Hurling Diapers Off the Balcony: Volunteer Parties


This is Post #3 in a five-part series, honoring the release of the 2nd Edition of FriendRaising.

To read this series from the beginning, head here.

In that series, I’m highlighting stories from the book – stories of our days building the first-ever community-wide Diaper Bankin Tucson, Arizona!)

Today’s story comes from the turning point, the moment when the annual charitable effort of our small consulting firm made it very clear that it had outgrown us. If there was a single moment when we knew this effort needed to morph from an annual diaper drive, to become a year-round, serving-the-whole-community Diaper Bank – this was that moment.

Volunteer Parties:
(From FriendRaising page 70)…

In the days of the American frontier, when someone needed to build a barn, neighbors would gather to make that chore go far more quickly than any one family could do on its own. What might otherwise take weeks to complete could be done in a day.

Perhaps the modern-day equivalent of a barn-raising would be having friends over to paint your house, or to help you move. When a task is turned into a social event, it is no longer work. It becomes instead the best kind of party – the kind where folks naturally get to know each other, without any pressure.

While this type of event works well for any volunteer need, if the task requires manual labor, that is when the real fun begins. Grown-ups do not typically have the opportunity to gather with other grown-ups and get dirty and sweaty, especially in a setting where it is all for a good cause. And like the barn-raising in days of old, nothing builds bonds faster than a group of people all pitching in together.

The Diaper Hurl

Image7At the Diaper Bank, the event most people calendared a year in advance was not a gala, but our Annual Hurling Party.

In 1998, our 5th Annual December Diaper Drive collected almost twice what we had ever collected before – over 300,000 diapers.

The diapers had arrived via individual donors carrying their individual packages up the stairs to our 2nd story walk-up office. Package by package, the diapers slowly piled up. Eventually they overran our tiny office.

So how do you get 300,000 diapers out of the office and delivered to the recipient agencies? The thought of marching each of those packages back out of our office and down the stairs was unbearable.

Image10 (crop)Sitting shoulder-deep in diapers as we considered our options, giddiness set in. “Can’t we just toss these things over the balcony and be done with them?” we asked ourselves. I remember telling a friend on the phone, “We’ve got so many diapers in here, I am ready to hurl.”

And down to the words, that is just what we did. The invitations read, “We’ve got so many diapers, we are ready to hurl!”

The morning of the Hurling Party, a volunteer crew from Tucson Electric Power backed TEP’s huge flatbed trucks underneath our balcony.

Joining those community members were radio personalities, City Council members, donors, family and friends, who stationed themselves on the backs of those trucks, while another crew was positioned upstairs.

Image11Before we began working, I gave a short talk. “While we are here today to hurl diapers,” I started, “I want to remind you all that this is not about diapers. This is about people who cannot help themselves – people with disabilities, the elderly, and of course babies. This is about poverty and vulnerability, and the need for us to do far more than just help with their diapers. As you handle these thousands of diapers today, please take a moment to think about why you are doing this, why we are all doing this.”

Then, with news cameras on hand to document the scene, we bucket-brigaded the diapers out of our office and towards the balcony.

And we hurled those diapers into the waiting hands of the crews on the trucks.

Within just an hour and a half, all 300,000 diapers were off to the agencies who would provide them to clients. And a beloved annual event was born!

Tomorrow, I’ll continue this series with some insights into house parties and coffee – and how that all relates to diapers, and friendship, and making a difference. You’ll find that post here

To read more from FriendRaising, click here to download portions as a PDF.

Asking Other Organizations for Help

Yesterday, I began a series in honor of the 1 year anniversary of the release of the 2nd Edition of FriendRaising.

To read this series from the beginning, head here.

In that series, I’m highlighting stories from the book – stories of our days building the first-ever Diaper Bank in Tucson!)

Today’s story comes from our building not the first, but the second-ever Diaper Bank, in Phoenix. Yes, we did that, too – to prove that the collaborative model at the core of Tucson’s Diaper Bank could be replicated. You’ll see in this story that such collaboration was not only possible, but a life-saver. 

From FriendRaising
(page 176)…

Many organizational leaders almost choke when we suggest that their strongest allies could be other organizations – the ones they have been so used to considering their “competition.” But the truth is that these other groups are passionate about the exact same things your organization’s board and staff and volunteers are passionate about. If there are any groups who should know each other better, building the trust relationships that become friendships, it is all those other organizations you have viewed as your competition!

