Kaishin Chu

Systems Thinker | Strategic Problem Solver | Experience Cultivator
Community Services
DTES Response & DTES Response Fund | How we Managed to Raise over $450,000 within 6 months to help support those in need


An urgent call for support from a community advocacy group went out through one of my creative collective communities, the ShiftDisturber‘s via our Slack communications space. The ask was, “We need 5000 bars of soap for SRO tenants in crowded living environments and have no way to self isolate.”

When it became obvious that COVID-19 was a threat to the already vulnerable residents, a handful of community advocates sprang into action. They knew that frequent hand washing was one of the most important ways to combat COVID-19 — however, “how do you wash your hands if you don’t even have soap?”

Mar 17 - Sept 18, 2020

An ad hoc collective of ShiftDistubers showed up for the Zoom call to meet the community advocates on Mar 17. That night, despite a lot of unknowns and what was being asked for (especially since I couldn’t make the first half of the meeting), I decided based on the needs presented, along with the fact that no one was offering to lead, I volunteered myself as the Project Lead and worked quickly to determine the hierarchy of needs and devise a strategy and roadmap.

The next day, I connected directly with the SRO community advocate lead from DTES SRO Collaborative and by the end of the day, I began to reach out to fellow creative community members who had offered assistance to find those with immediate availability and the supporting skill sets to address needs. I had never taken on a project with such an immediate timeline and impending risk factor for human wellbeing. Anxiety was high for the majority. Part of my role became coach and managing psychological wellbeing for the teams involved, create the calm under pressure. The ad-hoc project and situation also meant daily iterations and juggling of priorities and needs, rolling up the generalist sleeves to do whatever needed to get done all remotely with people of diverse backgrounds and situations. By the time the team members were only needed on-call between June to Sept., we had managed to raise $350 to $400k in that time period. 

Agile,Iterative Discovery & Evaluation

Agile Needs

  • Personal hygiene and sanitation supplies
  • Raise funds to keep ad-hoc support services going until the City can step in. 
  • Public donations of clothing, calling card minutes, masks, basic needs items
  • Connectivity for residences to stay safe, reach out to family
  • Mobile phones for on the ground staff and volunteers to manage situations without in person contact
  • Immediate food and hots meals. City response efforts would take 2 to 3 weeks before delivery first meals.  
  • Partner with City determine exact needs of the DTES residents and design distribution system that would provide this service to the residents safely for all stakeholders in the process.
  • Maintain transparency and ethics in operation for legal and health safety


  • Basic needs were no longer fully available to those who relied on it due to partial lock-down procedures
  • Community centers and services suspended: access to telephone, internet, safe injection supplies,  getting welfare payments cashed, hot meals, refuge, hygiene facilities, mental and emotional health support and so much more were affected.
  • many of the underprivileged are also at high-risk with getting Covid
  • SRO living conditions were cramped, shared hygiene facilities, and sanitation supplies were already running out at some buildings
  • City of Vancouver services were delayed
  • Donation and distribution system would need to be vetted and coordinated with COV to ensure safety
  • Overcrowding in SRO as people were scared, cold and needing safe shelter while centres were closed.


all the various groups of people we partnered with, took into consideration of, or provided support for

DTES SRO Residents

City of Vancouver Support Staff

COV Pandemic Task Force Teams

COV First Responder

underprivileged area residents 


Businesses & Community Services

DTES Response Team

SRO Advocacy Group

Public Donors

Private Donors

Fundraising Service Partners (NICCSS & CanadaHelps.org)

SRO Front-line Service Providers

Diverse Volunteer Groups

Gov Grant Providers




Coordinated with public grassroots gathering donations to central warehouse and distribution centers set up to provide safe processing and delivery of goods to residents.

Coordinated bulk donations from local manufactures and retailers: masks, soap, calling cards, car share rental, refurbished mobile phones and laptops.


