Turning the Corner Toward Community Health: Vaccine Distribution Initiatives

Last week, in the midst of a pandemic, Texas faced an unprecedented winter storm. Millions were left without power or water; for those who had water, it was often unsanitary. Our own team sought solutions to keep us safe and warm, which we compiled here. We saw local organizations leverage GivePulse to fundraise hundreds of thousands of dollars to feed vulnerable members of their community, and collaborated with the City to help with warming centers and shelters. We continue to work with churches and local authorities to ensure everyone has access to showers, safe drinking water, and laundry services. If we can help with any immediate needs, please let us know at warm@givepulse.com. 

As we turn the corner, with warmer weather signaling safety to those in our home state, we know that COVID-19 remains a challenge to be overcome.  In these challenging times, we have continued to be inspired by the speed and efficacy with which the scientific community stepped up to develop vaccines that will allow our communities to begin moving toward normalcy. As vaccine rollout progresses across the country, our team at GivePulse have been collaborating with health authorities and institutions to coordinate volunteers and facilitate the safe, secure, and accessible distribution of vaccines. These efforts are central to our mission of empowering social good. 

This post highlights a few of the institutions and partners we’re working with to facilitate vaccine distribution, from our home City of Austin to organizations and institutions across the country. 

If you have any questions about whether GivePulse can support your vaccination efforts, please contact us at covid@givepulse.com. 

Austin: Vaccine Distribution in Our Home City

In the aftermath of an unprecedented winter storm, the City of Austin is continuing to recruit qualified individuals to serve as patient representatives and administer vaccines for their COVID-19 response. The initiative, dubbed “United Against COVID” by Austin Public Health (APH), will be imperative to the city’s operations as they find, train, and manage the thousands of volunteers required to build immunity against COVID-19.

“We never imagined we’d be faced with a once-in-a-generation winter storm during a global pandemic, but we’re glad we can play a part to keep our hometown and other communities safe, whether that’s by supporting warming shelters, showering facilities, water disbursement sites or facilitating vaccine distribution.” 

The United Against COVID initiative will also center on the recruitment of volunteers to their appropriate Points of Dispensing. Points of Dispensing (PODs) serve as community locations for the distribution of medical countermeasures such as vaccines, antibiotics, and more. The City of Austin will create a virtual hub for local PODs from which they can manage different locations at the same time, displaying vacancies for volunteers in locations near them. From this hub, APH will also coordinate communication and reporting to ensure that health administrators can seamlessly control, audit and access data to distribute the vaccine throughout the community. 

Once they have found the appropriate POD for their location, volunteers can submit their availability and qualifications, along with any other information required by APH to ensure safe and effective vaccine distribution. APH will review these applications to screen potential volunteers and offer qualified applicants access to volunteer opportunities. With this designated group pre-selected, administrators for the PODs can easily message out any immediate needs via email, SMS, or SNS. This ensures that, should more volunteers be required for any situation, administrators have a list of available and qualified individuals at their fingertips. 

Working With Partners Across the Nation

GivePulse is proud to be working alongside our hometown’s leadership for United Against COVID.  We are taking our learnings in Austin, TX to activate other cities, states, institutions, organizations and public health authorities to get folks vaccinated.

For organizations, institutions, cities and municipalities who would like to collaborate with us, let us know how we can launch vaccination appointments, symptom checking, patient statuses, volunteer signups, community fundraising and more. Email covid@givepulse.com for more information or to set up your public health portal. 

Join us on March 31 at 2pm CT for our Vaccinations and Public Health webinar. Register here

Stay Safe Texas: Resources and Guidelines for Winter Storms and Power Outages

The past days have been devastating for many communities in our home state of Texas, leading to the declaration of a state of emergency. As of Thursday morning, hundreds of thousands in Texas remained without power in the aftermath of an unprecedented winter storm. Our own team has been significantly impacted by power outages, water shortages and contamination, and below freezing temperatures. Right now some members of our team are staying at the office, where we are lucky enough to have consistent power; others are bunkering with their friends and neighbors. In tandem, we’re working with the City of Austin, in collaboration with Austin Disaster Relief Network, to provide support for the shelters and warming centers available. 

It’s been tough tackling a pandemic; it’s unprecedented to lose power and water at the same time on this scale. In these times, we want the community to know we are here to support you in any way we can, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. As we pick up our vaccination efforts, and we see the temperature showing signs of warming, we know we will come out of this stronger with you. 

