Archive | January, 2012

Prosperity Candle: Passionately Growing One Candle at a Time

25 Jan

In April 2010, a few weeks before Mother’s Day, Prosperity Candle founders Amber Chand, Siiri Morley and Ted Barber drove from their Boston office to JFK Airport in New York City to pick up their first ever shipment of candles. These candles were made by 50 women – “chandler-entrepreneurs” – living in war-torn Baghdad, Iraq. This was the first test – would the candles survive the journey? Apprehension was quickly replaced by pride and joy at the sight of perfectly made, unscathed candles. They made it, and for the first time Chand, Morley and Barber saw the fruits of their labor. “As of today”, wrote Morley, “50 women in a place of conflict have been given the opportunity to start their own businesses.”

Abeer, Iraq

Through candle-making, Prosperity Candle is providing women who live in regions ravaged by armed conflict, and human and natural disaster with an opportunity to rebuild their lives and share their stories with the world. Launched in 2009, this small (but growing) social enterprise has had a tremendous impact, one candle at a time. Their mission is bold but they’re finding success in a simple philosophy: “Every candle is a vehicle for social change and global connection.”

After that first shipment, sales would provide the next important test. Mother’s Day, just around the corner, provided the perfect opportunity to launch the product. Each candle is sent with the name of the maker on the label. The receiver can then go online to Prosperity Candle’s Voices to read the chandler’s story and even send her a message. There was an outpouring of messages from mothers across the US who weren’t simply enjoying their candles but deeply affected by the woman-to-woman connection the gift enabled.

With an effective supply chain, the final test was that of their guiding philosophy: How did these women, living in one of the world’s most dangerous cities, feel about their new business? After their second shipment, Prosperity Candle touched base with Women for Women International, its partner in Iraq. Once again the feedback was positive and heart-felt. Most notably, Morley asserts, these women believe that their candles fulfill a higher social purpose and are enabling them to connect with others across the globe.

(Read their inspiring testimonials here.)

Prosperity Candle has since begun working with women refugees from Burma and Bhutan who have resettled in West Springfield, MA. The company is also exploring opportunities in Haiti, Rwanda and Afghanistan, and developing partnerships with larger organizations – both for- and not-for-profits – that share their mission.

Naw, Moo Kho, Mee Mee, West Springfield, MA

This young organization has completed an astounding ten Catchafire projects. We’re extremely proud of the pro bono professionals who have worked with Prosperity Candle to help them build capacity, share their story and make an impact. Morley says her Catchafire professionals have provided the organization with “energy, expertise and objectivity,” three qualities that a young social good organization thrives on. She also noted that great pro bono professionals not only provide much-needed skills but also a shared passion for their cause, and a sense of flexibility that a growing organization needs. Morley talks fondly of pro bono professionals like Stephanie Leydon, a communications specialist, who comfortably and effectively “put herself in our shoes” to meet their specific needs and of others, like copywriter Sara Buschkamp, who, in their initial meeting, eloquently stated, “you can’t read the label from the inside of the bottle” and provided the organization with new energy and a fresh perspective.

Prosperity Candle currently has a blog that’s integrated into their WordPress website. They’re looking for a technically-skilled and creative pro bono professional to help them create a playful, spirited and reflective WordPress blog that’s distinct from their website. Click here if you’re interested in being a part of this organization’s incredible narrative.

The time is always right to do what is right

19 Jan

In 2009, President Obama made a plainspoken call to action in his inaugural address by appealing to the nation to take responsibility:

What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility – a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

When we consider the many social and environmental challenges facing humanity, we arguably have no choice but to accept Obama’s “era of responsibility.” But we’re not just entering an era of responsibility, rather we’re entering is an era of shared responsibility.

In the digital age, where news stories reach every corner of the globe instantaneously, it’s difficult for someone to claim ignorance. We’re all aware of drought and starvation in Africa, deadly riots in Syria, debt problems in Greece, and the growing hole in the ozone. We’re all stakeholders in the future of the planet, we’re all responsible, and as Obama suggests, we should all gladly seize the opportunity to do our part. We cannot rely on government or business to address these problems for us, and gone are the days of checkbook philanthropy. We’ve shared the spoils, now we must roll up our sleeves and share responsibility.

This past MLK Day, Catchafire took part in the 9th Annual MLK Serve-A-Thon organized by the NYC Coalition Against Hunger (NYCCAH). The Catchafire team was posted at the Caldwell Temple Soup Kitchen in the South Bronx and spent the day re-organizing their kitchen and inventory. It was an enjoyable day and we’re pleased to report that we left the kitchen and storerooms in a much tidier state then we found them!

