Jack Kennedy was president when I entered college. Like Obama today, he had a great impact on the hearts and minds of young people. In Kennedy's case, he introduced a concept of volunteerism through programs like VISTA [Volunteers in Service to America] and the Peace Corps. The attitude that we can do something to make a difference for a good cause or people in need has stayed with many of us through our lives.
When I met Jessica Evans in Vancouver last month, I was reminded of that volunteer attitude when she told me the story of Timeraiser where she has donated over 100 hours of her time in a little more than a year and how she has helped the organization expand into social media.
Timeraiser is a Canadian organization formed by the Framework Foundation. It gets corporate sponsors finance their acquisition of selected works by local artists. Then it holds a silent auction, where mostly people, mostly in their 20s and 30s, bid their time--instead of money--to acquire a piece of art. The funding sponsors display the art in their offices for a year or so, while the volunteer works off the time pledged.
Most of the volunteer work is focused on using the professional skills of the volunteers, rather than ladling soup in food bank kitchens.
Since it started in 2004, Timeraiser has held these auctions in all major Canadian cities and has generated more than 45,000 volunteer hours for more than 250 nonprofits and has supported local artists to the tune of over $300,000.
Jessica Evans, 30 is one of those 45,000 volunteers, she is an IT professional at a Vancouver-based software company by day and has boundless energy for other activities. It was literally a rocky road she traveled that took her to both Vancouver and Timeraiser.
She tells her story in this interview:
Q. You spend much of your free time in outdoor physical activities such as bike riding and something called "bouldering." Just what is that, and when and how did you get into it?
Bouldering is a style of rock climbing – literally climbing on large boulders without a rope. Your landing is protected by “bouldering pads”- high-density foam mats similar to those used in gymnastics. It’s a great way to climb completely free and push your limits.
I started climbing in 2001 - yes, I think you could say I’ve traveled extensively to boulder. At the height of job dissatisfaction and restlessness when I lived in Toronto, I called myself out on my dream to live on the road and climb. I blogged the entire experience from the inception of the idea where I used up my health benefits before giving my notice, through the emotional challenges and steep learning curve while living on the road. There’s also advice on the art of living on a few dollars a day.
It was an amazing experience and
one of unexpected personal growth. I lasted
almost 6 months, living on the road camping and climbing by myself.
I think you could say that bouldering chose me. When I was on My Big Roadtrip, I had my gear for rope climbing too but found that it was easier to boulder since you don’t need to search for a dedicated partner. In roped climbing, you literally place your life in the hands of the other person. I found that not knowing my climbing partner well enough to fully trust them made it tough to focus. I ended up bouldering more and more, either by myself or trying to get in with a group that was out. By the end of the trip I found that I was a "boulderer," and now I very rarely rope up to climb.
Sure, I traveled alone and I’ve gone on some solo bouldering trips since. There’s a bit of teamwork involved – the energy of the group really affects if you’re able to focus on the moves. It’s so much better, and even a bit easier, if there’s a good group of people.Q. When, how and why did you discover Timeraiser?
I crash landed in Vancouver after the road trip and when I heard about the Timeraiser in 2008, I saw it as a way to get more involved in the community of the city I had settled in and had grown to love. Besides, I thought it sounded cool. I like art, especially by local artists, and I had been meaning to volunteer.
It’s a mashup of silent art auction and volunteer fair – there are representatives from local nonprofit agencies, and about 25 pieces of local artwork. The bidding opens for an hour and participants bid with a pledge of volunteer hours instead of money. Too cool.Q. What appealed to you about Timeraiser, since there are so many other options where you can volunteer your time?
One of the featured agencies at the Vancouver Timeraiser was Big Sisters. Being a Big Sister was something on my life to-do list, and it was just so easy to go to the Timeraiser event and talk to a representative in person. After talking to someone face-to-face, there was a more natural commitment to follow up.