In this post, we reflect on some actions we’ve taken personally and at the office that we believe will be important for those also affected by these conditions now and in the future, and how you can access or share resources from anywhere in the country. 

Stay Safe and Warm 

Warmth and safety are the number one priority at this time. Here are some important tips:

  • Wear moisture-wicking material — avoid cotton, which absorbs moisture
  • Wear multiple loose layers to generate warm air pockets 
  • Block doors and windows with towels to decrease drafts 
  • Move into one room and bring everything you need into that room. Seal the room tightly; this will keep any warmth generated by body heat and movement locked into this room 
  • Cars, grills, fuel burning lanterns and generators should not be used in or near the home to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning
  • During the day, uncover windows to allow sunlight in. When the sun has passed the window, block off with towels or heavy blankets to insulate 
  • Consume hot foods and drinks 
  • Layer blankets and bedding 
  • Exercise gently, but not to the point where you sweat 
  • Run your car (away from the garage) for a minute or so each day, and charge your phone from there
  • If your city is on a boil water notice (for example, Austin, our home city), boil any water that comes out of your taps before using
  • Conserve water usage and follow your city’s instructions to avoid pipe bursts

If you do have power, turn off unnecessary appliances to conserve energy and avoid using large appliances. 

Share and Request Resources

Water shortages, difficulties accessing food, and lack of power have led to significant needs for resources. A good portion of our team right now do not have water and are conserving as much as they can. Those with water also are under boil notice! We urge you to connect with neighbors who might have extra sanitary water and resources. We also recommend looking at crowdfunded resource lists, such as the ones here and here, as well as threads that are staying up-to-date with resources. 

As we mentioned above, we are working with the City of Austin to coordinate their response to the community’s needs for the homeless and those without power. To see how you can volunteer and assist, contact us here; to access resources and centers available, visit here

If you have extra supplies, you can donate to mutual aid funds, food banks, and similar organizations. We’ve compiled a list at the bottom of this post. For any organizations hoping to set up a donation drive where you can see needs requests and gather resources in Austin, go here. Other cities, please reach out to us here and we are happy to help. 

Our friends at Good Work Austin’s Community Kitchen also have a donation page here – donations will expand their capacity to produce meals. In the past 6 months, GWA has produced over 300k meals and procured 5 contracts.

Maintaining COVID Safety 

This winter storm has been magnified in some regards due to the ongoing spread of COVID-19. We urge you to maintain COVID safety to whatever extent possible, even if you are sharing homes with friends and family to share resources and warmth. Maintain a supply of potable water in containers so you can wash your hands. Wear masks when around those outside of your bubble (this can also help keep your face warmer). If you are leaving your home to gather supplies, maintain physical distancing measures. 

Our team is in this weather with you, and is dedicated to supporting our home community in any way we can. Reach out if you have any questions or need any assistance in setting up pages for donations and resources. Stay warm, and stay safe. 

Additional Organizations to Donate to: 

The Gift That Keeps on Giving: How Recurring Donations Can Transform Your Organization

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!

Scott Russomanno runs a small nonprofit powered by volunteers. As the only full-time employee of the organization, he manages all programming, outreach and fundraising efforts for All-Stars Club Central, an organization providing a place of belonging to community members with developmental disabilities and nights of rest for parents and caregivers. All-Stars’ programming depends greatly upon the generosity of their community and their financial lifeline, both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, has been recurring donations. 

In this spotlight, we will share how recurring donations can be a sustainable foundation for organizations to make an impact, as well as how your organization can develop a consistent base of recurring donors just like All-Stars. 

Recurring Donations Make for Better Planning

Recurring donations make All-Stars’ work easier by providing a steady stream of income that allows them to plan programming and ensure that their constituents receive important and necessary services.We encourage our donors to make recurring donations because it allows us to plan for growth far more accurately since we can rely on a base of income each month” says Russomanno. “One time donations are great, but can make it much more difficult to project. Focusing on growing our base of monthly donors allows us to be smarter in our financial projections and far more accurate in our decision making process.”

“Focusing on growing our base of monthly donors allows us to be smarter in our financial projections and far more accurate in our decision making process.”

Recurring Donors Give More

Recurring donations have been proven time and time again to increase giving, engagement and donor retention. Although a donor may set up a monthly recurring donation at a lower amount than a one-time donation, the cumulative effect of those smaller monthly donations will quickly surpass the amount a donor would’ve given with a one-time gift. The average recurring donor gives $332 annually to All-Stars Club Central’s general donations page, while the average one-time donor gives $204. National statistics show that average online recurring donors give 255% more than one-time donors.

