Recently I have been asked frequently why I chose the American Red Cross as my host organization. During the application process I was indeed in touch with many nonprofits around the United States. The common denominators were that the goals of the host organization must be close to my heart, and the organization must be non-partisan and non-sectarian. I might have happily ended up to San Francisco or Chicago, but from early on it was clear that the Red Cross would be an excellent match.
I have been involved with the Finnish Red Cross since a school kid, into a large extent thanks to my primary school teacher who was active in the organization. She made sure that we learned first aid among other useful skills. Also my first memories about fundraising are from those days in the late 80s. I remember particularly well a dark December evening when I was walking around our neighborhood with a friend of mine. It was snowing heavily, and we were persistently selling Red Cross Christmas cards and candles door-to-door.
The connection with the Red Cross dates even further back in history, as volunteering with the Red Cross runs in my family. My grandmother was among the charter members of the local Finnish Red Cross chapter that was founded in 1947. She was a Member of the Board from 1947 to 1969, and served as Treasurer from 1947 to 1962. After this, she continued to support the Red Cross until she passed away in 2002. She was awarded the Finnish Red Cross Silver Medal of Merit to honor her work in the organization.
After leaving management consulting in 2007, I decided to restart devoting some of my time for volunteering. To get started, I did a Finnish Red Cross volunteer course. There I learned about the work that Red Cross volunteers do at the Helsinki Mother and Child Home – a place for families who are in crisis or need extensive support in parenthood and managing everyday life. Some of the parents are very young, and some suffer from postpartum depression or other mental issues. Every three weeks Red Cross volunteers give the parent(s) a free evening by taking care of their infants. Being able to help “hands on” has been extremely rewarding.
Finally, there was one more important aspect that sealed my decision to choose the Red Cross as the case for my Fulbright application: brain candy. When I had my first conversations with the folks at the American Red Cross National Headquarters over phone and Skype last December, we were very quickly able to identify a fundraising project that was a perfect fit both with my professional development goals as well as the experience of data analysis, process improvement and performance management that I had accumulated over the years in business. So here I am in Washington, DC, and now you know why.