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Month: March 2016

3 organizations doing cool sh*t | Round 2.

3 organizations doing cool sh*t | Round 2.

The first time we posted about some organizations doing cool shit, we got a large response from people with ideas for who to cover next.  It was awesome to see that response, because it indicated to me that my peers are getting really excited about non-profit organizations that are on their radar.  Read on below for three more organizations that we think are doing cool shit.

  1. Resilient Coders – When we took a poll asking for people’s recommendations for cool organizations, this one took the cake.  It was so popular that I asked the founder, David Delmar, to chat with me more about what they do.  Resilient Coders‘ mission is to help young people from communities underrepresented by technology to prepare for technology jobs.  They do this in three ways: the first is through their high school program, an after school program that occurs on Tuesdays and Thursdays for high school students to pop in and out as they choose and learn computer skills.  Their bootcamp, which is an 8-week, all day coding bootcamp for young adults ages 19-26, targets higher risk young men who have been recommended by the Boston Police Department and Youth Options Unlimited.  After graduation from bootcamp, graduates are invited to work in the website lab, the third prong of their mission, which provides real coding and design work for real clients.  Right now, mentorship is available for highly skilled coders and young technologists.  If, like me, you can barely figure out how to use Snapchat, you can always donate.  

2. ArtLifting – It seems like everywhere you look, ArtLifting is getting great press nationwide.  A huge point of pride for the city of Boston, ArtLifting empowers homeless and disabled individuals by selling their artwork.  Their founder and self-proclaimed Chief Happiness Spreader, Liz Powers, literally lights up when she talks about the numerous success stories the organization has under their belt since they were established a few years ago, and in turn, she lights up a room too.  If you’re thinking about purchasing some new art for your place, consider buying a piece from ArtLifting, who not only has originals but also sells prints and posters.  They are also starting to spread to other cities.  Super cool indeed.
3. Catie’s Closet – My friends and I often talk about how difficult it must be to be a teenager nowadays, with all the pressure social media must place on how you look or what you say and do.  I think perhaps that’s one of the reasons Catie’s Closet appeals to me so much.  Recognizing that children are the largest age group living in poverty in the United States, Catie’s Closet wants to “improve school attendance and remove social stigma by providing an in-school resource of clothing and basic necessities to students living below the poverty line.”  They partner with schools to turn an unused room into “Catie’s Closet,” where children are given access to the room by trusted faculty members to pick out a change of clothes and toiletries to wash up.  The Closet is restocked by donated clothes on a regular basis.  There are currently 31 closets in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, serving over 18,000 youths and teens every year.  To donate clothing (just in time for spring cleaning!) or money, learn more on their website.  

Got other suggestions?  Email us at to recommend more cool organizations!

April showers bring a lot of Marathon fundraisers.

April showers bring a lot of Marathon fundraisers.

I didn’t realize this before I moved to Boston five years ago, but the Boston Marathon is a really big deal.  It’s like an international event.  What?! I mean, I did spend half of my life in Texas, and I literally only run to the dinner table, so I guess my ignorance is justified.  But imagine my surprise when I realized the Marathon was so important to the people of Boston (and the world) that people took time off of work to host brunches and watching parties, or to go to the finish line, or to volunteer at the race at the crack of dawn, or even…*gasp* to actually run the thing.

Another thing I didn’t realize before I moved to Boston five years ago was that when you run the Boston Marathon, you either have to qualify for the race (really hard to do, duh), or commit to raising at least $5,000 for a charity of your choosing, and run on that charity’s behalf.  I have one word for both options: hoops.  Major hoops.  I know what you’re thinking: $5,000 doesn’t sound like that much – but it totally is!  Especially when you’re trying to raise money in a true grassroots fashion.  

A similar fundraising requirement is in place for events like the Pan Mass Challenge, another Boston-area classic, this time with bikes, benefitting cancer research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.  According to the Pan Mass Challenge website, the event raised an incredible $45 million in 2015 alone through it’s various events and races, which take place all over the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Riders must create a page that they are encouraged to share with family and friends, who can pledge donations based on the mileage accrued during their race.  

So this time of year, a lot of invites start rolling through on Facebook for so-and-so’s Marathon Fundraiser Benefiting X Organization, hosted at a place like Lir on Boylston, or the Pour House on Boylston, or Dillon’s on Boylston.  It’s exciting, and as an outsider with a lot of fit and fast friends, it’s a little overwhelming, too.  How do you say “no” to a friend who asks you to donate to their Marathon fundraiser when the money is directly supporting a cause they believe passionately enough in to run 26.2 miles for? I can’t even run 26.2 seconds without wanting to dramatically lie on the floor and never get up.

