Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays

December Snapshot: Operation Santa Claus

Every year thousands of “Dear Santa” letters flood American post offices, and every year thousands of children and adults alike go without gifts and fulfilled wishes. Operation Santa Claus is an nonprofit organization that allows people who have been given much to read letters written to Santa and respond through giving.

How it Works

Go into the closest participating post office, read through a few letters, and select one or more you want to answer. After you’ve purchased the gifts, bring them along with the letter and money for postage back to the same office. Postal workers will make sure the presents are delivered, while protecting the information of the individual or family receiving the gifts.

In order to keep children and families safe, participating post offices have set up guidelines for individuals, companies and organizations wanting to give of their resources.

  • All Dear Santa letters must be picked up from a participating post office in person.
  • Individuals wishing to participate do not need an appointment, but can simply walk, provide valid identification, and select a letter.
  • Companies and organizations must schedule an appointment before picking up letters. They must also present both a letter of introduction for their company/org and valid identification
  • All “Dear Santa” helpers must agree with the USPS Privacy Act statement listed on the  Form 6012-1(Operation Santa Letter Adoption Individual) and PS Form 6012 (Operation Santa Letter Adoption Third Party).

Additional ways to help

Many of you may not live near one of the participating post offices, but there are still ways you can support this effort.

  • Start a Operation Santa Claus branch at your local post office. Garner the support of local companies and organizations, and inquire of your local postal workers to see if they will work with you in this effort.
  • Donate to Operation Santa Claus and link to their website, Facebook, and twitter
  • Give to children and families in other ways. Donate toys, clothes, shoes, or other necessities at local drop offs.

Santa Claus has long been an icon of childhood dreams and desires fulfilled. Yet many children only see Santa as someone who seems to overlook or forget their home or neighborhood. What better way to instill love and cheer in the hearts of these children than answering their letters to Santa and helping them believe in something bigger than themselves?

USA TODAY article on Operation Santa Claus here.

Gratitude Week

We’re in the business of helping people give of themselves to their communities, their neighbors, and the world. We take great joy in making it easier to volunteer.

This time of year gratitude is at the front of our minds and we wanted to do something to say this: thanks. Thanks for going places other people are unwilling go. Thanks for being someone who cares about others. Thanks for giving back.

To show our gratitude, each business day from November 16-22 leading up to Thanksgiving, we’d like to provide a chance for you to win some cool stuff. But this is not your average giveaway contest! We selected prizes from like-minded organizations that are also in the business of giving back. We hope you love it as much as we do.

We’ve kept the conditions as simple as possible so we can bypass the redtape and stick to the gratitude.

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 16. Roma Provisions combines fashion with charity. They design and sell rain boots while their subsidiary, Roma for All, distributes boots to children living in poverty.

HOW TO WIN A PAIR OF ROMA BOOTS: Tweet @volunteercard with a photo of something you’re thankful for. Use hashtag #day1.

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 17. Project 7 is another great cause-related company that makes everyday goods and uses profits to give back to those in need. We love their coffe, so we’re giving away an 18 count case of freshly ground coffee. The “House the Homeless” blend provides food, shelter, education, and healthcare for orphans.

HOW TO WIN PROJECT 7 COFFEE: Let us know about some good that is happening. Tweet “Hey @volunteercard, check out the good  ______ is doing!” Use hashtag #day2.

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 18. Village of Hope orphans in Northern Uganda roll each bead by hand from recycled paper. Orphans (ages 12-18) making these beads receive food, education and medical care as a way of providing for themselves and their siblings. All profits from the sale of these items go directly to the projects that support the orphans of Village of Hope Uganda.

HOW TO WIN  BEADS OF HOPE BRACELETS: Tweet @volunteercard with one specific way you plan to give back this holiday season. Use hashtag #day3.

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 21. You have causes that you care about. As a personal thank you, we’d love to give $100 donation to the nonprofit of your choice.

HOW TO WIN $100 DONATION TO YOUR CHOICE OF NONPROFIT: Leave a comment on this blog entry that explains what you love about your nonprofit choice. Be sure to include their link so we can check them out.

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 22. In the spirit of Toms’ One for One, we’d like to give you two pairs of Toms: one for you and one for a friend.

