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

Points for a Good Cause

Earlier this week I received an email from Finnair notifying that nearly 14,000 of my Finnair Plus frequent flyer points were about to expire in the end of this month. I contacted Finnair right away to try my luck of getting award flights for Miami (or to New Orleans or almost anywhere) for this weekend. The only available routing to Miami was via Heathrow and all the other flights were full. So much about a spontaneous weekend trip to celebrate the midpoint of my Fulbright year…

After realizing that my points would have been worth only a little more than an Angry Birds mug or an overpriced umbrella in the Finnair Plus Shop, I was delighted to learn that I was also able to donate the points for the Finnish Red Cross. If you are facing a similar issue with even a small number of points expiring, check this out! In addition to the Red Cross, you can support e.g. Baltic Sea Action Group or UNICEF.

And why did travelling to Florida feel like such a good idea all of a sudden? After enjoying nice warm weather with temperatures up to +17’C here last weekend, we got more snow on Tuesday and Wednesday, and it was -10’C again this morning. To be honest, the spring person inside me would be ready for the cherry blossom already.

White House in Week 8

White House on February 19, 2014

White House in Week 9

White House on February 25, 2014

Why the Red Cross?

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.