'Tis the Season of Giving, and Opportunities Abound

For those of you staying in Boston over the Thanksgiving or Christmas breaks, here are several opportunities to make a real difference and mingle with Bostonians who are striving to do the same.

Do a search on the Internet and you’ll find an overwhelming number of Boston charities that sponsor holiday events. How does one choose? Below are three charities I can personally recommend that would highly benefit from HBS student involvement.

For a traditional holiday “give back” consider the all-volunteer charity organization Santa Claus Anonymous (SCA). Founded by two people who were (unsuccessfully) set up on a blind date in 1986, the organization’s mission is to help Boston’s inner city youth by donating money to smaller charities that otherwise might not receive funding; typically the organization nets $50,000 to $80,000 per year after expenses and divides it among 12 or so children’s charities. The fundraising vehicle is an annual ball that attracts two to three thousand individuals ranging from age 25-44. Because the staff is not paid, the majority of the money goes directly to charity. Since the ball’s inception, volunteers have raised and donated over $1 million.

This year, the 17th annual SnowBall will be held on December 5 at the Park Plaza Hotel in Boston’s Back Bay. All volunteers are required to purchase tickets and typically work a one-hour time slot at the event. The tasks include such awful duties as dressing up as Santa or Mrs. Claus and having many tipsy gals/guys climb on your lap for pictures, taking photographs that are destined to become blackmail material, showing the gorgeous guys in the band Nova Kane where to stash their instruments, and so forth.

Don’t like to dress up? No problem! SCA holds a televised give-a-thon at WGBH one week before the ball. Volunteers are periodically shown on TV answering phones so that callers may donate. This year’s event is Sunday, November 30 from 3:00 to 7:00pm. Separately, volunteers are also needed to deliver Christmas trees to Boston’s neediest families after the event – no tux required.

Get acquainted with SCA volunteers by attending the SnowBall psych-up party Wednesday, November 19 at The International on High Street in downtown Boston.

Want to be in on the planning of an event? Consider joining the planning committee for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America’s annual Mardi Gras party at the Royal Sonesta Hotel on Friday March 5, 2004.

Crohn’s and Colitis inflame the intestines, causing great pain, preventing food from being absorbed by the body, and requiring multiple surgeries for those afflicted. There is no cure and victims usually suffer in silence – after all, who wants to talk about inflamed intestines with their group of friends? The two diseases are routinely passed over by federal funding, making the role of the Foundation that much more important.

The minimum time requirement for the Mardi Gras planning committee is a two hour monthly meeting, though you will likely want to get together with committee members outside of the monthly meetings to figure out how to implement your particular vision of “anything goes.”

Looking for a charity that will value your finely honed business expertise? Here is a “start-up” that hopes to have a significant national impact by removing dangerous repeat sex offenders off the streets while ensuring that the sex offender registry contains accurate information about where they live and work. On November 4 Fox news aired a special report stating that one-third of the sex offender registry entries in Massachusetts are incorrect.

Had the organization been in existence last year, Ally Zapp, 30, might still be alive. Zapp was stabbed to death July 18, 2002 at a rest stop in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, by Paul Leahy, a repeat sex offender that psychiatrists had warned was dangerous and should not be released. He was. His employer at the rest stop, Burger King, had performed no background check prior to hiring him and Massachusetts police had no way of knowing that he had been released from prison in another state and moved to Massachusetts. And states’ resources are scarce these days; according to Boston Magazine, Massachusetts is only able to track one in 20 sex offenders; 85% of all sex offenders deemed dangerous roam free in the state. Nationwide, this appears to be the norm rather than the exception.

Zapp’s family and many Boston friends founded The ALLY Foundation to try to bring about reforms by sharing law enforcement information across states, sponsoring legislation that prevents the release of sex offenders that are considered still dangerous and more proactive oversight of the registry.

“If a juvenile in Massachusetts commits an offense and then moves to Michigan, the people in Michigan don’t know,” said Alec Stern, Vice President of Roving Software and a co-founder of the ALLY foundation. “In this instance there were just too many points of failure.”

Though several successful fundraisers have been held, the foundation is still in its infancy and could greatly benefit from HBS expertise in the organizational, strategic, marketing, and operations areas. The key is to devise a solution for Massachusetts and then figure out “how to take that template and roll it out” to the other 49 states, said Stern.

Needless to say, Zapp’s family won’t be enjoying the holidays this year.

The only thing they want for Christmas, they can never have again.