This is a guest post by CFT board member Andrea Dennis. Andrea has been serving on the board of Chicago Fair Trade since 2013. She is a longtime individual member and the Outreach Director at Greenheart International.

Andrea (second from right) with her Chicago Fair Trade family at Allison's wedding in Guatemala in 2015.

Andrea (second from right) with her Chicago Fair Trade family at Allison’s wedding in Guatemala in 2015.

I often wonder what happens when I join an organization. Surely, my monthly or annual payment is put toward good use, I think, as I sign the dotted line. Months later I receive the annual report sharing projects, latest crises, followed by the request to continue and increase my membership contribution. It is cycle that even the most modest philanthropist experiences. However, it is a pleasure to say that unequivocally, Chicago Fair Trade (CFT) is different. I know my membership matters in tangible ways, and here’s why:

  1. Everyone Counts at Chicago Fair Trade
    The organization is small—one full time employee. Thus as a member, if you have an idea, it does not go through a bureaucratic maze to be heard or even implemented. As a member, I participated in the annual strategic planning session and shared an idea to have a campaign called, Ask the Right Questions. It later went on to become an outreach campaign. Ideas from members are welcome and encouraged.
  2. Networking, Networking, Networking
    Need to find a group that creates sustainable fair trade packaging? Ask CFT. Need a graphic designer who is mission-driven to do contract work? Ask CFT. Looking for a socially minded event space? Ask CFT. The network of CFT is vast, but connected enough that members can truly get to know each other and share invaluable insights. I’ve personally asked the Executive Director, Katherine Bissell Cordova, all of the above questions and had them answered in minutes flat. Let it be known that Katherine is an incredibly quick emailer!
  3. CFT is a family—This may sound corny, but it is true.
    Repeatedly, after an event or a board meeting, I am reminded of how close the Chicago fair trade community is. We truly care for each other, we support each other’s projects, and we like to have fun. It is a very healthy mix of friendship and professional support. I even attended a fair trade soul sister’s wedding in Guatemala this past April—where I met my honey! It doesn’t get more family than that.
  4. Membership Keeps CFT Going
    Fair trade is not an ideal project type for federal or private foundation funding. You would think that supporting an advocacy group that builds a coalition to promote local businesses, international development, environmental justice, and fair businesses practices is an attractive funding opportunity. However, that has not been our experience. Thus, membership not only provides tangible benefits (see above) it truly keeps the work of CFT going.
  5. Personal Inspiration
    I have made so many strides in my professional and personal life via my relationship with CFT. I’ve adopted a more minimal lifestyle after hearing speakers like Jamie Hayes, recipient of CFT Change-Maker Award, talk about the clothing industry. I ran a marathon to raise money for CFT, and I’m not even a runner! The people I meet through CFT indirectly nudge me to consider my worldview and every day actions. That is the power of fair trade and the CFT community! People love what they are doing, and that passion is contagious.

You too can join CFT and experience the family community Andrea describes. Click here to join today.