Participation in these events among Millennials is at an all-time high, with the Millennial Running Study reporting that over 18 million of the 42 million people who self-identify as runners or joggers are Millennials.  The majority of respondents to this study, done in conjunction with Running USA, stated that their primary motivation for participating in running events like the Marathon or the Pan Mass Challenge or any Boston Athletic Association events is to stay fit and to be challenged. Only 34% of respondents participated in a running event that supported a cause because it supported that – or any – cause.  

While these stats are interesting, and may have an effect on how running events are organized in the future, the question still remains about how to navigate the myriad fundraising events that may take place now.  To help you out, here’s a little “Choose Your Own Adventure” for how to make the most of April, otherwise known as the Month of Marathon Fundraisers.

If you’re a runner looking to host a fundraiser:

  • Consider hosting your fundraiser at the organization you’ll be running on behalf of, instead of at a bar.  Depending on the organization’s capacity, this could be tough, but if they have space for you to bring your donors to them, it will add a lot of awareness to your event.  Your attendees will have a chance to visualize the space where they work, and can mix and mingle with the staff in a space where the staff is comfortable.  That could lead to more frank conversations about the needs of the organization, and a much easier way for your friends to connect how their donation makes an impact.  
  • Can’t host your fundraiser at the organization?  No sweat.  Be sure to invite representatives from the organization to talk with your guests at your fundraiser wherever you do host it.  Also, invite them to speak about the impact this donation would make for them, so that your event doesn’t just turn into another drinking party.
  • Work with the charity to figure out what your $5,000 will be used for.  By having clear plans for what contributions will be used for, you and the non-profit you’re running for can clearly communicate with people who might be on the fence about giving.  You can never be too transparent.
  • It doesn’t stop after you’ve completed the race.  Once the race is over and the money has all been raised, be sure to reiterate your thanks to your donors by updating them on how you did during the race, thanking them for their support, and giving a report on how the non-profit is doing with the money that was raised.  

If you’re not a runner but you’re getting invited to lots of marathon fundraisers:

  • I’m all for participating in great causes, and supporting your friends who are being active and running on behalf of a charity is as great a cause as any.  However, before committing to all (or any) invitations you may have, consider all your options.  Are there people who might be running for a cause you are more passionate about?  Okay, then start there.
  • Giving is important, but you shouldn’t feel obligated.  If you’re finding that your Facebook Inbox is filled with fundraiser invites, consider putting a cap on how many you attend or contribute to.  I always say that while I love to have Millennials give at all, I also don’t want you to give because you feel like you have to – that doesn’t feel good for the organizer and it certainly won’t feel good to you as the donor, either.  
  • Set philanthropic goals for yourself.  If you’ve set a budget for what you’d like to contribute for the whole year, take that one step further and set a budget for what you’d like to spend on contributions to event fundraising like this.  You want to help your friends, but you also want to make sure you have room to make gifts for your philanthropic priorities later, so don’t spend it all now.  
  • Even if you can’t or don’t want to donate to a friend’s fundraising campaign, try to attend the fundraising event to show your support.  Write them an email before the event explaining to them that you can’t give directly, but will still show up for them.  I can’t tell you the number of times my friends have shown up for me to an event but weren’t able to give – and there was something about them making the effort that was even more meaningful than any gift they could have donated.
Doing good while doing your job: cause work in the workplace.

Doing good while doing your job: cause work in the workplace.

It’s probably old news at this point that Millennials have surpassed all other generations in the workforce, now making up the majority.  Just last month, an article in the New York Times Sunday magazine posited that the lines between work and play are becoming blurrier than ever.  Notably, Millennials rate the culture of their workplace to be just as important as the actual work their doing.  Part and parcel of the workplace culture?  The opportunity to participate in company “cause work,” a term the Millennial Impact Report uses to describe “any initiatives or programs that are charitable in nature.”

Cause work can look rather different depending on what a company can offer you.  Some companies may have a charitable giving match program that will match your contributions to an organization up to a certain dollar amount.  Others may allow employees to enroll in United Way or other similar programs, which offers volunteer opportunities and automatically deducts a portion of your paycheck on a regular basis, redistributing that money to an organization you’ve selected.  Some companies may even have company-wide community service days, or allow employees flex time to participate in community service activities.  Aside from a ping pong table and kegs (or, in other words, just a rough work week away from beer pong), these giving incentives and volunteer programs are starting to be billed as work perks as these companies heavily recruit Millennials.  And Millennials seem to respond well to these work perks: according to the study, 79% of Millennials reported feeling like their participation in company cause work made a difference.  

Employer-endorsed philanthropic activity in the workplace: how great is that?  Obviously, it really is great, and there are plenty of reasons why companies who have the capacity to support these programs in a meaningful way should offer them to their employees.  But there’s also a potential negative outcome.  The same report posits that “cause work in the workplace is often interpreted as team-building exercises.” Employees may see participating in company-wide giving competitions  or community service days as an obligation, which ultimately can, and probably does, affect the experience of the employees.  Furthermore, different genders express different motivations for getting involved in workplace cause work.  While female employees cite passion for the cause as a reason to participate in cause work, male employees cite incentive.  And how they give is different too: females are more likely to give to a cash collection bucket, while males are more likely than females to donate through paycheck deductions.  The report concludes in it’s key takeaways that “employers would do well to promote cause work as an opportunity to work with peers – to influence their female employees and managers – as well as offer cross-level opportunities that would engage males.”

