She’s the First volunteer Laura Simion spends most of her day working as an account manager in the financial services industry. She works just as hard for startup nonprofit She’s the First as co-chairperson of the organization’s finance committee.
Laura Simion joins She’s the First
Laura was born and raised in Romania then emigrated with her family to the United States, to New York, when she was thirteen years old. She continued growing up in Queens and headed south for college. She graduated from the University of Richmond in 2009, after which returned to New York to find a job – and something more.
“I needed to find a way to give back,” Laura said. When she was growing up in Romania, the middle class didn’t exist; there were just two socioeconomic strata: lower and upper.
There were few if any, opportunities to pursue higher education. She recalled past visits to Romania and finding that her childhood friends had to abandon their schooling to find work to support their families. Attending university was a luxury unimaginable to most of her cohort in her homeland.
So when she first learned about She’s the First on LinkedIn after having joined 85 Broads, a global network of professional women, her search was over: She’s the First’s mission is to empower girls in developing nations “to become the first in their families to graduate from secondary school”, which they realize through sponsorship.
Grants and donations from high net-worth individuals fund She’s the First’s operations, which allows funds raised from volunteer-powered campaigns, like Run the World, to be allocated solely towards sponsorships.
Laura initially engaged with She’s the First primarily with fundraising and finance. When She’s the First reorganized their approach to fundraising campaigns, Laura’s focus shifted to co-chairing the finance committee.
She’s the First Run the World Campaign
This year was the She’s the First’s first go at the Run the World campaign. The campaign was proposed at the end of 2012 as one of several campaigns for 2013, and Laura had been anticipating playing an important role in this one.
“I was super excited about it,” she said. “I like to work out.” Laura’s also been getting into running.
The campaign raised funds via a variety of fitness-oriented ventures. Volunteers who enjoy running registered for races and raised funds for She’s the First via the Run the World Campaign.
She’s the First also partnered with fitness studios that donated proceeds from their classes through the campaign. When one of the original campaign co-captains had to step down, Laura stepped up, leading the efforts to partner with these fitness studios.
Planning and preparation for Run the World kicked off in January 2013; the campaign then launched March 1, 2013, and wound down on June 30, 2013. The fundraising goal for Run the World was set at $50,000, the highest of any of She’s the First’s campaigns.
Run the World saw its biggest spike in May. By June 30, the campaign met 81% of its goal, with some studio partnerships taking effect after June 30. Some funds were yet to be received at the time of this writing so, it’s likely that Run the World raised over $40,544.
Though the campaign overall fell just short of its goal, Run the World was a success. Erin Leigh Patterson of Georgia ran a marathon in March, dubbing her fundraising effort “26 miles for 26 girls”. Erin and her friend Brooke raised $9,094; their initial goal: $7,800.
There’s also the campus chapter of She’s the First at Hofstra University that raised $2,665; their original goal was $1,600. They topped the rankings among team fundraising efforts.
Using CauseVox, with its customizable pages and individual progress tracking capabilities, helped She’s the First create a “friendly, competitive spirit” among supporters. It seems like a bit of competition helped elevate motivation for the campaign. CauseVox “helped so much in meeting [our] goals,” Laura said, also noting that the platform was “very flexible”.
So what was the key lesson learned from this inaugural Run the World campaign? Laura said it was setting aside more time to build partnerships with fitness studios.
Through this campaign, She’s the First formed a wide network of fitness studios; admittedly most of them are based in the greater New York City area (where She’s the First is also headquartered) but some are located in the west coast, like Pound, which offers workouts that combine Zumba with light weights.
Responses from the studios that were contacted varied: some were eager to partner with She’s the First and referred Laura to other fitness studios that might join the campaign. One such studio was 305 Fitness, whose dance-based workouts were inspired by Miami beach night-life. They offered classes (which Laura, fellow volunteers and She’s the First staff took and enjoyed), made referrals, and plan to continue partnering with She’s the First. At the end of classes at 305 Fitness and other studios, there were raffles for prizes that were in-kind donations from the studios and other companies.
Some studios were unable to join because they were already partnering with other charities. Some were unable to join the campaign due to the relatively short notice; major fitness studio franchises tend to set budgets well in advance, so the lesson was to align the campaign timelines with these studios’ fiscal timelines.
“Flexibility” is key, said Laura, also recognizing the need to “clearly show the benefits of partnership” are mutual.
With these takeaways in mind, planning for the 2014 Run the World campaign is already underway. Improvements include selling branded gear, like t-shirts, and organizing races.
Engaging with Volunteers
What’s also remarkable and important to remember is that She’s the First executes their campaigns relying primarily on their volunteers. She’s the First is hiring one staff person, bringing the grand total of full-time staff to three people. Much of the impact She’s the First makes is through effective mobilization of their vast volunteer army, which, at a glance, comprises mostly Generation Y women.
Because of the high number of Millennials that support She’s the First, social media plays an integral part of volunteer management. She’s the First’s Twitter followers not only keep up with the organization’s developments, they also learn more about the challenges and progress made in empowering girls through tweets linking to relevant articles. She’s the First has more followers on Twitter than fans on Facebook, but the organization has done well to use their Facebook page as a showcase – for their interns and for key volunteer leaders.
— She’s the First (@shesthefirst) August 3, 2013
She’s the First’s storytelling also keeps volunteers and supporters informed and motivated. The blog features great content that comprises stories of volunteers’ efforts, updates from abroad of sponsored girls, and “news bursts” on various women’s issues. A press committee helps find and curate these stories, with founder Tammy Tibbetts kept in the loop. She’s the First also used the Run the World campaign page to highlight the various partnering studios in addition to giving updates on the campaign’s progress.
For She’s the First to accomplish its mission, diligent volunteer management is key. For She’s the First, that looks like creating tiers of involvement; different levels at which volunteers can engage and invest time. The small staff guides a “dream team” of volunteers who, like Lauren, provide leadership within the organization; these volunteer opportunities require a high level of commitment.
During project meetings, the various committees present needs, and volunteers will decide which ones they will fill. Coordinating a fundraising campaign like Lauren helped do is a way a volunteer can serve at a higher level. Outside of the campaigns, volunteers can serve as ambassadors of She’s the First, or as researchers, or fill in gaps in the organization’s public relations, communications, marketing, and finance needs.
Laura said flexibility and understanding are key in working with and managing volunteers. It’s important to expect that volunteers’ commitment and interest levels may change over time. When it comes to project management with volunteers, “We try our best… to keep them in the loop,” said Laura, to update their supporters and volunteers of changes in the needs, how they can help.
Laura noted that while She’s the First may relay the end goals of a project or campaign, volunteers may take different approaches. “Keeping very good track is key,” she said. She’s the First are wrestling with ideas for further accountability.
As volunteers serve, they’re empowered also developing and growing skills that will prove beneficial to their own career development, and more girls in the developing world will be the first to complete their education. Ultimately, everybody wins.
- Give plenty of time to plan and coordinate with other businesses so that your campaign aligns with their budget planning.
- Highlight your supporters’ successes!
- Encourage supporters to share why they’re participating.
- Keep close track of the progress being made throughout the process, from planning through completion.
- Remain flexible and understanding when relying heavily on volunteers.
- Remember to say please and thank you — and often; there’s no such thing as too much gratitude!