Increasing Community Dedication & Donor Retention

Many of All-Stars’ recurring donors also serve as volunteers with the organization. Russomanno encourages all volunteers to set up monthly recurring donations of any size or sponsor an “All-Star” for $20 a month. In doing this, he has noted increased engagement and dedication from volunteers. Volunteers who donate are generally far more engaged with our programs. Those who give of their time and financial resources feel a stronger sense of ownership and thus more likely to stay involved for the long term.” 

In addition to being a tool to increase engagement among volunteers, recurring donations are a great way to keep your existing donors from abandoning your cause. Donor retention rates across the country run low with the average around 45%. Increasing donor retention allows your organization to focus on growing programming and support long term instead of worrying about how you’re going to meet your end of year fiscal goals. Industry research shows that recurring donors have an average retention rate of 90% and are six times more likely to leave an organization in their will or make a legacy gift. 

“Volunteers who donate… feel a stronger sense of ownership and thus are more likely to stay involved for the long term.” 

Sustainable Funding During Unpredictable Times

COVID-19 has caused economic uncertainty for millions of people, creating a challenge for nonprofit organizations. Most nonprofits need financial support now more than ever but feel uneasy asking a constituency potentially facing financial hardship to increase their giving. Recurring giving is a simple way to create sustainable financial support that is realistic for donors on a budget. While some donors experiencing financial uncertainty may hold back on giving a gift of $100 right now, donating $10 or $20 a month can feel like a more manageable way to support your organization, allowing them to continue support and actually donate more than they would have otherwise. 

Business Partnerships

All-Stars has also harnessed the generosity of their community and the power of recurring giving through a local business partner. Local businesses who commit to your mission are incredible resources for potential donors,” says Russomanno. “We have established a relationship with a local business who offers a monthly service package but requests payments are made as donations to our organization. This is a win/win/win as the client receives great service, we receive a base of monthly donors, and the business receives an additional touch point to help diagnose larger issues that bring in greater revenue.”

Community partnerships with local businesses and corporations can be extremely beneficial to your organization, especially when it comes to recurring giving. Find businesses whose values align with the mission of your organization and rather than asking for a one-time donation, encourage them to start a recurring giving program that deducts from employee paychecks or sets up monthly gifts from customers in exchange for services. This will allow you to create a sustainable funding source and build stronger relationships with businesses and donors over time.

“Local businesses who commit to your mission are incredible resources for potential donors.” 

Takeaways and Next Steps

You may be wondering how you can tap into recurring giving to reach and maintain a strong donor base like All-Stars has. Here are our top three takeaways from Russomanno’s experience: 

  1. Start a membership or sponsorship program: Just as All-Stars encourages donors to subscribe to a $20 per month sponsorship, you can create a membership program to help donors recognize the impact of their giving. Consider implementing multiple donation tiers and specifying the milestones that can be accomplished, showing the direct impact the donor’s contribution will have on the community. For example, food banks might include different tiers to correspond to a number of families that can be fed through a monthly donation. 
  2. Start a volunteer giving program: Russomanno noticed that volunteers who donate are likely to be more engaged with the organization overall. Encourage volunteers to donate by including links in communications and reinforcing how recurring donations relate directly to their work in the community. 
  3. Partner with a local business: For All-Stars, a partnership with a local business has been key to their recurring donations program. Consider partnering with local businesses to reach new donors and stay connected to your community. These businesses may even ultimately find additional ways to give back to your organization, such as volunteer time off programs, payroll deductions, and gift or hours matching

Start Accepting Recurring Gifts

Recurring giving programs are easy to maintain through online giving platforms such as GivePulse, which offers recurring giving to all users of the platform. For Russomano, the flexibility and customization of giving pages has allowed him to bring in more recurring donors. “GivePulse has allowed us to create specific fundraising campaigns that we can use for each of our fundraising events or programs. It allows us to offer targeted campaigns with recurring and one-time options as well as opportunities for our volunteers to get involved and lead their own fundraising page.” 

Here’s how you can start accepting recurring donations for your organization: 

  1. Create an ongoing fundraiser
  2. Attend a Fundraiser 101 class this spring

No matter how you set up your recurring giving program, we know that it will create a base of sustainable funding to help you and your organization make an even bigger impact in your community. 

