Closing Circles & Revisiting Clara

At the beginning of my Fulbright year I did a windy bike ride to Glen Echo, Maryland, to visit the house where the founder of the American Red Cross, Clara Barton, spent the last 15 years of her life. At the time I also discovered that there was another exciting historical site much closer to the current American Red Cross National Headquarters: Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office. At that point in time, the site was still undergoing restoration and closed for public, so I totally forgot about it for quite a while.

Just before my last weekend in DC in August, something triggered me to check if the restoration had been finished. And it had, already a few months earlier actually. I saw this as an opportunity to close circles and biked to 437 ½ 7th Street NW late on a sunny Friday afternoon after work. I was very lucky with my timing as the Executive Director of the museum himself happened to be on site and gave me an extremely informative guided tour. He shared the whole story of the incredible discovery of the space and the extensive restoration work.

Missing Soldiers Office

The exact location of the Clara Barton’s Missing Soldiers Office in downtown DC was a mystery for historians for decades. Most of them believed that it had been in a building that had been since then demolished. In 1997, the mystery was suddenly solved when the General Services Administration was about to demolish yet another building. Luckily, one of the GSA employees discovered a number of carefully packed items in the attic that made him curious. A closer look revealed that these items had belonged to Clara Barton, and it became evident that the Missing Soldiers Office had been in the building. It turned out that the reason why the historians had been looking for the office a few blocks in the wrong direction was that the street numbering system had been changed at some point in the history. The demolition plans were cancelled, and now years later the space is open for public as a museum after meticulous restoration.

Where the Treasure Was Found

Clara Barton both lived and worked in the space from 1861 to 1868 during and right after the Civil War. She used it as home and as a warehouse for the supplies that she received for her work on the battlefield. Later the room 9 became famous as the office in which Clara Barton responded to more than 63,000 letters regarding missing soldiers. In total, she was able to identify the fate of over 22,000 men. In the same spirit, the American Red Cross keeps up the work started by Clara Barton by tracking people who have gone missing due to an armed conflict or a natural catastrophe and reconnecting families every day. The American Red Cross also facilitates getting important messages from the family members out to the current day battlefields as a part of its Service to the Armed Forces.

Room 9

As a part of the guided tour, I also got a comprehensive recap of Clara Barton’s life from the Executive Director. Clara Barton really was a renaissance woman. It is incredible to think how the American Red Cross brings together so many of her passions from helping soldiers on the battlefields to teaching first aid for the general public and tracing missing people. Clara Barton’s work really lays the foundation for everything that the American Red Cross still does today.

For me, the museum visit was a great way to close circles in the end of the Fulbright year. The small museum is definitely worth a visit for anyone who is at all interested in the story of Clara Barton, the history of the American Red Cross, or the Civil War and American history in general. The museum is currently open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays 11AM-6PM. Check the Facebook page of the museum for exceptions and more information.

Advanced Red Cross Studies

At the beginning of July it hit me: My Fulbright year will come to an end soon. To make the most out of my remaining weeks at the American Red Cross National Headquarters, I decided to finally take time to visit the Disaster Operation Coordination Center and signed up for two trainings.

Disaster Operations Coordination Center Visit

The American Red Cross was chartered by the United States Congress to “carry on a system of national and international relief in time of peace”. It helps annually the victims of nearly 70,000 disasters. While most of the disaster relief happens locally all around the country, the Disaster Operations Coordination Center (DOCC) at the National Headquarters in DC has an important role as the nerve center of the national support.

When large-scale disasters happen, DOCC is staffed 24/7 coordinating the relief efforts, collaborating with authorities, handling disaster fundraising, and supporting the local chapters in any way they can. Even if I knew a lot about this in theory, seeing the actual DOCC with its storm proof windows, numerous computer screens and gigantic printers for printing out maps to visualize where and how hard the disaster hit made the mission feel much more real. During the visit I learned DOCC is so crucial and respected a player in disaster response that there even is a dedicated phone line between DOCC and the White House, and President Obama himself visited DOCC during the Hurricane Sandy.


The Digital Operations Center, DigiDOC, is a recent addition to DOCC, its little brother if you will. A small team of NHQ staff and a small army of volunteers work on social media data to map how disasters are unfolding and even to reach out to individuals needing help and support through Twitter. Have a look at this short video to see how cool it is!