HOW TO WIN TOMS FOR YOU + A FRIEND: Head on over to our Facebook page and share a story or experience that first made you want to volunteer or give back.



November Snapshot: WWOOF

For the month of November, we’re excited to feature a very unique organization that allows volunteers to exchange their hard work for an experience in an organic/sustainable lifestyle. WWOOF, which stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, exists to link volunteers interested in these organic lifestyles to organic farmers or smallholdings.

How it All began

In 1971, Sue Coppard, a London secretary, set up a work weekend for herself and a small group of city dwellers who were interested in getting out of the city and learning more about the growing organic movement. The weekend experiment was a huge success, and Coppard’s  idea quickly gained momentum. Since then, the vision of the organization has spread to over 40 other countries.

How it Works

Whether you’re an individual who is just starting to be curious about the increasing number of “organic” labels in your grocery store, someone who has been eating organic for years, or a smallholder yourself, WWOOF’s  website will help plug you in to the right resources.

Fun Facts to Keep in Mind

* WWOOF is an “exchange.” As a volunteer, you will be exchanging your hard work for the experience, free stay, and food from your host family. WWOOF volunteers are able to live with their host farms as part of the family, and from here an exchange takes place. The volunteer works for the family and the family trades their knowledge, opens their home, and provides organic, homegrown meals for their volunteers.

* Volunteers do not pay for their stay, and hosts do not pay their volunteers.

* WWOOF organizations usually charge a small fee to hosts and volunteers. This fee helps maintain and develop the WWOOF network. Some countries have their own national WWOOF organization, to which you pay a small fee. Other countries do not, but instead have a list of independent host families.

If you think you fit the description of a potential WWOOF volunteer or host family, visit their website, tweet at them, or check out their Facebook page, and start WWOOFing!

Does 7 Billion People Have to be a Problem?

Today, Oct. 31st, is the predicted date the earth becomes home to seven billion humans. The United Nations came up with this number, admitting, it could “actually be 56 million higher or lower.” Regardless of accuracy, the reason the U.N. chose a specific date was more of way to “draw attention to the speed of population growth, with less than 13 years having passed between the six-billion and seven-billion milestones. “It can focus attention of people all around the world on global population challenges,” says Mr Heilig, the U.N.’s population estimates chief. (BBC: Are There Really 7 Billion of Us?)

So Seven Billion,…What’s the Big Deal?

When hen I hear the earth’s population has more than doubled in fifty years (growing from just 3 billion in 1960) I think think space. Though the population is growing, the world definitely isn’t. But space is not the problem. We actually have plenty of it! Standing shoulder to shoulder, all seven billion of us would only fill the city of Los Angeles. Then our minds go to resources–running out of food or water. Again, somewhat surprisingly, running out of resources isn’t the problem either. “World agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite [the] 70 percent population increase. (worldhunger.org)

The principal “problems” of seven billion people is solving the problems our planet has dealt with for centuries: there is an uneven distribution of wealth, resources, and food. People are dying of starvation, malnutrition, and treatable disease. Children are orphaned, widows left with no source of income. Women and children are exploited, and the list goes on. This earth is well-equipped to care for seven billion. But are we? 

Population Growth Doesn’t Have to Be a Problem.

Population growth doesn’t have to be a problem. Volunteering our time, money, and resources, are all steps towards the goal of a globe that has evenly distributed wealth, and the opportunity for every human being to live a dignified life. It starts in our minds. Prioritizing our personal goals to join in a global endeavor to solve these problems and then going out and doing it. It’s going to take work, time, commitment. It’s going to take unity– “7 billion strong.”

“Some say our planet is too crowded. I say we are seven billion strong,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “In our increasingly interconnected world, we all have something to give and something to gain by working together. Let us unite, seven billion strong, in the name of the global common good.” To read more from this article, click here. Also check out www.7billionactions.org

To learn more about the 7 billion on our planet, watch this interesting informational video from National Geographic:

Become a More Valuable Volunteer: 5 Practical Ways

If you’re like me, when you volunteer, you want to do the most good in the amount of time you have. Volunteering is a great way to work on your weaknesses or experiment with new experiences. But as a volunteer, it’s important that we set aside our own agenda for the benefit of those we are helping.

