Generous Servings: Serving up resources for connection, reflection, and giving

Last Thanksgiving, our team gathered for a Worksgiving to kick off an impactful holiday season. This year, our celebration looks a bit different. With slices of pie in hand, we gathered for a Zoomsgiving, where we enjoyed good food and good company while discussing how we can make our impact in the remainder of 2020.

We know that we are not alone in changing how we celebrate Thanksgiving. Many across the country will be separated from families, friends, and loved ones this holiday season. On top of this, we are in the aftermath of a tumultuous election cycle, with political divisions adding to physical distance. How should we gather to celebrate a holiday based in gratitude and togetherness, when we have faced such a challenging and dividing year? 

While this Thanksgiving will undoubtedly be unique, the fundamentals of the holiday — a focus on gratitude and giving — are not forgotten. This year, we encourage you to dig deep into connection and community, even if doing so looks a bit different than before. 


At the center of Thanksgiving is the idea of giving thanks. After a challenging year, gratitude may feel more complicated than usual. Many have suffered extraordinary loss, and folks on both sides of the political aisle may feel disheartened by a shockingly close election. But reflecting on the past year can help you access gratitude. 

Make a gratitude journal or list with friends and family 

While there have been many major challenges, there likely remains much in your life to be thankful for. From loved ones you can virtually or in-person unite with, to animal friends, to nature, we hope that everyone will be able to find things they can be thankful for. Studies have found that writing down things you are grateful for improves your overall health and well-being. Ask your friends and family to join you in writing a gratitude list, and share with each other! 

Look for the helpers 

Fred Rogers once recalled, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” In times of strife, there are always those who are risking their own safety to help communities. Focusing on the frontline workers at the polls and hospitals, the essential workers in grocery stores and other businesses, and the organizations devoting themselves to making an impact can be a positive reflection tool. If you know any frontline workers, considering writing them a thank-you card. It will be a meaningful gift for both of you. 

Consider how you can work toward community success 

No matter how you felt about the outcomes of this year’s election, you are certain to have reflected on how you can help those in your community who need it most. Focus on this as you celebrate Thanksgiving, and develop a plan of action to work toward community success. This reflection can be the foundation for a consistent and powerful impact. 


Thanksgiving kicks off a season of giving. In fact, Giving Tuesday, celebrated on December 1 (the week after Thanksgiving), is a great time to find a cause that needs your help. On top of finding organizations to give to, you can come up with your own ideas to expand this giving:  

Donate food and goods 

This Thanksgiving, give the gift of good food, warm clothing, and more through a donation drive. Create your own donation drive with friends and family, or participate in a drive that is already set up by an organization in your community. Food banks in particular are overwhelmed this year due to increased needs from the coronavirus pandemic. Your donations of food and goods make more of a difference than ever; help your community by giving back during this holiday season. 

Create a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign

You may be separated from loved ones this Thanksgiving, but you can still come together to make a difference. Consider creating a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign with those you’d normally celebrate with to work together toward a shared goal. You may even be able to join a Giving Tuesday fundraising campaign and align your work toward a bigger goal! 

Volunteer to thank donors and volunteers with your favorite organization 

As the giving season approaches, organizations need help from enthusiastic volunteers who will help them show donors the impact of their work. Reach out to an organization you care about and see if you can help them write thank-you letters or make calls to donors, particularly during this busy season. You can also search for opportunities to help organizations by seeing any opportunities they already have listed


A few members of our team participated in a small, socially distanced gathering to safely celebrate together! 

At the end of the day, Thanksgiving is about connecting with friends, family, coworkers, and others in your community. Doing so safely will ensure that you keep your community safe, while also sharing your gratitude with those closest to you. Here are some ideas: 

Host a physically distanced Thanksgiving 

If the weather permits, host an outdoors, physically distanced Thanksgiving. Find a space large enough to host a small gathering. Make food that can be served in individually wrapped containers (for example, Thanksgiving sandwiches with layers of turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing, or individual slices of pumpkin pie), wear warm clothes, and settle in for an outdoors Thanksgiving. For extra festivities, plan ahead and set up festive autumn decorations, or even bring an outdoor space heater if you’re celebrating somewhere cold! 

