As a Zontian in DC and Orlando

Had I not ended up with the American Red Cross, I would have spent my Fulbright year at the Zonta International Headquarters in Chicago. Often the easiest way to explain what Zonta International is about is to say that it is like Rotary or Lions Clubs, but (originally) for women. The official story goes like this: Founded in 1919, Zonta International is a global organization of executives and professionals working together to advance the status of women worldwide through service and advocacy. With more than 30,000 members belonging to more than 1,200 Zonta Clubs in 63 countries and geographic areas, Zontians all over the world volunteer their time, talents and support to local and international service projects, as well as scholarship programs. Zonta International, its districts and its clubs are nonsectarian and nonpartisan.

Even if DC was my destiny instead of Chicago, I was able to get involved with the American activities of Zonta International a little bit as well. The Zonta Club of Washington, D.C. welcomed me to their dinner meetings with open arms. I have been a member of one of the Finnish clubs, Zonta Club of Helsinki 1, since 2008, but this was the first time I attended a meeting of another club. It was fascinating to see how they operate, and I made a lot of notes about ideas that could benefit our club. For example, the website of the DC club is an excellent benchmark for our club. I also loved the fact that PayPal was used actively for dinner payments, reducing the need for handling cash in the meetings.

In addition to getting to know Zontians in DC, I attended the Zonta International Orlando Convention 2014 in Florida as one of the two official delegates of our Finnish club. Zonta conventions take place every other year. Thousands of Zontians from around the world gather to make decisions regarding the goals of the next biennium and to elect the new Zonta International officials. I had been told that one truly understands what Zonta is about only after attending a convention. This is definitely a valid point. The event made it very concrete how extensive and powerful the Zonta activities are on the global level. At the same time it was a serious reminder how much there remains to be done to advance the status of women. Below are my highlights and remarks of the Orlando convention.

Thursday June 26 

I arrived at the convention site already the day before the actual convention started. This turned out to be quite lucky, because a management training workshop aimed at the future Vice Governors and Club Presidents was opened to anyone interested last minute. The workshop on “Effective Conflict Resolution in Organizations” was an excellent way to spend the afternoon with ladies from all corners of the world from Hawaii to Germany and Chile. The trainers walked us through different collaboration and decision-making styles and made it easy to see how differences in these sometimes may make club activities (or life in general) challenging.

Workshop on Handling Difficult Situations

The convention took place at the grandiose Orlando World Center Marriott, also known as “the luxury prison” as a Dutch Zontian put it. There was no way to leave the resort without a cab or a rental car. One of the highlights of the life in the prison were the gorgeous sunsets seen from the balcony of our cell. Later at night we could also see the Disney World fireworks at the distance.

Orlando Sunset

Friday June 27:

The theme for Friday was delegate training which was particularly helpful for us who were attending a convention for the first time. There is more to learn about parliamentary decision-making among thousands of women than one might think. It was very helpful to get an introduction to the hierarchy of different rules and procedures that regulate Zonta activities on international, district and club levels. At the convention, the focus is on the international bylaws that are like the constitution of the organization.

The decision-making process follows Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised. In a lot of cases the first vote is about the decision-making method. If a change is proposed to the original proposal, there may be a vote on the formulation of the proposed change. Finally, there is a vote between the original proposal and the proposed amendment. This opens up interesting opportunities for smart meeting tactics. Unfortunately, it also leaves plenty of room for human error. It seemed pretty clear that not all participants understood enough English and/or Boolean algebra to be able to stay on top of what was being voted at each moment.

In practice, most decision-making happens by electronic voting. The voting machines are super simple small devices, but when you put them in the hands of ladies of all ages with different cultural backgrounds, there is no such thing as super simple. Quite a lot of time was spent practicing the use of devices. Even the technology provider was struggling with all the troubleshooting as it is not common even for them to have several thousand people voting simultaneously.


The official Opening Ceremony of the conversation served as a walk-through of the history of Zonta International at the same time: The flags of all Zonta countries and territories were carried to the stage in the order of years when the first Zonta club was founded in each area. The keynote speaker was Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and the Executive Director of UN Women, who thanked Zonta International for our continuous support of the mission and work of UN Women. Seeing thousands of women from around the world in the same huge ball room, many dressed up in their beautiful national costumes, like the Zambian women below, made it very concrete how global the organization is.

