Category: volunteering

Daniel Solomon: Putting My Mouth Where Our Money Is

By Daniel Solomon
Trustee, Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation
Member, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers, Board of Directors

The Naomi and Nehemiah Cohen Foundation began funding civic engagement in 1991 with a grant to Project Vote, a non-partisan voter registration and get-out-the-vote organization concentrating on underrepresented constituencies. In 1998, we were among the founding funders of DC Vote, which seeks full representation in Congress for DC residents. Our support of both groups reflects our view that a meaningful right to vote is central to American democracy.

Starting in 2008, we greatly expanded our financial commitment to civic participation. We have since supported almost a dozen different organizations seeking to register, involve and encourage voting by unmarried women, African-Americans, Latinos, immigrants, young people and other infrequent voters. We did so out of recognition that our direct service and advocacy efforts on issues of teen pregnancy, homelessness, reproductive health, the environment and other funding priorities could be undercut in the legislative process if those we wished to help did not vote. Since then, we have invested $1.2 million in voter engagement efforts.

We have great data from these groups as to the millions of Americans they have added to the voting rolls. This year, I went to Ohio to see whether voter suppression efforts were undermining that work.

I was fortunate to participate in a voter protection effort organized by attorneys from across the country who came to Cleveland to help oversee the electoral process. Ohio was expected to be both the epicenter of the election and a hotbed of challenges to voting. Doubts still lingered about whether Ohio’s votes were counted properly in 2004. Most worrisome was the potential impact of one group that was organizing hundreds of volunteers to disrupt voting in precincts with large numbers of minority voters.

I arrived in Cleveland three days before the election armed with a hundred pages of Ohio voting rules and voter assistance checklists. I and fifty other lawyers spent eight hours on Sunday being trained by the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections in the rules governing voting and what to do if those rules were not being followed. Meanwhile, outside the building thousands of Cleveland residents were waiting to vote early in a line that stretched many football fields long.

Along with half of our lawyer cohort, I spent Election Day in that same building, which was Cleveland’s official election center. The rest of the lawyers fanned out to precincts where it was believed there might be problems. I handled more than 75 phone calls from the field, either from our lawyer-observers, the Voter Protection Hotline, or directly from poll workers trying to help voters determine whether they were eligible to vote.

First and foremost, I saw that the officials in Ohio tried to run a good election and mostly succeeded. For example, some groups did behave in ways that were disrupting voting. At several sites they held up cell phones in a way that made voters believe they were being photographed. They questioned voters about their ID status and residence even though they were only permitted to observe, not talk, while inside the polls. My most significant intervention of the day was helping the person in charge of one polling location restore order where official “observers” from the Democratic and Republican parties were practically at each other’s throats. Ultimately, the use of the cell phones was banned, and the observers were warned to stick to observing or face ejection.

I learned that oversight by outside organizations and transparency of the process are critical. Everybody has to know the rules and know what recourse is available if the rules are not being followed.

I also saw first-hand the importance of early voting. Forty percent of Cuyahoga County voted early. Ohio was able to announce its election results shortly after the polls closed. Florida’s curtailment of early voting certainly contributed to their results not being finalized until Saturday.

While our grantmaking is helping to increase the involvement of underrepresented voters in the electoral process, the process of voting still needs improvement. Each state has its own unique set of voting laws and procedures. States vary greatly on whether they place more emphasis on keeping ineligible people from voting than on increasing voter registration and participation. Some states use electronic voting equipment that does not leave a paper trail, which makes it impossible to verify after the fact whether votes were properly counted. Sadly, voter intimidation is still too frequent a fact in many areas. Legitimate voters are being purged from voting rolls by some states that use overly strict requirements, while others that restrict ex-felon voting often use overly-loose database matching to purge tens of thousands of eligible voters.

Non-partisan voter registration and get out the vote activity do increase the franchise, but we still have a long way to go before all those who should be voting actually get the chance to vote.

Pictures (top to bottom):
– Thousands of people lined up to vote early on the Sunday before Election Day
– Daniel Solomon; Craig Kaplan, an organizing lawyer; Sandy McNair, member of Cuyahoga County Board of Elections
– “Souls to the Polls” cooked up added benefits for getting out to vote

Reed Sandridge talks to WRAG about the Worldwide Day of Giving (today!)

