Fannie Mae’s Help the Homeless program puts the community at the center with walks

Fannie Mae HTH_Logo_RGBOver the past 25 years, Fannie Mae’s Help the Homeless (HTH) program has raised awareness and $100 million for nonprofit beneficiaries working to prevent and end homelessness. Each year, tens of thousands of people get involved in the HTH program by participating in community walks, making a donation, being a sponsor, or volunteering their time to support organizations dedicated to serving homeless people.

“Our role in helping families and stabilizing neighborhoods goes well beyond our business activities. As a company in the housing finance industry, preventing and ending homelessness was a natural fit for Fannie Mae,” commented Rosie Allen Herring, Senior Director of Community Investment and Engagement at Fannie Mae. “The HTH program began as a result of a grassroots movement led by employees, who started fundraising walks in their local communities. In some ways, the program has now come full circle,” Allen Herring said.

In 2012, Fannie Mae transitioned HTH from what was a centralized walk on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to a regional community walk model, successfully introducing the program in five new cities – Atlanta‚ Chicago‚ Dallas‚ Los Angeles, and Philadelphia.

Expanding HTH into a broader community walk model has enabled Fannie Mae to achieve Fannie Mae UCM Community Walk3more engagement and spread awareness at a regional level. Employees and HTH participants are able to view homelessness at a local level and see how it affects members of their own communities. “There is a new face of homelessness – the homeless are living among us, children and families are being impacted every day,” Allen Herring added. The community walk model brings this issue to light and equips individuals with the knowledge and resources to make an impact.

The program is coordinated internally at Fannie Mae by the Community Investment and Engagement organization and the company’s regional offices. Fannie Mae focuses its efforts on the communities where its employees live and work, harnessing their passions and interests by involving them in the process. Employees lead and organize walks and even participate in determining Fannie Mae’s nonprofit beneficiaries. By more fully engaging its internal stakeholders, Fannie Mae ensures that there is buy-in throughout the organization. Even its top leaders, including Board members, were involved in the decision to transition toward the community walk model.

Feedback from external stakeholders is also important to Fannie Mae. Allen Herring looks to several factors to gauge the program’s success:

  • How many nonprofit beneficiary organizations were reached?
  • How useful/effective nonprofit partners found the program to be?
  • Are employees continuing to engage in HTH walks and fundraising efforts?
  • Is the message resonating with external stakeholders?
  • Is the program able to effectively enter new markets and spread homelessness awareness to different communities?

Fannie Mae will continue to evaluate the HTH program, but so far the regional model has been a success. In 2012, more than 105,000 people raised funds through 775 community walks, sponsorships, and related activities. However, there is still room for improvement.

Fannie Mae is working to determine the optimum number of nonprofit partners to engage. The need for homelessness prevention, like so many other social causes, outweighs the available resources. Fannie Mae is focused on the impact of its efforts. Priority is given to organizations that have demonstrated the impact of community giving and contributions by tracking metrics over time.

Allen Herring urged other companies looking to adopt a change in their signature community investment programs to start slow and remain flexible. She noted that it’s best to work out the kinks on a small scale and increase your capacity over time, being sure to complete regular self-assessments to hold your company and your partners accountable.

Ultimately, through its Help the Homeless program, Fannie Mae is working to prevent and end homelessness, raise awareness of issues affecting homelessness, and reduce the stigma that has come to be associated with it.