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Deciding to Make a Difference

September 28, 2012 2:50 pm

I've always believed that it's important to be involved in the community – to try and make the world a better place. But shortly after the birth of my second daughter, I realized that I wasn't doing very much.

I had a full-time job and two small children. Where would I find the free time? And with a growing family, I knew I wouldn't be able to make generous donations to community organizations. I also knew that I would be able to drop off a single roll of paper towels, or a can of soup, at an area shelter. But the idea of showing up with a single can of soup seemed inadequate somehow.

Then it occurred to me that other people were likely facing the same dilemma – probably a lot of other people. What if we all worked together to provide what we could?

Rocking a baby until 4 a.m. gave me a lot of time to think, and I used some of that time to outline something I called the First Step Project, which is now a reality.

Here's how it works:

1). Find an organization you're passionate about. This is essential. If you're tackling a cause that you really care about, the time you spend is a pleasure – not a labor.

2). Find a group of like-minded people who would be willing to donate goods, such as food, that area nonprofits can use. Check in with those people each month to see if they have anything to contribute – if they do, arrange a time to swing by and collect their donations.

3). Don't take money, only goods. This way, people know exactly what they are giving. You don't need to worry about receipts for the other people in the project. It is also worthwhile to take the time to vet any nonprofit you work with to ensure (as much as is possible) that it is a well-run, well-respected organization.

4). Make an inventory of everything that has been donated. You'll need to estimate the value of the donation when you deliver it to the nonprofit organization, and an inventory can help you with that. The inventory also lets the nonprofit know exactly what you're giving – and you can share the inventory with all of the project participants, so they have some assurance that you have delivered their donations.

5). Every little bit helps! If you collect one item from every person involved, you'll have done a lot to help those less fortunate.

You can do this with friend, neighbors, your book club or your co-workers. I launched my First Step Project at my office. It was the easiest place to start, because I didn't have to go very far to collect the donations from the people participating in my project. And it made it easy for the participants as well. For example, if donors had a "buy one, get one free" coupon, they would buy an extra can of food at the grocery store and simply bring it in to work with them the next day.

I launched the First Step Project in February 2009. I chose to work with InterAct of Wake County, which serves survivors of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault. InterAct had a great reputation (and still does), and its shelter alone serves hundreds of women and children each year.

InterAct staff helped me compile a list of "evergreen" needs (things they need every month and can't get enough of). I shared that list with the folks at my workplace who had chosen to get involved. Each month, they let me know if they had anything and brought it to work. Once a month, I'd swing by their office and pick it up. In the first year, I collected about $3,000 worth of goods – and that's based on a conservative estimate of the donations. As of September 2012, we have collected over $21,000 worth of goods.

A couple years ago, I realized that if I can do this, anyone can. So I launched a Web site, firststepproject.org, in hopes that other people can use this concept to start their own First Step projects. We've already helped people set up several First Step Projects from North Carolina to California. If you want to make a difference, your project could be next!

 Matt Shipman is the founder of the First Step Project and a father of three. He lives in the Raleigh area.



I've always believed that it's important to be involved in the community – to try and make the world a better place. But shortly after the birth of my second daughter, I realized that I wasn't doing very much.

I had a full-time job and two small children. Where would I find the free time? And with a growing family, I knew I wouldn't be able to make generous donations to community organizations. I also knew that I would be able to drop off a single roll of paper towels, or a can of soup, at an area shelter. But the idea of showing up with a single can of soup seemed inadequate somehow.

Then it occurred to me that other people were likely facing the same dilemma – probably a lot of other people. What if we all worked together to provide what we could?

Rocking a baby until 4 a.m. gave me a lot of time to think, and I used some of that time to outline something I called the First Step Project, which is now a reality.

Here's how it works:

1). Find an organization you're passionate about. This is essential. If you're tackling a cause that you really care about, the time you spend is a pleasure – not a labor.

2). Find a group of like-minded people who would be willing to donate goods, such as food, that area nonprofits can use. Check in with those people each month to see if they have anything to contribute – if they do, arrange a time to swing by and collect their donations.

3). Don't take money, only goods. This way, people know exactly what they are giving. You don't need to worry about receipts for the other people in the project. It is also worthwhile to take the time to vet any nonprofit you work with to ensure (as much as is possible) that it is a well-run, well-respected organization.

4). Make an inventory of everything that has been donated. You'll need to estimate the value of the donation when you deliver it to the nonprofit organization, and an inventory can help you with that. The inventory also lets the nonprofit know exactly what you're giving – and you can share the inventory with all of the project participants, so they have some assurance that you have delivered their donations.

5). Every little bit helps! If you collect one item from every person involved, you'll have done a lot to help those less fortunate.

You can do this with friend, neighbors, your book club or your co-workers. I launched my First Step Project at my office. It was the easiest place to start, because I didn't have to go very far to collect the donations from the people participating in my project. And it made it easy for the participants as well. For example, if donors had a "buy one, get one free" coupon, they would buy an extra can of food at the grocery store and simply bring it in to work with them the next day.

I launched the First Step Project in February 2009. I chose to work with InterAct of Wake County, which serves survivors of domestic violence, rape and sexual assault. InterAct had a great reputation (and still does), and its shelter alone serves hundreds of women and children each year.

InterAct staff helped me compile a list of "evergreen" needs (things they need every month and can't get enough of). I shared that list with the folks at my workplace who had chosen to get involved. Each month, they let me know if they had anything and brought it to work. Once a month, I'd swing by their office and pick it up. In the first year, I collected about $3,000 worth of goods – and that's based on a conservative estimate of the donations. As of September 2012, we have collected over $21,000 worth of goods.

A couple years ago, I realized that if I can do this, anyone can. So I launched a Web site, firststepproject.org, in hopes that other people can use this concept to start their own First Step projects. We've already helped people set up several First Step Projects from North Carolina to California. If you want to make a difference, your project could be next!

 Matt Shipman is the founder of the First Step Project and a father of three. He lives in the Raleigh area.


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