Today we released Our Region, Our Giving, WRAG’s 2011 report on foundation giving in the Greater Washington region. While the philanthropic community is doing critical work by supporting nonprofit organizations, it’s important to also recognize that individuals are making an incredible impact on our community.

Of particular note, June 15th is the Worldwide Day of Giving, a movement founded by local resident Reed Sandridge who, in late 2009, decided to give $10 to a random stranger each day for a year. We interviewed Reed to learn more about the Year of Giving, how it has evolved and grown, and how others can get involved.

Q: Today is the second annual Worldwide Day of Giving. Can you tell us a little about the idea, and how it came about?

Reed Sandridge: The Worldwide Day of Giving was launched in 2010 when I was in the middle of my year-long commitment that I called the Year of Giving where I gave $10 every day to someone I didn’t know. I did that every day for one year after losing my job because it is precisely then when you need things the most that I believe you need to think about others. My mother was one of the most thoughtful and generous people I have known and I decided to embark on my challenge on the three year anniversary of her passing as a way to memorialize her life and the kindness she shared with everyone who knew her. I documented the experience and wrote a journal entry about every single person I gave my $10 to and recorded that at

Q: How can our readers participate?

R.S. It’s simple. There are three ways that anyone in the world can participate:

1. Volunteering

You can volunteer with any organization. For those who are busy and can’t take off work, I suggest that they consider micro-volunteering on Many of their volunteer projects take 20-30 minutes. You can volunteer on your lunch break!

2. Give a stranger $10

You can also pay it forward like I did for 365 days. All you have to do is find a complete stranger, approach them and tell them that you are participating in the Worldwide Day of Giving and would like to give them $10 – no strings attached. The only rules are that you can’t know the person you are giving the money to and you can’t receive anything in return for the gift – aside from the rush of goodness you will feel!

I encourage people to take some time to speak with the recipients, maybe even take a photo, and find out what they will do with the $10 as well as a little bit about who they are. People can then share their stories and photos on the Year of Giving Facebook page.

3. Donate $10 to The Year of Giving

When I was giving my daily $10 away, I met many people who needed things. You can find this list on the Lend a Hand section of the Year of Giving website. I use 100% of the donations to purchase items that these people need. You can make a donation online at

For your readers in Washington, DC, they can join us tonight at One Lounge near Dupont Circle for a meet-up from 6-8:00pm.

Q: Storytelling is a key component of your work, and the stories you share cover such a wide spectrum of experiences and circumstances. Are there any that have risen above the rest and really compelled you to share with other people?

R.S.  One story that I love is that of David G., a homeless newspaper salesman I met on Day 258. Originally from Western Kenya, he came here in the 90s and lost all contact with his family. I asked him if there was anything I could help him with as part of my Lend a Hand program – a program I launched to connect my 365 recipients with people around the world who wanted to help them. He said that he would like to find a long lost cousin, Ben, who was last known to be living in Poland. I posted his full name on the Lend a Hand page, but didn’t really think that I was going to find him.

Six months later I received a call from Poland. It was his cousin Ben who had learned about David’s search for him through a candidate he was interviewing for a job. He had Googled Ben’s name before the interview and happened to find my website. Now the General Manager of a large Polish company, Ben was stunned to learn that his cousin, now homeless, was looking for him. I connected the two and they have remained in touch ever since. They are planning to meet this year.

You can see how all the $10 gifts were used at

Q: Your work is very unique in the types of outcomes you get. How do you measure success?

R.S. The best definition that I have found is attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children…to leave the world a better place…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

Q: Now that your year-long commitment has finished, what has become of the Year of Giving?

R.S. The Year of Giving continues in two ways. First, people who are unemployed or under-employed can become a kindness investor and give away $10 like I did for seven days and then share it on the website. You’d be surprised how it can help someone who is out of work.

As for me, I have a new commitment for 2011 which is focused on volunteerism. Each week this year I volunteer at a different organization and then post a blog about my experience every Monday. I hope to inspire others to consider making volunteering a more integral part of their life.

