Communication Alumna Raises Support for Homelessness in Seattle Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Kat Wynn steps forward to meet needs commonly overlooked in the Seattle community.

When Kat Wynn ’17 started her dream job as communications development manager at New Horizons, a nonprofit serving youth affected by homelessness in Seattle, she knew she had a challenge ahead of her. As part of development, she works with a three-person team to run marketing, social media, and fundraising efforts of the organization

What she didn’t expect was the major challenges the COVID-19 outbreak would bring. “We had to rethink our services entirely since everything — from the shelter space to meals — is so high-touch,” said Wynn. “At the same time, spaces like ours are needed more than ever, since the public places those experiencing homeless often go to for basic hygiene like coffee shops and libraries are closed.”

But COVID-19 affected more than the shelter’s services. New Horizon’s main fundraising event — a donor dinner and auction scheduled for mid-April — was cancelled, along with other in-person fundraising efforts. Wynn and her team scrambled to create new ways to raise the funds needed virtually, at a time when many potential donors were facing financial uncertainty due to the outbreak.

In record time, Wynn and her team developed Operation Light the Way, a marketing campaign complete with email, web outreach, and social media. The campaign easily surpassed their goal of raising $275,000, bringing in more than $300,000. “I’m amazed at what we accomplished,” she said, “and I’m thankful to our community that came out to support our work. In response to a crisis, people wanted to help and do something!”

As a double major in communications and political science, Wynn first intended on pursuing a career as a journalist. “I wanted to be like Lois Lane, with a byline in a newspaper, telling stories and exposing the truth,” she said. She served as news editor at the Falcon. “At the Falcon, and with my professors, I learned the best ways to tell other people’s stories and elevate their voices. I learned to ask the hard questions and refined my writing voice.”

Wynn’s classes with Professor of Journalism Peg Achtermann opened her mind to social media having uses beyond just person. “She challenged us, ‘How can we use social media to better everyone else, to tell stories in new and interesting ways?’ That was so impactful for my career: Being able to think about telling a story with the written word, in a video, audio clip, animation. It opened me up to trying different things in new ways.”

Right after graduating, Wynn began working as social media manager at marketing consulting company Lenati in Seattle, bringing skills she honed as social media manager for SPU’s athletics teams.

About one year later, Achtermann, also a New Horizons board member, heard the organization was looking for a communications manager. She thought of Wynn immediately and connected her with New Horizons’ executive director. “I had never thought of non-profit communications,” said Wynn. “But this was a way to elevate the voice of an important cause” She jumped at the chance.

Wynn is excited about the future at New Horizon. “We’re innovating and moving quickly, trying new things and meeting needs as they come up, because that’s the zone we’re in now. I love this city, and it’s a great way to give back.”

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