Stick to your bubble and make new traditions 

Some people are quarantining with one or a few close friends or family members. These bubbles can create new traditions from these smaller, more intimate gatherings. Whether it’s working together to bake extra pies and deliver them to friends and family within driving distance, finding a new recipe to test, or deciding as a group on an organization to give to for Giving Tuesday, there are many ways that you can use this smaller group to dig deep in gratitude. 

Connect for Zoomsgiving 

Zoom, Facetime, and other video conferencing platforms allow you to connect with those you may not otherwise have been able to celebrate with, even without COVID-19. Find a time to celebrate Zoomsgiving, or create an open Thanksgiving Zoom channel for extended family and friend to hop in and say hi for as brief or long a time as they can stay. Have everyone on the call cook the same recipe and see how they turned out, come up with prompts to reflect on the year and plan for the future, and take some time to be grateful for connections that span distances. 

From the whole team at GivePulse, have a happy Thanksgiving, and stay tuned for more reflection materials as we end the year! 

Genentech: Investing in Local Mentoring Change, From a Distance

This post is part of our Spotlight series, where we spotlight our incredible partners. We are so thrilled that GivePulse has been able to work with these nonprofits, institutions, and corporations!

More than 40 years ago, Genentech founded the biotechnology industry with the invention of genetic engineering. Today, they remain a leader in the field, pursuing groundbreaking science to tackle some of the world’s most serious medical conditions. Equally as important is Genentech’s recognition that science must go hand-in-hand with the greater good, whether that is in the scientific community, patient care, or corporate giving. 

While they have won awards for everything from their cutting-edge science to their workplace culture, Genentech’s dedication to making a positive impact in their community remains one of their most defining qualities. Genentech has been on People’s 50 Companies that Care list since 2017, its inaugural year, and has been one of the Top Bay Area Corporate Philanthropists for fifteen years running. 

Genentech’s emphasis on community good is particularly evident in their K-12 programs in partnership with the South San Francisco Unified School District. Since 2010, the Gene Academy mentorship program has brought Genentech’s innovative scientific approach to local elementary schools. In 2015, they expanded this program to Futurelab, which offers mentorship for middle and high school students as well. These mentoring programs are widely recognized for paving the way in community engagement, winning the prestigious STEM Mentoring and Making award for Excellence in Public-Private Partnership in 2016 as well as recognition for Impactful Philanthropy from the National Mentoring Partnership in 2019.

Futurelab is an intrinsic part of Genentech’s company culture. Because of Genentech’s investment in their community, 89% of Futurelab volunteers report feeling more connected to the company and to each other through their participation in these programs, and 66% of Genentech employees say that Futurelab contributes to their retention. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Genentech began to scale the impact made by Futurelab through their partnership with GivePulse to streamline the scheduling, communication and tracking of its various programs. 

In this post, we will share how Futurelab has been able to continue strengthening their mentoring programs as they transition from in-person to virtual in the wake of COVID-19. We will first outline each of the three mentoring programs, sharing both how they looked in the past and how they will look in their new virtual format. We will then reflect on how these transitions relied upon Genentech’s close ties with their community. Finally, we will share Genentech’s plans to continue innovating and scaling with GivePulse, offering a new, hopeful lens through which to understand the transitions necessitated by the COVID-19 public health crisis. 

This image, taken before COVID-19, shows Futurelab mentors helping students with hands-on activities that excite them about science. Now, they will be doing so virtually.

Futurelab: Excite, Engage, and Equip — Virtually

Futurelab is comprised of three distinct K-12 STEM mentoring programs, each with its own unique goal. Gene Academy excites elementary students about science. The Helix Cup engages middle school students through a hands-on competition. Science Garage equips high school students for future careers, in and beyond biotechnology. Cherilyn Cabral, Senior Manager of Corporate & Employee Giving, says, “What we’re aiming for is that the kids who graduate from our program are science literate and know the importance of science… [and] hopefully some of them will become scientists too.”

This fall, Futurelab has had to change their programs in a way they never anticipated. Their in-person, hands-on programs are transitioning to entirely virtual opportunities in response to COVID-19. However, their goals to excite, engage, and equip students remain the central facets of each program. “The way we are approaching this is to keep the goal of each program intact,” Cabral says. “The delivery is what changes.” Volunteers will continue to schedule and sign up for opportunities through Genentech’s partnership with GivePulse — only now, the experience will be remote and virtual. 

