Blog: Trevor Staples

When it comes to making progress on building the Ann Arbor Skate Park, fakies (moving backwards, in skating lingo) are not allowed. This week Trevor Staples, chairman of Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark, will be dishing on community service.

Post 3 - FAVORS: Fundraising and Volunteering for Organizations

Alright, now that you've decided that you're going to give back to the community, it's time to get down to work. There are millions of ways to help a cause (or causes). The ways to help break down into two categories: volunteering and fundraising. Your personality, time constraints and willingness to get off your tookus will guide you to the method of giving back that works best for you. For some people, volunteering sounds like way too much work, for others, asking people for money would be pure torture. Get ready to choose your poison so you can make a huge difference in this world.

Volunteering is pretty easy. All you need to do is google your cause and they probably have a section of their website that says something like "get involved". Let's use our skatepark example again. If you google "Ann Arbor skatepark," you'll get about 13,000 results, with the first one being the home page of the cause. Click the link, find how to help, and away you go. Almost every charity has events at some time of the year, and they're usually in need of volunteers to help put those events on. They're always asking for help, and if you contact them and tell 'em you want to volunteer, they'll be super-excited and sign you right up.

Some charities will need you to get some training to be able to volunteer to the best of your abilities. But, since you have the time to volunteer, that shouldn't be a big problem. Since you care a ton about the cause you chose, volunteering should be easy and fun. It will probably be so rewarding that you'll soon be searching for ways to move up in the organization to help with decision making related to its direction.

If you find that grassroots-level volunteering is to your taste and you have no plans to be president of the board, you may want to branch out and help other causes as well. In my work with the Ann Arbor Skatepark, I've connected with many other organizations, from the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to the Family Learning Institute. Like I alluded to in a previous post, there's no Most Important charity. There's only the charities that are most important to you. If you're like me, you'll find that there are many causes that are important, and worthy of your time and energy. Volunteering for more than one could multiply the positive change you're out to make.

Every charity loves to have an army of volunteers available to help out. Every charity also has an even more important need… MONEY. If you don't have a lot of time to volunteer every week, raising money for your favorite charities can help an org stay afloat, and keep doing the good work that they have set out to do. Asking people for money to their face can be uncomfortable, but there are other more passive ways to make fundraising fun and entertaining without having to call your aunt and ask her for $50 for your cause (but that works too).

Raising large amounts of money, say 5 figures and up, requires having some sort of training in how to do such a thing. I can walk up to you cold and ask you to buy $10 worth of raffle tickets to help the Skatepark, but if I'm going to ask you for $10,000 there needs to be a little more finesse involved. I'm going to assume that your goal will be to raise less than $1,000 for your cause.

The old-school ways of raising some money for charity include charity walks, selling candy or magazines, running races, car washes and the like. When I was in middle school, holiday candle sales were all the rage. All of these methods still exist, and can raise good money. However, raising money on the internet can be more fun, and allow you to reach people all over the globe.

Pretty much every online fundraiser is going to cost some money. Businesses charge a percentage to give you access to millions of possible donors around the world. The charges vary, so you'll have to read the fine print on their sites. If you don't want a percentage of the money you raise to go to a for-profit business, you'll probably want to ask people personally for a gift, then have them write a check to the charity in question. However, in some cases, there will still be a fee taken out. For instance, The Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark's design/build fund is administered by the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF). The AAACF offers the  Skatepark services that they are expert at, including (but not limited to) donor acknowledgement, financial reports, and community-wide recognition. Using an online service can save you a lot of time and trouble, and is more fun than bugging your friends for donations at the next house party.

Of the many online fundraising sites, my favorite is Crowdrise. The Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark got involved with Crowdrise from the time they launched, and we still use it to bring in amounts of $20 to $1,000 super-fast. Crowdrise is similar to Facebook, but everyone's on there to help raise money for their favorite causes. Sometimes it can be overwhelming what with all the people asking everyone else for money, but your donors need not be on Crowdrise to give you your cause. All you have to do is go on the site, pick a charity, describe your fundraiser, upload some pics and a video, and share it with your friends and family. The money will start rolling in, and you'll feel great. Oh, and you can win fantastic prizes on the site, too. It's really revolutionized the way everyday people can make a huge difference in the world.

Social media sites like Crowdrise bring lots of people together to focus on one idea. Another way to get lots of people interested in your cause is through politics. Yes, that word sounds creepy and dirty, but politics is the way everything gets done in this world.

A simple letter to a city council member could mean that a well respected member of your community will be sharing your message to other high profile people. Showing up to city and/or county meetings to speak at public commentary can get you access to loads of politicians, and will probably get you in the local news as well. Once you establish yourself as someone who wants to do good in the community and can get things done, you'll get local politicians asking you for ways that they can help. Remember, you're not alone in your cause. There are many people in the community who are working for the same cause. Our elected officials know that they're there to do work for the people. The squeaky wheels get the grease, so get to squeaking! Once you start speaking up at political meetings and events, people will start to think you're more important than you really are, and that's when things will really start to happen! Trust me, I know!

One more way to help a cause is to help get corporate donations of some sort. All the biggies have money to give, and give millions every year. It's just a matter of figuring out who to talk to and how to ask for a donation. Chase Bank and Pepsi have even offered online contests for huge amounts of money. Charities set up a page on the corporate site, people vote, and the winners get grants. Pepsi Refresh does monthly contests, and people around the world can vote on each project. Getting people to vote every day can be a daunting cause, and may annoy people, but the results could be great.

Corporate sponsorship can be a tricky thing, especially with the above mentioned contests. Some people believe that it's selling out to get involved with big business. It may be a hard decision pitting your cause against your personal values. I look at it as a way to get corporations to do their civic duty by helping important causes that need it. For you it may not be as simple.

So there you have it. Many ways to help out, and some of them really easy! Now it's time for you to get out there (or on a different website) and start helping your cause. They, your community, and the world are waiting for you!