Name: Laura Hewitt Hales
Role: Acts Manager
Location: Somerset, United Kingdom
We can’t very well call ourselves “Random Acts” without the “Acts” part of the whole message, so Laura Hewitt Hales, our Acts Manager, is a truly invaluable member of the Random Acts team, responsible for taking care of one of the organization’s most important and unique facets, our sponsored Acts of Kindness.
Laura joined the organization four years ago as Acts Proposal Officer. In her time here, she has seen Random Acts grow tremendously in many ways, and when our staff increased from a team of around 20 to almost 80, Laura was promoted to Acts Manager.
Her role involves heading up the administrative side of our Acts – handling all of the funding applications made by our staff, regional representatives and of course, members of the public who support the organization. It’s her job to make sure every application gets the best chance of receiving approval and ultimately funding. From fielding initial inquiries about the possibility of doing an Act of Kindness to the final reports from the completed act, Laura is the key person that our staff and supporters can turn to in this process.
Here are just a few of Laura’s favorite Kindness Acts that she’s been able to approve and fund in the last 12 months:
- A respite night for children with special needs and their siblings so that their parents could go out on a date and take some time to connect as a couple.
- Helping an adopted child reconnect with his family and himself with a zookeeper for a day experience.
- Food and toys to support dogs in the the Project Pawsitive Future Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) which brings together dogs and the youth of the Department of Juvenile Justice Illinois Youth Center to help them learn life skills and gain confidence and develop relationships in turn the dogs learn positive behavior and then graduate helping them to find new homes.
- A donation of 36 large duffel bags filled with basic essentials for foster children to take with them to foster homes. The bags included a new fleece blanket, a toothbrush, toothpaste, a hair brush, and a stuffed animal.
- Surprising a grieving family with lots of butterfly ornaments after one was stolen from their loved ones’ grave.
Our Sponsored Acts have a simple application process, and if you have a great idea to spread kindness by offering assistance to someone in your community but you’ve never made any sort of budget-based application for a grant or funding before, Laura is here to help you walk you through it and figure out the right approach.
And truly, the possibilities are almost endless – we love the variety of opportunities that your creativity and kindness make it possible for us here at Random Acts to get involved with. “It’s really open. Be as far-reaching as you like. Don’t let your imagination hold you back, because we would love to have more and more different ideas,” Laura says.
“Jennifer [Wills-Rivera, our Operations Manager] has got a really good way of putting it, which is that if we can touch it we can probably fund it. Which is quite interesting, because a lot of funding organizations do the opposite, especially in the UK where I’m from. So we can’t do things like medical or utility bills, but we could buy a fridge for someone’s house if they were struggling single mom or something, and their fridge has just given out.”
For a first time applicant, we are able to fund up to $499USD for an act, but if you have applied before, successfully completed and reported, and come back to us with a new idea, your next Act of Kindness may be eligible for a larger amount. The details for applying are laid out clearly on our website, however, Laura is always on hand for those who might need some extra advice.
“A nice way to get started would be to just do a little brainstorm – ‘Here’s the person that I’m thinking of helping – maybe it’s that you see older people in your community are often isolated and alone, so that issue is in the middle – what things do I think could really make a difference?’ and you know, you could do some crazy ideas and some more really simple ideas and neither is better than the other. I love the really simple things, I think they’re really powerful, and the more complicated and harder things are, well, often harder so they do take a little bit more time for the person, but they’re really amazing too.”
Here are a few more of Laura’s tips in terms of thinking up, applying for and completing a successful Act:
- Despite the general concept of ‘random acts of kindness’ being some unexpected boon, Sponsored Acts do not actually have to be ‘random’ for the recipient – they should in fact be quite specific, and in some circumstances, a surprise may not be appropriate at all. You are welcome to talk to the person or community you want to help in advance, and ask them what sort of things that they need that we might be able to help with.
- When helping people under financial strain, think outside the box about what we can fund. If a primary concern is paying someone’s electricity bill, which Random Acts can’t do, what else could you offer in order to support the recipient in other ways – possibly freeing up their own money to pay that bill? Could you apply to purchase and provide a month’s worth of shelf-stable groceries or other necessary supplies instead?