MLK Day is often referred to as a “day on, not a day off.” Since Catchafire’s vision is to create a world where it is commonplace to serve the greater good, it was natural for us to spend the day giving back as a team. For the team at Catchafire, everyday is a day “on.”

For MLK Day, President Obama and his family participated in a community service project at the Brown Education Campus in Northeast Washington. Here he’s seen painting a MLK Jr. quote above a classroom door. The quote couldn’t be more fitting: “The time is always right to do what is right.

Don’t wait for the next MLK Day to share responsibility. Sign up here to lend your professional skills to a good cause. Sign up before the end of January and you can also nominate your favorite organization to win $2,012 off the cost of Catchafire membership.

Connecting for Justice in Boston: Thursday Jan 19

12 Jan

Socializing for Justice (sojust.org) is not just Boston’s fastest-growing cross-issue progressive community, they’re also friends of Catchafire.

This organization is the brainchild of local activist, community organizer, and event planner, Robbie Samuels. He believes that the fight for social justice will be more effectively fought if people, representing multiple progressive issues, can get together in a room and connect on their overlapping values.

This Thursday, January 19th from 6-9PM, Socializing for Justice will be hosting it’s largest event of the year, Connecting for Justice, at Lir on Boylston. ”This is a welcoming space where all attendees, diverse by age, race, gender, sexual orientation, newness to Boston, and experience with activism, come together to “put the SOCIAL back in social justice!”

At Connecting for Justice, participants can experience the connecting power of Socializing for Justice for themselves. There will be Action Stations to link attendees with local organizations, “I’m Looking For” and “Ask Me About” tags, a Jobs Board filled with openings from other social change groups and a free Literature Table.

Learn more and RSVP for Connecting for Justice at www.sojust.org.

Unfortunately Catchafire can’t be there this time, but keep your ears open for some exciting events that we’ll be planning in the months ahead.  We look forward to catching up with our Boston friends soon!

MLK Day… a fun and fulfilling day

11 Jan

Across the nation people are actively seeking out volunteer opportunities for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (MLK Day) next Monday. Sometimes this can be the most difficult part of the process. There are many opportunities for people to contribute to worthy and important causes, such as volunteering in soup kitchens, at clothing drives, and in public parks. Finding an opportunity to give back in an effective and meaningful way can be a tougher challenge. The “King Day of Service” calls on all Americans to transform this “holiday” into a day of volunteer service. We believe that a volunteer experience should not only be meaningful but also fulfilling and enjoyable, and should by no means be an obligation.

With MLK Day around the corner we reached out to some of our “Star Pro Bono Professionals”: passionate individuals who share our vision – a world where it is commonplace to serve the greater good – and who are committed to giving their time and talent all year round. We asked them how their pro bono experiences have impacted their lives and why they believe pro bono work is not only about the cause but also about the individual contributing to it.

Indian-born Joshi Bhamidipati came to America more than ten years ago to attend college. Last September he started working pro bono with Save a Child (America) Inc., which provides deprived Indian children a chance at a better life through long-term sponsorship.

Having grown up in a low-income household in India, Joshi knows what it means to have very little and, having traveled to the U.S. for college, what it means to have an opportunity to transcend one’s past. Joshi is pleased to be able to volunteer his time and resources to benefit children in his home country.  By working pro bono, Joshi is not only giving back but is also paying it forward to afford a child, someone like himself ten years ago, the same opportunities he had.

Joshi believes that “performance depends on how you feel about the job… if you don’t feel good about [it], you don’t deliver to your maximum.” He’s a qualified CPA with an MPA in Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy and recently completed his first Catchafire project, designing an organizational budget for The Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Research. Not surprisingly, the organization had only amazing things to say about Joshi: “Intelligent, knowledgeable, accessible, quick to respond and patient with those of us who do not have an accounting or finance background. He has extensive experience with non-profits and is able to apply this knowledge to our specific needs.”

Joshi appreciates how volunteer experiences have exposed him to different social needs and enabled him to effectively address them. “You learn new things with different programs,” says Joshi, “they’re great source of motivation!” Volunteering is not just about the cause, it’s about the volunteer too… by helping others, you’re helping yourself. Think about that while deciding how you’re going to give back this MLK Day.

Achieving greater impact with non-profit partners

10 Jan

Thanks to the rising demand for corporate social responsibility, the non-profit world is enjoying more opportunities to partner with eager for-profit businesses. But what about non-profit / non-profit partnerships? While it’s less common, the partnership can still increase the impact of their efforts.

Whenever possible Catchafire has connected different nonprofits and social good organizations. Many have partnered to dramatically enhance their ability to serve their causes… sometimes very different causes. Recently we connected two of our member organizations: Second Chance Toys and tay-bandz / Kids Curing Cancer collaborated this past December to bring gifts to hospitalized children.

