By Sarah Wunning and Satanjeev “Bano” Banerjee

Since the 1960s, GLIDE has relied on direct service volunteers to help provide safety net services (such as daily free meals) to the most vulnerable people in our community. Recently, we have been experimenting with a Skills-Based Volunteering (SBV) model, in which we use the specialized skills of volunteers to build capacity in different parts of the organization. At the same time, over the last decade, there has been an increase in San Francisco–based technology companies looking to engage with the local community, with employees eager to volunteer their skills to make an impact. 

Twitter is one such company. Located only a few blocks from GLIDE, the company organizes a volunteer day for all of its staff twice a year called Twitter For Good Day (TFG). Traditionally, most TFG Day volunteering projects have been direct service in nature, such as serving meals at GLIDE and other similar nonprofits, cleaning parks, or assembling hygiene kits. In addition to these worthy projects, Twitter and GLIDE’s Data, Strategy and Evaluation team have partnered over the last couple of years to develop data projects that utilize volunteers with data skills.

The Challenges and Our Approach

Using the typical short-term volunteer model for data analysis comes with some unique challenges. Unlike many direct service volunteering projects, data volunteers need more context about the task, the data, and what kind of analysis will most benefit the organization.

Enabling short-term volunteers to do data analysis within three hours means doing a lot of prep work beforehand. Unfortunately, just as GLIDE staff often does not have adequate time for the actual analysis, there is also a shortage of bandwidth for the prep work. Our approach to tackling this challenge is to rely on one or two long-term volunteers to help with the data prep, including time-consuming tasks like data cleaning, anonymizing, setting up the logistics for the day, and recruiting volunteers from Twitter.

Coming up with the right type of project or question is also an important part of preparing for skills-based volunteers. The right balance of a project—one that is important but not urgent, impactful for volunteers to work on, and can be accomplished in three hours—can be difficult to find. Over the years, we have found that asking open-ended questions and mixing in questions that are not purely related to data analysis has created the most value for both GLIDE and the volunteers working on the projects.

Data for Good team hard at work at GLIDE in 2018.

“Data for Good” — some highlights

Over the last three years, dozens of skills-based volunteers have worked on various projects at GLIDE. We call these joint efforts Data for Good. Below, we showcase just two of our several collaborative projects:

Analyzing demographics and who exactly GLIDE serves

GLIDE program staff have noticed GLIDE’s participant population demographics change over the years, and they wanted to know what the data shows—in particular, if there are certain population groups within the Tenderloin that are underserved by GLIDE’s programs. Volunteers received anonymized GLIDE program data, which they then sliced and diced by demographic information, such as age, gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. They then compared that information to similar San Francisco below-poverty census data and Tenderloin census data, and found that, overall, there were not any major gaps between GLIDE’s program participant data and the census data, and that trends were consistent between GLIDE and the Tenderloin neighborhood. This useful information has inspired GLIDE to redo this analysis on an ongoing basis, in order to identify any potential future gaps in service to the community.

Getting at an Unduplicated Client Count for the Daily Free Meals Program 

GLIDE serves three meals a day, 364 days a year. In order to remove barriers to food security, participants don’t sign in or fill out forms and clients can receive as many meals as they want in a day or mealtime. The only data we do have is the total number of plates served. A question that GLIDE has always been interested in answering accurately is: How many unique participants come to GLIDE’s Daily Free Meals in a year? We presented volunteers with this open-ended question to have them brainstorm possible solutions. GLIDE staff showed volunteers how a meal shift is run and how participants flow through the dining hall. The volunteers proposed using a lightweight survey coupled with statistical modeling to arrive at an accurate answer to this question. We are now following up by piloting these lightweight surveys, conducted while participants wait in line.

What We Learned

Data for Good has had six iterations so far. Across these sessions, we have learned various lessons that have helped us improve the program. We list them below in the hope that these learnings will be useful to other nonprofits.