Opening Ceremony

After the Opening Ceremony we managed to escape the prison for a moment and took a cab to a nearby Walmart. Together with my partner in crime, the other delegate of our Finnish club and my convention roommate, we stocked up with healthier, tastier, and more reasonably priced breakfast and snack items than anything that was available at the hotel. With sneaky smiles on our face returned to our prison with our catch, and created a temporary minibar extension out of a champagne cooler and loads of ice cubes.

Saturday June 28:

Our Saturday morning started with the Zonta Rose 5K Run/Walk. The start was already 6AM, as the run course circled around the Marriott golf course. For safety reasons, we needed to be out of the way before a golf tournament started. As Orlando is very hot and humid in June, I did not mind the early wake-up and slightly cooler temperature at all. A good number of Zontians had decided to join the fun. The total funds raised for Zonta International Foundation with the event were more than $45,000.

Zonta Rose 5K

Later during the day, it was finally time to start the actual business sessions of the convention. The first one consisted of all kinds of formalities: recognizing the 2012-2014 leadership team, voting to approve the standing rules, accepting the convention program by unanimous consent, and listening to the reports of the president, treasurer, and secretary. The remaining business sessions were spent listening to the speeches of the 2014-2016 leadership candidates. Apparently, this part of the program has traditionally been always running late, but not this year: The microphones were strictly muted after each candidate had used their allocated slot (2-3 minutes depending on the position the candidate was applying for). I could immediately see loads of use cases for this type simple and brilliant technology in multiple other areas of life as well.

Zonta International Convention 2014

As the business sessions did not run late against all expectations, all of a sudden we had some free time at our hands. Completely unexpected in the middle of the action-packed convention agenda! As many Zontians who had flown to the convention all the way from Finland were very keen on doing some shopping, it was time to escape the prison again and head to an outlet mall for some Orlando style quality time.

Sunday June 29:

We spent practically the entire Sunday in the dungeon, the same huge dimly-lit ball room that did not only host the opening ceremony but actually pretty much all the other activities as well. The day started with the elections of the 2014-2016 Zonta International officers, directors and nominating committee. Luckily the voting devices worked just fine despite the technical challenges during the Friday practice.

Next, we got to enjoy three excellent speeches given by Jane M. Klausman, Young Women in Public Affairs and Amelia Earhart scholarship recipients. Who would’ve thought that someone can give an unforgettably fascinating speech about space debris? Well, that’s what the aerospace PhD candidate Laura Suarez Henderson did! No wonder these young ladies had scored the scholarships.

Then we moved into the most serious and notorious business sessions of the convention, the bylaws. The Zonta International leadership and headquarters staff had put in a major effort in going through the bylaws in detail prior to the convention. Hence there was a record high number of proposed changes. The guiding principle of the proposals was to streamline the actual bylaws by moving unnecessary details to manuals that can be updated with less bureaucracy also between conventions. Several delegates considered each such change as a presumptuous attempt to shift power from the convention to the international leadership. This led to fiery discussions on even the most trivial sounding proposals. For a convention first-timer, it was quite confusing to see that a number of delegates were so passionate about the bylaws that they even lost their temper during the business sessions. And it was equally confusing that there were a number of proposals from local clubs to include very specific practical details that happened to be important to them to the international bylaws. Seeing this side of the parliamentary process was very eye-opening and educational. Fortunately, the voting results still reflected that the majority of the delegates understood the big picture, picked their battles, and had lots of common sense.

Voting Procedures

Monday June 30:

As so many delegates had wanted to have a say about the bylaws on Sunday, the conversation had to be continued for hours on Monday as well. After loads of debate, all the revisions to the bylaws were completed on Monday evening. In the end, there were only a few very significant changes. Echoing the words that a frustrated elderly Australian Zontian said in the elevator, maybe all the drama around the bylaws was not the best use of the time of professional women that had flown in from all over the world.

The lengthy bylaws debate unfortunately meant that the delegates missed the workshops that I had very much looked forward to. The workshop on Philanthropy and Women would have been very relevant for my Fulbright project, and attending the Women in Leadership workshop led by Marilyn Waring would have been an honor as such. Luckily, her excellent keynote speech remained on the agenda despite the schedule changes. This impressive woman, the Professor of Public Policy at Auckland University of Technology, was as elected in the New Zealand parliament as the youngest woman at the age of 23. She has made an incredible career as a politician and activist for female human rights and environmental issues. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize as a part of the 1000 Peace Women initiative. Together with American Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams, Marilyn Waring definitely belongs to the top of the list of the most inspiring persons that I came across during my Fulbright year.

