Lisa Whalen is one of the faces behind #BethelGives in Bethel, Alaska. Here’s what Lisa had to say about her experience so far championing #GivingTuesday in Bethel. 

Q: Lisa, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from, and how did you get involved with the social good world?

Lisa: I was born and raised in Olympia, Washington. I moved to Bethel, Alaska after college with a program called the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and was placed at Tundra Women’s Coalition in Bethel. After that, I worked at the local high school for several years before making my way into my role with Bethel Community Services Foundation (BCSF).

Q: What inspired you to get involved in #GivingTuesday?

Lisa: I was only working at the BCSF for a few months when Jamie from the #GivingTuesday global team reached out to us to find out if we were interested in starting a #GivingTuesday movement. We thought this sounded like an exciting opportunity and executed our first #BethelGives in 2016.

Q: What has worked well for #GivingTuesday in Bethel so far?

Lisa: I think the most important driver of #BethelGives has been the organizing committee we have assembled, which has helped facilitate collaboration across nonprofit groups. One representative from each participating nonprofit that will benefit from the movement is selected to sit on the committee, which meets five or six times throughout the course of the year to provide oversight and guide the process. The committee structure gives everybody a little bit of skin in the game, but we’re conscious of everyone’s existing commitments and do our best to ensure that it is not a ton of extra work for everyone.

Q: What challenges have you faced in getting #GivingTuesday in Bethel off the ground?

Lisa: I suppose our major challenge has been resources, especially our time. We are a two-person team at BCSF and even with the help of the committee, everyone’s time is stretched between multiples priorities.

Q: What's the potential or impact of the movement in Bethel?

Lisa: The obvious tangible impact in Bethel is that our nonprofits receive an extra fundraising boost at the end of the year. Donations to #BethelGives are generally split equally among participating nonprofits and this can make a big difference, especially since many of the organizations in Bethel are completely volunteer-run. The most rewarding non-cash impact however has been to have leaders of various groups and nonprofits working together towards a goal that isn’t necessarily mission-driven for any one particular group. This is a fun campaign, and people have really enjoyed working together to raise money to benefit the community.

In terms of potential, we would definitely like to see more community members involved in the process, whether that’s through peer-to-peer fundraising or boots-on-the-ground activities. For the most part, the work is currently being done by the committee and organizers and we’d like to expand that to include more community volunteers this year.

Q: What is one of your favourite #GivingTuesday stories?

Lisa: In our first year of #BethelGives, we had a big plan that on #GivingTuesday we would get a bunch of our committee members and community volunteers together and collect donations at the 3-way stop in town (Watson’s Corner). We ordered plastic ponchos with the #BethelGives logo to put over all of our winter gear. When #GivingTuesday came around, it was about -40 degrees and when we got to the office in the morning to get everything ready for the day, we discovered that the water was frozen in the office. So in addition to worrying about executing a smooth day, we also had to sort out the water situation. When we finally managed to get ourselves outside, we tried to put on the plastic ponchos and they immediately cracked to pieces because of the extreme cold! We all had a good laugh, and the next year we opted for t-shirts instead.

Q: What are you most looking forward to for #GivingTuesday 2018?

Lisa: This year, I am most looking forward to scaling up our plans to partner in creative ways with local businesses.

Q: One of the reasons the #GivingTuesday movement has been so successful globally is because of the vision and leadership of country and community leaders like you, who step up in the name of social good. What does leadership mean to you?

Lisa: If I’m being completely honest, I am a total Type B personality. The idea of being considered a “leader” makes me sweat, but I like to see things happen for our community and I am certainly invested in the continued success of #BethelGives. For me, the most important part of leadership is empowering those who are leaders with me. The #BethelGives Committee is ultimately responsible for making most of the decisions for our campaign. It’s very important to me to always be mindful of how we at BCSF are working with our community rather than at our community. It’s imperative for me to check in with the people with whom I’m working to ensure that as we proceed along our path, our common goals are still indeed common.

Q: Do you have any advice for leaders thinking about starting a #GivingTuesday movement in their country or city?

Lisa: I feel like I can give advice to small, rural communities, and this is definitely going to be do-what-I-say-not-what-I-do advice. If you don’t have a lot of staffing capacity, then start small with something manageable in Year 1. Try out one or two things that you think will work and do them well. You can then build from a solid foundation as the years go by.

Alternatively, and this is more in line with what we did in Bethel, you can throw fifteen different things at the wall and see what sticks; what works best and what your community responds to. Over the course of the next few years, you’ll have many opportunities to hone your projects to fit the needs and desires of your community. Don’t over-do it if you don’t have the staffing or volunteer capacity, but if you do, #GivingTuesday is a great opportunity to experiment!

Q: What is a quote by one of your favourite leaders?

Lisa: “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” –Archbishop Desmond Tutu