Raised over $450,000 to fund purchase initial immediate need for sanitization and safety supplies, then funded local community groups providing support to DTES residents.

community kitchen

Providing support to groups with programs that provide fresh meals or the distribution of donated goods to the community. A community network coordinator and volunteers ensure efforts become sustainable through funding by the DTES Response, manpower volunteer assistance, or coaching support by the coordinator.

community Grants

Providing funds to help cover costs for front-line groups and organizations that directly support vulnerable populations. Supported over 29 not-for-profit groups and organizations.

Why It Worked

  • Aligned Purpose-driven efforts
  • Project Lead acting as Mission Control using Collaborative Leadership to allow for ad hoc development and deployment.
  • Agile Design and Development
  • Design Thinking & Service Design
  • Having an extended circle of colleagues be my sounding board
  • Work to each person’s strengths
  • Alignment of values
  • In the early stage of the crisis, a surge of action takers provided agency before surge capacity reached for everyone around the 1-month mark.
  • Those who are multidisciplinary and unafraid to wear many hats, even if they are new hats, made sure work was done despite limitations. E.g. I worked 90 hrs/wk for two weeks to ensure project launch was a success, from project mgmt, coordination, web design/dev/deployment, branding, collaborating on communications, social media coverage, and people mgmt.

Challenges Faced

  • Collaborative teamwork vs. going rogue – as we worked remotely, not having much time to get to know one another.
  • timeframe – working with the available time of individuals, some worked full-time, others like myself cleared schedule to ensure success
  • Surge capacity was reached after week 2 for some. It meant there was a noticeable shift in personal focus, from the project to the self – personals needs, insecurities, ongoing agendas came into play.
  • Maintaining the core values when individual motivations began to surface.
  • Less experienced personnel came to me to open up on stress, struggles and needed mentoring. Their surge capacity was reached much sooner as they needed more support.


  • Agile Strategic Design & Development /MVP
  • Service Design 
  • Design Thinking 
  • Systems Thinking
  • Critical Thinking
  • Rapid Prototyping / Live Prototyping
  • Iterative Implementation
  • Organizational Development
  • Organizational Coaching & Mentoring
  • Visual + Web Design Master
  • Project Design & Development, Liaison, Coordination
  • Fund Advisory Committee Member
  • Creating a safe and inclusive space for the team
  • Data architecture
  • Content management

Tools + Resources

  • Airtable
  • Google Drive, Docs, Sheets
  • Asana
  • Zoom 
  • Email
  • Facebook – Page, Ads, Groups
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • WordPress
  • Mailchimp
  • Extended circle of colleagues be my sounding board
screenshot of the first 3 months visual timeline of key objectives and milestones


Day 1: Discover & Assess (Mar 18)

  • The next day, I connected directly with the SRO community advocate lead from DTES SRO Collaborative to understand the challenges and needs. 
  • Reach out to fellow creative community members who had offered assistance to discover people with immediate availability to assist.
  • I joined the ad-hoc SRO advocacy group for daily COVID-19 Response meetings to meet other advocates


  • Two divergent focuses were emerging and had to quickly redefined what was needed. I could foresee a need for two different teams to handle the different focuses.
  • Both SRO tenants and those residents not part of the SRO were needing hygiene supplies and other support, which could come from public donations which meant Covid exposure risks and thus they had begun to design the logistics of doing so without the support of the city, OR we raise funds from the public to purchase what is needed for immediate and future needs. I now had the challenge of balancing the ad-hoc community activism along with the responsibility of building and maintaining transparency and trust with the public and private supporters and donors, where collaboration is important. 
  • I reached out to a couple of folks who offered to be sounding boards to validate my thinking that the efforts will need to adhere to  and maintain the degree of integrity we needed to strive for. I was needing to oversee  outcomes that included  preventing putting any stakeholders at risk. Gathering public donations plus sanitization then distribution done in a rush wasn’t something I felt comfortable with. In my thinking, this created a need to separate the fundraising efforts from the rest of the response activities.