  1. Champions Needed: Skills-Based Volunteering isn’t a common volunteering model for either nonprofits or for-profits, partly because it is difficult to do well. In order for SBV to be successful, it’s necessary to have people on both sides that are committed to its success over a long period of time. 
  1. Patience: With direct service volunteering, you often see immediate impact, whereas with SBV, it takes time to build up impact. For example, in the demographics analysis project described above, the first round of Data for Good activity answered some questions and laid the groundwork for future analysis. By doing more follow up analyses, we have built on this work over the course of several years and deepened our understanding of GLIDE’s program participants.
  1. Think Beyond Data: In the beginning, we thought narrowly about the types of projects that are suitable for Data for Good—mostly pure data analysis. Over the years, however, we have expanded to other kinds of SBV, such as creating slide decks from data reports, performing simple data clean ups, and conducting internet research. These kinds of projects are as impactful as data analysis, and volunteers enjoy getting to use skills outside of data analysis.

Skills-based volunteering or SBV has been an impactful addition to GLIDE’s volunteering program. It has allowed GLIDE to not only answer some longstanding questions but has also deepened our relationship with Twitter. Through this relationship, we have started working on other long-term projects, such as running our first in-house randomized controlled trial on the number of mail solicitations sent to donors. In the future, we hope to expand this model to other departments across GLIDE—and we hope that other nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies will also join us on this journey!

Sarah Wunning (center) is GLIDE’s Data Systems Manager and Satanjeev “Bano” Banerjee (left) is Machine Learning Engineer at Twitter. They would like to thank the following colleagues for their generous support of the work detailed above. At GLIDE: Kate Purdy and Caitlin Jolicoeur. At Twitter: Kania Azrina, JP Wong, Bhargav Manjipudi, London Lee, and Karl Robillard.

And, not least, thank you to all the Twitter volunteers who’ve participated in Data for Good over the last several years, we appreciate you!

San Francisco teen and GLIDE volunteer finds a creative way to support her community from home: cooking for a cause

With so much going on in the world right now, many of us wonder how we can step up to meet this moment, while keeping ourselves and our communities safe. One San Francisco teenager and longtime GLIDE volunteer creatively navigated these uncertain times and, in the process, raised much needed funds for GLIDE programs.

Ali Fishman, a San Francisco high school student, found herself tackling the art of cooking during the long days of shelter-in-place. She soon discovered her friends were doing the same thing. So Ali began requesting recipes from her fellow students. The responses delighted and surprised her—everything from “Tik Tok coffee” to “Mac and Cheese Balls.”

Cuisine can tell us a lot about a culture, and Ali found the collection of recipes to be a reflection of the times. “It was a funny depiction,” she admits, “of what is going in the world right now.”

Cooking for a Cause

As she passed the days at home with her family, Ali was acutely aware of those who did not have the privilege of staying safely at home, especially essential workers and people experiencing homelessness. “If I get to sit at home all day,” she reflected, “I might as well use it to do something good for the people who don’t get to be sitting at home.”

With this in mind, Ali decided to publish her newfound collection of recipes as a cookbook and to donate the proceeds to GLIDE.

Ali first visited GLIDE on a school field trip when she was in the fifth grade and has returned to volunteer through GLIDE’s volunteer program ever since. She still remembers what her tour guide told her class on that first trip: “GLIDE is a radically inclusive community. We serve anyone and everyone.” Ali says it’s an ethic that has informed her life ever since.

A recipe for action

For Ali, the best part of the fundraiser was engaging and collaborating with her broader community. Her social media followers sent in the recipes, her friend illustrated the book, her parents’ friend offered marketing support, and her school advisor mentored her along the way.

When the 70-page cookbook, entitled “A Book for When Postmates Is Not an Option,” was finished and posted online for sale, the response was another pleasant surprise. In a matter of weeks, she had sold well over 100 books and raised over $1,500 for GLIDE’s programs for individuals and families in dire need.

“Honestly, I was not expecting for people to love it so much,” says Ali. “When you are doing something in the moment, you’re thinking you are making something for a certain audience. But when friends share it with their networks, there is exponential reach.” 

