey victims.

In the CFS we provide a refuge for children from the chaos. We offer tranquility, a bright happy place with volunteers working with children, giving parents time and energy to make plans, apply for aid, clean up, and rebuild. The CFS concept is special to Save the Children.  We are viewed by our Emergency partners like the Red Cross and FEMA, to be the experts when it comes to children – and we are known for this around the globe

Q.  What proportion of your revenues do you spend on emergencies?

Twenty percent according to our 2016 Annual Review. The rest goes to on-going programs.

Q. Who staffs all those programs?

We have over 1000 on-staff employees in the USA including child program managers, researchers, Head Start program staff, and Fundraising and Administrative roles. We have headquarters in the USA with Washington, DC (Capitol Hill area) focused on program work and advocacy, Fairfield County, CT our home office for over 50 years, and Lexington, KY near our US Head Start Programs for administrative reporting. For ongoing programs, we employ local and international staff. Our staff is a combination of “emergency experts” and local paid staff and volunteers.

Q. Don’t some emergency programs end up lasting for years? How do you sustain the effort?

They do. And we are prepared for the long haul. For instance, in Puerto Rico, we expect to be providing psycho-social services for a long time. Fortunately, emergencies like earthquakes and hurricanes produce a tremendous U.S. donation response. Those donations are essential to help us continue our work.

Q. How do you prioritize need in emergencies?

We have to categorize needs. We have devised four basic categories: (1) Extraordinary, (2) Large, (3) Medium, (4) Small. Within those categories, we rate many factors such as the number of children affected, geographic scale, evolution, displacement. We need to determine likely needs as we gather information on the ground. Of course, we revisit our assessments as we learn more information. All emergency situations are complicated and unique.

Q. How much capital is required to run Save the Children? From what sources does the funding come?

Save the Children USA has grown to be a large organization. Annually our revenue is close to $700M with almost 50% of our revenue sourced from the US Government – we run Head Start Education programs in over 15 states. We also receive a sizable amount from international organizations like the UN. The remainder, (40%) is from private sources like individuals, corporations, and foundations.

Q. What percentage of your funding goes to administrative costs?

We keep our administrative costs as low as possible. Currently, 86.5% goes to programs while 13.5% of our budget goes to administrative costs. We put children first. We want to make sure that children make it to age 5 at least. We know that if a child can make it to age five, there is a very good chance for survival. Education, protection from harm and a healthy start are our key aims.

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