Here are 5 practical tips to help you

Be as Valuable As You Can Be

1. Take a strengths quiz (and encourage others on your team to do the same!). This may seem over-board, but knowing your strengths and even the strengths of your team will help you know in what capacity to work and who to partner with. As a person who is highly communicative, I work well with those who are highly strategic.

** I recommend strengths finder and a  VIA me is free online.

2. If Possible, work where you have experience. This may seem obvious, but I think it’s often tempting to try new things at the expense of really helping the organization or individuals you are volunteering for. For example, I would love to put in sheetrock; it sounds like fun! Do I have any experience? Zip. So, it might be much better for me to be on the painting team, where I know I can help and even help guide others.

3. Communicate best practices. This goes along with number 2. Often, as a volunteer, it may feel as if you have no voice. In reality, sometimes the people you are working for or with may know less than you do about a certain task they need completed. It never hurts to humbly offer your knowledge on the subject. It may be very appreciated!

4. Ask Questions. Although ideally you can do something you’re really good at (or at least have some experience with), this doesn’t always happen. While volunteering, it’s very likely that at some point someone is going to ask you to do something you don’t know how to do. Ask. It may be embarrassing at first, but it saves the embarrassment, time, and bother of having to correct a mistake later.

5. Be willing. It’s so great to maximize your volunteer potential by doing something you know you excel at. But essentially, it’s not about you. More than anything, organizations and individuals seek out those who are willing to help in any capacity, willing to be flexible, willing to learn, and willing to give it their very best.

If you’re someone who really wants to help, think about putting these tips to use. And help us brainstorm other beneficial ways an individual can become a more valuable volunteer!

October Snapshot: Global Volunteers

This month, we are featuring Global Volunteers, an organization near and dear to our hearts. Not only are they based out of the Twin Cities, our home, but they are one of our very first partners.

Since 1999, Global Volunteers has been working in consultive status with the United Nations with the purpose to “wage peace and promote justice by maintaining genuine, sustained service partnerships with host communities and by providing volunteers a genuine opportunity to serve.”

Global Volunteers offers vacationers short-term volunteer opportunities in 19 countries with options that span from teaching English, to painting, to working with community elders.

What Makes Global Volunteers Stand Out?

 1. They have a healthy and unique philosophy of service. Global Volunteers is not your average volunteer vacation website. They believe that in “to be truly successful in sustainable development assistance, outsiders must work at the invitation and under the direction of those they are attempting to assist.” Global Volunteers is staffed by individuals who work directly with local leaders to create short-term volunteer projects that will accomplish long-term development goals.

2. They have a long track-record of success. Global Volunteers has been around for nearly three decades, and in the world of volunteer vacations, this is a rather long time. USA Today didn’t call them the “Granddaddy of the volunteer vacation movement” for no reason. They have the experience and wisdom that many organizations are working towards.

3. They have strategic partnerships. First off, Global Volunteers has special consultative status with the United Nations. Essentially, this means  they are committed to the  U.N. Millennium Development Goals and are accountable to report on their service program outcomes every four years. They also in partnership with UNICEF, The United Nations Children’s Fund. With UNICEF, they strive to be “a voice for at-risk children and their families in the host communities” they serve.

What Can You Do?

You can plan your next vacation with Global Volunteers and serve in a capacity that is truly furthering long-term developmental goals. As one volunteer put it,

“One of the best things about a Global Volunteers program is that you can be dropped into a setting in another part of the world for just a few weeks. Things are already set in motion, and you pick up where the last team left off. Being part of one team in a series, part of a long-term commitment served by many teams, I realized that I was participating in something much bigger. It was perfect for me because I only get a few weeks’ vacation each year. And yet, it was one of the most thrilling and rewarding things I have ever done.”
~ Jim Hausler, NY

If you’re not one to leave the country, Global Volunteers does have U.S. service programs in MN, Montana, and West Virgina. You can alsoconsider becoming a sponsor, donating, or simply visit their Global Volunteers’ website to learn more and spread the message!

Help Honorary Chief Build a School in Ghana

It’s natural to enter a volunteer trip with certain expectations: you want to help people, you want to make that all-important but often elusive “difference”, you want your time to matter—to leave and feel you have benefited the community and developed a greater sense of compassion for others.