Reflecting on her cookbook publication and fundraiser, Ali says, “the process has been fun and not a burden at all. We are all in the city together, we are all responsible for each other, and we are all supposed to be there for each other. I am making sure to be proactive.”

Cooking for a cause sound inspiring?

Ali’s tips for starting a fundraiser:

  1. Make it fun and exciting for you and the people that are going to be supporting you.  
  2. Make it community focused; get as many people involved as you can so that it’s a team effort, and there will be support for the final product.

While this is Ali’s first self-organized fundraiser, she sees now that when it comes to philanthropy, “young people need to take ownership.” She says this is especially true for teenagers.

“We are going to be adults soon enough, so the lesson that we are all supposed to be there for each other is vitally important.” 🧡

Ali seems to be at the forefront of a movement: Young people organizing fundraisers for GLIDE is trending! From holding virtual concerts to Instagram Live Yoga fundraisers, GLIDE’s youngest volunteers are stepping up and finding creative ways to contribute remotely during this physically distanced time. “A Book for When Postmates Is Not an Option” is available here.

While GLIDE hasn’t been able to host our in-person volunteer program during shelter-in-place, there are many ways to stay involved. If you have an idea for a fundraiser or donation drive of your own, please contact Lauren Bernstein, in GLIDE’s Fund Development department, at lbernstein@glide.org.

Banner image: Ali in the kitchen (left) and friend Natalie.

Nancy Goh is among GLIDE’s most dedicated volunteers, a loving soul and an inspiring member of this community. Not only is she a regular in GLIDE’s Daily Free Meals program, but she has incorporated raising awareness and support for GLIDE into her passion for running. Below, Nancy reflects on the reciprocal nature of volunteering and the power of community-building through service. 

My first volunteer shift was a Sunday lunch service.

I had just moved from New York City and was looking for something more than just a network in San Francisco, I was looking for community. I had volunteered at soup kitchens before but trying to find a high-impact volunteer opportunity in a big city was always tough when you only had a couple hours a week to contribute. Usually you had to fill out applications and commit to a certain amount of hours per week.

What instantly stood out to me about GLIDE was how easy it was to sign up for a volunteer shift via the online portal, and that you could dedicate one or two hours of your time in the Meals program and serve hundreds of people.

I come from a programs management and operations background, so I appreciate effective processes and good leadership. I was instantly impressed by the lead kitchen staff at GLIDE. They were so engaged and not only made sure everyone knew their role in the cafeteria but that everyone felt that their contributions were of equal importance. When you work in the corporate world for as long as I have, you see a lot of people who don’t love their job because they don’t find purpose in it. GLIDE was the opposite experience. I remember leaving my first volunteer shift heartened and humbled.

The second time I volunteered, Curtis assigned me the position of greeting people at the door and handing them utensils when they first enter the kitchen. It was very impactful for me. I admit that coming into this experience I, like many, had preconceived notions about people experiencing homelessness. But being in that kitchen, in a setting where everyone is considered equal and everyone deserves a delicious meal, deconstructed my prejudices. It was shocking to see the range of people in the meals line. It was then that I became an instant advocate for GLIDE.

I had been running for over ten years when I decided I wanted to run to raise awareness and support for GLIDE. I created a Go Fund Me page in 2019 with a list of all races I would run on behalf of GLIDE. In 2019, I completed two half-marathons and wore my GLIDE hat for each of them.

The more I volunteered at GLIDE, the more I felt a sense of community. It was the highlight of my weekends, walking into GLIDE and saying hello to the staff and volunteers. It brought a new regularity to my life that I didn’t have before. I met people with incredible stories working in the Meals program, many of whom were original recipients of these meals. I built beautiful connections with people I may have never had the pleasure of crossing paths with, like Lee. Lee had recently been released from San Quentin State Prison, where he was a runner in the 1,00 Mile Club. I had recently signed up to run the San Francisco Half Marathon and learned that Lee had too! In the weeks leading up to the marathon, Lee and I built a friendship based on our shared love of running, checking in with each other about how our training was coming along.

