Archive | December, 2010

Shana Dressler of the Global Cocoa Project

27 Dec

Tell us your story. How did you come to start the Global Giving Circle?

The idea for the Global Giving Circle came to me as a result of my consultant work with the Peabody award winning satellite TV station, Link TV. The channel shows eye-opening documentaries about the problems facing humanity, and the people who are doing great things to redress them. During my time at Link TV, I was privy to the myriad emails from people who saw our programming and wrote to ask how they might help in some way. It became clear to me that there are a lot of people who really want to do something to make the world a better place, but they simply don’t know how to go about it. I decided to investigate how to connect this energy to the causes the viewers felt so strongly about. I did a great deal of research on some of the brilliant alternative thinking in the field of humanitarian problem solving. I didn’t just research organizations, I researched people and met some amazing women and men who were as excited as I was about providing people of all income levels the opportunities to make a difference. When Link TV didn’t accept my proposal to create a community engagement position for myself, I left to found the Global Giving Circle.

What makes you so passionate about the cause?

I think philanthropy should be accessible to everyone. When we all look back at what we’ve done in our lifetimes, what will come to mind first are the people whose lives we’ve touched.   What we’ll be proud of is the good work we’ve done in the world.

Tell us about your background? What were you doing before you started Global Giving Circle?

Before founding the Global Giving Circle I worked as a multimedia producer and photojournalist on projects that have spanned several disciplines and continents while consulting for nonprofit arts and media organizations. My last exhibition was at the Pacific Asia Museum in California entitled, Discovering Ganesh. Ganesh is the Hindu elephant-headed god, known as the Remover of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings and Patron of the Arts. During the course of the six years it took me to complete that project, I was removing many of my own obstacles. After having spent years pursuing my own artistic expression, a transformation of sorts came about and I felt the need to choose a path of service.

What’s in the pipeline for Global Giving Circle?

In February of 2010, I closed up shop with the Global Giving Circle for two reasons: I had a trademark infringement with, and what I learned in 18 months is that events based philanthropy isn’t financially sustainable for a founder when tickets cost $25. That revelation aside, I’m really proud of what was achieved:five fundraising events were produced which brought the public together to support 18 nonprofits and social enterprises working in the areas of human rights, the water crisis, global warming, youth education and leadership with a focus on female empowerment and social entrepreneurship. In December, Global Gifts That Matter was launched, an online gift emporium which supports high impact nonprofits and social enterprises through the sales of gifts and gift donations. The work was a highly gratifying way to fulfill on my mission – to level the plane around philanthropy so that people from all income levels can experience the joy that comes with high impact giving. That said, I needed to work on a venture which could be developed so that I could be paid as well. In February of 2010 I began developing the Global Cocoa Project which grew out of the very first Global Giving Circle fundraiser.

The mission of the Global Cocoa Project is to support cocoa farmers around the globe by supplying them with tools to improve the quality of their cocoa production and basic needs for their daily lives. The secondary goal of 21 Villages is to educate Americans about the realities of the cocoa industry and leverage the power of knowledgeable, concerned consumers to help make cocoa growing a profitable and sustainable occupation for farmers.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I recommend that as far as choosing a career path goes, people invest time in understanding their passions. Ask yourself the most difficult questions about your true motives. If you want to help people, I think it’s a great idea to ask what’s motivating you. Being a changemaker is very challenging —  there are many, many obstacles one has to face, perceived failures you’ll have to deal with. If deep down you are ultimately motivated by doing something that’s going to make you look good, something that other people feel is a noble pursuit, if you are soothing a sense of guilt inside yourself to “do your part/be a good global citizen” then you’re allowing your ego to drive you. There’s got to be a deeper motivation in place. When you come from a selfish,  as opposed to a selfless space, you can count on many things being even more challenging and going wrong. I believe that there are so many paths to serve others — the goal is to understand what you love, where your talents lie, and how this aligns with your vision of a life of service and your deepest purpose.