But you probably don’t expect to be crowned honorary chief.

Here’s a true story that reads like a myth.

In July 2010, Peter Sheehan, a 34-year-old software developer from Chicago, IL, and his wife, Colleen, were in Ghana with Globe Aware on a one-week volunteer vacation with Globe Aware. Their experience was that of a typical volunteer trip: Colleen taught in the village while Peter helped construct facilities. His work was not extraordinary—he dug trenches, laid conduits, and mixed concrete—but it was fruitful.

On July 8, the day before Peter and Colleen were to leave for America, their Globe Aware guide notified Peter that the chief of the village had a message: the village desired to elect Peter as honorary chief of Mafi-Wudukpo.

A formal ceremony was held later that day, and Peter was dressed in a traditional robe and provided special beads and sandals. Two girls were assigned to follow and fan Peter as he made a formal entrance before the entire village.

“During the ceremony, my translator was explaining that the chief felt that the fact two Americans came all this way to help his village marked a new era for the region, hence, ‘New Dawn’ became my honorary name,” Peter says. “The chief explained that my wife would be crowned ‘Queen Mother’ on our next visit since tradition dictates both ceremonies cannot be held on the same day.”

Peter received a plot of land to build on and a ram during the ceremony. “Living in the village, we were able to overcome the language barrier by communicating through active participation and working within their environment,” says Peter. “While I am proud of what we were able to accomplish, we are now absolutely committed to ensure that this is just the very beginning of the work we will do for our new family in Mafi-Wudukpo.”

What makes this story so special is that it represents the power of building a genuine connection and gaining trust. Peter and his wife were able to earn the respect of the village people in a short period of time because of their generosity, hard work, and kindness. As a way to give back, further cultivate the relationship, and honor the trust placed in him, Peter is starting a campaign to raise funds to build a school on the plot of land he received as a gift from the village.

Here are three reasons that make this campaign unique (and why you should get involved!):

1.This campaign represents a very specific opportunity to help build a school for kids in in Mafi-Wudukpo. You will know exactly where the funds are going and get to see the influence your donation has on the community.

2.This campaign is a unique opportunity to turn a short-term volunteer partnership into a long-term impact. Building a school creates a long-term commitment to education, giving children the gift of learning and opportunity.

3.Any amount will help! As you will see in the details, there are different rewards for various stages of giving, but let this encourage rather than deter you. Anything you can give will go toward the cause of building a new school.


Watch a video of Peter Becoming a Village Chief after Volunteering in Ghana.
Donate here.

Please spread the word about this awesome opportunity.

Volunteerism: A Look into History

We talk a lot about volunteering around here. It’s our hope and desire to provide relevant, helpful information, inspiration and resources for you.

But I think it’s time to take a step back, to think about how we got here–to this world filled with thousands of volunteer and volunteer travel options. By taking a look into the history of American organized volunteerism, we can see how individuals and organizations strategically brought about social change. We can learn from them, what to do and what not to do, and we can dream about what lies ahead.


Volunteerism in America

1736- Benjamin Franklin assembles a group of about thirty men to form the Union Fire Company in Philadelphia. The men’s equipment includes “six leather buckets and two stout linen bags, each marked with his name and the name of the company, which he was to bring to every fire.” (History of Philedelphia, John Thomas Scharf) Thanks to Franklin’s initiative, Philadelphia establishes a structure for all subsequent fire companies.

1857- The first YMCA is established by George Williams in London, England as a way for young men to stay active in physically and spiritually uplifting ways. Captain Thomas Valentine Sullivan is inspired by this English endeavor, and establishes the first YMCA in Boston on December 29, 1851. YMCAs soon began springing up all over the world.

1881- At age 60, Clara Barton establishes the U.S. branch of the American Red Cross. Providing so much more than medical and spiritual support to the soldiers, Clara doesn’t rest when it comes to serving those affected by the Civil War.  After years of waiting to have the Swiss organization approved in America, Clara’s proposition is answered and the Red Cross is finally approved by Chester Arthur.  Read more about Clara’s amazing volunteerism and the beginnings of the Red Cross here.