This is just one example of the sustainability model behind GLIDE’s Meals program. Access to a good meal can be the foundation for changing one’s livelihood. You start with giving someone something as basic as a meal and, while the impact doesn’t happen over night, the long-term results are the building of a community that continues to serve each other.

Nancy and Lee serving lunch in GLIDE’s Daily Free Meals program.


By Erin Gaede

We are happy to feature this reflection by Precious Listana, Public Policy Fellow at Twitter, on some of the ways that Twitter gives back to the community by volunteering at GLIDE. Many thanks to Bano, Kania, and the entire Twitter crew for always making GLIDE a part of #TwitterForGood. 
Continue reading “From Serving Meals to Improving Data”

Meals program volunteer Michael finds meaning and pleasure in serving his Tenderloin neighbors

Michael is a dedicated volunteer in GLIDE’s Daily Free Meals program as well as a program participant. Originally from the Glen Park neighborhood of San Francisco, Michael had only been coming to eat at GLIDE for a week before he started to spend several hours each day volunteering to cook for and serve his fellow Tenderloin residents. A few weeks ago, Michael kindly took a moment to share some of his story with us.

I had always heard of GLIDE, and curiosity got the better of me. I was actually waiting in line to get a meal and one of the other volunteers said, “They need some help down there,” and he asked me if I wanted to help. I said sure. It got me in the door and out of the cold, so why not? That was about five months ago. I have been coming every day since. I usually do breakfast and lunch. It’s better being in here than out there; it’s a little crazy out there. It’s a pretty rough environment.

The people that we serve is what brings me here every day—the elderly, you get kind of attached to them. I like helping them out. I feel more accomplished, like I have done some good. To be outside isn’t ideal, getting into no-good stuff—I don’t do drugs or anything, but when you are out there it’s all lonely and I try to get away from it.

“Making the best of it”

I worked for a long time as a building engineer in the city and then I lost my job, lost where I was living, lost everything else and ended up on the street. I was applying for jobs but when you get to the age part they become a bit edgy. I am 63 now, and they would rather hire someone younger.

So anyway, I am trying to make the best of it. I have an escape place I go to when it gets tight. I go down to Pier 7 on the Embarcadero and I just hang out there. It helps me relax. And when you are not looking at the Bay, you have a great view of the skyline. It’s a beautiful city; I love living here. I wouldn’t change anything. I mean, I have travelled to different places but this is home.

I also like to go to the zoo and the Academy of Sciences to relax. I have a lady friend that works at the zoo, so whenever I want to go she will give me a pass. It’s cool; I like going to check out the big cats like the tigers and lions. I think they are pretty great; I was heartbroken when they had to shoot that one tiger a few years back. I knew the person in charge of the lion house. He was pretty shook up. After that happened, he retired.

Thursday and Sunday are chicken nights and this place is swamped. It’s like the last piece of chicken they will ever see in their life. I always think, “Relax people! There is more chicken!”

When you put on the aprons and gloves and all that before working in the kitchen, you also have to put on a name tag. What I do is I change my name every day and then all the old people ask, “Who are you today?” Yesterday I was Sam Spade, last week I was Formula One driver Niki Lauda. It keeps them guessing and they like the entertainment.

Looking to the future

I have to work one more year in the trade. If I can work one more year, I can retire from the union and get my pension. See but that is the hard part, and where the age factor comes in. What I would like to do is set up my retirement and go to a third world country and spend the rest of my life there. Some place in Asia maybe and just kick it.

I still have my job certification. I’m putting out resumes still. I’m hoping one of them will bite. I do everything—electronics, fingerprints for security. I do the regular mechanical stuff such as electrical, communications and data. I have skills like welding, plumbing, stuff like that. But I lean more towards the electronic part of the industry.

I would encourage people to come down here and do volunteer work, it did a lot for me. I am a very solo person but when I see the elderly and disabled, I know I am doing something good and it makes me feel good inside too.