Matt Miller: The Technical Side of Catchafire

23 Dec

Around the Catchafire office, there are many note cards hanging in various places on the wall. They contain tasks and messages that hold the future of Catchafire’s website.  These note cards make up the vast to-do list of Matt Miller, Catchafire’s software engineer.  Building new features at, keeping everything running smoothly online and helping the rest of the staff with our technical needs are just part of the critical work that Matt does everyday.

Originally from North Carolina, Matt’s interest in computers began early on in elementary school.  By middle school he was already programming computers.  “One of my 7th grade teachers had me take home a new piece of software over the summer since she didn’t know how to use it,” Matt said.  He had it figured out for her by the time he returned for school the next year.  Matt went on to attend North Carolina State University before moving to Texas to complete his degree at Steven F. Austin University.

While in college, Matt had several opportunities to travel and work abroad.  He also got the chance to work abroad.  He helped at a university in Tanzania, and worked at a sea-farer’s center in Romania where he met people from 29 different countries.

After graduation, Matt moved to a tiny Texas town, where he lived on a farm and managed technology for a nonprofit supporting international relief and development work.  He moved to New York City last spring and shortly after, landed his job with Catchafire.

Besides computer software, Matt also likes building and making things.  “I started at a young age when my dad would pay me a quarter a day to use a hammer,” Matt said.  He also enjoys cooking and checking out live music.  In fact, his favorite place in New York City is the Rockwood Music Hall.  “I like watching my friends play there and meeting other creative people from around the city,” said Matt.  He enjoys volunteering for the South Side Community Garden in Williamsburg where he cleans the lot, plants tulips, and looks forward to planting vegetables in the spring.  He thinks one of the most interesting things about him right now is his 3D printer that he uses and works with from his home.

Catchafire proves to be a great fit for Matt every day.  “I wanted to use my skills and actually enjoy my job,” said Matt. Catchafire allows him do something with his work that matters to him.  He wasn’t interested in just any old job where he only worked to get paid.  Like many Catchafire volunteers, Matt wanted a more fulfilling experience.  From that realization, Matt was able to find a place where he could use his professional skills for good.

My Catchafire Internship Wrapped Up

22 Dec

Time flies when you’re having fun, right?  That must be true because my internship at Catchafire is rapidly approaching its end this week.  It has gone so quickly, but has been filled with many beneficial experiences.  As I wrap up the work on the Catchafire Service Station and my last few blog posts, I have a bit of time left to reflect and think about the valuable skills and knowledge I’ve gained during my time here.

During my time at Ohio University, I’ve learned the background basics and communication skills for my future career.  However, nothing can quite prepare you like first-hand in-the-office experience.  As I worked at Catchafire for the last month, I learned a lot from everyone around me.  I saw Rachael’s busy strategic planning for the financial future of the organization while also making sure everything was running smoothly as she brainstormed how to make Catchafire even better.  I noticed all the detailed over-my-head planning that Matt put into running the website.  I witnessed Jane’s excitement as she matched our volunteers with our organizations by implementing the like style that keeps the system going.  I was even moved into the nonprofit outreach room of the office eventually to listen and learn how Sam and Emily gave consultations to the nonprofits who were interested in joining Catchafire’s network.  I met and learned from the unique backgrounds of the two newest team members Ruti and Jie.  I also found out more details of what goes into blogging and Public Relations thanks to our communications team, Justin and Katie.

All of my colleagues have been very inspiring to me.  They are all still young and have had so many exciting volunteer experiences from traveling abroad to busily helping with the Obama campaign within the United States.  It makes me realize how much I want to accomplish, and makes completing my undergraduate degree in March much more of a beginning than an ending.  The entire Catchafire team made my internship a valuable one as they gave me the independence to work and take on tasks that would help me.  They also trusted me with the responsibility of their up-and-coming service station, blog, and social media outlets like they would an actual employee.