This transition will not alter the emphasis on long-term and hyper-local impact. Cabral says, “South San Francisco is rich in underrepresented groups we hope will one day work at a place like Genentech.” In order to achieve this goal in the changed landscape of the COVID-19 pandemic, Futurelab has had to be adaptive and responsive, without losing sight of the most important elements of the programs.  

“The kids who graduate from our program are science literate and know the importance of science.” 

Gene Academy: Excite

To that end, each of the programs has responded differently to the pandemic. Gene Academy, an after-school mentoring program for third through fifth graders, seeks to excite students about science. Previously, students came to Genentech once a week to participate in activities that use their natural curiosity to get them excited about science. 

“We have kept intact the consistency and continuity of interaction.” 

Now, Gene Academy will support this same natural curiosity through virtual mentoring. Students will be paired with volunteers; these pairs will then read a high-quality science article and send digital letters back and forth responding to the article. This digital pen-pal program will allow for thoughtful discussion, natural curiosity, and individualized connection. “We have kept intact the consistency and continuity of interaction,” says Cabral. 

To foster excitement among the students, the science articles are divided into units that culminate in a related project. Through this consistent interaction and tiered, engaging content, Gene Academy will continue to build on students’ natural curiosity to excite them about science. 

Helix Cup: Engage

Helix Cup offers a chance to engage this excitement through a competition to counteract the falloff in science interest in eighth grade. This same competition will take place this year — only now, teams will work together virtually. “They will be building something as a team, so they need to make sure they are communicating with each other.” says Cabral. “That’s another challenge for the students, who are currently isolated at home.” 

Luckily, they won’t be in this alone; the students will have help from Genentech volunteers, who will offer design consultations and provide data analysis guidance to decide on the best materials and model for the projects. There will also be a new element to the Helix Cup: oral presentations. Cabral is excited about this addition to the evaluation process. “In science, you always have to communicate,” she says. “Why did you make that mistake? Why did you choose that material? What did you learn from this? We do that at Genentech, and it’s important to get that started early.”  

The Helix Cup engages students to tap into scientific creativity. Previously, the Helix Cup featured in-person competition; now, teams will build together from a distance. 

“They will be building something together as a team, so they need to make sure they are communicating. That’s an additional challenge.” 

Science Garage: Equip 

Science Garage equips students with the tools they’ll need in college, no matter what degree path they take. In this four-year program, students previously got access to state-of-the-art equipment at the Science Garage biotech lab and classroom and learned lab techniques from pipetting, media prep, and chromatography to other skills like data analysis useful in and beyond Genentech. 

Realizing that Science Garage could not possibly include all of its usual features, Futurelab sought to emphasize the most impactful elements and put their energy into creating virtual versions of these.

This led to the creation of two main events: a biotech field trip and a poster session. The poster session involves input from Genentech volunteers during the poster creation and research, student presentations to practice their scientific communication skills, and feedback from volunteers on the presentation. During the virtual biotech field trip, students will hear from Genentech employees about their career journeys across the different functions they work on — research, development, manufacturing, and commercialization. 

In addition to learning about these four stages that lead from the creation of the medicine to its delivery to patients, students will have opportunities for career conversations online via the GivePulse Zoom Integration, where they can learn about career journeys and gain a stronger understanding of what an employee does. 

Responding to community needs 

Over the course of transitioning to virtual programs, Futurelab needed to consider several elements. The first, and most critical, was how to respond to the changing needs and challenges within their own community. “We can move fast,” Cabral says, “but there are bigger challenges at the [South San Francisco Unified School District] than what we are trying to do… At the end of the day, the school district and Genentech agree — the students need us now more than ever.”

“We rely on the support of our teachers. We cannot move forward with these programs on our own.” 

The Futurelab programs are not just about academics — they are also about social and emotional factors. During these times, this aspect has become even more critical. In a period of significant disconnection and isolation for these students, “another adult that really cares about you is important,” particularly when some students may not have parents at home who have the time or capacity to check in on schoolwork. “Focus on the connection,” says Cabral. “They don’t have to learn all of these science concepts by the end of the program — it’s making sure the students feel like they’re cared for, and they’re connected to someone else.”  

