(Special thanks to Michi Trota of Chicago Nerd Social Club for her help in writing this post. Her take on this year's Chiditarod can be found here.)
As a board member for the Chicago Nerd Social Club, I frequently find myself involved in some great, creative efforts to engage people around causes with a pop culture flair (including organizing a charity auction for Chicago TARDIS) Efforts like this creatively engage people into social benefit, and contain really great lessons for non-profits, social ventures, and social entrepreneurs....not the least of which is the idea that social impact isn't just important, it can be fun....and provide funding opportunities.
Back in March, I volunteered for Chiditarod, is a lively, engaging effort to benefit the
Greater Chicago Food Depository. (Or in their words, "probably the world’s largest mobile food drive, collecting over 100,000 pounds of food and raising over $100,000 to date ). Chiditarod involves shopping carts, costumes, and....well, it's a combination of winter-based sports, Mardi Gras, and sheer enthusiasm. (Although based on an event in San Francisco, most of the charitable aspects of the event were pioneered in Chicago).
Recently, Chiditarod announced a grant opportunity for Chicago area charitableor organizations that are directly fighting hunger, making an impact on local food sustainability, and/or empowering individuals and communities through food education. Chiditarod has allocating up to $25,000 (in $5,000 increments ), and the application and nomination process has already begun, with an application deadline of 11:59 pm on June 30, 2014. (Full details can be found via http://www.chiditarod.org/grants)
Organizations can either apply directly or be nominated by filling out this preliminary form on Google Docs. Conditions for organizations to apply for Chiditarod grants include:
- IRS recognition as a 501c3 organization, or has a written agreement of fiscal sponsorship from a 501c3 organization
- Operates in the metropolitan Chicagoland area
- In good standing with the Illinois Secretary of State
- Registered with the Illinois Attorney General
- Operates programs focusing on
- innovative educational opportunities,
- building partnerships with other organizations and policy-relevant leaders engaged in local issues,
- health nutrition or creative work on some aspect of food, and
- innovation to address challenges to food access and availability
One of the great things about Chiditarod is how it engages people in a creative, fun mannery - not just through regular online channels (like its web site and social media), but in how it allows both contestants and volunteers to share in the fun. Back in March, CNSC volunteers ran a race checkpoint, and set up a Star Wars-themed Hoth warming station at Emporium. Getting into the spirit of the event, Chicago Nerds volunteers dressed in appropriate cosplay. (In all fairness, I was clad in a bathrobe and towel, cosplaying Arthur Dent from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy....but I missed the memo).
Fundraising events with a pop culture flair are one very creative way of engaging people in social benefit efforts, and Chiditarod runs a uniquely engaging event. Their grant program is now another great way to provide a much greater impact....and they should be publicly commended, and the best way is for organizations to apply for their grant program.
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