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Another spring — time to kickstart my fundraising

Written by on June 5, 2014 at 6:23 pm

Okay, I know what you are going to say. And you're right: I should be fundraising all year long in preparation for the MS Challenge Walk. When I was on staff at the Greater New England Chapter and overseeing the MS Challenge Walk, I couldn't fathom why a person would wait till the spring to start their fundraising for the September event. But here I am, starting in spring.

I have enjoyed getting back into the swing of my team's fundraising efforts. My focus for this year was to create an informative, personal, and meaningful solicitation message for 2014. In addition, I am attempting to send as many 1:1 emails as possible to past donors and new friends/colleagues that I might solicit for the National MS Society. Simply, this means that I will be sending out more emails and personalizing them as much as possible to better target the donor.

Here is the trick, though: to really reach, connect, and engage a friend to give to the National MS Society, I need to think about how that person will mentally and emotionally receive what I've written, and what part of my family's MS journey is important to them.

For example, when I had a significant MS attack last August, many friends reached out to show support and hear how I was doing. Well, you better believe that in this year's solicitation message to those folks, I will highlight what we went through together last summer as a motivator to stay involved. Other friends like to discuss the impact that research will have on eradicating multiple sclerosis. For those people, I'll have to work in a few points about the cutting edge research done through the National MS Society.

Given my work schedule, I tend to send my NMSS solicitations in the evening. Being tired after a long day, it is hard for me to avoid sending out one email to a group of people for the sake of efficiency and time. But I find when I send out the 1:1 solicitation emails that the response rate and dollars donated are higher.

How is your fundraising going this year? On behalf of the MS Challenge Walk Steering Committee, might we be of service in any way to you or your team?

Todd, formerly the Director of Development for the Greater New England Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, is now the the Regional Director of FAS Capital Giving at Harvard University. In addition to reading his blog posts, you can also find Todd on Twitter.

The Hall of heroes that keeps me walking

Written by on August 22, 2012 at 10:05 am

Six years ago, the Nintendo Wii came out. As someone who was raised with Mario and Zelda, I was first in line at the game store to get the new video game console. As I'm also Computerworld's youngest editor, I didn't share this interest with many co-workers, but I nonetheless brought the Wii to our annual editorial retreat, figuring it would be a novelty.

Sure enough, the intuitive way in which the Wii's tennis and bowling games are played made it a hit. As he tried the bowling game himself, one co-worker, Mark Hall, commented that his late mother, an avid bowler, would probably have lived longer had she been able to enjoy her favorite sport in this low-impact, risk-free fashion. I empathized, saying that I hoped my mother would similarly enjoy the Wii, since she's not as physically active since being diagnosed with MS.

Mark paused his swing and looked at me. "My wife has MS," he said — not a secret, but not one we expected to have in common.

Although I was still Computerworld's newest hire, had just met Mark and had never met his wife Cathie, and had been doing the MS Challenge Walk for only two years at that point, I boldly solicited them in my fundraising efforts, sending them a letter that concluded, "I am truly grateful for your support and feel fortunate to be able to walk the paths of Cape Cod for those who cannot." What I received in return was more valuable than any impact on my bottom line.

I have noted on this blog and in person what I first do when I receive someone's donation in the mail: I look not at the value of the check, but at the donor's words of encouragement. Every year, Cathie — whom to this day I have still not met — takes a deeply personal and generous perspective that she shares in a note enclosed with her donation. With her permission, I am sharing her letter this year:

Letter from Cathie Hall

A transcript of the above scan follows:

Dear Ken,

I am compelled to echo your own words, in your fundraising letter:

"I am truly grateful…" for your and others' consistent MS fundraising efforts and participation in MS Challenge Walk(s)!!!!! Year after year.

and

"I feel fortunate…" to have been the beneficiary of consistent support & aid from family, friends, and even strangers during my 30 years face-to-face with MS; to have a life better than I imagined it would be.

I send you Mark's and my contribution to your 2012 Cape Cod 50-mile Challenge Walk for MS; our very best wishes for perfect walking weather, Sept. 7—9; and my deep, heartfelt appreciation for all you do to defeat MS!

Thank you!

Cathie Hall

I am humbled and awed by the spirit of individuals such as Cathie. It is for heroes like them that I am glad to walk, peddle, and cheer my way across Cape Cod time and time again, until it is no longer necessary.

Ken joined the MS Challenge Walk in 2005, more than a decade after his mother was diagnosed. After walking for three years and 150 miles, he switched to the support crew and now rides his bicycle along the trail, providing whatever encouragement (and snacks!) he can to the 600 walkers. He is also an alumnus of the event's steering committee and is this site's webmaster.

What's so special about a bunch of candles?

Written by on August 14, 2012 at 3:36 pm

CandleThe captain of The Rhode Trippers, Paige Magratten, whom we interviewed on this blog three months ago, isn't the only member of her family who's active with MS Challenge Walk. Her husband and daughter also do their part to bring the world closer to a cure for multiple sclerosis.