1919- First Bureau of Volunteer Services is created in Minneapolis, MN. The hope is to “conserve war time enthusiasm for peace time needs of the community.” (The Family: journal of social casework, Volumes 3-4 By Family Service Association of America,)

1933-  Franklin D. Roosevelt forms the Civilian Conservation Corps and plants around 3 billion trees. This was a crucial move, especially in areas affected by the dust bowl of the dirty 30′s.

CCC recruits getting ready to leave for Messula

1964 – VISTA (Volunteers In Service to America) and other national services is created to fight the war on poverty. Originally Kennedy’s dream, it is realized by Lyndon B Johnson, who says, “Your pay will be low; the conditions of your labor often will be difficult. But you will have the satisfaction of leading a great national effort and you will have the ultimate reward which comes to those who serve their fellow man.” (find full article here)

1987- New York City launches CityCares, a program aimed toward getting young professionals involved in volunteer opportunities. They later change their name to Hands on Network in 2004. Hands On currently “includes a powerful network of more than 70,000 corporate, faith and nonprofit organizations that are answering the call to serve and creating meaningful change in their communities. Annually, the network delivers approximately 30 million hours of volunteer service valued at about $600 million.” Read more here.

1989- President H.W. Bush develops a “3-part strategy to make community service a national policy of the highest priority.” One year later, in response to his call, Points of Light Foundation is created “as an independent, non-partisan, nonprofit org to encourage and empower the spirit of service.” (read more here)

2000- VolunteerConnections.org is launched to help volunteer centers utilize technology. A few years later it becomes 1-800-Volunteer.org which is now used by individual volunteers to search for opportunities and events, and by non-profits who are able to recruit volunteers online.


Where We Go From Here

Often times it’s easy to feel over-looked or unappreciated as a volunteer. Usually not many people know of your service, not many people thank you, and often even the effects that you have are rather small. But we hope that through looking into history you’ve seen what volunteerism has and will accomplish.  As history shows, there is always potential for growth in doing good, always innovative thinkers needed, and always greater effects than we would ever expect!

Big Thanks to Hands On Network who provides a very informative and comprehensive timeline of the history of America’s voluntourism, where much of this information is found. Thanks to other sources cited throughout as well! 


September Snapshot: GoVoluntouring

For the month of September, we’d like to introduce you to GoVoluntouring, a resource for both volunteer travelers and volunteer programs.

What They’re About 

GoVoluntouring is a website that exists to “connect participants (whether they be volunteers, teachers, coaches and learners) with programs that match their unique needs and interests.” They hope, that through these partnerships they can continue to enact “global grassroots social, cultural, and environmental change.”

Founded by Aaron Smith, former VP Marketing with Flight Centre North America, GoVoluntouring was designed to bridge conventional travel with more purposeful and impactful options. Its roots are stem from a Royal Roads University assignment called ‘The Venture Challenge’ that demanded a social entreprize be created to empower social groups and improve our environmental footprint in the absence of start-up capital.

The website went ‘live’ on September 5th with a diverse (and fast growing) number of project choices. They employ a qualifying format as important to the volunteer, as it is to the volunteer program.

How it works

GoVoluntouring has a variety of “filters” by which an organization, or individual can search for volunteer programs. Let’s say I want to go to Australia to teach overseas for 6 months. I can select these specifications and GoVoluntouring will provide me with programs that match my requirements. Though they exist as a match-maker of sorts, GoVoluntouring encourages their users to ask themselves what they really want from their volunteer trip, do outside research, and, as the final decision-maker, find their own “perfect match.”

GoVoluntouring is not just a resource for individuals only though; they are a platform for non-profits to be seen and supported at no cost and offer “test driving” options for For-Profit orgs. They welcome For-Profit organizations to give them a try before committing to a paid partnership.

Smith notes that these ‘For-profit’ organizations are hugely important in a great many ways. In many cases, it is these organizations that resonate with first-time volunteers. They blend local tours, and more conventional ‘tourist’ offerings in their deliverables, and provide balanced holiday alternatives – not to say this is exclusive to For-Profits either, but margin can often allow for breadth of services’. In time, it will be the for-profits that will make this a sustainable venture and their presence will ultimately assist their non-profit colleagues.

Whether you’re a volunteer program and GoVoluntouring piques your interest, contact them about becoming a partner and potential match for those searching. If you’re a volunteer, why not start your search to find the ideal match for your voluntour trip!