I look forward to keeping in touch with everyone on the Catchafire team along with the great organizations I have been connected with through them.  Now that I have a better idea of what my career may look like, I am excited to come back into the professional world after I finish up my last quarter of college.  I feel more confident and ready for what is ahead of me thanks to the help of Catchafire and their team.

A Special Thanks to Catchafire’s Holiday Campaign E-card Designers!

21 Dec

Catchafire received three great designs for the $1 Million Give What You’re Good At Holiday Campaign e-card!  The e-card is for volunteers (who are matched during the Holiday Campaign) to dedicate their Catchafire project to their family and friends. So rather than spending money on yet another present, this season our volunteers can give the best gift of all – the gift of their time and skills! Catchafire’s holiday campaign goes on until January 31st and is in full swing for those still looking to get involved!

Catchafire wants to thank our three great designers! Firstly, a big thanks for Angel Ng, whose design below will be used for the Campaign.  Also, a big thanks goes out to Sascha Mombartz ( and Gino Jacques of Craze Creative Solutions ( for contributing.

Designed by Angel Ng, this will be the e-card Catchafire will use for the holiday campaign

Devi Shah Volunteers Her Skills to iFOSSF

20 Dec


Catchafire gave me a rare volunteer opportunity to apply my business skills to just such an organization – one that is dedicated to creating change.

My project was to develop a brand identity for iFOSSF (International Free and Open Source Science Foundation), an organization that is dedicated to bringing technology to poorly funded communities. As a young company with key team members and community members working across the globe, the brand identity we developed will help organization members and the communities they support identify with iFOSSF’s vision, mission and strategic priorities.

I loved this project for many reasons, but mostly because it created a great environment for skills-based volunteering. Prior to working with Catchafire, I found that these skill-based opportunities were hard to find and not very well-defined. With Catchafire, it’s easy to sign-up and find a project that fits your skillset and schedule. The projects also have specific objectives, deliverables and timelines.  In the process, I also learned more about the business challenges of non-profit and startup organizations and how they differ from the for-profit, larger organization business challenges I work with day-to-day.  The happy hours also created a fun environment to touch-base with the iFOSSF team and meet other volunteers.

It was a smart and professional volunteer opportunity. I am glad to have pursued such a meaningful volunteer experience and can’t wait for my next project!

The Story Behind Jane Slusser: Campaigns, Causes, and Burger Clubs

16 Dec


Jane Slusser volunteering for the Obama campaign.

Catchafire’s Chief Service Officer, Jane Slusser, started working at Catchafire with the motive of promoting a new and interesting way to volunteer.  At first, she was really only thinking  about the volunteers.  She had been a volunteer herself and found it natural to approach Catchafire from that standpoint rather than the organizations.  However, over the past year, Jane has gotten to know many of the nonprofits and social enterprises of New York City, and has found that her focus has now shifted to include their needs high on her list of goals for Catchafire!  Jane hopes to see organizations run more efficiently, and believes that through the help of professional volunteers, any nonprofit or social enterprise can be run better and more efficiently.

Jane’s experience with volunteering began at a young age. When she was younger, she helped her mom volunteer to raise money for their town’s community pool (which finally got built just a few years ago). Entering into college, Jane participated in a 28 hour dance marathon for the Elizabeth Glaser Foundation.  Today, she enjoys helping with the Tribeca Film Festival while also getting free tickets to see the films.  Ask Jane about her greatest volunteering experience and she won’t hesitate to mention her work on the Obama campaign.  In fact, she’ll tell you it was one of the best experiences in her life so far.   Jane saw first-hand what great results come from a well-run volunteer effort,  and after the campaign wanted to make sure all the enthusiasm from those volunteers was funneled towards new channels of  engagement and participation.