Security, too, has become of the utmost importance. “We have to protect the children,” Cabral says. All mentoring interactions will be monitored by a teacher; for the younger students, there will be no video interactions, and the digital pen-pal letters will be moderated by a Futurelab team. Maintaining compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) is critical, as is ensuring that students are safe in these online interactions.  

“The way we are approaching this is to keep the goal of each program intact. The delivery is what changes.” 

Meeting the needs of the students is critical; equally important is meeting the needs of the teachers. “We rely on the partnership with our teachers,” says Cabral. “We could never move forward with these programs on our own.” With teachers potentially overwhelmed by changing expectations for distanced or hybrid learning, recognizing the elements that can remain the same is important. For example, rather than creating a new competition for the Helix Cup, Futurelab will be using the same egg drop challenge that teachers are familiar with from previous competitions. Maintaining familiarity where possible, while adapting where necessary, helps all stakeholders to be involved in the implementation and success of the programs. 

Making an impact through innovation

Genentech, as a biotech company, sees challenges and uncertainty as the jumping-off points for learning and growth. In line with this way of thinking, Futurelab recognizes that the challenges of these times encourage innovation and growth. “I think we are able to really focus on more impactful events and do them more efficiently,” says Cabral. 

Futurelab volunteers are learning crucial skills for engaging audiences virtually — skills that can carry over beyond mentorship. The volunteers have to be “very dynamic” in their online interactions, Cabral says; “You have to double your engagement factor when you’re doing it online. That’s a skill you can apply to work — how to interact virtually.” Volunteers understand the relevance of their work in Futurelab — 87% of volunteers reported feeling that their skills are strengthened through Futurelab. 

To teach these new skills for a virtual environment, Futurelab has had to alter its trainings. Rather than the one-time training offered in previous years, Futurelab will now feature multiple bite-sized trainings, with tips and tricks throughout the year. 

Training volunteers effectively for this new reality is of the utmost importance to the students: Cabral notes that during the virtual sessions, “You can’t step out; you’re in it. You have that one and a half hours to engage that student. If you don’t engage that student, you’ve lost that opportunity.” 

“The students need us now more than ever.”  

Because of this, Futurelab volunteers will need to make sure they can schedule and commit to consistent engagement. For example, all Gene Academy volunteers will need to write their digital pen-pal response letters every week. “If there’s no letter uploaded, it’s very hard to explain why your mentor didn’t write you a letter,” Cabral says. With the GivePulse Google Calendar Integration, volunteer schedules are synchronized with their office/work calendar to simplify management and coordination efforts.  

Looking ahead: Opportunities for scaling 

With the help of their community and platform partners, as well as the innovations and learnings from this new period of volunteer engagement, Futurelab is looking ahead at the possibility of scaling to include more school districts in their virtual efforts. There are several different ways this scaling could look in the near future. One is expanding beyond the South San Francisco Unified School District to offer an online version to students across California. Another is scaling the virtual opportunities to other Genentech sites across the United States. 

“These could very well be our next generation of scientists and innovators.”  

All of these programs, whether in-person or virtual, aim to change some staggering statistics: only 6% of United States high school students pursue a STEM degree in college. Additionally, underrepresented minorities make up 27% of the country’s population, but 11% of the STEM workforce. One-third of students lose interest in STEM by fourth grade. By eighth grade, that number jumps to fifty percent. Genentech hopes their efforts will help increase the diversity of the STEM workforce, particularly given that 90% of the students in the South San Francisco Unified School District are people of color. 

Genentech’s work is clearly of the utmost importance. And with all that they’re learning from the challenges of COVID-19, they may be able to expand their programs throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. For Futurelab, the story of their COVID-19 response is one of hope — hope that will strengthen communities and lay the foundation for the future. As Cabral says, “These could very well be our next generation of scientists and innovators.”

Giving Tuesday Virtual Volunteers and Fundraising

Every year on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, millions of people around the world come together to give back to the causes they care about by making donations and volunteering their time for Giving Tuesday, a global day of generosity. Giving Tuesday is an engagement opportunity that no organization, institution or community engagement program should miss out on, especially this year. 