The International Response Operations Center, IROC, is also co-located with DOCC. IROC works together with the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC), International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC), and national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies to channel the support of the Americans to where it is most needed. Again, seeing the current disaster response and preventive projects on a huge world map made it much more concrete on how many fronts the American Red Cross is present. Talking about a motivational boost!

Supervising Volunteers Workshop

Over 90% of the American Red Cross workforce consists of volunteers. Supervisors of volunteers naturally have a tremendous impact on volunteer motivation and satisfaction, and consequently an enormous influence on the success of organization. At the American Red Cross, the critical role of supervisors of volunteers is recognized, and they are offered specific volunteer management training in the form of a Supervising Volunteers workshop.

When I heard that this workshop would be offered at the headquarters for any employee or volunteer who currently supervises, or is interested in supervising volunteers, it was a no-brainer for me to sign up. During my years at Booz Allen and Nokia, I had the privilege to participate regularly in different types of leadership and management trainings. I enjoyed all of them, and each time I learned something new about leading myself and leading others. This time I was particularly curious to learn about the differences between supervising employees and volunteers.

Volunteer Management Training

The workshop covered a number of carefully selected volunteer management topics such as how to balance leadership and management, characteristics of an effective volunteer supervisor, how to use coaching effectively, how to identify your strengths, and how to use them as a supervisor of volunteers. The differences between supervising employees and volunteers turned out to be rather minor: after all, both employees and volunteers are human-beings, so you can’t go very wrong with an appreciative, organized and reliable approach.

Meeting people who work or volunteer in different parts of the American Red Cross was a big additional bonus. We had great conversations in small cross-functional teams on how to engage volunteers in satisfying and fulfilling work, how to keep them coming back, and how to deal with difficult situations.

My favorite part of the training was a strength identification exercise based on Bernard Haldane‘s theory of ‘dependable strengths’. Haldane created the theory in the late 1940s to support WWII veterans’ employment in civil jobs after the war. It turned out to work well also as a part of our training. The exercise takes only 7 minutes, but it can give you a whole new perspective to your strengths. If anyone wants to give it a go, please let me know!

International Humanitarian Law Training

When I signed up for a training on International Humanitarian Law (IHL), I had no idea how sadly topical it would be at the time of the training. The tragic flight MH17 was shot down in Ukraine the day before, and Israel had just sent ground troops into Gaza as a part of its Operation Protective Edge against Hamas, resulting to quickly rising death toll of Palestinian civilians. I was not completely unfamiliar with the rules of war before the training, but it was tremendously helpful to spend some time going through the details to be better equipped to understand what is going on.

In brief, International Humanitarian Law, also known “law of armed conflict”, is a set of rules which seek to limit the effects of armed conflict for humanitarian reasons. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols provide the foundation for the legal regime. These rules protect persons who are not or are no longer participating in hostilities, in other words civilians, prisoners of war, wounded soldiers, and also shipwrecked. They also restrict the means and methods of warfare, like weapons that cause deaths and injuries long after conflicts have ended.

101103 Story to Tell

IHL is widely adopted, not only by every nation, but also by many other armed groups and even private security companies. Why do all these parties respect IHL, or at least claim that they do? The list of reasons is long ranging from public opinion and military efficiency to reciprocity, ethical values, and “because it is the right thing to do“. However, like the recent examples from Ukraine and Gaza show, unfortunately the rules of war are not always followed, and innocent civilians become victims of armed conflicts.

The Red Cross movement works hard to raise the awareness of the rules of war by providing education for various audiences from military members and conscripts to teachers, school kids, and law and policy makers. The International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) is the only institution explicitly named under International Humanitarian Law as a controlling authority. In addition to promoting IHL, ICRC works tirelessly in conflict areas to alleviate human suffering by providing safe water, food and medical assistance, transmitting messages between separated family members, reuniting dispersed families, and visiting detainees. Knowing all this does not make me feel much less helpless hearing the horrible news from conflict areas, but at least it gives some hope.

