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.

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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.

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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.

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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.