Friday, April 2, 2010

The parable of the Champagne cork

Tam Valley Elementary 2nd Grade

Some of our days seemed to develop themes. Family day where relatives come to visit, Paperwork day, when you catch up on correspondence, Doctor day in which you get all your exams done, girlfriend day for a walk, talk and latte. Yesterday for me was my KIDDO day.

KIDDO is an organization in Mill Valley formed 28 years ago to support the Mill Valley School District. Over these many years they have been the engine that keep the arts and music programs at the school so viable. I started out supporting KIDDO (when it had another name) when the children were little as a parent supporter. When I became a Realtor, I made a commitment to continue that support as a business supporter adopting a classroom at first finally adopting a school. I have been the school adopter for Tam Valley School for most of the 15 years I have been a business partner with KIDDO.

I get very cool cards from time to time form the children at the school thanking me for my support. Invitations have come and gone to school performances and I have in the past gone to a few (but not enough). Yesterday I decided I would attend the 2nd grade play down at Tam Valley. Then later in the day there was to be the KIDDO business luncheon. It was KIDDO kind of day.

I never set out to be a "fund raiser." I started out to be a Mom when I first became involved in Tam Valley School. But as these things happen, my involvement grew at the school to go from writing the newsletter, to chairing the Halloween Happening, to becoming the Walk-a-thon Chair, to PTA President to everything in between. When I first started to raise funds for Tam Valley School there were some people who felt my efforts, and the efforts of all the PTAs, were in competition to KIDDO. How could you ,after all in good consciousness, ask the same people to donate twice. The walk-a-thon in the beginning was a one note event. I expanded it. During the time I was there we changed the event to be a silent auction, community BBQ with local music, we added pep rallies and plays, and the event grew from earning $23,000 for the school, to $83,000 the next year and $145,000 the following. I learned that there would be people who disagreed with me about the lengths we were going to earn more money. But with those funds we purchased computers of each classroom. We filled in where KIDDO at the time didn't and couldn't go. KIDDO didn't receive less donations in fact they were as strong as ever. Basically because we built even more awareness of the need, people stepped up and donated more.

Then at one rather heated district wide meeting we talked about that idea.
When a person understands the importance of a cause they are like champagne in a bottle. They are filled with enthusiasm and want a way to show it. Pop that cork and voila the initial moment seems as if the sparkling effervescence will simply empty the the excitement of the moment of release. But you find, there a many glasses there, still filled with bubbly goodness, the wine having been so prepared for this moment.

The conversation at my table at lunch was whether or not to raise the donation amount required to be a "supporter" of KIDDO. I found it coincidental that I had had a similar conversation with someone about the 3-day earlier. These are difficult financial times for many. It could be that several year ago they would have donated $1000 to the schools without blinking an eye. Now for some, they have to wonder if they can donate $100.

What do you do? The need is great. Not just for schools but for organizations like Susan G Komen. The biggest mistake is not to ask. The next biggest mistake may be to assume the giving is easy. While there may be many bottles of champagne still in our community, they are fewer than before. Those who have the abiltiy to give are now even more important to fundraising efforts. It is imperative that the need is understood.

Its a dilemma. How do you raise more money than ever in a time when people have less. What lessons have I learned during my Tam Valley days and now with our 3-day walk that need to be remembered.

1. The message has to be heard and the need understood

That is what I hope I am doing in writing this blog and handing out 3-day business cards, placing the information on Facebook. If people understand the importance of the need the desire to builds to do something. It is from that that decisions are made.

2. Never assume someone wouldn't want to donate

Time after time, I have been surprised in getting the message out how many people share the passion I have felt for ending Breast Cancer. And today I was in a room full of business people who felt supporting the schools to be essential whether or not their children still attended or ever attended local schools.

3. People will donate at different times for different reasons, provide every opportunity, make it easy.

There are some people who respond very well to a face to face solicitation. They find it difficult to say no to someone face to face. Others find that too confrontation and have a standard reply, and will simply say no before you even begin. Younger people respond well to social networking and places like Twitter and Facebook have been the platform for raising millions of dollars for causes. All of us like it to be easy to donate. Think of the Red Crosses very successful texting campaign for Haiti. How many millions were raised by individual $5 donations texted on their cellphones. There is a HUGH lesson in that for this tough economic time. People understood the need, felt moved to do something and were provided with an easy way to express their need to help.... there you go...millions.

4. People like to have fun

Wine Wars and the dinner we had in San Rafael last year were hugely successful. There were people more than willing to pay $35 for the evening knowing that $25 of that went to a good cause was almost secondary! Some of these people go out regularly and drink wine say at $9 a glass or more. An evening where the food and music go with tastings at 5 wine tables is quite a bargain in any economy. When there are prizes and live auction items people are able to get things of value while also helping a great cause. Spending $20 on raffle tickets netted one person last year about $200 worth of wine and tickets. I remember one person saying they always come ready to bid at silent auctions because they get such great deals - at that event he was bidding on a trip to Paris. (If you have one we can auction let me know!)

The generosity of our donors of wine and services from wineries, businesses and individuals meant that our overhead was small and so over $6000 went to Susan G Komen from that evening and over $2000 went to Susan G Komen from our San Rafael Dinner.

It helps if you have fun too! If you are doing something YOU enjoy, People will be happier, the event will be more successful and in the end the $$$ you raise is a wonderful bonus!

5. When people give, they feel rewarded and empowered

There are several people I think of who have thanked me for allowing them to donate. They wanted to do something about Breast Cancer and thanked me for giving them a way to do it that was personal and appreciated. Especially for those who have connection by being a survivor themselves or having lived with and loved someone who battled this disease, our walk means a lot. The ability to participate in our walk through donating means just as much.

6. Know your audience.

To ask someone with few resources for a donation of $100 may make them feel like they cannot donate at all. Everyone should be made to feel that a donation of any size is welcome. Think of the $5 Haiti donations! But, not everyone is limited in what they can give.

If the need is understood and someone has the resources, do not be afraid of asking for a substantial donation. Some people's companies have matching funds for their employees donations. Never be afraid to ask. If you do ask for a specific amount add the words "or more" after the number.


The most important thing is to remember WHY you are doing this. It isn't just to raise money. The money is the end result. It is to build an understanding of the need. In the case of Breast Cancer it is to also built awareness and in the process save lives. I will never be embarrassed to do that. I will never be shy in letting people how important it is to continue the fight against this disease.
When I was PTA President, I became an educator in a topic I had never even thought of before, Breast Cancer. I didn't want to talk about it, but I had two choices. I could quietly fight this monster from my house and disappear from the school where I had been such a presence, leaving kids and parents to think the worse. Or I could use the situation to educate people about Breast Cancer, and have them be a witness to someone living with Cancer and finally seeing that people CAN and Do survive it. I wrote newsletter articles, I even made speeches at school. I worked on the Walk-a-thon and the kid's still called me Mrs Walk-a-thon even though I now was a bald headed Mom, and didn't look quite the same. They planted a tree in my name. They honored me in many ways. But the greatest honor of all is they learned with me the strength there is in a collective will to fight, survive and thrive. I will forever be thankful to those children and their families, because they gave me one of the greatest gifts of my life.

And so, I am a KIDDO school adopter, and grateful I have been able to do this for 15 years. I hope I can continue to do this for 15 more. Even though I know these are tough times, I also understand the need is great. And so I am asking you, to be generous to those causes who need you so much. Make a donation. Make it with your heart. If you do so, I know you will be rewarded greater than you could even imagine.

Enjoy a little clip of today's performance. Click on the picture.....