Marilyn Waring

Even if I missed the Philanthropy and Women workshop, the convention gave a lot of perspective to that topic as well. In addition to the Zonta Rose 5K Run/Walk, there was another major fundraising effort during the convention as well. The Zonta International Foundation had a booth at the convention site giving the convention participants an opportunity to make their first gifts of the 2014-2016 biennium in person and with instant gratification. The concept was that donors got a blue “I Gave” sticker for each $25 donated during the convention. These stickers were then placed on the district leader boards that were kept visible in the lobby to trigger competition between districts on which one had given most. Additionally, donors also got an official Orlando “I Gave” pin that they were able to wear right away. Nearly $170,000 were raised by sticker sales. Astonishing, isn’t it?

Sticker Fundraising

Tuesday July 1:

The very last business sessions of the convention focused on confirming the plans for the next two years. The newly elected Zonta International President Maria Jose Landeira Oestergaard introduced the proposed Biennial Goals 2014-2016 that focus on conviction, commitment, and courage. After the endless debate during the preceding days, it was incredible that 100% of the votes supported this proposal. The following International Service Programs and ZISVAW Programs (Zonta International Strategies to end Violence against Women) were confirmed for the next biennium:

  • Eliminating Obstetric Fistula in Liberia in partnership with UNFPA
  • HIV-Free Generation in Rwanda in partnership with US Fund for UNICEF
  • Gender Responsive Schools in Vietnam in partnership with UN Trust Fund
  • Delaying Early Marriage in Niger in partnership with UNFPA
  • Voices Against Violence in 12 Countries in partnership with UN Women

To learn more about these projects and other topics of the Orlando Convention, please check out these materials and highlights.

President Maria Jose

After blessing the plans for the next biennium, we finally had some time to enjoy the glamorous pool area of our luxury prison and try out the thrilling water slide. I even managed to find a deserted indoor pool where I was able to swim a couple of laps before heading to the gym to spend a few moments on a stationary bike and a treadmill. My modest attempt to get at least some triathlon training done during the convention! Then it was already time to get ready for the fancy Closing Banquet and Installation Ceremony.

Closing Banquet

In the traditional Installation Ceremony old and new international and district leaders gathered on the stage. The new President Maria Jose Landeira Oestergaard gave her inaugural speech. The President for the Biennium 2012-2014 Lynn McKenzie became a “PIP”, a Past International President. PIPs enjoy a special status and rights, e.g. they have the right to vote in Zonta conventions without being club delegates. For me personally, it was touching to see these ladies on the stage as they both were very supportive during my Fulbright application process. (I even met up with Lynn McKenzie in Wellington in January 2013!) In addition to the Installation Ceremony and the delicious dinner, the ultimate highlight of the Closing Banquet was a spectacular performance by Cirque du Soleil.

Delegates Posing

Wednesday July 2:

If you have a free morning in Orlando before heading back home, what is the most culturally appropriate thing to do? Visit the Disney World, of course! It is not quite as straightforward as one might think, though, but luckily there are articles like 101 Great Disney World Tips that help you get oriented. Our strategy was to head straight to the Magic Kingdom and be there a little before the park opens. The plan worked beautifully, and we started our visit by witnessing the arrival of Minnie, Mickey & co to the park by a small train.

Minnie & Mickey

Then as soon as the gates opened, we more or less ran to our top priority attraction, Space Mountain, and got to hop on this insane roller coaster practically without any waiting in line. Later during the day we got our share of that as well, though. But still it was a positive surprise to be able to squeeze in several additional rides as well, like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Finally after getting a chance to pose wearing Minnie Mouse ears, I could really feel that my Orlando experience was complete.

Minnie in the Disney World

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.

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!

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

Turkey Trot and Friendsgiving Feast

Thanksgiving is one of the most important American holidays, “a day of giving thanks for the blessing of the harvest and of the preceding year”. The history of Thanksgiving in the United States dates back to 1621 when the pilgrims who came over from England and landed on Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts celebrated their first successful harvest with the native Americans. Although that feast was technically the first Thanksgiving, it became an annual celebration only much later. In 1941, Thanksgiving was made a federal holiday and fixed to the fourth Thursday of November. Thanksgiving is often said to be an even more important family celebration than Christmas, and the eagerness to get families together really shows at the airports and roads: Wednesday before Thanksgiving and Sunday after it are the busiest travel days of the entire year.

