NBN sat down with Cradles to Crayons' senior manager of development, Dave Cotugno, to discuss Cradles to Crayons’ excitement about being primary beneficiary and the future of student philanthropy.
NBN: What is Cradles to Crayons?
Cotugno: Cradles to Crayons provides children from birth through age 12 living in homeless or low-income situations with all the essentials they need to thrive at home, at school and at play. So we provide items like clothing packs, books, toys, winter coats, diapers, even much more than that. And the way that we distribute those items is by partnering with a large network of other local nonprofit agencies such as schools, hospitals, homeless shelters, domestic violence centers, who identify the kids, place requests to us online every day of the week, every day of the year. And then we have volunteers come to our Giving Factory in Logan Square to fulfill those requests, and then ultimately distribute them to the families and the agencies that we partner with.
NBN: What was your reaction when you found out you were going to be this year’s primary beneficiary?
Cotugno: I run our development team – we also brought our executive director and our manager of community engagement to what we were told was the final round interview. At the end, they had shared with us that we were the beneficiary, and we all cried, for several minutes. And then we cheered, laughed, and it was just a really special moment because we understood that what would happen over the next 12 months would change the entire trajectory of our organization.
NBN: You mentioned that you run the development team. What is your main role on the team?
Cotugno: I’m our senior manager of development. I lead all of our fundraising efforts. I also lead all of our events and marketing and really external partnerships and relations. So my role is really broad because we have a small staff. We only have 13 staff members.
NBN: You specialize in bringing resources to low-income children – is that where all the money is going to?
Cotugno: So actually, about 95 percent of the items in our warehouse are donated from the community, so most of the items that we receive are through product drives that local schools, companies, or faith-based or community organizations will do for us. And then they bring those items to our Giving Factory in Logan Square. About five percent of the items we distribute are brand new, that we purchase, and a portion of the funds this year from NUDM will go towards strategic product purchasing of backpacks, school supplies, winter coats and many other items.
NBN: What do you think about students taking the time to dance for 30 hours?
Cotugno: I think what the Wildcat community and the Dance Marathon is doing here is really changing the landscape of philanthropy and what nonprofits can do through strategic partnerships. I wish it was more prevalent in other cities, with other dance marathons. I think NUDM is really leading the way as far as student-run philanthropy groups. These students are the next generation of leaders, so to put them in a leadership role now where they’re really responsible for raising a significant amount of funds, increasing visibility and marketing for often times small nonprofits, but really all sizes, is a large responsibility. They’ve taken it on, exceeded our staff’s expectations and really shaped the way our organization can grow for the next five years.