Building the team

Anticipating the need for both a fundraiser and a couple of communication specialists with expertise dealing with non-profits, private donors and foundations, I was fortunate to find and bring on board three additional amazing human beings. Having all three aligned with the assessed of needs, we created agency for getting what needed to get done and done fast remotely.

Day 3 – DTES Response is Born

The four us began to work on getting massive quantities of hygiene products to residents through donations, as well as launch an ambitious fundraising campaign, DTES Response Fund. every minute of each day felt counted, we each delegated ourselves to a list of people who we could contact.  We formed a busy cadence for the early days while two of us tackled both donations of goods and aiming to launch a fundraiser off the ground in least amount of time possible. A couple of us worked day and night, 7 days a week in hopes to get things lined up before the feared potential worst outcome could happen. We would have daily morning meetings to go over progress, jobs to be done, and potential next steps. And we stayed in touch via email, Slack, texts and by phone.


In 48 hours we created the fundraiser with partnership of a local charitable non-profit to be the representative in receiving and releasing the funds. A local community savings bank helped us open a bank account unders special circumstances to make it possible to house and distribute funding at no cost. I managed to create graphics and branding and get a MVP website and donation landing page ready overnight.

Day 6 Fundraiser launch (March 23)

On the morning of March 23, DTES Response fundraising campaign was launched online and via social media. It was all hands on deck with us doing outreach with local community networks, funders, and partnering with community non-profits to apply for pandemic relief grants.

Day 13

DTES Response separated from the SRO community advocacy team along with their activities to act independently from our fundraising and community network support. I felt strongly early on to separate the projects as some members of the advocacy team belonged to various non-profits whom we may end up granting funds. Our team agreed we needed separate avoid blurred lines.

We also implemented an honorarium system for those the team who were not employed elsewhere with a full-time salary, to honour the work and effort put in as a huge ‘thank you,’ and help make the ongoing workload and time spend sustainable.

Day 14 – April 1 To June 18

We began hosting our own meetings and adjusted to have them twice a week. I had transferred all of my project coordination data into Asana once defined roles and processes for clarified for each team member to take ownership. I began to gently reduce my time spent as a manager and focus on specific tasks as our triage phase was transitioning into the maintenance phase.

I ran a point as long as it was necessary, working to phase out my role as project lead and along with a few others, we phased out certain roles on June 18th as the dust had settled and processes ran smoother each week, demanding less time. I did remain on call to take care of website & content, communication design as well as be an ongoing member of the fund disbursement advisory committee. Both the fundraiser and community network coordinator remained on as well, as needed. Between the 3 of us, we could keep the project going part-time/as needed.

Ongoing Achievements

Since our DTES Response Fund launched, we’ve been continually amazed at what has been accomplished with the combined efforts of our team and the public’s support. We celebrated at our 6-month mark with a total sum raised of $400,000 +. Then there was the donation of many goods from local companies and small public groups with sanitation supplies and protective wearables. I also led the initial community liaison efforts, acting as a network enabler to connect different offers of services and goods to those who seek it.

DTES Response Fund’s chronological achievements, which surpassed my imagination as this was a first-time fundraising campaign project:

  • 1 week+: $84,500
  • April 8: distributed the first batch of grants to local community groups
  • 1 month (April 23): $150,000
  • 3 months (June 23): $328,000 & we added a Community Circle program for monthly donors wanting to provide hot meals.
  • 6 months (Sept 23): $400,000 and counting
  • See a detailed timeline with additional campaigns at the top of the post.

By mid-June, the DTES Response efforts were redefined for having responded in two main ways:

  • Community Grants – Providing funds to help cover costs for front-line groups and organizations that directly support vulnerable populations. We have so far supported 29 not-for-profit groups and organizations. (see link for more details.)
  • Community Projects – Providing support to groups with programs that provide fresh meals or the distribution of donated goods to the community. A community network coordinator and volunteers ensure efforts become sustainable through funding by the DTES Response, manpower volunteer assistance, or coaching support by the coordinator. (see link for more details.)

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