Friend, Ally, Visionary

When I started my Fulbright project in September, one of the first colleagues that I met at the American Red Cross National Headquarters was a lady in charge of Tiffany Circle, a society of women leaders and philanthropists. I must have asked about the origins of the name as only moments later I found myself admiring the famous Tiffany windows with her in the Board of Governors Hall. That was the beginning of my journey to the world of donor engagement programs and donor recognition programs.

Casey Trees, an awesome organization that works in the DC area to restore, enhance and protect the tree canopy of the city, has an excellent example of a donor engagement program. They offer five membership levels with clearly defined benefits from priority registrations to classes to complimentary tickets to special events. A gift of $50 makes you a Friend, $100 an Ally, and $500 a Steward. Double this and with a gift of $1,000 you become a Protector. With a gift of $2,500, you get to call yourself a Visionary, and you get a personal guided tour of the Casey Tree Farm in Berryville, VA.

The donor recognition program of Zonta International Foundation is another text-book example: They recognize donors by pins ranging from a simple Bronze pin ($100) to a 15-stone Emerald pin ($175,000 lifetime donation). Additionally, major donors get invited to special Donor Receptions with the leadership of the organization during conventions.

Red Cross Square

American Red Cross offers an even wider variety of donor experiences and paths for individual major donors.  The Clara Barton Society recognizes individuals and families whose annual giving is $1,000-$10,000. The next recognition levels are Humanitarian Circle ($10,000-$25,000), Red Cross Leadership Society ($25,000-$100,000) and finally President’s Council ($100,000+). When cumulative lifetime giving to the American Red Cross exceeds $1 million, it is possible to become a member of the Chairman’s Council, and you can get your name engraved at the Red Cross Square.

In addition to these five recognition societies, the American Red Cross has two opt-in affinity groups that donors may choose to become a part of. Individuals who support the disaster relief mission of the American Red Cross with at least $10,000 annually may join the Humanitarian Circle-Disaster Supporter program. To name a few benefits these donors get, they can join disaster update calls with Red Cross Senior Management and take certain preparedness classes for free.

The other affinity group is the already mentioned Tiffany Circle. Women who donate at least $10,000 to the American Red Cross annually are eligible for membership. Additionally, the most generous Tiffany Circle donors with cumulative Tiffany Circle giving of over $100,000 or over $250,000 are recognized as Bonnie McElveen-Hunter (BMH) members and BMH Silver members respectively. Bonnie McElveen-Hunter is the current Chairman of the American Red Cross, the first female chairman in the history of the organization (and coincidentally also a former U.S. Ambassador to Finland!).

The annual highlight of the Tiffany Program is the Tiffany Circle Summit in Washington DC. This year the keynote speaker of the conference was Arianna Huffington, the founder of The Huffington Post. I had the privilege to volunteer in the event during the Saturday workshops and the luncheon. It was a brilliant learning experience to see how professionally the show was run and how even the smallest details had been thought through. As a by-product, I got my first introduction to the conference ribbon galore. These ribbons are small pieces of imprinted ribbon that attach with an adhesive strip to the bottom of the participant badge or to the bottom of the next ribbon in the chain. They are used for recognizing, identifying and acknowledging people and their achievements. In this case, all Tiffany Circle members had a ribbon of certain color, American Red Cross staff members of another color, BMH and BMH Silver members obviously had an additional ribbon, as had the event sponsors and speakers and so on. Some very prominent ladies had probably nearly ten ribbons!

Tiffany Circle Summit

Coming from Finland where modesty is one of the biggest virtues, it has been fascinating to discover all the different ways to recognize donors, some classier and some flashier. Back home it is common that people prefer not to show off their wealth, and in general the tolerance for bragging is very low. That might partially explain why in Finland there are very few donor engagement and recognition programs for individuals. Of course, one also needs to keep in mind that the individual giving in Finland is minuscule compared to the US. Traditionally, major gifts other than occasional bequests are rare, as people consider paying taxes as their main contribution for the society.

The standard practice among Finnish nonprofits seems to be to accept donations of any size from private persons. Additionally, it is common to offer an option to become a monthly donor. For example, the Finnish Red Cross, the Cancer Society of Finland, The Finnish Association for Nature Conservation, and The Baltic Sea Action Group have this type of a setup. None of them try to guide the donors to give a certain amount or state explicit incentives to increase the size of the donation to a higher level. Naturally it is implied that the more you give, the bigger difference you make.

