Trees, Water & People brings solar energy to the Pine Ridge Reservation
Posted Mar 24, 2011 by Jen Burton
Guest post: Megan Maiolo is the Marketing and Communications Coordinator for Trees, Water & People a nonprofit organization that works to improve people’s lives by helping communities to protect, conserve and manage the natural resources upon which their long-term well-being depends.
I have been a user and administrator on Causes.com since I was introduced to the application in 2009. I had just started my marketing internship with Trees, Water & People (TWP), a Colorado-based 501(c)(3) environmental nonprofit, and was eager to learn more about how social media could be used for social good. I was tasked with learning how to use social networking, media, and marketing tools to share our work with the world. This was a huge challenge, but also extremely exciting. To have innovative tools such as the Causes application at my fingertips, with the freedom to use these new tools in creative and innovative ways, was (and continues to be) a constant learning experience.
To begin with, I needed to grow our member base on Causes. I spent hours each week inviting people on Facebook, recruiting members through other nonprofit Causes, and writing about our fundraisers in our eNews and on the TWP blog. Our most popular Cause, “Solar Energy for Lakota Families,” began to grow rapidly. Soon, we had 1,000 followers, then 2,500…3,000…4,500…the momentum was picking up. Midway through 2010, we had started to actually raise funds and acquire many new members through this new application; my directors and board members were getting excited about the possibilities this new tool could offer.
We funded our first project on Causes in October of 2010, after months of promotion. We set a goal of $1,000, which would provide a Native American woman with a full scholarship to a 10-day workshop at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center on the Pine Ridge Reservation. We spread the word about the Solar Women Warriors Scholarship Fund on Facebook, Twitter, the blog, in print newsletters, and through eNews letters and email. I asked volunteers and other interns to keep up with writing thank you notes (which we send to EVERY person who joins any of our causes). This aggressive strategy built the momentum, and we doubled our fundraising goal for the Scholarship Fund. We now had enough money to provide two Native American women with the training to become certified as Solar Technicians, creating jobs and empowering women to become renewable energy leaders in their tribes.
The next project was much easier to manage because of the new fundraising tools available to nonprofit employees through the Nonprofit Center. I eagerly created a new fundraiser to “Help Provide Solar Air Heaters to Native American Families,” with clear explanations about how each donation would contribute to the building of these supplemental heating systems. The fundraising goal was set at $2,800, which would pay for the manufacturing and installation costs of two solar air heating systems to be installed on the homes of Native American families living on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
The solar heaters, manufactured by Lakota Solar Enterprises (one of the Nation’s first 100% Native American-owned and operated renewable energy companies), reduce a family’s monthly heating bill by 20 to 30 percent for up to 20 years. With the average family on Pine Ridge spending nearly 70% of their income on heating costs during the frigid winter months of the Great Plains, this source of renewable energy greatly reduces financial burdens for families who are already struggling to survive. In addition, this technology is culturally appropriate: we are helping Native American communities put the power of nature to work for them. These solutions are sustainable, economically beneficial, environmentally friendly, and celebrate the Native Americans’ respect for Mother Earth.
Using the same fundraising tactics as we used for the Solar Women Warriors Scholarship, and with a huge boost from holiday and birthday wishes (we have received hundreds), donations began pouring in for our newest project. To date, we have almost raised enough funds to provide a third solar heater to a family living on the Reservation, helping to reduce energy independence and improve livelihoods.
With so many active and engaged Causes users, it is becoming easier for nonprofits to build momentum and raise money online. The poverty and environmental justice issues facing Native American communities are close to many people’s hearts. Our “Solar Energy for Lakota Families” Cause has given thousands of concerned citizens the opportunity to become activists and fundraisers, helping to bring awareness to these important, and most often ignored, issues.