In the Washington region, thousands heed the call to serve [News, 1.21]

In the Washington region, “thousands heed the call to serve” (WaPo, 1/20) – “an overwhelming response to President-elect Barack Obama’s call…” … and local nonprofit Sasha Bruce Youthwork gets some pretty darned good earned media (NYTimes, 1/19)

“The inauguration of Barack Obama has inspired nonprofit groups from around the country to go to Washington to usher in what they hope will be an era of increased emphasis on community service.” (Chronicle of Philanthropy, 1/20)

More inauguration coverage from the Chronicle.

President Obama’s Service Agenda (

Make a lasting community impact with Washington AIDS Partnership’s AmeriCorps Team

2007-2008 team members installing a fountain for Miriam’s House’s healing garden.

The Washington AIDS Partnership, a WG funding collaborative, is currently recruiting for talented and service-oriented young people for its 2008-2009 AmeriCorps team. Do you know that person? Are you that person? Find details and application on

Each year, the Partnership’s AmeriCorps program gives 12 youth volunteers a monthly stipend and educational benefits in exchange for a year of full-time volunteer service. After receiving training, volunteers are assigned to local agencies providing HIV/AIDS services, where they work at no cost to the host agency. Some AmeriCorps members provide HIV prevention and education, including outreach, in-school presentations, and HIV testing and counseling. Other members work directly with people living with HIV/AIDS, delivering meals and providing case management and hospice care.

As part of their year of service, the team works on a year-long project such as planning a community health fair, painting a mural, and planning high profile HIV/AIDS awareness events. This year, the team is constructing a healing garden for the residents and staff of Miriam’s House, a dynamic residential community for homeless women living with HIV/AIDS. With the addition of a garden, residents will enjoy a quiet outdoor space to reflect, relax, and rejuvenate from their illness. It will also offer a sanctuary and respite to the committed caregivers who serve them. The team has been fundraising for garden materials since January, and broke ground in February to install a donated fountain. The team plans to have the garden completed in June.

For information about applying for the 2008-2009 team, visit the Partnership website,

Several 2007-2008 team members and Steve Shinholser of Premier Ponds and his sons Colby and TJ with the new fountain.

[News 7/17] Merger creates world’s largest volunteer organization

“Merger of Hands On Network and Points of Light Foundation…” (CSRwire, 7/16)

“Hands On to merge with DC nonprofit” (AJC, 7/16)

Mayor Fenty wants to allocate $117 million new revenue annually for affordable housing in D.C. The outlined plan states that “30 percent of new housing units built on city-owned land must be affordable for low-income residents” and calls for a partnership with the interfaith network to produce 5,000 homes. (WaPo, 7/17)

Activist investor “plans to earmark one-third of any profit he makes from [his] Target investment for a charitable foundation…” (NYTimes, 7/16)

Md. Animal Shelter Gets Major Gift (WaPo, 7/17)

[News 7/9] We are above-average volunteers

A new study finds that residents of the National Capital Region are volunteering like crazy–or at least at a higher rate than New Yorkers, Los Angeleans, and Chicagoans Chicagoers people from Chicago. (WaPo, 7/9) This happy/sad article also notes that we “struggle through the second-longest commutes in the country” and that we have plenty of room for improvement–a 32 percent volunteer rate means that 68 percent are not volunteering. You know who you are. (Okay fine, I’m a 68 percenter, but I swear I’ll get moving once the kids are out of diapers.)

Alexandria Volunteer Bureau, Arlington County Volunteer Office, Greater DC Cares, Loudoun Volunteer Services, Montgomery County Volunteer Center, Prince George’s Volunteer Center, Voluntary Action Center of the Prince William Area, Volunteer Fairfax, Volunteer Frederick

“The Washington region stands to lose about 26,000 affordable housing units over the next five years” as Section 8 contracts expire. (WaPo, 7/9)

Prosperity Studios is making a “$500 million inward investment” in D.C. to “transform the City for the homeless” with “Homeless Care Clubs.” Apparently, cities apply to take part in this program, and “provide a guarantee.” No one is covering this, but it seems significant. Anyone heard about this?) (Newswire, 7/3)

Back in March, the eventual construction of a local Tiger Woods Learning Center using AT&T National funds seemed like a sure thing, but now it’s starting to sound a little iffy: (WaPo, 7/5)

Woods said he hopes to open his second learning center in the Washington area, though McLaughlin cautioned it could take three years to get a center up and running on the East Coast and that the location has not been pinpointed. [emphasis mine]

Hot. Code orange, be careful.