Mini Case Study: Operation Warm’s Kim Fortunato on how to leverage a coat drive for maximum impact
When Kim Fortunato joined Operation Warm as president in 2006, she was impressed by its vision and reach. The Pennsylvania-based organization provides new winter coats to kids who can’t afford them—to keep them warm and boost their general sense of well-being. At the time it was providing high-quality coats to more than 70,000 children throughout the U.S.
But Fortunato, a successful social venture capitalist, had concerns about execution. The process for vetting and coordinating partners—the local organizations that deliver the coats—needed streamlining. “There was duplication in a lot of areas,” she explained. “A child might go to school one place and to an after-school program somewhere else and get one coat at each place. It just didn’t make sense from a logistical or cost perspective.”
Fortunato also saw an opportunity to expand Operation Warm’s mission for greater impact. In particular, she wondered about other outcomes that could be leveraged through the attraction of a brand new coat.
Fortunato drew on the cross-section of skills she’d honed as the founding CEO of Social Venture Partners Delaware, which focuses on funding and strengthening the management of early childhood education programs. Here, at Operation Warm, they were “giving away valuable merchandise” to partner organizations without adequately tracking the outcomes. Instead, Fortunato thought, they ought to allocate coats “as a responsible donor would invest funds”—that is, only after carefully vetting the recipients. So in 2007 Operation Warm set up a rigorous process to assess partner organizations on measures like leadership, ability to prioritize needs, and capacity to reach many people (their goal was to find groups that could effectively distribute 1,000 coats or more).
To broaden impact, Fortunato introduced the “value component”—a means of extracting more value out of each coat. For example, one partner, Harlem Children’s Zone in New York, required its students to sign a pledge that they’d read three books before they could receive a coat. This small accountability measure added social impact to the program, and has been replicated successfully. (Operation Warm leaves the details of the value component to its partners, who have a better feel for the populations they serve.)
Since Fortunato took over as president, Operation Warm has developed more than 10 new partnerships with vetted organizations nationwide while launching initiatives that broaden its mission and deepen its reach.
One example is “Warm Coats…Open Minds,” through which college students run coat drives for low-income children near their campuses. Operation Warm provides logistical help and assists with fundraising ideas. This particular program has a green twist: the students collect bottles that can be recycled into coats. They also reach out to local elementary students with a curriculum, developed by Operation Warm, which teaches the importance of protecting natural resources. Fortunato’s goal: “I want to leverage all that we can with that coat.”
Photo: Glen Riddle Rotary Club