The story and impact of Second Chance Toys

In 2006, 15 year-old Sasha Lipton and her mother drove around their New Jersey neighborhood and gathered 50 used toys that former owners had left on the sidewalk for trash collection. They donated them to Babyland’s Family Violence Center in Newark, NJ and Second Chance Toys was born. By providing underprivileged children with toys and preventing thousands of toys from ending up in landfills, they’re effectively serving two causes – children and the environment. This holiday season they reached a record of 100,000 toys donated. Their goal is to donate another 100,000 toys over the next two years.

The story and impact of tay-bandz

Tay-bandz is dedicated to raising awareness and funding research for pediatric cancer. The organization was founded by Taylor Matthews, who at age 11 was diagnosed with cancer. Taylor bravely fought her illness for five years. Her strength came with an enduring sense of compassion for others and a belief that every individual effort can make a difference. Surprisingly, the government provides minimal funding for children’s cancer. Tay-bandz fills this very important gap by funding cutting-edge cancer research. To date, tay-bandz Grants have exceeded $800,000!

Non-profit / non-profit partnerships

“Non-profit / non-profit partnerships – especially the more entrepreneurial organizations – can come together faster [than partnerships with for-profit organizations] on the basis that there is a win-win in the equation for both parties. They have enabled Second Chance Toys to foster new collaborative relationships and the ability to serve a greater number of children in need.” says Second Chance Toys board member Shelly Lipton. While their for-profit partners help with the transportation, Second Chance Toys is able to serve its cause with greater impact thanks to nonprofit partners work directly with children.

For tay-bandz, collaboration with other non-profits has enabled them to take on side projects and accomplish new goals. While their focus is funding for pediatric cancer research, together with its other non-profit partners whose cause is also pediatric cancer, they’re collaborating on two objectives: raising awareness for the cause and establishing a voice in congress. Together, Matthews believes, their organizations can achieve far greater results.

The impact of the Second Chance Toys / tay-bandz partnership

Of the partnership with Second Chance Toys, Sue Matthews, president of tay-bandz said, “Through our collaboration we were able to deliver 55 brand new beautifully wrapped gifts to children with cancer at Columbia Presbyterian Children’s Hospital. Second Chance Toys was awesome to work with and brightened the lives of so many. Thank you Catchafire for introducing us.” Matthews went on to say how simple gestures like delivery of these toys help tay-bandz to continue serving Taylor’s mission of helping other kids.

The Second Chance Toys / tay-bandz partnership is one that neither organization had previously considered, but it was ultimately a perfect fit. Together they touched the lives of 55 underprivileged children who spent Christmas in the hospital. This was no small feat. For Second Chance Toys, the project was seamless but impactful. For tay-bandz, it was both very personal and perfectly in tune with a philosophy of giving to the less fortunate that Taylor Matthews instilled in the organization.

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If you would like to learn more about this partnership or about these great organizations, please join us for the Do Right Be Brite Brunch next Saturday, January 14th. The purpose of this monthly event is to highlight different ways to give back in New York. Along with Catchafire and a number of fantastic nonprofits and social enterprises, tay-bandz and Second Chance Toys will be there to share their wisdom and hopefully guide you toward the volunteer experience that’s right for you. Click here to learn more and purchase tickets.

Making Volunteering More Popular By Making It More Relevant

4 Jan

Most opportunities for service involve painting schools or serving food. But many Americans have skills–accounting, design, communications–that would be incredibly valuable for nonprofits and would make their volunteering more rewarding.

Service is a fundamental pillar of American society, and its roots go back to the origins of the nation. In the mid-1800’s Alexis de Tocqueville observed that Americans help each other in times of need and wrote, “I must say that I have seen Americans make great and real sacrifices to the public welfare, and I have noticed a hundred instances in which they hardly ever failed to lend faithful support to one another.”

From the highest levels of government, we are encouraged to serve. In April 2009, Obama signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, a $5.7 billion measure to expand 16-year-old AmeriCorps, a program created under President H. W. Bush in 1990. AmeriCorps was a revamp of the longstanding VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program, created by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964 and the Civilian Conservation Corps established by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933. The first volunteer center was established in Minneapolis in 1919, and, way back when, Benjamin Franklin began the first volunteer firefighting company in 1736. America’s history in service is deep and continues to evolve.

This past year, the President spent a day painting a school during MLK Day, the nation’s official National Day of Service. It’s pretty cool that the President would leave the Oval Office, roll up his sleeves, and pick up a paint brush. But the president is not a painter. Wouldn’t it be better if he applied the skills he actually uses as the president (negotiation, public speaking, leadership, management, etc.) to any of our neediest nonprofits? It would probably be more impactful, too. Why, then, do we equate service to picking up a paint brush?

