Volunteer Stories

Elizabeth Norden


Name: Elizabeth Norden

Current title/profession: Director, Foundation Relations – Mercy Home for Boys & Girls

Current hometown: Chicago, Illinois

Areas of expertise: fundraising, communications, government, community relations


Name of project: Capacity Building on Proposal Writing and Fundraising

Location of the project: Rwanda

Organization that sent the volunteer: Catholic Relief Services


I have long admired the humanitarian work of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) across the globe. Motivated by the “Gospel of Jesus Christ to cherish, preserve and uphold the sacredness and dignity of all human life, foster charity and justice, and embody Catholic social and moral teaching,” CRS has been providing life-saving assistance for more than 75 years.

When I learned of their partnership with the United States Agency of International Development (USAID) implementing the Farmer-to-Farmer Program, and the potential to serve as a program volunteer, I quickly began a journey which would eventually lead me to Rwanda. I spoke with a CRS recruiter, and discussed my background serving in state government, along with my current role as Director of Foundation Relations with Mercy Home for Boys & Girls. While the Farmer-to-Farmer Program maintains an obvious focus on agriculture, and offers specific related volunteer assignments, they also seek professionals with experience in leadership and management, business, finance, information technology, marketing and fundraising – all fields which assist local partner organizations in strengthening their capacity and ability to succeed.

As I progressed in conversation with CRS, a volunteer assignment that aligned with my background became available in Rwanda. Following an application, interview and reference process, I was selected for the assignment to build fundraising capacity and enhance proposal writing for a local partner organization – the Rwanda Development Organization (RDO).

Ahead of my visit, CRS connected me with RDO to assess their current fundraising practices and strategies, and I was able to prepare training materials responsive to their needs. During my three weeks in country, RDO staff and I gathered in both large and small trainings and one-on-one consultations aimed at strengthening their ability to raise funds in support of food and nutrition security, local farmer cooperatives, environmental conservation and health advocacy efforts. While I have since returned from my visit, my journey with CRS/USAID and RDO continues. We are building upon the trainings to develop real-life connections with potential partners in the United States, and enhance existing relationships with international development organizations.

I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to work with CRS and their partners who seek to build a brighter future for people around the world. All of us have the opportunity to put our faith into action every day – at home, in our community and beyond. And, while there are many worthy organizations to support in our own backyard, if you are inclined to venture a little further afield, you will gain even more than you give.

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