I was able to find only one Finnish exception to this rule. That is CMI (Crisis Management Initiative), an organisation that works to resolve conflicts and to build sustainable peace, founded by the former President of Finland and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Martti Ahtisaari. In addition to being open for donations of any size, CMI offers an option of becoming a Premium Donor with an annual donation of €2,000. These donors get to be more intimately involved in the activities of CMI through regular meetings with staff, events, and tailored workshops. Networking opportunities with interesting people are also explicitly mentioned as an incentive to become a Premium Donor.

If you are familiar with any other Finnish nonprofits that offer donor recognition or engagement programs for private persons, I would love to hear of those.

Be Ready!

When I blogged about the “business areas” of the American Red Cross and the Finnish Red Cross, I promised to a dedicate a separate blog post for emergency preparedness. This important topic is often completely overlooked. Most of us are very gifted in perceiving emergencies as something that happens to others far away, not to ourselves in our own surroundings.

It is easy to come up with examples of times when simple preparations could have made a huge difference. House fires and medical emergencies impact families every day. Friends who lived in the DC area in August 2011 experienced an earthquake. Thousands of Finns were stranded without electricity during a harsh winter storm on the Boxing Day 2011.

Try to Stand Strong

The good news is that being prepared is not difficult. The American Red Cross recommends a 3-step approach: Get a kit, make a plan, be informed.

1) Get a survival kit: When leaving for a hike in the wilderness, it is a no-brainer to pack all kinds of emergency supplies, like some extra water and food, a cell phone, a flashlight, extra batteries, a Swiss army knife, a first aid kit, medication, copies of personal documents, and cash. To be properly prepared for disasters, similar supplies should be easily available also at home. Ideally you might want to have them packed in an easy-to-carry survival kit that you can use at home or take with you in case you must evacuate. Have a look at this check list to judge which level of preparedness feels right to you.

2) Make a disaster plan: Make a disaster plan together with your family. If you live alone, think through with whom to team up. Plan what to do in case you are separated during an emergency and how to contact and find each other. You may not be able to return to your home, so you should have a meeting point both near your home and outside your neighborhood. Also plan what to do if you have to evacuate. Remember that phones may work only sporadically or not at all. An out-of-area emergency contact can be of great help during a disaster.

3) Be informed: Learn which disasters or emergencies are most likely to impact you. Then find out how authorities share information on disasters. Next learn to how to protect yourself and be prepared. This is important to do also while travelling, as you may face disasters that you are not familiar with when you are away from home. You might also want to get trained in first aid and CPR. Finally, share your learnings with people around you to be able to work seamlessly together if a disaster occurs.

Dreams to Achieve

If emergency preparedness is a completely new concept for you, all of the above may feel overwhelming and/or paranoid. Start from something concrete and easy to implement: Print out and fill in an emergency contact card, and make a habit of carrying it with you. This information may come handy not only in case of a major disaster but also in other types of emergencies, like traffic accidents. I want to encourage especially all my runner and cyclist friends to do this. Road ID is a nice fancy option, but a simple piece of paper works just fine, too.

If you live or travel in the US, also check out the awesome American Red Cross mobile apps (available for iPhone and Android). These apps alert you of natural hazards, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods, and provide useful information on how to deal with them. At the time of a disaster, you can use these apps to check the locations of the nearest American Red Cross shelters. Similarly, iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone users back home in Finland should check out the great free first aid app by the Finnish Red Cross.

From Hurricanes and Earthquakes to CV Tips for Babysitters

The Red Cross is one of the best-known brands in the world. During the past year, I have discovered how diverse associations it brings to mind for different people. Some think of alleviating human suffering in developing countries: starving children, natural catastrophes, and war. They are surprised to learn that the Red Cross has lots of domestic activities both in Finland and the US. For others, the Red Cross may be a synonym for blood collection or first aid training. They may not be at all familiar with the strong international link. The range of activities by national Red Cross societies is indeed very wide. In addition to humanitarian aid in armed conflicts and natural disasters, they have taken on additional humanitarian tasks that vary greatly by country.

This post summarizes the five “business areas” of the American Red Cross, and compares those to the activities of the Finnish Red Cross.