Questions? Set up a fundraising consultation meeting or email fundraising@givepulse.com

Thank you so much to Scott Russomanno and the whole team at All-Stars Club Central for your dedication and service to your community. Your work provides valuable services and a place of belonging that makes our world a better place. Learn more about All-Stars Club Central and support their work here

9 Tips for Virtual Engagement Success: Learnings from our education and nonprofit partners

In this blog, our first of the new year, we provide a foundation for effective and impactful community engagement in a virtual environment. Whether you are a program coordinator for a nonprofit, a faculty member for service-learning courses, or a director in community engagement or philanthropy, we hope you will be able to use these tips as you plan programming for 2021! 

For Devon, a guest speaker representing the volunteer perspective in our recent virtual engagement webinar, the COVID-19 crisis coincided with changes in her personal life. She started as a first year medical student while facing several of the most intense challenges COVID-19 can offer: family members became sick, and her family was unable to grieve after the untimely passing of her grandmother from the virus. 

Although these challenges made it more difficult, Devon knew she wanted to remain fully engaged in her community. “My desire to volunteer is still very much there,” she said, adding that because of her own experience with COVID-19, finding virtual opportunities is of the utmost importance.

This story is indicative of broader challenges facing communities: in our recent partner survey, 94% reported that participants had shared COVID-specific struggles with their organization. Communities are being impacted by this public health crisis, with consequences for productivity, sense of safety, mental health, and more. Perhaps due to these factors, 75% of survey respondents reported that participants were much less engaged than they had been before COVID. Yet participants like Devon want to engage, and to make an impact, despite these setbacks.  

On December 10, GivePulse brought together a few of our community partners to form a panel, discussing shared virtual engagement challenges and successes during COVID-19. In this post, we have gathered our nine tips for virtual engagement success to help you approach these challenges with an empathetic mindset while continuing impactful work for your organization or community.

1. Pivot and Rebuild

The first hurdle to virtual engagement is to develop engaging opportunities for your organization or partners. Many of these opportunities may meet a new need stemming from staff or organizational changes, such as fundraising, grant writing, and social media. Others incorporate interactive elements into virtual activities; for example, Devon, now volunteering with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program, set up a crafting session with her little sister. She delivered supplies for a project to her little sister’s home, and the two were able to work on the project “together” over Zoom. Our full community safety guide includes detailed information about how to develop virtual and remote opportunities that, like Devon’s project, are interactive and flexible.

2. Learn From and Activate Your Network  

As we all work to pivot our engagement efforts in a virtual world, lean on your existing network to learn what others have done to maintain community involvement. Lindsey Payne, the Volunteer Coordinator at San Antonio’s The Doseum, recalls reaching out widely in March and April: “We were talking to everybody — what’s working best for you? What’s not working for you?” Your network might include similar nonprofits, peer institutions, local businesses, or even community members such as volunteers, students, or employees. Open virtual feedback sessions or surveys can facilitate communication for new ideas and activities. In addition, attend webinars and virtual conferences, or even form your own online community with peer organizations and institutions. Check in regularly to see what has worked for others, and come together to develop guides that can be shared with others. If you are partnering with organizations in your community, particularly as an institution of higher education, use this network to come up with flexible opportunities, bearing in mind that capacities may have changed due to COVID-19. As we all learn how to work in the new normal, having a strong community to learn alongside is invaluable. 

3. Provide Consistent, Relevant, Everyday Opportunities

Realizing that consistent, everyday opportunities were more appealing to his students, Dustin Perry, a teacher and service coordinator at Christian Brothers High School, Memphis,  “pivoted”  to opportunities such as making and delivering packed lunches, creating homeless care packages that students can keep in their cars to hand out, and other similar activities. To accompany these everyday opportunities, learning focuses on the social issues behind these small actions in order to connect the dots between small actions and larger social issues, informing a lifelong understanding of how to stay involved. Your organization, business, or school can set up similar consistent, everyday opportunities, offering increased trainings on the social justice issue behind your mission and finding ways to make engagement a lifelong element even beyond your programs. 

4. Compassionate Communication 

All participants will benefit from clear and compassionate communication. GivePulse has found that regular communication, check ins, and reminders right before events increases engagement and participation. When possible, augment these reminders with personal conversations. Individual check-ins can help you get a sense of the challenges facing each volunteer or student and adjust as necessary, as well as making the individual feel more connected to your cause and mission. Open space for your participants to be honest about their concerns, and address them when possible. If you are not hearing back, make sure to follow up — inboxes are more full than ever, and an extra check-in can make all the difference, so don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call!

