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Creative fundraising, part three

June 3, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Phil Ottum/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Mercy Corps Volunteer Coordinator Sarah Harrison. Photo: Phil Ottum/Mercy Corps

Three cheers for volunteers! I believe in 'em! My four years as a volunteer with a faith-based, international non-governmental organization introduced me to the world and laid the foundations for launching Mercy Corps. My wife and all five kids have volunteered for church, Mercy Corps and other charities. I think that is why Sarah Harrison, our volunteer coordinator, asked me to speak to our Portland headquarters volunteer team at their annual event last month. What a wonderfully diverse, talented, committed bunch of folks!

OK, back to the beginning. Since the day Mercy Corps was founded, we have received calls and letters asking about volunteer opportunities. However, the insecure environments in which we work — coupled with a lack of management infrastructure to run an overseas volunteer operation — means that we don't use field volunteers. But the domestic front? That's another matter.

In November of 1991, Sarah Harrison joined the Portland Mercy Corps team as a volunteer helping to answer phones and take pledges during my radiothon fundraisers broadcasted from around the nation. I met her by phone when I called our 800 number pledge line to see how much we had raised for famine victims in the Horn of Africa. Later, she and other volunteers she assembled, supported and staffed John Michael Talbot benefit concerts, which raised millions for Mercy Corps programs and added many thousands of new donor friends to the Mercy Corps family.

In 1993-94, Sarah was asked to become part-time staff in our Resource Development department, placing thank you calls to Partners in Mercy (donors who give monthly). In 1997, she became a full time staff member in "Dev Ops" helping to manage our donor database. To keep up the burgeoning work load while keeping expenses in check, Sarah began recruiting volunteers to give their time and talent for a good global cause.

"There was such terrific synergism," Sarah recalls. "That simply means when two or more work together you can produce a result not obtainable by any of the agents independently. We all work hard to create positive change. Volunteers are a real sign of love in the world."

New volunteer Shoni Whiteside exclaims, "Sarah is such a pleasure to work with! My volunteer time with Mercy Corps is such a fulfilling and rewarding experience."

In 1997 there were 10 volunteers. Today there are 326 volunteers. And volunteers now recruit other volunteers!

Since Haiti's earthquake catastrophe in January, volunteers have prepared more than 64,000 receipt envelopes for our generous donors. Now get this: since 2000, 1,490 volunteers have worked more than 90,500 hours in 49 different capacities. This means that — by my quick and dirty calculation — Mercy Corps volunteers have easily contributed somewhere north of a million dollars in assistance to our humanitarian mission in the last decade. Not bad.

Three cheers for our volunteers! And a serious tip of the hat to Sarah Harrison, our volunteer pioneer.