1) Disaster Relief: The American Red Cross responds to approximately 70,000 disasters in the US annually. The disasters range from home fires and traffic accidents to hurricanes and earthquakes. Working in close cooperation with government agencies, the Red Cross provides shelter, food, health and mental health services to help families and entire communities get back on their feet. Right now the American Red Cross is helping out in responding to the horrible Oso mudslide. The Finnish Red Cross provides similarly emergency assistance in domestic disasters and accidents.

2) Lifesaving Blood: Similarly to the Finnish Red Cross Blood Service, the American Red Cross collects, processes and distributes blood and blood products. 132,000 people donate blood through the Finnish Red Cross annually, and nearly 4 million through the American Red Cross. The Red Cross market share is 100% in Finland and about 40% in the US, making the American Red Cross the nation’s largest blood collection organization. The Finnish Red Cross Blood Service also maintains the Finnish Stem Cell Registry (previously Bone Marrow Donor Registry) that contains the details of people who have volunteered to donate blood stem cells to a patient needing them, like someone fighting leukemia. In the US, a similar registry is kept by a nonprofit called Be The Match, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program® (NMDP). Nonetheless, also that program took off from an American Red Cross office in St. Paul, Minnesota, in the late 1980s.

Isn't It Wonderful?

3) Preparedness, Health and Safety: For many Finns, first aid training is one of the best-known activities of the Finnish Red Cross. The American Red Cross offers an even wider selection of educational programs on preparedness, health, and safety. Naturally first aid, CPR and AED classes are offered, and also pet first aid courses are available! Additionally, the American Red Cross trains for example lifeguards and babysitters. Babysitter training is taken care of by the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare (MLL) instead of the Finnish Red Cross. However, the origins of the Finnish Red Cross and MLL are actually intertwined. As a curiosity, I need to mention that the minimum age for MLL babysitters is 16 years, whereas the American Red Cross targets 11-15-year-olds. Here the babysitter training includes topics such as leadership skills and styles, as well as CV and business card tips! The American Red Cross puts a lot of effort also in the emergency preparedness of homes, schools and workplaces. This topic deserves a separate post in the near future.

4) Service to the Armed Forces: The Red Cross movement originated around the need to help wounded warriors. The American Red Cross continues to support military members, veterans and their family members by offering them communications services, comfort, and training how to prepare for, and deal with the challenges of military service. For example, in case of death or serious illness of a family member, or birth of a military member’s child, the Red Cross will deliver the military member a notification no matter where he or she is deployed. Fortunately there is currently no need for most of these services at the Finnish Defense Forces, but the Finnish Red Cross cooperates with the army in many ways. For example, the conscripts are an active blood donor group.

Saluting the Cyclists

5) International Services: The American Red Cross works with the global Red Cross and Red Crescent network to respond to disasters, and build safer communities globally. It deploys disaster experts to the field when necessary, mobilizes relief supplies, ranging from blankets to hygiene supplies, contributes financially to support the local purchase and delivery of relief supplies, and reconnects family members that have got separated by war or disaster. Educating the American public on international humanitarian law is also an integral part of the activities. The international relief and development programs of the Finnish Red Cross resemble a lot those of the American Red Cross.

The operations of the Finnish Red Cross cover also a few areas in which the American Red Cross is not involved. One of these areas close to my heart are the so-called volunteer friend visitors. The Finnish Red Cross acts as an intermediary between volunteers who want devote their time in visiting people who might otherwise feel lonely and those looking for additional human contact and support. The volunteers spend time with elderly people, youth, disabled persons, recovering mental health patients, immigrants, and inmates. Also my voluntary work at the Helsinki Mother and Child Home was a part of this program. Another additional major effort by the Finnish Red Cross is coordinating the Voluntary Rescue Service which is in a critical role in supporting authorities in search-and-rescue operations.

Rest assured that all this is still overwhelming even for me. Fortunately there is a wise guy to turn to only half a mile away from my office (and I do not refer to Obama this time).
The Einstein Memorial

Charity Hack of the Week?

Anyone who has ever worked in an open office knows that at times things can get a little crazy. Last week one of those super noisy days prompted me to finally order a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, potentially the best invention since the wheel. Ordering them was the first time when I had a chance to test AmazonSmile. That turned out to be very simple: American Red Cross was featured on the spotlight charity list, so selecting it to be supported by Amazon on behalf of me required just one click.