While COVID-19 has affected nearly everyone’s lives and operations, studies show that your community still wants to make a difference by donating and engaging in virtual volunteer opportunities, and combining those two efforts can have long lasting positive outcomes. This Giving Tuesday, on December 1st, 2020, bring your community together by offering virtual volunteer and donation opportunities, or combine the two by engaging volunteers in peer to peer fundraising or other campaign related activities. 

Leverage our Giving Tuesday Toolkit as shown below to turn your Giving Tuesday into a virtual day of generosity that will engage donors and volunteers alike. 

Step 1: Create a Giving Tuesday Fundraising Campaign 

Creating a fundraising campaign ensures that your community members who want to give back have the opportunity to do so. We recommend setting a goal you think you can hit, enabling peer to peer fundraising, and incorporating a story with examples of impact, including a featured photo or video. If you have volunteer opportunities related to the fundraising campaign, include those on your page so people know they can make a difference in multiple ways. 

For more tips on running a successful fundraising campaign, see our Crowdfunding Goal Calculator, Campaign Communications Calendar Template, our previous blog post 7 Steps to Crowdfunding Success or watch our Crowdfunding Basics webinar

Step 2: Recruit Peer to Peer Fundraisers

Peer to peer (P2P) fundraisers are volunteers who will advocate for your cause and ask for donations from their network of friends, family and colleagues through a personal fundraising page connected to your campaign. P2P solicitations are usually more personal and more effective, allowing your organization to reach new donors. 

Here are some tips to help you successfully manage P2P fundraisers: 

  • Enable P2P fundraising when creating your campaign, which will reveal the “Help Fundraise” button on your page.
  • Send messages to your volunteers, event attendees or members directing them to create a campaign through the “Help Fundraise” button on your page. Treat this as another volunteer opportunity and communicate how their help will be essential to accomplish your organization’s goals.
  • Incentivize them by providing P2P fundraiser prizes as this group did on GivePulse! The leaderboard feature makes it easy to see who your top ranking group and individual P2P fundraisers are.
  • When thanking donors for their gift, customize your campaign’s thank you message with a link to sign up to be a P2P fundraiser so they can amplify the impact of their donation.

Visit our support page for more information on how to set up and manage P2P fundraising and tips for P2P fundraisers to create and manage their own campaigns

Step 3: Create Giving Tuesday Volunteer Opportunities

For volunteers who may not want to peer to peer fundraise, you can still include them in your Giving Tuesday campaign by asking them to help with campaign elements like making a video, doing graphic design, writing emails, sharing on social media or helping your organization write thank you cards. Having volunteers contribute their time and skills to fundraising campaigns makes them more likely to be a donor in the future just by coming in contact with your campaign.  

To get started, set up a GivePulse volunteer opportunity with different campaign activities as shifts. You can use shift settings to specify how many people you need and timeframes for each activity. You can also set up multi-step volunteer opportunities by using GivePulse’s new Project-Based Events feature.

Other Giving Tuesday Virtual Engagement Opportunities: 

  1. Promote Virtual Volunteer Opportunities

Looking to set up a virtual volunteer event for Giving Tuesday separate from a fundraising campaign? Here are some tips for setting your event as virtual and tagging it for COVID-19. 

  1. Find a Volunteer Fiscal Sponsor

GivePulse enables companies and organizations to match volunteer hours with dollar amounts. If your organization works with volunteers from a particular company or corporation, this could be a great opportunity for them to make their employee’s volunteer contributions go further. Contact us to learn more.

  1. Incorporate a Virtual Event

Incorporate a virtual event into your Giving Tuesday to celebrate your campaign, announce prize winners and drum up extra support! While creating your event, mark it as virtual and include the conference or livestream link to join. 

We know that there is an overlap between volunteers and donors and that your most engaged community members will give back in multiple ways, but it’s up to you to ask. Promoting virtual volunteer experiences and online fundraising opportunities this Giving Tuesday will keep supporters engaged from a distance, give your community the opportunity to contribute in new ways, and offer much needed support for your organization during this challenging time.

List your Giving Tuesday event on GivePulse today! 

This blog was a summary of a recent webinar, Fall Fundraising & the Second Wave of COVID-19. Watch the full webinar here

Interested in learning more about GivePulse’s donations features? Set up a fundraising overview meeting.