This is not pie in the sky. It is reality. We see others as “competition” when we see resources as scarce. In reality, though, support for your mission is as abundant as the passionate chords you strike in your community. When we realize the power that passion has to connect us to others who want the same thing, we begin to realize the scarcity mind-set may not be the only way to see the world.

The protective walls we have built around our organizations have kept out the very people who want to help the causes we care about. By taking a community engagement approach, we bust down those protective walls, inviting those whose passions we share into our home, to begin sharing ideas and thinking about the larger things we can accomplish together. From there, the gifts we provide to our communities – creating significant, visionary change in the community’s quality of life – are truly without limit.

Building the Second-Ever Community-wide Diaper Bank

We spent a year doing the Community Sleuthing that led to creating the Diaper Bank in Phoenix. Over the course of that year, we spoke with foundation leaders and government representatives, nonprofit Executive Directors and Board Members, business people and volunteers. We shared with them the collaborative approach the Diaper Bank had been built upon in Tucson, and we talked about how much we hoped to prove that same collaborative approach could work anywhere.

And from virtually every person we spoke with, we heard almost the identical refrain: “I don’t want to rain on your parade, but this will never work here. Organizations in the Valley do not work together.” It was the rare person who did not wish us all sorts of luck on the one hand, while simultaneously adding that pessimistic, competition-tinged farewell.

Because one of the things that had made Tucson’s Diaper Bank so successful was precisely that it was built upon a model of shared resources, shared mission, and shared responsibility for improving the community’s quality of life, we knew the whole mission would change if we changed those very basic assumptions. We were therefore even more determined to see if perhaps what we were hearing was more assumption than fact.

So after a year of sleuthing, we held our breath and dove into the deep end, convening the Diaper Bank’s first “organizing” meeting. We announced the meeting to those with whom we had met throughout the year and sent press releases through the local newspapers and networking groups.

Valley Diaper Bank logo75 people showed up at that first organizational meeting, breaking into committees, and enthusiastically getting to work.

After a year of hearing that same message, over and over – “the organizations here will never work together” – we were skeptical about the group’s initial enthusiasm. Could this momentum continue? Will these groups continue to work together to build something that has never existed in Phoenix before?

History has proven that the answer was, of course, “yes.” And history also proved what we knew to be true – that given the opportunity to share what they had in abundance – knowledge and experience and skills – these organizations would stop seeing each other as competition, and instead work together to create a resource they would all eventually share.

Meetings were hosted at a different agency each time. At the end of each meeting, the host would spend a few moments talking about his/her organization and then give a tour for those who were interested. After just a few sessions, when it came time to decide where the next meeting would be held, hands would shoot into the air – everyone wanted to show off the work they were doing!

Valley Diaper Bank LRBut the flip side of that was true as well. Those who attended those meetings were just as eager to take those tours and learn about the work being done by others. The participant from one tiny organization summed it up best, after touring one of the area’s highest profile (and highest budget) organizations. “We do similar work, but on a much smaller scale. We don’t even have a big enough meeting room to host one of these meetings! I have always wanted to see how they do things here, but I never would have had the nerve to ask if I could visit if it weren’t for this opportunity.”

From the synergy of working together on Diaper Bank-related work, and further from the synergy of learning from each other and seeing each other’s facilities, all sorts of collaborative ideas, completely unrelated to the Diaper Bank, began to emerge.

Those funders and government leaders and others “in the know” who suggested the Valley’s agencies would not work together were clearly wrong. Leaders from over 50 organizations built the Diaper Bank in the Phoenix metro area, and continued to work together – helping when there were diapers to sort and distribute, doing Diaper Drives, sending volunteers.

When the goal was grander than any one organization could accomplish; when the benefit was so clear, for both the community overall, and for each of their clients independently, these organizations with such a strong reputation for NOT working together were an amazing team. They set aside their own needs for the greater good.

St Mary's LRThe most heartening result of this collaborative approach happened when hard economic times hit. The Diaper Bank’s collaborative culture included its location inside the warehouse at St. Mary’s Food Bank. When the economy started to crumble, St. Mary’s agreeed to take the Diaper Bank into its family even deeper, making the Diaper Bank an official program of the Food Bank. This never would have been possible if the Diaper Bank had not built that deep trust relationship from the very beginning. As a result, during the worst economic crash in recent memory, people who needed diapers in the Phoenix community could still get them.

We are what we think. If we think we are competitors, we throw up those walls and the community is the one to lose out in the end. When we realize we are all in this together, building one community, with one shared mission – the mission of making life better – it is astounding what we can and do accomplish.