What is specifically compelling about this particular report is the difference in how Millennial workers give by region.  As a self-described “lapsed Texan” living in Boston, I looked most closely at the behaviors of Millennials in the South and the Northeast, but the report offers insights for the West and the Midwest too.  The South, somewhat unsurprisingly, boasted the highest volunteer rates, and the region’s Millennials are also most likely to respond to incentives.  In the Northeast, Millennial employees participate in company cause initiatives the least of all four regions.  Respondents claim that they aren’t influenced by competition, incentives, or in their supervisors egging them on.  However, Northeastern Millennial managers respond more to incentives from senior staff for participating in company cause work more than any other region.  In short, the hustle is real, y’all.

An important detail of this survey not to be overlooked, though, is that a whopping 42% of Millennial employees in the Northeast report not being asked to give to or volunteer in company cause work at all, a full 10% behind Millennials in the West and the Midwest, and 24% behind Millennials in the South.  This brings up a real chicken and egg moment, and you have to wonder what came first…the lack of demand for a company culture of philanthropy among it’s Millennial employees, or a lack of someone simply asking Millennial employees to be part of a company culture of philanthropy?

As is the case with all of the iterations of the Millennial Impact Report, the research presents a fascinating picture of the behaviors and mindsets of Millennials throughout the U.S.  And for the most part, their findings align with their past reports, especially those that reveal how important skills-based volunteering and peer influence is to Millennials.  Companies who can create opportunities for their employees to use their skills will certainly find their employees have more positive experiences and want to come back for more.  Plus, the opportunity for team-building and healthy competition will appeal to both females and males, and incentives don’t hurt, either.  And as for companies in the Northeast, I think it’s safe to say that they could and should be presenting opportunities for more participation from their Millennial employees in company cause work.  So, Boston-area companies, take heed to the Golden Rule of Fundraising 101: it never hurts to ask.  

Skills-based volunteering: the currency of a new generation of givers.

Skills-based volunteering: the currency of a new generation of givers.

Ask most Millennials what engagement with a non-profit organization looks like to them, and they’ll probably say a combination of a few things.  They’ll talk about traditional giving (writing a check, making a donation, attending a gala).  Most likely, they’ll mention a volunteer day where they had the opportunity to mentor a child or paint a fence.  But, perhaps the biggest marker of Millennial philanthropy that sets my peers apart from generations preceding us is Millennials’ desire to also provide their knowledge and skills to help an organization expand and grow.  

Wanting to share what you’re good at is nothing revolutionary.  What’s unique about Millennials, though, is that they weigh all three of those aforementioned forms of giving as equal in value.  According to the Millennial Impact Report, 72% of Millennials believe their assets – time, money and skills – are interchangeable.  So naturally, a Millennial who doesn’t have disposable income to make an outright, more typical philanthropic donation to an organization would probably be really excited by the prospect of volunteering their time and energy lending their particular skill-set to that same non-profit.

There’s a pretty cool website that’s making that easy to do.  Called Catchafire, this database of skills-based volunteer opportunities allows organizations to post their specific needs.  An organization can vet volunteers who apply in advance in order to find the best fit for the project or consultation.  Projects range from a few hours, to several months, and typically save the organizations large sums of money they would have to pony up for a freelancer otherwise.  

Similarly, volunteers can share their resume or articulate the skills they’re already building that they wish to finetune, and search for opportunities that fit what they are looking for in a volunteer experience.  Through a comprehensive database that syncs up with your LinkedIn account, you can apply to assist an organization with their special project, or do a consultation for an hour over the phone.  Once you’ve started racking up volunteer hours, Catchafire even calculates the amount of impact you’ve generated in dollars.  The other great thing? You’re not limited to where you live to volunteer.  Catchafire features organizations looking for help all over, so through the ease and accessibility of the Interwebs, you can still make a difference.  

So far, I’ve signed up to do a phone consultation for an app called Coin Up, which rounds up each transaction on your credit or debit card to the nearest dollar and automatically donates that to the charity of your choice.  I also submitted an application to do another phone consultation for a Boston area organization who wants to maximize their event fundraising.  I opted into applying for consultations to test the waters, especially since my time is limited.  But I’m excited to see if I can be helpful to these organizations, and hear what they are all about.  

To check out skills-based volunteer opportunities, head to Catchafire now and start dropping some knowledge.  Do you have other volunteer or philanthropic resources you want us to highlight?  Email us at and let us know!