Last year, 26.3% of Americans volunteered, but only 1.8% of Americans volunteered their professional skills (PDF). Giving back to the community has been core to America ever since this nation was founded. But the way we serve hasn’t shifted with the way we work. While most service opportunities involve things like building houses, painting schools, or picking up trash, these activities don’t play to the strengths of the majority of Americans.

What are the consequences of this? Well, for one, there’s a huge opportunity cost. Let’s take a web developer. If a web developer decided to use the 20 hours of time he had available to volunteer this year to dish out food at the local soup kitchen, he would be counted as serving (and also literally be serving). However, if he decided instead to use the 20 hours of time he had available this year to build the local soup kitchen a basic website so that they could have an online presence and finally be able to accept web-based donations, he would not only be putting food on people’s plates today but would also be creating a stream of funding for the soup kitchen to fed even more people for years to come.

A second consequence is that many people don’t find the same satisfaction that comes from volunteering as they would if they were able to give what they are good at. Sure, not everyone wants to spend more time using their on-the-job skills on something that’s supposed to provide them with a release from work; but there is great satisfaction to be derived from seeing on-the-job skills truly impact a cause.

But it’s more fundamental than that–when people don’t have the option to volunteer in a way that draws on their strengths or their skills, when people don’t have the option to volunteer in a way that make sense to them, and when volunteering doesn’t result in an impactful outcome, people volunteer halfheartedly or they don’t volunteer at all. This is a pretty serious consequence. In fact, the volunteer rate in America over the past ten years has dropped nearly 3%.

How do we change this? We’ve created the first scalable online pro bono service provider called Catchafire. In one year we’ve registered nearly 2,000 organizations and 10,000 professionals, but we’re nowhere near our goal, which is to make it commonplace for everyone to give what they are good at.

We need to give volunteering a make over. We need to make volunteering relevant again. Nearly 40% of Americans have white collar jobs, we make it easy for that percent of the population to volunteer their skills. There is certainly a need. The majority of nonprofits struggle to pay for basic professional services like accounting, marketing, communications, design and technology, to name a few. In fact, 95% of nonprofits say they would like these services pro bono, but don’t know where to go to get them. If so much of the population has these skills to give away, and we’re able to convince these people to volunteer their skills, we have supply to meet this demand. I am confident that more than 1.8% of people want to volunteer their skills. We just need to give them the right opportunities

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This post was written by Catchafire Founder and CEO Rachael Chong and originally appeared on FastCompany’s Co.EXIST.  This is the first post in a series on the future of service in America, created in collaboration between FastCompany and Catchafire.

New Year’s Resolutions made easy

3 Jan

A few days ago millions of people across the globe made a resolution when they woke up to the New Year. For the most part, it was a promise to change. It might be health-related – a new diet, a personal goal – learn to play guitar, or career oriented – get that promotion. The larger the commitment though, the less likely we are to see the change we’re preparing to work for. How many times have we all committed to those large, yet ambiguous resolutions? Ambiguous because, when it fizzles out by mid-January, we use the excuse that it was just a New Year’s resolution. Not this year!

Committing your time and talent to a worthy cause is a serious New Year’s resolution, but it can also be a manageable and convenient one. Catchafire projects are tailored for highly skilled professionals with busy schedules who are seeking meaningful change with social impact. They’re short-term, discrete and individual to provide both the nonprofit organization and pro bono professional with clearly defined and attainable goals, and a flexible schedule.

To paraphrase Mahatma Ghandi, Catchafire wants to be a part of the change you want to see in the world! Our 2012 Holiday Campaign can help us achieve this – we want to inspire 2,012 people to sign up by January 31st and commit to giving pro bono this year.

It gets better. Every one who registers with Catchafire by the end of January will have the opportunity to nominate their favorite nonprofit or social enterprise to receive a $2,012 donation towards a Catchafire membership.

Since the start of the campaign, 364 skilled professionals have already signed up and pledged to give what they’re good at this year. We have a ways to go to achieve our goal but it’s a new year and we’re resolute to make 2012 a year of impact. This year Catchafire projects are going to enable thousands of skilled professionals to fulfill their resolutions and be part of the change.

To take part in our campaign:

  • Share this blog post with friends and colleagues whose resolution is to make meaningful change or who may just wish to give what they’re good at in 2012.
  • Not signed up? Click here to register.
  • Already have a Catchafire account? Email campaign2012@catchafire.org to let us know the organization that you’d like to nominate to win the $2,012 towards Catchafire projects.

Here’s to making a difference with your resolution in 2012!

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