The difference between the regular Amazon ( and AmazonSmile ( is that when customers shop on AmazonSmile, the AmazonSmile Foundation donates 0.5% of the price of eligible purchases to a charitable organization selected by the customer. The assortment, pricing and look-and-feel are identical on both websites, so the only trick really is to remember to place the orders via the right link. Hence if you use Chrome as your browser, you might want to download the Smile Always extension that makes sure that you always remember to smile.

There are as many as almost one million charities to choose from, including my other favorites Washington Area Bicyclist Association, Grassroots Reconciliation Group, and The Mentor Foundation. For now, only charities that are U.S. based and qualified under Section 501(c)(3) are eligible program participants. Organizations that want to learn more about benefiting from AmazonSmile can find more information here.


Like one would expect, AmazonSmile has also faced a fare amount of critisism since it was launched last fall. To begin with, 0.5% is not very much: To get Amazon to donate $50, you would need to spend $10,000. Then again, as the donation comes from Amazon’s pocket, and Amazon also pays the operating costs of the AmazonSmile Foundation, it comes with no (direct) cost to the consumer or the charity. There may be indirect implications, though. Even if the prices are not higher on AmazonSmile compared to the regular Amazon, it is easy to claim that in the end customers pay the donations as a hidden markup in regular pricing.

For charities, a detrimental side effect may be that people feel so good about shopping though AmazonSmile that they are less likely to donate directly. The MIT students who developed the Smile Always extension share the concern and have a valid wish: “While we encourage everyone who shops at Amazon to use this extension, we hope you will also find other ways to contribute to charitable causes you care about by directly donating your dollars, skills, and time.”


Despite all the complexities related to charitable actions, there are lots of reasons to smile. Like spring, for example, that formally started yesterday. After yet another snow day on Monday, the temperature is forecasted to rise close to 20’C/70’F tomorrow. Have a great weekend, all, and smile like a cookie from Hanko!

Learn to Save Lives and Get a Free Drink

Just before leaving for the Christmas break in Finland, I participated in an Adult & Pediatric First Aid, CPR & AED class, naturally organized by the American Red Cross. The previous time that I took a first aid class must have been in the mid 90s, so it was about the time to refresh my knowledge and learn the latest guidance. I was also curious to see if there are any differences between first aid training in Finland and the US. Additionally, the legislation was of interest to me. Lawsuits and liability issues are such a big deal in America that it must have an impact on the first aid protocols as well.


Indeed, the class started by addressing legislation. I learned that in DC a Good Samaritan law offers legal protection to people who give reasonable assistance to those who are injured, ill, in peril, or otherwise incapacitated. As long as you act in good faith without expecting anything in return, use common sense, do not exceed your capabilities, and ask the patient for a permission to help, you’ll be fine. (If the patient is unconscious or otherwise unable to respond, the permission to help is implied.) These are the rules in DC, but there are states where people trying to help can be held liable in case something goes wrong. This understandably but unfortunately discourages people from getting involved in emergencies at all. In Finland, the logic is very different: The Finnish Rescue act explicitly stipulates “a duty to rescue as a general duty to act and engage in rescue activities according to their abilities“. In other words, back home the possible crime is not trying to help rather than not being successful in helping.

Having covered the legal issues, we spent the rest of the day practising standard first aid procedures and learning about different kinds of emergencies one may come across. The list of types of injuries and illnesses that we managed to cover was surprisingly long: seizures, strokes, heart attacks, fractures, bleeding, poisoning, choking… The steps to be followed in case of an emergency were repeated over and over again to develop a routine: check the scene for safety, check for responsiveness of a person who appears to be unconscious, call 911, open the airway and check for breathing, scan for severe bleeding and then give care based on the conditions found.


One of the highlights was naturally training CPR both with adult and baby manikins. In the current guidelines, the cycles of CPR consist of 30 chest compressions followed by 2 rescue breaths. This had clearly changed since my previous first aid class. Also the use of gloves and breathing barriers was highlighted much more than I remember having been the case in the 90s – which is of course good for the safety of the person giving first aid and CPR. Then again, one thing that had not changed at all was the fact that all the CPR training manikins are still called Anne!