Many people have asked me if this was my first Thanksgiving. Actually this was already my third one in the US. Additionally I had an opportunity to join a terrific Thanksgiving meal cooked by a friend from New York in Helsinki a few years ago. My first Thanksgiving took place in San Francisco already in 2002 when I was on my way home after an exchange semester in New Zealand. I had never been to the US before, and only while reading Lonely Planet on a flight from Fidzi did I realize that due to crossing the dateline I would actually arrive in the US on the Thanksgiving Day. So, as it happens, I got my first turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce meal with my Thanksgiving rookie friends from New Zealand and Australia only a few hours after immigration. How legendary! A sadder memory of that evening was seeing numerous homeless people sleeping on the otherwise totally deserted streets while we walked back to the hotel.

In 2007, I visited an expat friend of mine in Los Angeles. We drove down to San Diego for Thanksgiving. McCormick & Schmicks was one of the few places that was open. I remember most vividly their amazing pumpkin and pecan pies, as well as the crazy Black Friday shopping adventure that followed the dinner. An outlet mall in San Ysidro by the Mexican border opened at midnight. When we arrived, the parking lot was so full that we could not find legal parking. What we thought was a creative solution turned out not to have pleased the officials, as when we returned to the car at 5am with our catch, the car had been towed away! Several additional creative ideas were needed before we were happily reunited with the car, including hanging out at a 24h Walmart for a few hours to stay warm. Somehow we sorted it all out, even despite the fact that my friend had forgotten her driving license and all of the car’s documents at the hotel, meaning that we only had the car keys to prove that the car belonged to us. This is how memories are made, I guess, and this is how I learnt what a fire lane is…


This time I started the Thanksgiving Day by waking up ridiculously early to participate in a turkey trot in the sunny but chilly November morning. Turkey trots are fun runs/walks that are held on or around Thanksgiving Day to raise funds for local charities and to burn off calories in the anticipation of indulgent Thanksgiving feasts. When I heard about this tradition, it was a no-brainer to sign-up. In DC, the turkey trot is organized by SOME (So Others Might Eat), an interfaith, community-based organization that provides the poor and homeless of the city with food, clothing, and health care. In addition to being my first turkey trot, SOME’s 12th Annual Thanksgiving Day Trot for Hunger 5K also got to be my first race on this continent. It felt great to run, even more so for a good cause, and chasing fellow participants dressed as turkeys was unforgettable.

Being curious to see and learn how the fundraising practicalities were organized was a big part of my motivation to take part in the event. I wanted to collect new ideas for similar events in Finland. This year there were ~10,000 participants, and a total of nearly $0.5 million was raised. The registration fee was $30-$35 per person. Most of the additional funds must have been raised through personalized Turkey Trot websites that were set up for each participant/team as a part of the registration process.  SOME also listed a few additional fundraising tips, and encouraged participants to share tips with each other on social media. Naturally sponsors were in a crucial role in the event, too. The list of sponsors was impressive, indeed.


After recovering from the morning run and completing a surprisingly hassle-free cooking operation, it was time to head to my “second home” for a Thanksgiving dinner – or Friendsgiving, as it was called in this case. Although Thanksgiving is primarily a family celebration, there are always Thanksgiving orphans who are too far away from family to join them or choose to stay in DC for other reasons. My friends welcomed me to join a special dinner where a group of orphans gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving together. We even had “foster parents” as a friend’s parents were visiting from Ohio and joined the dinner.

Saying grace before starting the dinner was exactly like in a movie, and then it was time to dig into the food. The super tasty turkey was the star of the meal, of course. Additionally, there was (at least) mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, sweet potato casserole, barbecue chicken, pork chops, stuffed mushrooms, deviled eggs, dinner rolls, cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, and apple quinoa pudding, my new signature dish. For dessert, we had a classic pumpkin pie, an apple crumble pie, a blackberry pie, a frozen sweetheart cake, and ultimate killer brownies. What a feast! Everything was so delicious that I am sure the calorie intake must have exceeded the number of calories burned during the 5K run big time, maybe 10 times?

