CEO • The Advocates for Survivors of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault
“I don’t mess around. I get an idea, get it going and I’m going to get it done.”
Finding a way
Building nonprofit services in the Wood River Valley
When Tricia Swartling moved to Idaho’s Wood River Valley in 1993, she wondered what opportunities would be available for a recent college graduate interested in nonprofit work. A female-led group called The Advocates for Survivors of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, which ran a newly formed crisis hotline, seemed like the right place.
“I’ve always worked for strong women. It’s kind of interesting,” Swartling says. “I was just drawn to causes and organizations that were led by strong women and addressed women’s and children’s issues.”
Swartling became a hotline volunteer for the Hailey-based organization.
Founded in 1991, the nonprofit was comprised mainly of volunteers and two part-time staff members who would offer a limited array of support services on a small budget. The hotline was the primary service offered.
In 1995, Swartling was hired as co-director and soon became the sole director. Now holding the title of CEO, she’s been leading the organization for more than 25 years.
As CEO, Swartling oversees a wide variety of activities, including fundraising, marketing, public relations, budgets and staffing, in addition to networking with other nonprofits. She participates in multiple community organizations and is on the board of directors for both the Idaho Nonprofit Center and Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence.
Drawn to nonprofit work
Swartling can’t pinpoint a moment when nonprofit work just “clicked” for her because it’s always been part of what she had done. Her first job as a teenager was even at a nonprofit, lifeguarding at the YMCA in her hometown of Twin Falls.
In 1984, Swartling moved to California to attend college, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in human biology from Stanford University in 1988 and then a master’s in health policy and administration from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1993. While in California, Swartling worked at a women’s health clinic in San Francisco. She cited that experience in particular as key to developing her passion for working with women in need.
“I think people will say, ‘How do you do the work that you do for so long? — ‘cause it’s a tough topic,’” Swartling says. “And I always say, ‘It’s the success stories, the positive, seeing and hearing how our organization — the services it provides — has really changed people’s lives.”
Swartling describes how once she was in the grocery store when a woman came up to her and gave her a big hug. A former client, the woman told Swartling that the Advocates had changed her life and that she wouldn’t be there without the organization’s help.
Working with others
When asked how the Advocates is successful in meeting so many needs in the community, Swartling cites the staff members and their connectedness to the people they serve.
In the office, Swartling tries to foster a work environment where people are comfortable to pitch ideas and tries to ensure they have the resources necessary to help their clients, says Shannon Nichols, development director.
“She has this ability to allow you to have the autonomy to do your job, but she also gives you the confidence to know how to do it well,” Nichols says. “She’s always there for you, but she trusts you to do it 100%.”
Nichols has known Swartling professionally for years and joined the Advocates in 2018 for the chance to work with Swartling, who is known in the nonprofit world for her work on domestic violence issues in rural communities.
Swartling’s joyful attitude, dedicated leadership and business acumen have ensured the Advocates’ success as a nonprofit, Nichols says.
With 42 employees serving four counties in central Idaho, the Advocates has been on a growth trajectory almost since Swartling was hired. The nonprofit opened a shelter in 1999, established an endowment in 2000 (now valued at $1 million), opened a second-hand store called the Attic in 2003, created a major gifts program in 2011 and operated a child care center from 2003 to 2010. The organization also offers client advocacy, legal assistance, life skills training and sexual assault recovery services and runs community education programs for children and adults.
Such efforts were funded primarily through donations, government grants, fundraising events and income from the Attic. The Attic itself contributes to about a quarter of the nonprofit’s funding base. Since 1995, annual revenue for the Advocates increased from $65,000 to just over $4.4 million, according to Swartling. “Pretty much from when I started with the organization to now, it’s just been a constant growth in the direction that is oriented toward meeting what the community and clients need,” Swartling says.
Building transitional housing
A major initiative for the Advocates right now is expanding its low-cost, transitional housing. People can wait up to 12 months to get into long-term housing, Swartling says. At the end of March, there was a 27-person waiting list for the four apartments owned and operated by the Advocates.
In 2017, Swartling and the Advocates staff kicked off a $5.5. million fundraising campaign for a transitional housing project. When complete, The Advocates will have 18 low-rent, transitional housing units and new offices. People will be able to start renting apartments by the end of 2019, and the project should wrap up in 2020, Swartling says.
A major part of nonprofit work is fundraising, something Nichols says Swartling does very well because she has the ability to connect with people about the importance of the work done by the Advocates. When staff informed Swartling of the need for housing in the Wood River Valley, she set to work to determine what was needed to make the project happen. In a year and a half, the Advocates have raised $4 million, 73% the transitional housing project’s goal.
“She just has tenacity,” Nichols says. “Part of it is, she’s just so passionate about this work and she’s not going to be quiet about it.”
“I don’t mess around,” Swartling says simply. “I get an idea, get it going and I’m going to get it done.”