- Document your act – try to take the best photos you can and add them to your report. You can also add personal perspective or quotes from yourself or the recipients, either about the cause in general or the response to the act itself. This helps us when we want to create content about your Act of Kindness for our website and social media, and in turn inspire others – we want to share your story. “I think is really important to spread those lovely ideas and those little bits of kindness that just make someone’s day. I love the photos that we get in, when we do get the photos – they’re just so lovely when you can see what are difference things are making,” Laura says.
- Although our funding is in US dollars and our reporting is in English, anyone in any country can apply for and do a local act of kindness for someone in their community. So think globally – wherever you are, you can help a single specific person, you can help a group in your community, you can help some person or group or organization somewhere more remote or even abroad! We have a special category called “international acts” which refers to acts done by an applicant in a different country (whichever it may be) to the recipient!
- Paperwork is tedious but necessary, so review the application form and documentation needed thoroughly – make sure you’re able to send a full-color scan of your photo ID and proof of address. Make sure you have a basic budget draft – our Proposed Budget Form is a very simple Excel sheet – and done research on sourcing where your purchases will be made. Also make sure that your plan falls within our guidelines in terms of what we can and cannot fund.
- Just apply! “We never just say no. We always will say ‘That’s not quite right, but how can I help you figure it out?’” Laura says. She is always just an email away, and would love to hear your ideas and thoughts before you make your final application. “I don’t want anyone to feel that they can’t ask questions or come back if they’re turned down for a proposal and try something new.”
More than anything, Laura wants to make sure that our supporters are comfortable with coming to us in order to make these applications – her primary goal is to make the opportunity to do Kindness Acts feel accessible to all.
Given that the Acts program does involve the transfer of funds, she’s aware that the process can feel a little bureaucratic, and that that can be intimidating for people who don’t usually deal with such things in their day-to-day. But she hopes that people understand that this is a necessary responsibility, first and foremost because of our supporters’ generosity when donating to us in the first place, and she always aims to make the whole formal part of the procedure as painless as possible!
“Random Acts supporters are amazing, how much money they give. When I’ve gone to a convention watching people put their hands in their pockets and just give money – it’s just amazing, especially because so many people are struggling. Our world is going through a very difficult time at the moment and a lot of people are in poverty, but they will still put their hands in their pocket and think about people who they know are worse off than them, so I think I am really big on making sure that their money is going to the best places, but I really want to get the money out there as well. So I want to make it as easy as possible for to give applicants the money – if I could I’d just be throwing it out the door – and make sure it’s still fun and exciting for people to perform the acts despite the reporting!”
Laura’s personal passion when it comes to philanthropy – “the biggest love of my life,” she calls it – is reading, and many of her own personal Acts of Kindness have involved books and literacy, including helping children in foster care by making sure that they were able to get books, and partnering with Read for Good at last year’s Birmingham convention – this organization buys brand new books for certain children’s hospital wards where second-hand books are not allowed due to patients with a high risk of infection. “I think reading is such a powerful tool for opening up new worlds and empowering people and spreading kindness as well.”
Laura has been professionally dedicated to social good for a very long time – she was employed by the Devon Community Foundation for nine years as their marketing manager, and came to Random Acts as a volunteer during a period of her career where she was working a four-day week and felt like that she needed to keep giving back in some way on her day off!
When Laura was looking for a volunteering role, a friend who watched Supernatural suggested checking out the Random Acts website and the rest is history. Given that Laura has experience in both working with a salaried non-profit organization like the Devon Community Foundation and a completely volunteer-staffed non-profit like Random Acts, it was an interesting perspective for her to see both in operation at the same time.
While acknowledging that full-time employment in the charity sector has a certain structure of commitment and functionality that leads to great results, she found that a totally volunteer-led organization fostered an inspiring level of dedication.
“I think that the passion if people are volunteers is something that you just can’t quite mimic. I absolutely adored my job and I think I was very passionate about it, but I think what I would be patient with as a volunteer I wouldn’t do in a paid job, so I think that says something very much about your mentality – that if you’re doing something volunteering-wise it’s just because it feels right and you feel that it’s something you’re supposed to do – like a calling almost.”
“One of the great things about Random Acts and its volunteering is the flexibility it has, which I really really like. Being able to jump on whenever I can and want – because now I work five days a week, but I can quickly be like ‘I’ve got five minutes when I’m waiting for a meeting, can I pop on and can I approve any acts, can I send any emails’ – and the fact that I can do it remotely! The fact that we can all be across the world, I think it’s really amazing. I don’t know any other organization that really works like that.”