Tomorrow, this series continues with the story – complete with photos – of grown men and women hurling 300,000 diapers off the 2nd floor balcony for our annual Diaper Hurl!  You’ll find that story here. 

To read more from FriendRaising, click here to download portions as a PDF.

Making Real Friends: The Heart of Community Engagement

Rose & WaltThis week marks the 1 year anniversary of the fully revised version of my book, FriendRaising.

To honor that event, I’ll be sharing stories from the book all this week. I hope these stories inspire you to get out there and engage friends for the causes you believe in!

FriendRaising: What it is, and Especially What it is NOT
In my real life, I don’t have friends so they’ll pay my bills. I have friends because friendship rocks in every way!! Those are the kinds of friends every cause needs.

And so, FriendRaising is not about fundraising. It is about engaging real people, on the ground in real life (not online), to create the future of your community together.

The most fun part about writing the book was the decision to have all the examples and stories and photos come from our building the very first-ever Diaper Bank in our hometown of Tucson, Arizona, as well as the second diaper bank, in Phoenix. (Today’s story is from our days in Phoenix). These are our own real stories of how we used these strategies to start what has become the whole Diaper Banking movement across the U.S. 

I hope you will find something in these stories to not just guide your own work, but to engage more deeply in all aspects of your life. Because it really is all about being a true friend.

Strategy #10: Community SleuthingCover
(from FriendRaising, page 47)

We all know what a sleuth is – the detective who tracks down all the information he/she can find about the question at hand. That is exactly the essence of Community Sleuthing – asking people for their ideas, their thoughts, their perspectives. Community Sleuthing is the process of asking questions, and listening to the responses.

Community Sleuthing starts with the premise that “You never know.” You never know what people know, what their experience has been, who they know, how they can help. People in your community have incredible wisdom to share. And the best way to find out what they know and what they think is to ask!

Birth of a Diaper Bank
When it came time to expand the Diaper Bank into other parts of Arizona, we knew there was more we did not know than we did know. The one guiding philosophy was that the Diaper Bank had to be owned by the community, and not by us “outsiders.”

There was a balance to be struck, though. Without us outsiders, there would be no Diaper Bank, as we knew the need, we had the passion to connect the need to action, and we knew how to do it collaboratively, economically. We also had the credibility – we had already done it!

So we took out our Life Lists, and we started to make calls.

From the economic development conferences we had attended in conjunction with our work in Native American communities, we had met the Economic Development Director of one of the cities surrounding Phoenix. We called Brian and asked if we could pick his brain about the community.

Brian included the city’s Community Relations Director in our conversation. As we asked about the need in the community, and the services that were already trying to meet that need, Sally brainstormed about other people who should hear about this, who might have different information for us.

Image8She connected us with the Community Relations office at the Arizona Republic, the state’s largest newspaper. The connection from Sally made our call less of a cold call, and Diana was happy to meet with us. We asked her the same questions we had asked Brian and Sally, talking about the same issues – child abuse, elder issues, issues surrounding the disabled.

Diana got excited about what we were doing, and introduced us to her boss, Gene D’Adamo, the head of Community Relations for the Arizona Republic. Gene’s reputation precedes him in the Phoenix metro area, having dedicated his life to helping those in need. His time is well guarded, and had we cold-called him, we can only guess what our success rate would have been.

But coming through people who knew people – well, within a few months, the state’s largest newspaper – the Arizona Republic – had offered to sponsor the first ever diaper drive in the Valley, providing free ads and more importantly, unbelievable instant credibility.

Using Community Sleuthing in the Phoenix area, we were also able to find this brand new Diaper Bank a $75,000 start-up grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. More importantly, thanks to Community Sleuthing, representatives from over 50 area agencies worked together for a year to build the Valley’s Diaper Bank.

Clearly, Community Sleuthing showed the fallacy in the thought, “We don’t know anyone powerful.” In Phoenix, we not only did not know anyone powerful – we hardly knew anyone at all! The proof was in the pudding, though. Community Sleuthing proved we knew everyone we needed to know.

In Part 2 (tomorrow’s installment) you’ll see how those 50 Phoenix organizations built their community’s diaper bank – and the amazing thing that happened when the economy turned sour in 2008. Click here for that installment!

Yes, that is Dimitri during Diaper Drive season – before we built the Diaper Bank. And yes, that is really what our office used to look like in those early Diaper Drive years…

To read more from FriendRaising, click here to download portions as a PDF.