Another highlight of the day was getting introduced to AED. That was totally new for me, and before the class I did not even know that the abbreviation stands for Automatic Electronic Defibrallator. For some reason I had had a very mystified mental image of defribrallators. Now I know that there is nothing mysterious about them. They are actually pretty simple devices with only a couple of buttons and two sticky pads. The device even gives voice instructions on what to do. I would claim that defibrallators are actually much simpler and easier to use than navigators, avalanche beacons, or even just smartphones, so no one should be afraid of using a defibrallator. Of course it still makes a huge difference to have had practised using one before a real emergency.


It is amazing how much one can learn in only 7 hours. Ideally first aid, CPR & AED skills are something to be practiced on a regular basis of course, and there is always more to learn. Regardless, even in just one day you can learn so much of the basics that you already have a great chance to save someone’s life. In just one day! Hence I strongly encourage all of you to include a first aid class to your new year’s resolutions. You can sign up through this link in Finland and through this one in the US. I promise to buy a beer or another drink of choice to anyone of you who completes a class before May 1, 2014.

A Little Bit of History & Visiting Clara

Despite being involved with the Red Cross since a kid, I did not know too much of its 150-year-long history before my Fulbright project. Of course I was familiar with the name Henry Dunant, the Swiss businessman known as the founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1863, but that was about it. Learning more about the history of the organization and how it intertwines with world politics has been fascinating.

When I started to read more about the Red Cross history, I soon realized that strong women played key roles in the early days of the organization. Even Henry Dunant himself commented that “it is to an English woman that all the honour of that Geneva Convention is due”, referring to Florence Nightingale. Nightingale’s heroic work during the Crimean War (1853-1856) to improve the care of sick and wounded soldiers was great inspiration for Dunant. Later, Nightingale initiated the foundation of the British Red Cross in 1870. In Finland, Countess Aline Armfelt was the driving force behind the foundation of the Finnish Red Cross (originally known as ‘the Association for the Treatment of the Wounded and Sick Soldiers’) in 1877.

The American Red Cross was founded in 1881 by Clara Barton (1821–1912). Based on the biographies, she sounds like quite a character: “a renaissance woman” who seemed to excel in anything she did, despite being very shy and living in a society where women were all but encouraged to work outside home. In her early professional life, Clara Barton first pioneered as a teacher, and then worked in the Patent Office, becoming one of the first women to gain employment in the federal government. During the Civil War, Barton risked her life to bring supplies and support to soldiers in the field, getting the nick name “Angel of the Battlefield”. At the time of founding the American Red Cross, she was already 60 years old and had a notable career behind her, but that did not stop her from leading the organization for 23 years, until the age of 83! Even after that she remained active and founded the National First Aid Society that later became part of the Red Cross.

Clara Barton was originally from Massachusetts. In 1855 she moved to DC for the first time due to her work in the Patent office, and since then she lived and worked on and off in the area. Hence here are several interesting sights commemorating her and her work. One of them is Clara Barton’s Missing Soldier’s Office on the 7th Street NW where Clara Barton lived and worked from 1861 to 1868. The site is currently undergoing restoration and hence closed to public, but the restoration should be finalized in spring, so I hope to be able to visit it still before my Fulbright year is over. 

The last 15 years of her life Clara Barton spent in Glen Echo, Maryland. When I heard that her house can be visited year round, I planned a bike trip there right away. And what a memorable bike trip it was: I had never before biked in 17-18 m/s wind combined with a sub-zero temperature! But it was well worth it, as the guided tour in the house was pretty interesting. For example, I learned that Clara Barton’s favorite drink was milk – so she would have made a good Finn! I also learned that Clara Barton’s home served as an early headquarters of the American Red Cross. (My workplace, the current headquarters was finalized only in 1917.) Interestingly, also the volunteers lived on the site, mainly to save travel time. That made me think if I should propose a similar arrangement either to my boss or to the current president of the American Red Cross…

WP_20131124_024Clara Barton’s home in Glen Echo, Maryland

WP_20131124_018Volunteers’ office in Glen Echo in early 1900s

WP_20131127_002A volunteer’s office in Downtown DC in 2013

WP_20131124_011A volunteer’s bedroom in Glen Echo in early 1900s

WP_20131024_003A volunteer’s bedroom in Columbia Heights in 2013

Devastation beyond Comprehension, and How You Can Help

It was literally calm before the storm when I visited the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in New York City last week. Before my visit, it had been rather unclear to me what exactly is the role of IFRC in relation to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). I learned that – very simply put – IFRC focuses on helping victims of natural disasters, whereas ICRC assists people affected by armed conflicts. National Red Cross and Red Crescent societies work to mitigate human suffering in their own geographies, and support each other, IFRC and ICRC.


