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Philanthropy Friday: Columbus Gives Back

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Community Service With A Social Twist

Columbus Gives Back was founded earlier this year, in March of 2009, as a way to volunteer in the community and meet new people. Community service has always been very important to founder Juliana Pernik. She started volunteering in junior high, continued through college and after relocating to Columbus she began volunteering in the area inviting friends to volunteer alongside her. It was through encouragement and support of her friends that she decided to organize their efforts and offer the volunteer opportunities to the public. Columbus Gives Back was founded on the premise that small contributions can make a collectively large impact. It is entirely volunteer run and because all members hold day jobs and have competing demands on their time and energy, Columbus Gives Back tries to be as low-key and flexible as possible.

I learned about Columbus Gives Back a few months ago and have been impressed with the work they are doing and the fun they are having. Wanting to help create awareness for this group, I approached Juliana and asked for an interview.

M: How is volunteering with Columbus Gives Back different?

J: “The mission of Columbus Gives Back is to offer meaningful volunteer opportunities in a fun and social setting. We are fortunate that there are many organizations in Columbus that offer great social events and volunteer opportunities. Columbus Gives Back is designed to complement these efforts so that together we can make an even greater positive impact on the community. Our tagline is “Community Service With a Social Twist” so the social aspect of our group is also important. I’m a pretty outgoing person but I still find it difficult to meet new people in a crowded bar or concert. It’s much easier to connect with people when you’re building a community garden or disassembling a computer together. It’s also lot less expensive!”

M: It looks like your group focuses on volunteering and even a little fundraising. Can you tell me a little about how this works?

J: “Our structure is fairly simple. We have a group of event leaders who identify volunteer opportunities with local nonprofit organizations and create events that meet both the agencies’ needs and our volunteer’s interests. Our events typically involve 5-15 volunteers, require a 1.5-4 hour time commitment, and facilitate social interaction. We often go out for food or drinks after each event to celebrate our hard work and get to know the other members better.

In addition, we hold monthly happy hours to benefit a local nonprofit. We held a “spring cleaning” event where all attendees brought a cleaning product for the Ronald McDonald House and a school supply drive for the children of Lutheran Social Services. We’ll be holding mitten and hat drive for Children’s Hunger Alliance at the Chocolate Café in November. These happy hours provide a great opportunity for new members to learn about the group and about upcoming volunteer opportunities. You can find upcoming events on our website calendar.”

M: What are some of the non-profit needs Columbus Gives Back is focusing on right now?

J: “Nonprofit organizations have seen a tremendous increase in the demand for their services due to the declining economic conditions of the past year. In addition, funding and donations have dropped as a result of the heightened economic uncertainty. Columbus Gives Back aims to bridge some of these gaps in services and resources. We often assist agencies by helping with tasks that would otherwise be handled by paid staff. The social component of our group facilitates this work. Cleaning, assembling dressers, and staining woodwork become much more fun when you can socialize with a group at the same time! Also, we’re a completely independent, grassroots organization—this affords us with considerable flexibility to work with agencies to meet their most pressing needs.”

M: How can people join Columbus Gives Back?

J: “The group is open to everyone 21 and over — just visit our website and sign up for any event that interests you. Individuals can also sign up as a “friend” of Columbus Gives Back to receive our biweekly e-newsletter and to receive information about upcoming events. Most of our members are between the ages of 21 and 40, but participation is open to all.”

M: I started following you on Twitter awhile back. How does your group use social media?

J: “Social media has been a very powerful tool for Columbus Gives Back. We are currently on twitter and Facebook. Twitter has served two purposes. First, it has allowed us to promote the mission and events of our group as well as those of other organizations around Columbus. Second, it has helped us identify service opportunities with local agencies. We were introduced to opportunities with the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, MAP Furniture Bank, Lutheran Social Services, and the University Area Enrichment Association thanks to Twitter. Finally, Twitter has helped us connect one-on-one with some of our followers. Many members of the Columbus Gives Back leadership team were identified and contacted via Twitter.

Facebook has facilitated the social component of our group because it allows us to forge connections among group members. For example, the “events” feature allows individuals to RSVP for events and to view others who have registered as well. In addition, the calendar feature Facebook helps members organize their RSVP’s. We’re very new to utilizing social media as an organization, so we are constantly learning and readjusting our strategies.”

Columbus Gives Back also welcomes any help! They are always looking for event leaders to coordinate a volunteer opportunity for their “wish list” of activities. They would also love for members to organize social events, promote and advertise Columbus Gives Back, and eventually assist them in becoming a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. If interested, email [email protected] with your ideas or suggestions.

For more information about Columbus Gives Back visit ColumbusGivesBack.org.

To see some behind the scenes photos from Columbus Gives Back visit InKindConnection.com.

Philanthropy Friday is a feature article by Michele Savoldi that will highlight a Columbus area non-profit organization every other week.

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