5. Short and Sweet

We’re in a new reality where we often rely on Zoom calls and virtual presentations to share information. You may have found yourself wondering, “What’s the best length for my presentation? How can I keep everyone interested and make sure that they remember what I said?” Luckily, the team at TED studied this exact question. Backed up by cognitive neuroscience, TED Talks are required to be under 18 minutes long. With this in mind, figure out how you can make sure that any presented portions of your engagement opportunities are under 18 minutes. Once you hit the 18 minute mark, think about  how you can change up the content. For example, if you’re running an hour-long training or class, break it up into multiple 15-minute sessions, using breakout rooms for small group discussions in between. These same rules can apply to your opportunities for virtual or remote engagement: when possible, offer engagement that can be done in short chunks at any given time, and make very clear the availability for engagement (for example, is it weekends only? Afternoons? Mornings?). The clearer you are, the more likely you are to reach those who are willing and able to engage at those times.

6. Make Things Fun! 

Many of us are spending more time in front of screens than we’re used to. Make your presentations and opportunities stand out by adding fun, new content. Including short videos, like TikToks, can create a more visually appealing and engaging presentation, helping participants better retain knowledge and keep their energy up. Music can set the tone and catch the attention of those who may be drifting off. Know and work with your audience — if you are engaging older populations, you may need to offer more assistance with using technology in advance of the meeting to ensure participation; if you’re working with younger populations, you are more likely to need to focus on making your presentation fun using clips and interactive elements. 

7. Mix Things Up with Interactive Activities, Polls, and More 

During any presentation or activity, maintaining participant attention is key. Interactive activities, such as Devon’s virtual crafting session with her Little Sister, are one example of how to maintain engagement. Other opportunities for engagement include using virtual features like polls and breakout rooms to encourage communication between participants. Allow participants to meet each other by setting up breakout rooms in pairs or fours, and then come back together for large-group discussion after the breakout room portion. Encourage participants to continue communication and engagement beyond your organizations organized activities by creating Facebook groups or Slack channels. And if needed, provide restroom breaks or brief breaks to stretch, meditate or do breathing exercises.  

8. Establish Groups for Clear Accountability

To track progress, evaluate outcomes, and ensure engagement, establish consistent groups of students, volunteers, and employees who can keep one another enthusiastic and accountable. In addition, use the project-based event feature to establish clear deadlines and milestones, encouraging participants to be accountable to one another and to particular deadlines throughout the semester. This can also be an easy way to ensure some sort of evaluation metrics for outcomes. For example, students may be required to complete both a self evaluation and an evaluation of each group member at the end of the semester to provide feedback on the level of engagement. Accountability is crucial to effective and impactful virtual engagement! 

9. Recognize New Possibilities 

Above all, recognize and welcome the new possibilities introduced over the past year. Payne says that the most important suggestion she has is for organizations to “set goals and recognize — things are possible. Have expectations for yourself and your programs, but don’t make them unimaginable where you’re never going to reach those goals. We are all in this together.” And remember: in order to take care of your community, you need to take care of yourself. Lean on support systems, turn off notifications during off-hours, and decrease screen time when possible. Find opportunities to be active and don’t forget the importance of your mental and physical health. We’re all in this together!

This has been an overview of our December 10, 2020 webinar “Increasing Engagement During a Pandemic: Overcoming Virtual and In-Person Challenges.” For the full recording, see here

Hindsight 2020: Looking back on an impactful year

On December 21, 2020, our team gathered virtually for a holiday celebration and a chance to reflect together on the past year. Festivities included a gingerbread house competition (who do you think won?) and of course an anonymous gift exchange. Below are a few of us and our gingerbreads! 🙂

This celebration gave us the opportunity to pull together our learnings from previous virtual celebrations throughout this year. From perfecting the art of the surprise Zoom birthday, to a virtual graduation for a member of our team who completed her master’s dissertation in July, to our regular games of mafia, trivia, and Among Us, our team has been able to join together, welcoming new members and getting closer to those we’ve been working with before COVID. While we hope in the future we will be able to celebrate in person, we are so grateful to have had this chance to share, eat, and laugh altogether. 

This celebration also gave us the chance to reflect on this tough and truly unprecedented year. In addition to a public health crisis on a global level, many parts of the world have been devastated by natural disasters and unrest. Communities have come together to seek justice in some of the largest protests in recorded history following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. We lost leaders in the fields of civic and community engagement, including John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The United States saw historic voter turnout in this year’s election. Through all of this, frontline workers, poll workers, and essential workers risked their lives to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their communities. 

