Free Arts and the Rocket Community Fund

Free Arts relies on over 700 volunteers annually to maintain our programs supporting children through art. All that changed during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, when volunteer opportunities to work directly with our children were greatly limited due to health and safety concerns. Our volunteers wanted to continue supporting Free Arts, and we needed their assistance to keep impacting the lives of the children we serve. As a result, we developed three remote projects where volunteers could safely prepare programs materials for our children from a distance.

We were not the only ones trying to figure out how to engage volunteers remotely during a pandemic. The Rocket Community Fund is the philanthropic arm of the Rock Family of Companies, which is comprised of multiple companies including America’s largest mortgage lender, Rocket Mortgage. In addition to making strategic investments in housing, education, and public life, the Rocket Community Fund empowers 30,000 Rock FOC team members with hundreds of volunteering and fundraising opportunities. At the onset of the pandemic, they created numerous virtual volunteer opportunities to ensure their passionate team members could continue making an impact safely in their home communities.  

In February of 2021, Free Arts and the Rocket Community Fund began a conversation around “remote volunteer fatigue.” Remote volunteering was one way to continue supporting nonprofits, but there were many challenges. Some volunteers used to in-person opportunities said that virtual volunteering often felt like a solo experience that was very transactional. Many Rock FOC team members were also struggling with being able to balance both work and home life, which included supporting their own families’ emotional and caregiving needs. And while volunteering remotely on your own schedule is flexible and can be done at any time, this also makes it easier to miss or delay virtual opportunities.

James Gallagher is a Volunteer Engagement and Giving Program Manager on the Rocket Community Fund. He was interested in organizing interactive virtual events to keep Rock FOC volunteers engaged. The idea was to replicate certain aspects of in-person volunteer events, such as dedicated dates, times, and activity facilitators. This goal also included expanding their volunteer efforts to other Rock FOC home offices outside their Detroit headquarters, which includes Phoenix.

Tenneille Choi, the Development Officer at Free Arts, was completely on-board with this plan. She was also interested in organizing more engaging virtual volunteer events and was excited to have a partner in this grand experiment. James was looking for nonprofit partners to offer these dedicated virtual volunteer events, and Tenneille was looking for a corporate partner to design and pilot virtual events around our remote volunteer projects.

James and Tenneille created their first volunteer event together in April during National Volunteer Week. During this week, Rock FOC promoted several events that team members could register for on dedicated days. Registration for the Free Arts event filled up quickly, with the opportunity filling up after only a few hours. On April 21, 2021, 24 Rock FOC team members logged onto Zoom from their home offices to create affirmation cards for children in Free Arts programs. The event was a big success, with many team members saying it had been by far their favorite volunteer experience. Once the Free Arts event concluded, James and Tenneille came together to debrief about the experience. They brainstormed new ideas and process improvements. One interesting takeaway was to include more relevant content and icebreakers during the event. For example, they noticed increased activity in the chat while playing the Free Arts 25th Anniversary video.

Two more equally successful virtual volunteer experiences with Rock FOC team members followed: On June 24, 20 participants joined together to make Affirmation Cards and Magazine Clippings. On July 20, Tenneille partnered with Rock Central and their University Recruiting team to incorporate Bravery Bracelets as a volunteer project for their Intern Experience program. Then in August, Rocket Mortgage reached out after hearing about these past events and wanted to schedule something similar for their own team.

Rock FOC plans to return to limited in-person volunteering in September, but will continue supporting virtual experiences for more flexibility. The team at Free Arts is likewise excited for the fall to hopefully bring about more in-person opportunities for volunteers to support our community. These past few months have been a wonderful opportunity to deepen the connection between Rock FOC team members and the children that Free Arts serves in Arizona. Free Arts can’t wait for Phoenix Rock FOC team members to meet our children in-person and see the magic for themselves!

The timing of these events was a perfect opportunity to engage Rock FOC team members before the 2021 Rock Family of Companies Community Challenge happening RIGHT NOW. This is a month-long annual fundraising competition where team members raise money and advocate for the nonprofit organizations they care about most. Free Arts is participating, and we appreciate the support! This campaign supports hundreds of nonprofits across the country, and the more they raise, the more cash prizes they’ll be eligible to receive from the Rocket Community Fund. The Community Challenge officially ends on Friday, August 27 at 5:00pm ET, and participation is open to the public.

Thank you, Rock FOC team members, for supporting our kids as remote volunteers and fundraising champions!