On November 8, only four days after my visit to the IFRC, Typhoon Haiyan, locally known as Yolanda, hit the Philippines. High winds, torrential rain and storm surge caused devastation beyond comprehension. The scale of the catastrophe is daunting: Almost 12 million people are affected, 2.5 million are estimated to be in need of food assistance, and nearly 1 million people are displaced. 4000-5000 people have lost their lives according to the latest reports. The typhoon has been described even as “perhaps the strongest storm ever to make landfall in recorded history”.

The power of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement gives hope even when facing a natural disaster of this magnitude. The global Red Cross network is responding to the emergency needs in the Philippines with food, water, and relief supplies. 1,000 staff members and an estimated 500,000 active volunteers of the Philippine Red Cross are engaged in disaster response. National Red Cross societies, including the Finnish Red Cross and the American Red Cross, provide financial assistance, and are additionally lending people, expertise and equipment.

So how can we all help? Online donations to support the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan can be made easily at the dedicated donation sites of the Finnish Red Cross and the American Red Cross. In both countries you can also donate by SMS: In Finland, text the word SPR to 16499 (15 EUR). In the US, text the word TYPHOON to 90999 (10 USD). For more ways to help, have a look at this excellent article by CNN.

Fall in DC

“What’s in It for Me?”

In my previous post, I started to open up what I am actually working on over here. Based on the initial feedback from probably my most devoted readers, my parents, I still have quite some work to do to demystify it. This time I will continue by sharing more about the CRM tool selected by the American Red Cross, Salesforce. Some of you may have come across Salesforce earlier this year when it topped the list of The World’s Most Innovative Companies by Forbes. Salesforce has an impressive list of public references, mainly corporate clients but also a few nonprofit users, including Kiva and us

Salesforce is an internet-based service that allows logging in to the CRM tool through a web browser, on any device with internet access, without installing anything. At the Red Cross, the goal is that after Salesforce is deployed in the fundraising context, it will give fundraisers a complete picture of their donors, including contact information, preferences, affiliations, and activity history. This data can then be used by both front-line fundraisers and leadership to manage relationships with donors. In addition to managing the donor portfolio, other key areas of functionality are planning fundraising activities as well as solicitation strategies, and tracking asks and gifts. Additionally, the tool supports managing fundraising performance and reporting history data.

090928 Big Brother

Due to the performance management dimension of Salesforce and the increased transparency to fundraising activities, some users have started to refer to Salesforce with the nick name “Big Brother” tool. Like the saying goes, a beloved child has many names. If you ask me, though, this is a somewhat unfair interpretation of the situation. The tool provides numerous benefits for all the stakeholder groups, not only for the leadership:

  • Donors will receive more relevant communication with tailored content through the most convenient contact methods and at the right time. Systematically using Salesforce will enable a more coordinated American Red Cross interface towards donors building on prior interactions.
  • For fundraisers, the tool is a practical way to manage their donor portfolio, stay on top of fundraising activities, and have a holistic view on asks and gifts. It will support a streamlined way of working, improved internal collaboration and efficient virtual account teams. For example, taking over accounts and acting as a deputy during becomes easier when information on the donors is stored comprehensively and securely. Finally, enhanced prospect identification through analysis that builds on Salesforce data is another arising opportunity towards better fundraising results.
  • Finally, leadership will get more accurate, meaningful and actionable reporting that helps them to focus on the right things and support the fundraisers in the best possible way. More realistic projections of expected revenue will support financial planning.

As a reward for bearing with me to the end of the post, here’s a photo that hopefully will bring a smile to your face. This fellow was hanging out at the access badge reader one morning, to welcome me back to continue my journey in the world of fundraising, I guess.

130912 Visitor from the Ice Age