For Michele Boudreau, her volunteer efforts with the Give-A-Thon fundraisers was an extension of her work as a real-estate agent.
Realtors bring home buyers and sellers together, and the Give-A-Thon was an event that allowed prospective donors a chance to compare the work of dozens of local nonprofit groups - an open house of sorts for charitable organizations, expressed in real-estate terms.
In the three years that Boudreau was a driving forced behind the Give-A-Thon, more than $120,000 was raised for local nonprofit groups such as the Alternative Humane Society, Bellingham Books to Prisoners, Brigid Collins Family Support Center and the Max Higbee Center, which provides recreational programs for adults with developmental disabilities.
"People got to donate to the charities they felt they liked," Boudreau said. "It really was like a trade show."
Boudreau, a San Francisco Bay Area native who's worked her entire career in various cities on the West Coast, changed from hotel and restaurant work to real estate 13 years ago. She moved to Bellingham from San Diego seven years ago to be closer to her mother.
As an agent with RE/Max, she's a member of the Whatcom County Association of Realtors, which sponsored the Give-A-Thons.
Boudreau helped organize the first effort in 2009, then took charge in 2010 and 2011. Citing in the increased demand on her time, she stepped away last year, and the Realtors association decided not to hold the Give-A Thon this year.
Organizing the annual Christmastime event was a massive effort, Boudreau said. She started months in advance on a shoestring budget, spending less than $100 on decorations and arranging free advertising and promotion.
She had to find a location big enough to hold informational booths run by some 40 charities, then line up volunteers, and invite potential donors. Past locations included the Bellingham Flea Market and the former Value Village site on Meridian Street.
Each event connected potential donors and the people who work and volunteer with local charities. Informational booths featured displays that showed how the various charities operate, and told something about who they serve. Representatives were available to discuss the work they do in the community.
"We had lots of support from the community," Boudreau said. "It was a fabulous atmosphere. The thing that you didn't see monetarily was getting to know the different charities and see what they do."
Boudreau, who also sings jazz standards with a band called R Factor 5, coached officials with the various charities on the ins and outs of self-promotion, encouraging them to have refreshments available during the event as well as brochures and tangible evidence of their work.
She also encouraged the groups to offer small promotion items to give away. For example, the Alternative Human Society offered homemade doggie treats.
For entertainment, Boudreau organized visits from Santa and invited local choirs and musical groups to perform. There was a raffle and a silent auction.
"The level of logistics she had to deal with and hard work she put in - well it was amazing," said Jeff Littlejohn of Lynden in a letter on The Bellingham Herald's Opinion page on Dec. 19, 2011.
Boudreau enjoyed the sense of accomplishment she felt after each event.
"You put together something that benefits people," she said. "When the day arrives, it goes by in a whirlwind. There were 40 charities and I enjoyed them all."
She's disappointed that the Give-A-Thon isn't being held this year, but is hopeful that it can return in some form, possibly as online fundraiser.
"It was a huge time commitment, but I've already been thinking about what can I do now? Can we make a virtual one? There's always that possibility."
Boudreau said she'd be happy to offer suggestions about local charities. Potential donors can call her at 360-255-1110.
"All the charities are still in business; they're still in need," she said. "You can still donate to a favorite charity."
Contact Robert Mittendorf at Robert.firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-756-2805.
ABOUT THIS SERIES
The Bellingham Herald salutes Whatcom County people who help make our community a great place to live with our annual Ten Who Cared series. If you have a suggestion for an organization we should salute next year, please email email@example.com.