Volunteerism, Work and Mixing the Two: A Distributor Shares Her Story
After my blog a few weeks back about Jay Deutsch's charity work and giving, reader Jane Nelson-Halverson, owner of Dakota Promotions & Printing, Bismarck, North Dakota, left a comment about her own work for a similar cause. I decided to interview her about her experiences, partially because they're so admirable and emotionally gripping, but also because she mentioned she does promotional work for the charity she volunteers at, which I thought raised a couple interesting and worthwhile business questions. ("Is it hard promoting something so serious?" "How do you separate the personal and professional sides of things when you're selling to a charity you also volunteer at?" etc.) Our conversation, carried out through email, is reproduced below.
Promo Marketing: How did you first start volunteering for the Abused Adult Resource Center (AARC)?
Jane Nelson-Halverson: I've been volunteering for them for so long, I don't really remember exactly how I got started. I must have responded to a volunteer request, but it was somewhat of a self-healing ambition. I had an abusive relationship back in the '80s, but never sought help. It wasn't really the thing to do back then, so I just moved on with my life as a single mom. But, enough crying. My first volunteer job was working in their thrift store, Seeds of Hope, back around 1995. I remember it was a bitter cold winter day in North Dakota. I had a 20 mile drive into Bismarck to work on a Saturday morning and the store was FREEZING! They turned the heat way down at night to conserve. Not a dream job at all, but I always knew I would give back somehow—my grandmother was a volunteer and sometimes she let me help her at the hospital when I was young. When I was on my own, I told her I felt bad when I was asked but couldn't volunteer (when my children were small). She told me that one day I would be able, so with her spirit, I do what I can.
PM: What kind of services does the abused adult resource center provide?
JNH: You may want to refer to their website, but AARC provides many services to Bismarck and the surrounding area. There is a wonderful shelter in Bismarck, "Pam's House," named after a deceased victim. This is a secure, temporary shelter for women and children. The "Diane Zainhofsky Hope House" is a transitional center for women able to leave the temporary shelter, but not quite able to move out on their own. Diane Zainhofsky is the director of the Abused Adult Resource Center and started the program back in 1976. Housed within the AARC office building is the Family Safety Center, which provides supervised visitation and exchange services for families where there has been documented or suspected risk of abuse of the child. The Seeds of Hope thrift store features new and used items and clothing. As well as raising money to help pay for existing programs, the store serves as an employment and job training site for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. AARC also started the PULSE community program, People United for Living in Safe Environments. This includes task force groups of police officers, medical professionals, social workers, legal professionals and business owners who, together, work to prevent and put in place protocols for domestic and sexual violence situations.
PM: What kind of volunteer work do you do for them?
JNH: I have done a little bit of everything: straightening up and relocating misplaced items at the Seeds of Hope store; marking the way and manning a water station for fundraising walks; refereeing volleyball matches for a fundraising tournament; manning the refreshment and T-shirt station for the volleyball tournament (even when it was freezing cold out a couple of years ago, when the sand volleyball was relocated because of the Missouri River flooding!); answering the crisis call line after-hours, which sometimes meant driving to the emergency room to be with a client or the police station or meeting her at the shelter (Pam's House). THAT is a whole 'nother story! But, in 2006, I logged 2006 hours, mostly being on-call on the phones and received the AARC's Volunteer of the Year award. (The hours and the year were totally coincidental!)
PM: How long have you been with the center?
JNH: I think it was in 1995 that I started volunteering. To be an advocate on the phones, there is a 6-week training course AARC provides. They always seem to be short people to man the after-hour phones. It's important to relieve the regular staff so they aren't constantly working. While it's extremely rewarding work, it's also very hard on a person; very draining emotionally.
PM: What kind of promotional work do you do for the center?
JNH: I have done different promotions for them throughout the years. Regularly, I do T-shirts for their fundraising volleyball and golf tournaments. Periodically they do school promotions, but money is pretty tight. Sometimes I find a pretty good deal on (purple) wristbands or ribbons or something I think they would like and I just buy them and give them to AARC. I'm not good for my own business. 🙂 (Purple is the color for domestic violence awareness.)
PM: Is it challenging promoting a charity that's such a serious and emotionally palpable cause? (Compared to something like environmentalism or animal adoption, which are wonderful causes but can be emotionally "easy" for lack of a better word.) Why or why not?
JNH: It is in the sense that there is not a lot of money to purchase promotions. They need to spend their money on upkeep of their facilities, and for supplies like toilet paper, toothpaste and food. The promotions they have done have been for educational purposes, or they have had sponsors to help defray costs as in the volleyball and golf shirts.
PM: Since you both volunteer and promote at the same organization, do you have any advice on keeping the personal and business aspects separate?
JNH: I am extremely proud to represent both sides. In fact, I wear shirts with their volleyball or golf promotions on my sales calls. I am proud to represent their cause. The one thing to keep in mind for this organization is confidentiality. In fact, I contacted them before I completed this interview to make sure they approved of me doing it. They are happy to help me out—in fact, they'd like to make sure they get a final copy of it!
PM: Do you have any other advice you'd like to give distributors on working with charities, working with something similar to the Abused Adult Resource Center, or anything else?
JNH: I'm not sure that I'm like a "normal" distributor. I keep my prices low for nonprofits because I know many have little money to stretch for promotions. I want to make sure they get the most they can. With transportation charges going up and up, that's about the best I can do for them. Plus I don't charge them for my artwork services, like producing art for the T-shirts.
PM: Would you like to provide a link to the adult abuse center where readers can donate or learn about other ways they can help?
JNH: Absolutely! They are always in need of donations. The after-hours number is a toll-free number, which is available to anyone in the country, and I've had calls from all over—not just North Dakota. AARC serves Bismarck and the surrounding area, but often houses victims traveling from across the country to escape domestic violence so AARC could certainly use any and all donations.
Halverson was also interviewed for PM's "My Best Promotion" column, about one of her favorite nonprofit-related promotions she'd done for another organization, Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota. That article will appear in our Sept. issue, and will also be available online in the coming weeks.
Have a story about anything to do with the promotional industry you'd like to share? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 215-238-5449, and if it's solid, we can maybe find a place for it on PromoMarketing.com. Personal stories like today's will probably run in my blog. Hard news stories will probably run in our Headlines newsletter, as their own articles.
MONDAY MIKE FACT: I'm currently reading Cloud Atlas. It starts off pretty slow, but ramps up into some nice apocalypse-y, dystopian fun toward the middle. If you're a patient reader, I highly recommend it.