Spokane Journal of Business

Growing volunteerism with Spokane Gives

Initiative helps forge new connections, more engagement

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STCU employees, left to right, Cassidy Curtis, Emma Ostrom, and Hanna McCoury planted trees at Saltese Flats, near Liberty Lake, last month.

The Spokane Gives initiative, a program that Mayor David Condon says started as a friendly challenge to become a more compassionate city, continues to grow as it nears its fifth year of operations as a city-wide effort to improve volunteerism and philanthropy.

“The ultimate goal of Spokane Gives is to create lifelong givers and volunteers,” says Condon. “We continue to see increased engagement from businesses and use of the volunteer website, as well as improvement in all three of our initial goal areas: volunteerism, philanthropy, and capacity at nonprofits.”

Tessa Delbridge, constituent services coordinator for the mayor’s office, has managed the city’s work with the Spokane Gives initiative since 2017. 

She says the initiative started in 2014 with over 7,000 volunteers, who gave more than 28,000 hours of service at over 100 events. 

“In 2016, we extended the program to include a whole month of volunteering,” she says. “As of last year, we’d grown to over 20,000 volunteers and increased service hours to over 123,000.” 

Delbridge says total figures for Spokane Gives 2019 are still being calculated, but so far the city has recorded about 17,000 volunteers that have completed 94,000 service hours. 

“We expect to reach 20,000 volunteers and over 120,000 service hours once we’ve gotten all our totals reported,” she says.

While Spokane Gives is a month-long initiative, Delbridge says volunteers also can use the program’s website to track their hours year-round. She says the city does see more volunteers during months with nicer weather, and businesses often prefer to work together as a group when volunteering. 

“It’s pretty common to see groups of between 20 and 50 people who’ll book a three-hour volunteering timeslot,” says Delbridge. “It’s a shorter amount of time, and they experience the project together working as a team.”

Condon says that seeing the increased response to Spokane Gives has encouraged the city of Spokane to make improving social capital a part of its strategic plan going forward. 

Social capital refers to the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, which enable that society to function effectively.

“The city has begun tracking social capital in a few different areas, one being our own volunteers and volunteer hours,” he says. “As a city government, we’ve also strived to create opportunities for people to volunteer, whether it’s through our police department, parks department, libraries, or our neighborhood services.”

Condon says the Spokane Gives program initially started when friend Greg Fischer, mayor of Louisville, Kentucky, challenged Spokane to become a Compassionate City through the International Charter for Compassionate Communities. 

 “We took a team to Louisville to see what they were doing for their day of volunteering and learn from them how best to start our own volunteering program,” he says. 

The Charter for Compassion is a charitable organization that helps communities and individuals worldwide to grow compassion through volunteering and service efforts. Cities that sign the organization’s Charter for Compassion commit to engaging in those efforts and are supported by experts to help achieve their goals.

Condon says the city set three major goals for Spokane Gives when it started: to increase volunteerism, increase philanthropy, and increase volunteer capacity at the city’s nonprofits.

“The volunteer initiative is led by the city and Spokane County United Way, which hosts the volunteer Spokane website,” he says. 

“The philanthropy portion is about celebrating and identifying philanthropy efforts in our community. To do that, we host the Annual Philanthropy Awards, which are sponsored by the Journal of Business, the Emerging Leaders Society, and the United Way.”

Lastly, he says, Spokane Gives works with the Empire Health Foundation’s philanthropy center, the Innovia Foundation, and others to provide nonprofits with training in how to inspire philanthropy and build volunteer capacity.

 “Our universities are also stepping in to help build capacity for nonprofits by offering interested students more opportunities to learn about how nonprofits are organized and run,” he adds. 

Condon says Louisville’s day of volunteering leads up to the city’s Kentucky Derby events, so Spokane’s volunteering program initially was be scheduled to lead up to the Lilac Festival. 

“Eventually, we determined that one week wasn’t enough, so we extended it to include the whole month of April, which is also the national month of service,” he says. 

Similar to Louisville, Condon says the city of Spokane also partners with the United Way to host the website that enables volunteers or organizations to sign up and track their service hours. 

“As mayor, I hear from nonprofits seeking help finding funding and volunteers, as well as citizens and businesses looking for ways to give back,” he says. “A lot of it came down to just needing the right tool to connect these people, which is what the website helps us do.”

The volunteer Spokane website lets individuals, companies, and nonprofits build a personal profile. Volunteers can then be matched to nonprofit work based on the skills, interests, or causes they’d like to support. 

Projects also can be sorted based on timeliness, proximity to home or work, or number of volunteers needed. The website also connects to social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, which further encourages engagement. 

Delbridge says volunteers can participate in just about any activity, including donation drives, planting trees, or even teaching Sunday school. 

Condon says the website also enables businesses to set goals and track their employees volunteer hours, which helps them to integrate volunteerism into their company culture.

“It’s nice to see companies that want to have a community impact beyond just employment,” says Condon. 

Condon says one of the best parts about watching the program grow has been seeing businesses and volunteers taking the initiative, rather than waiting on the city to start a project. 

Traci McGlathery, director of community relations for Spokane Teachers Credit Union, says Spokane Gives has been a valuable resource in reinforcing its own volunteering efforts.

“What’s great about Spokane Gives is that it creates partnerships between nonprofits, the city, businesses, and individuals, and gives citizens a platform to be able to connect to organizations that need their help,” she says.

McGlathery say STCU has its own internal volunteering program called Volunteers Count, that was started around the same time as the Spokane Gives initiative.

While STCU does post its own projects internally, McGlathery says the credit union also encourages employees to check volunteerspokane.org for opportunities.

“Employees are offered up to 16 hours of paid time off for volunteering, and when they log those hours they can also earn grants that go toward nonprofits they support,” she says. “Last month, our employees logged about 1,777 volunteer hours.”

As part of Spokane Gives, Delbridge says, the city sponsors and participates in Cleaning the Corridor. 

Each April, a new location is chosen, and volunteers work together to clean and beautify the selected neighborhood. This year’s project included cleanup along the Centennial Trail in the Logan neighborhood.

 “We saw some great participation from city volunteers and the students and staff of Gonzaga University,” says Delbridge. 

She says that as part of the National Service Recognition Day, the second Tuesday in April, the city and Spokane County United Way also work together on a large core volunteer project. 

This year’s project was to help Family Promise, a Spokane homeless shelter, to clean and repaint the interior of its new facility at 2002 E. Mission. 

She says last year the city received the Community Impact Award for its National Service Recognition Day project, which included cleaning and repairs to the interior of Hope House, a downtown women’s shelter. 

In 2016, Spokane was officially included as a Compassionate Community in the International Charter for Compassionate Communities.

LeAnn Bjerken
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Reporter LeAnn Bjerken covers health care at the Journal of Business. A Minnesota native and cat lover, she enjoys beachside vacations and writing poetry. LeAnn has worked for the Journal since 2015.

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