Urban Ministries of Durham, McKinney campaign approaching $100,000 goal

James Tilley sits outside Urban Ministries of Durham in a donated leather jacket and shirt. He is one of the 899 people who stayed in UMD at one point last year. UMD’s Names for Change campaign lets people buy naming rights to items like his jacket to raise money for the homeless. (Staff photo by Ryan Wilusz)

James Tilley left Durham for a fresh start, lured by the opportunities of West Virginia coal mining. The work he found was gritty, but it paid the bills. But following a work-related injury and a divorce from his wife, Tilley lost everything. He became homeless.

On a recent chilly afternoon, he bundled up in his leather jacket and sat among a group of men outside the Urban Ministries of Durham, a nonprofit homeless shelter located at 410 Liberty St. He has been living there since Dec. 28.

“It’s the little things in life you miss,” Tilley said. “I want to lay in bed and watch TV or read a book.”

UMD is helping the homeless reach their goals by letting people donate something unique: their name.

UMD partnered with advertising agency McKinney in 2013 to create Names for Change, a campaign that is close to reaching its $100,000 goal.

The campaign allows people to purchase naming rights to their choice of 169 items at UMD. The items range from individual tampons to the ovens used in cooking nearly a quarter-million meals each year.

Jenny Nicholson is a creative director at McKinney, a national advertising agency based in Durham. Although the agency works with companies such as Samsung Electronics and Nationwide Insurance, she said McKinney wanted to make an impact at home.

“It’s where we live and it’s part of our community,” Nicholson said. “It has been a very organic relationship with UMD. The more we learned about them, the more we liked what they stand for.”

In 2013, after a two-year partnership, UMD asked McKinney to help create a new campaign. Nicholson had just heard of a $220 million deal that gave Levi’s the naming rights to the San Francisco 49ers’ stadium.

“How interesting would it be to let people buy the naming rights to things that really matter for people that really need them?” Nicholson recalled asking herself.

The thought transformed into the $1 million Names for Change campaign, which has raised $79,000 in just over two years. McKinney created the campaign and new logo for UMD at no cost.

“It’s the most important thing I have ever done in my life,” Nicholson said. “It’s an opportunity to use my powers for good.”

An example of a Names for Change poster design.

An example of a Names for Change poster design.

Individuals who purchase naming rights through the Names for Change campaign receive a digital poster in return, which can be shared though social media or ordered as a large print. The poster design includes a custom name and a colorful image of the item.

“There’s something playful in the way we treated all of the items,” Nicholson said about the design. “We wanted to treat them with this sort of dignity and specialness they deserve.”

UMD thought most people would name items after themselves, but almost every item is named in honor of a loved one. UMD noticed an increase in purchased naming rights last Christmas and hopes to keep the streak going with Valentine’s Day.

“Nothing says ‘I love you’ like ‘I named this can of Vienna sausages at the homeless shelter after you,’” said Bryan Gilmer, the director of marketing and development at UMD.

Items such as canned food are continuously accepted, which allows the campaign to last as long as people want to participate. But limited items such as the washing machines at the shelter have already sold out.

“This right here is helping the ones that people really don’t want to think about,” Tilley said. “People should really think about this instead of a box of candy. It means something more. It has a message behind it.”

And UMD believes the message of the campaign is important: items people take for granted are missing from the lives of others in the community. Even donating a $1 napkin shows the homeless that people care about them, Gilmer said.

UMD helped 237 people out of homelessness last year, a task that costs about $4,956 per person. Each dollar from the campaign goes toward costs such as utilities and a case management staff that identifies each person’s strengths and weaknesses, Gilmer said.

For each dollar donated, UMD estimates an equal amount of donated labor and donated items—like Tilley’s leather jacket.

“I’m grateful,” Tilley said. “I’d probably be dead if it wasn’t for the ministries. But I feel that I’m going to be OK now.”

He starts working at UMD’s food pantry this week.

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