We have seen the struggles that our neighbors and communities have faced. This has pushed us to double down on our giving, continue innovating, improve our DEI initiatives, intertwine our platform with civic engagement, and provide an inventory of resources and webinars to our community. In this post, we have gathered our learnings, resources, and innovations from the past year. We hope you can take these learnings and apply them to your own communities as you make your impact in 2021. 

Working With Partners

Swearer Center staff, pictured above, celebrate partners, students, staff, and community 

This year, our partners worked together to learn best practices and new ways of engagement for safe and impactful engagement. We saw the importance of investing time to learn, listen, and adapt alongside community partners — and, in this way, to pivot and use community strengths to survive and thrive. We are grateful to work with such a dedicated and inspiring group of organizations, businesses, institutions, and cities. 

More learnings from our partners and our shared resources: 

These are only a few of our resources. You can access more of our guides, toolkits, and webinars on our blog or on our resources page here. Learn more about our partnerships with the community here

Fulfilling Community Needs

In this difficult year, we knew that giving back to the community is more important than ever — and that included our own community. Seeking to give back to our home community, we partnered with the City of Austin to create the How to Help Austin campaign, with the goal of creating an Austin/Travis County-based hub for opportunities to help during the COVID-19 response. Through this, we have been able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for organizations in our community, facilitate donation drives and match folks to virtual volunteer opportunities. 

More updates in giving: 

In addition to these updates, we offered fundraising webinars and toolkits, available on our resources page here

Innovating Virtual Engagement

One resource we created was our Virtual Volunteer video, where we share how to find virtual and remote opportunities on GivePulse. Pictured here is GivePulse Marketing and Success Manager Kaitlin Sandmann, participating in a digital storytime with the Boys and Girls Club. 

This year was an opportunity for enormous learning in regards to our existing virtual engagement. We knew there were several enhancements we could make that would help our partners pivot from in-person to virtual and promote safe remote engagement. Within weeks, we were able to activate millions of volunteers to engage virtually and to donate items and money to fill the gaps of the communities. Several of these volunteers came from our own team as we worked on virtual volunteer projects from digital storytimes to pro bono volunteering to setting up websites for nonprofits in our communities. 

More updates in virtual engagement: 

These were just a few of our most impactful enhancements. Learn more about our product updates here

Supporting Public Health Initiatives 

This image shows a screening flowchart that can help an individual decide whether or not to get tested. Always consult with your primary care provider if you believe that you have been exposed to COVID-19. To download, visit our community resources page.

Public health commitments and procedures are of the utmost importance for all centers and programs. During the fall, as our campus and organization partners began to consider in-person aspects to their engagement, we were able to help facilitate their testing and contact tracing efforts. In parallel, we worked with public health scholars and professionals to develop guides for screening, testing, and other crucial efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19.

We are especially excited to continue our efforts to fight against COVID-19 and ensure we emphasize public health awareness in the communities we serve.

More tools for public health and safety: 

These are just a few of our public health efforts. To learn more about the GivePulse COVID-19 response, see here

Activating Voters

The many challenges of 2020 have reminded us that our actions and choices are inextricably linked to the wellbeing of our communities. Nowhere is this more evident than in civic engagement. Just as every individual’s choices impact the wellness of the community, every individual’s voice impacts the outcomes of elections, the census, and referendums. In light of this, we sought to activate voters for the important elections of 2020. 

More resources for activating voters: 

We are excited to continue moving the needle on effective civic engagement in the years ahead. For examples of how you can continue to take action next year, see our post here

Looking Ahead 

We know that the events of this year were difficult. And many of these difficulties will not end when the clock strikes midnight on December 31. But we also know that we have the tools we need to succeed and thrive in the year ahead. Many of the learnings from this past year will be crucial for improving access and success of engagement opportunities in the future, as we shared in our August webinar “Reopening Like It Was Shutdown.” As we look ahead, we are excited to continue learning alongside our partners, and to work toward a strong future of community engagement in which equity, security, and justice are assured. We are also looking forward to the promise of vaccines, which are already being distributed to the most vulnerable across the country. 

In the meantime, we hope you have the opportunity to rest over the next few weeks. We will be reaching back out in the early new year with more resources and support. Until then, wishing you a very happy holidays from the GivePulse team! 

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.