In Houston, the largest city in Texas, the atrocity of human trafficking is hiding in plain sight. The Department of Justice estimates that 25% of trafficked victims pass through Houston at some point. This issue touches all; victims are comprised of all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds. It is a complex, large-scale, community, and global problem.
This is the challenge that Rebecca Hove, director of strategic philanthropy at the Greater Houston Community Foundation (GHCF), confronts daily. The epidemic of human trafficking requires creative and collaborative solutions and, as convenor of an anti-human trafficking donor working group, GHCF has built a team of individuals, foundations, and corporations who want to help.
“Members of the group are committed to change. We’re here to get things done, not just talk about it.”
“We have one founding principle: Members of the group are committed to change. We’re here to get things done, not just talk about it,” she says. “Everything we do at GHCF is donor-centered. We listen to what donors want, and we respond. A donor with ties to this community wanted to do something about human trafficking, and she asked GHCF if we would join her.” GHCF said yes.
To start, GHCF co-hosted an educational event with the lead donor in 2014, attended by 75 foundations, community stakeholders, nonprofit leaders, and individuals. The event brought attention to the issue and inspired others to get involved.
“Prior to this, the donor community had not looked at human trafficking from a collective impact point of view. This was the first time a donor group had come together to talk about human trafficking in Houston,” Hove says.
Partnering with a policy and advocacy group called Children at Risk, GHCF then hosted a bus tour for donors that pointed out places of business that are potentially violating human trafficking laws. These sites are mere steps away from beloved and familiar spaces in the city—a wake-up call to bus tour participants. “At the end of the tour, we said, ‘If you want to do something more, come to a follow-up lunch to start discussing and planning,’” said Hove.
Although the mayor, city and federal agencies, nonprofits, law enforcement, and community activists have been raising awareness on human trafficking for years, she says, this group did something different: They created an asset map of what existed in the community, looked for gaps, and determined what their value as donors could be.
They decided to form the 17-member working group to better coordinate funding and exchange information. Donors don’t pool money; they meet biannually and coordinate ongoing efforts. GHCF facilitates, convenes, advocates, researches, and acts as a thought partner to the group.
What’s changed as a result? Through the working group’s advocacy and guidance, the mayor’s office created a new position and hired a Special Advisor to the Mayor on Human Trafficking to coordinate efforts and messaging across all levels of government—a significant step in building awareness and changing policy.
Donors who had not previously given toward this issue are engaging. Those who had been giving are now aligned alongside other donors.
The impact in anti-trafficking grantmaking can also been seen and felt. Donors who had not previously given toward this issue are engaging. Those who had been giving are now aligned alongside other donors in strategy and results, providing leverage and eliminating duplicity, so resources and outcomes can be maximized. Coordination of services by nonprofits, with donor support, has even attracted federal funding.
Getting information to people in ways they can easily digest has helped GHCF engage more donors and make a difference—one that ripples from Houston into the international arena. “The tide has turned as people have stepped up. We have a goal to transform Houston from a hub of human trafficking to a hub of hope. We’re just beginning.”