Prior to her life at Catchafire, Jane came to New York City from a small town in Northern California to attend Barnard College.  After living in a town of 5,000, Jane was excited for the opportunity to come to a big city.  At Barnard, Jane met her  current colleague, Rachael Chong when they were paired up as freshmen roommates.  The two roomed together for all four years of school.  “Rachael was a good roommate,” Jane said, “and even took care of me when I was sick just a few weeks into the first year and bought me a teddy bear.”  A few months later, there was an  instance when Rachael got paint all over Jane’s white rug.  Although she acted okay with it, Jane struggled to keep her very neat and clean (somewhat OCD) personality from showing her annoyed feelings.  Today, Rachael and Jane laugh about this as one of their favorite roommate stories.  Another one happened before the two even met.  As the more details-oriented one, Jane  sent a letter to Rachael introducing herself and trying to plan who should bring what for their room.  However, Rachael was traveling and did not receive the letter until the night before arriving at school.  Jane  worried that her new roommate must think she was a “big nerd” for sending the letter.  Little did she know that they would end up being great friends and working together for a great mission in the future.

Before joining Catchafire, Jane worked at Oxford University Press until she quit to volunteer full-time for the Obama campaign in 2008.  She said, “in publishing I was editing history, and in the campaign I felt like I was making history.”  Deciding that she preferred the latter  motivated her to make the leap to quit her job.  For her, the passion she put into volunteering for the Obama campaign turned into a job at the inauguration in DC.  After that, Jane started to pay a bit more attention to her old roommate’s idea, eventually coming on board with Catchafire last year.

Aside from Jane’s work with Catchafire, she  devotes herself to another passion in New York City—burgers.  She belongs to a Burger Club with four of her friends.  The group meets once a month at a new burger place and write a blog to keep up with it.  Though she admits it may disappoint those expecting some secret underground burger,  Jane’s favorite burger place is Shake Shack.

When she was younger, Jane wanted to be the first female president, a paleontologist, a lawyer, or an actress.  Somehow, Jane feels like her job as Chief Service Officer brings together a bit of each of these roles (except for the dinosaurs).  She also jokes that in college, “Rachael often told me I should be a construction worker since I was always putting everything together in our room.”  Always having ambitious goals, Jane has combined this hardworking attitude and love of volunteering into a career at Catchafire where yes, she does occasionally move furniture.

My Catchafire Project: Introducing The Service Station

15 Dec

Moving into my third week here at Catchafire, my project is now well underway.  I have really enjoyed being a part of the office environment.  I’m focused on my own responsibilities and I also get  to take in everything going on around me.  It’s interesting to see the logistics and behind-the-scenes-work that keeps this organization running and growing.

My main project here at Catchafire is to create a “Service Station” which will act as a resource center for Catchafire’s nonprofits, social enterprises, and volunteers.  I have been researching ways to provide resources for all members of the Catchafire community to help them as they work together.  It’s important for us to provide our volunteers with tools to  prepare them  to make the most of their valuable contributions to our organizations.  This Service Station will provide resources and tips to guide our professionals through their pro bono projects. The Service Station will also provide valuable information for our nonprofits and social enterprises, to help with their Catchafire projects, and to direct them to other helpful resources and support.

In between writing, blogs, attending meetings, and managing Catchafire’s social media, I  have spent the last few weeks researching these valuable resources.  I’ve enjoyed exploring a lot of the sites out there, and I’m learning a lot about different organizations and tools available for those looking to “do good.”  I feel more prepared to enter the nonprofit sector for a career with every new idea that I come across.  As I finish compiling my research, I will begin to sort it into categories in order of delivering this information as clearly as possible to the organizations and volunteers who need it.  We’ll also be offering tips and tools that will be broken down into all the professional services provided on the Catchafire Project Menu.

So, tell us, what would you like to see in the Catchafire Service Station? Please provide your ideas and feedback on this project so we can be sure to include it in the resource center.  I  invite any suggestions, advice, or knowledge that has worked for another organization or volunteer who would like to pass  this information on to others!  We are all in this together, so it’s important to continue learning so that helping a cause can be even more efficient and fun!

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