You could say that I fell in love with the concept at the Timeraiser event. It was far cooler than I had expected. Bidding on artwork gave me a taste of a society I may never be a part of – but the concept of Timeraiser makes it fun and easy to get involved.Q. Can you walk me through the process in which you volunteered through the the Timeraiser silent auction for Big Sisters and how you obtained the photo?
After talking to the agencies at Timeraiser, I was pretty excited at all the volunteer opportunities that suited my skills. I ended up getting the winning bid on a photograph by a local artist [Miklos LeGrady] and I fulfilled my pledge over the following year by volunteering as a Big Sister. Donating time goes so far and you can see the impact you’re having on the community. It’s more fulfilling than, say, writing a check, though if you can afford that, go for it!
We volunteers are given a full year to complete our pledges. At this year's Timeraiser, I received my artwork.
Last spring, Timeraiser sent out a message needing volunteers for planning the next two Timeraiser events in Vancouver. You could say I was getting hooked on volunteering and was happy to spread the word.
I applied for the position of Media & Awareness Leadership and my pitch was all social media. How can we reach our target demographic? Well, I’m a member of the target demographic and I’m always online. I could see the need to leverage Twitter as well as Facebook fan pages.
We’re getting to a point on the
Web these days where people search Twitter to connect with a business entity,
and Timeraiser needed to represent. I also brought us onto LinkedIn and worked
with Timeraiser employees to implement the Facebook fan page.
The entire “Tweeting for Charity” experience has been interesting. I’ve been online since the local BBS days back in the mid-90s. Twitter is the online vehicle to reconnect with people locally and in person, or globally due to our common interests. I’m not looking to network or promote myself as a climber or a Project Manager, so getting out there to talk about something I feel so passionately about – Timeraiser – feels quite natural.
One constant I’ve experienced while engaging in social media for charity is that when I explain the concept of Timeraiser to people, if they’re interested, they’re excited like me and eager to help. It’s important to reach as many people as possible to build the network of eager excited people.
I have to say it was powerful to watch the word spread and excitement grow along with the network. We ended up selling the event out, which was an incredible accomplishment. A CBC reporter saw a retweet about the Vancouver Timeraiser and picked up our story the day before the event. Members of the blogging community posted up about the Timeraiser and some had tickets to give away via their sites. I think everyone worked together – Team Twitter.
Q. How has social media changed Timeraiser? What additional potential do you see?
It was very valuable to tap into the local, grassroots media in Vancouver. Getting the word out via local bloggers is the way to go. Civic Footprint (Timeraiser's sister nonprofit) is now working on social media strategies for other Timeraiser cities, to connect via Twitter and social media.
In the Spring, I’ll be leveraging Twitter again to connect with the local art community. Artists selected for the Timeraiser are paid market value for their work. In 2009, 20 of the 25 selected artists were from BC. In 2010, I’d like to see that extend to 25/25.
Also, it would be great if we could get a participant to blog their experience fulfilling their pledge, so we can all follow along. I’ll see if I can put that into place. @Timeraiser_couv is still the only account dedicated to the Timeraiser, but I hope to see the other cities follow suit. I’m excited to see how next year unfolds, since I can incorporate what I learned this year.
Q. I understand that you found romance on Twitter. Can you tell me just what happened and how has it worked out so far?
That’s quite the bonus, I know! The first networking event I attended as @Timeraiser_couv was a Meetup and I was looking for others with @ Twitter IDs on their name badges. I ended up clicking with a guy there – I remember that I could read him quite well and found him intriguing. We talked about cycling and I sent him an @ from my personal account, not Timeraiser! When I got home, he had sent me a DM to request a coffee to “learn more about that charity stuff you do.” We’ve been hanging out since. You could say we get along quite well.
Q. Additional comments.
I’m not climbing as much as I used to and it’s amusing because I made the move out to BC to climb full-time. Dreams change over time, and I got to see my 2009 dream of selling out the Vancouver Timeraiser come true.Timeraiser helped me Commit to Vancouver, and now I’ll never leave.
Life on the road always meeting new people prepped me for this.