131128 Thanksgiving

The non-food related highlights of the Friendsgiving evening included hearing funny childhood stories shared by the “foster parents”, learning about the goals and activities of Peacecorps, and playing Catch Phrase. Catch Phrase is a word guessing game that resembles Taboo, as well as Alias that used to be hugely popular in Finland. Catch Phrase is even more intense than Alias, though, due to the constantly beeping electronic timer that the player who is giving the clues has to hold until the team mates guess the right answer. Only then can the player pass the timer on to the opponents. Teams take turns until the time is out, and the team that is not in the possession of the timer when that happens gets a point. Such a simple concept, so much laughter, and a great way for me to learn new English phrases!

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

Feeling like Chandler

When I’m asked what I do at the American Red Cross, I typically answer that I work on fundraising performance management and process development. This is the easy part. But when I try to explain my project in more detail often makes me feel like Chandler whose friends do not understand his profession. (I suppose this is quite common for knowledge workers of our time actually.) In this post, I will give it a go anyway, by starting to describe the concepts that I work on.

As mentioned, my work focuses on fundraising – or development, like it is commonly referred to here. I contribute to a customer relationship management (CRM) project. In the corporate world, CRM has been a buzzword for years, yet there is no standard definition for the concept. Wikipedia defines CRM as “a model for managing a company’s interactions with current and future customers, using technology to organize, automate, and synchronize sales, marketing, customer service, and technical support“. To sum up, the idea is to systematically gather information on customers to learn to know them better. Consequently, it becomes possible to serve them better, determine which customer relationships are truly profitable, and identify new sales opportunities. Also, with CRM, customer interactions can be managed more efficiently and professionally.

CRM seems to have started to gain traction also in the not-for-profit world. To me, this is not at all surprising, as in my mind fundraising is so similar to sales. The products and underlying motivation may be of a little different nature, but the targets, processes and dynamics are not. Quoting Stephen Goldstein: “It’s about making the perfect match between what you have to offer and what someone else wants.” Sales representatives and customers easily translate into fundraisers and donors, and offers and deals to donation requests and donations – or asks and gifts as they are called at the Red Cross.

My colleagues at the Development department have been working on the CRM project for more than a year already. This makes it exciting for me to step in as an outsider. My primary tasks are to lead an in-process assessment of the current CRM tool adoption and usage, evaluate related fundraising data capture and reporting processes, and support development of key standards and best practices, as well as identification of most value-adding future enhancements. Having been involved in deployment of new processes and IT systems in my previous workplaces, it has been striking to realize how similar the challenges are being tackled also in the not-for-profit context.

I will come back to the CRM tool and benefits expected from its fundraising functionality in the next post. In the meanwhile, the weather is gradually getting colder here in DC. Especially mornings are chilly, and it gets dark early in the evenings. Receiving a photo from a childhood friend who now lives in Joensuu in Eastern Finland put things into perspective, though. This is how it looked at her backyard last week, and at the Red Cross Square on the very same day.

131018 Joensuu vs. Washington DC

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.

Objectives for the Mission

How does it feel to work full time on a hobby? What are the main differences between companies and not-for-profit organizations? Which are more efficient and effective: traditional massive organizations, or small agile nonprofits? And how much can one single person really contribute to changing the world? These and many more questions are to be answered during the next 12 months.


When applying for the Fulbright scholarship, I defined three main objectives for my mission at the American Red Cross:

  • Support the American Red Cross in its important work through my pro-bono project. My project will provide the organization with documentation on its current fundraising processes, quantitative analyses on effectiveness of different fundraising methods and new ideas how to further develop the processes and enhance fundraising performance.
  • Gain valuable knowledge of the dynamics of the not-for-profit sector in the US and specifically about fundraising. This is of great importance for my professional and personal development, as my plan is to work full time in the not-for-profit sector in my future career.
  • Provide a useful case study on fundraising best practices for Finnish not-for-profits. Learning about the benchmark processes and ways of working in the US through my project could provide the Finnish Red Cross, Zonta clubs in Finland as well as other Finnish not-for-profit organizations with completely new tools and inspiration.

In addition to achieving these three official objectives during my year in the US, I plan to learn as much as possible about US history and politics, visit legendary places, like Hawaii, Florida and Alaska, and make my debut in the American running and triathlon scene.