One way 16-year-old Colby Magratten has supported her mom is through her way with words. Two years ago, she penned the poem "The Light of Hope". This year, she produced this solicitation letter that Paige found worth sharing with the MS Challenge Blog community:

In seven weeks The Rhode Trippers will be walking 50 miles on Cape Cod. This will be Brooks' 11th, 50 mile walk: an amazing gift he continues to give each year. The gift of your thoughts and support I feel is a big factor in my "remission" of 11 years now. This weekend always recharges my batteries for the whole year to come. Below are thoughts that Colby shared for our letter this year.

What's so special about a bunch of candles?

A candle is just a string dipped in wax but hundreds of them lit and held high can truly be extraordinary. Under a huge tent hundreds of amazing people all hold up their candles to show their hope for a world free of multiple sclerosis.

With blisters on their feet, these people walk fifty miles over three days all to help people suffering from this disease. We all, one-by-one, lift up our light not letting the wind blow it out. As I wait for my turn to light up the sky, I think of my father. Fighting off the pain that millions of steps bring, trying to find the energy for the miles ahead.

We are there as: one heart, one pain, and one hope for a cure. Why am I here? My reason is my mother. She is still able to stand with us and hold her candle, unlike others who will sit in a chair forever. But still, she is limited. The simple things like taking a walk or going to a museum are major struggles for her. Though she is in remission, that doesn't mean she's going to get better. That is the reason why I stand with my candle; I am standing strong for her. I need to be strong and help her gain strength from this light.

So I stand watching a shared flame. A flame passed on to others affected by MS. We stand as part of a family of strangers holding their candles high for the entire world to see. So let me ask you this: What's so special about a bunch of candles?

Ken joined the MS Challenge Walk in 2005, more than a decade after his mother was diagnosed. After walking for three years and 150 miles, he switched to the support crew and now rides his bicycle along the trail, providing whatever encouragement (and snacks!) he can to the 600 walkers. He is also an alumnus of the event's steering committee and is this site's webmaster.

Let the fundraising begin!

Written by on March 28, 2011 at 10:27 am

I was in Columbia, South Carolina, for the weekend as my family there hosted our team's annual fundraising golf tournament. It is always a beautiful time of year down there, and a great time is had out on the course. My deepest thanks and love go out to my family for continuing to support the National MS Society by organizing this fundraising tournament each year.

Our family's team fundraising campaign is kicked off each year with golf tournament, which raises a significant portion of the team's funds. We are fortunate for so many wonderful personal and corporate supporters.

Now that we have entered our fundraising season, I look forward to reaching out to friends, family and new co-workers (if done selectively) to ask them to support our family's team at the upcoming MS Challenge Walk. As I've been mentally (and manually) organizing my "ask", and starting to compile a list of people to solicit, I am eager to take advantage of the online tools in my Participant Center.

While its functionality (and ease) is great, I don't it to lull me into laziness in my solicitations. It would be easiest to import all the email addresses from my contact list into my Participant Center and shoot out a generic email to all, asking them for money. While there is a group of people to whom I will send such an email, I'll avoid this approach for just everyone. When you think about it, there are some people who should be sent an individualized email or letter. I mean, isn't the money they give valuable enough to take another moment to send them a special correspondence. I think it is.

The point is this: think about each person to whom you are soliciting. If someone falls into the category of receiving a more general email, that is fine. But if you come across someone who for whatever reason prompts your mind (or heart) to pause and suggest you send a personalized correspondence, follow your instincts and go that route. If you need help writing your letter, check out our advice and templates. The extra minute it will take to send them a personal solicitation may just turn out to be your biggest donor because of the attention and care you showed them. The money they give is worth your investment of time.

Todd, formerly the Director of Development for the Greater New England Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, is now the the Regional Director of FAS Capital Giving at Harvard University. In addition to reading his blog posts, you can also find Todd on Twitter.

Fundraising at a new job?

Written by on January 24, 2011 at 12:33 pm

As you may know, I am in a new professional capacity this year and as such am learning the currents around my new office environment at the Harvard College Fund. This change also means that I will be able to return to walking again at the MS Challenge Walk in September with my family's team, Krohne's Buzzards!

One of my fundraising goals this year is to solicit my new colleagues for financial support for the Challenge Walk. But I don't know quite how to do that yet. There are so many new (and unforeseen) turns in a new job, but also I know that there are a ton of generous and supportive people at Harvard. How/what/when/where can or can't I ask them to contribute?

As the year goes along, I hope to uncover many of these answers and will keep you posted. Maybe it will help as you fundraise "around the water cooler". In the meantime, if you have any ideas or suggestions, please don't hesitate to share.

Todd, formerly the Director of Development for the Greater New England Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, is now the the Regional Director of FAS Capital Giving at Harvard University. In addition to reading his blog posts, you can also find Todd on Twitter.

Crossing the first finish line

Written by on August 27, 2010 at 11:08 am

So we're only a few weeks from the Challenge Walk, and something I hoped but never thought would happen has happened: I completed my fundraising goal.

It's not that I thought it was impossible to raise $1,500 — I know people who've done this walk before, and overachievers like Ken set their goals thousands higher than that minimum. I just thought it was impossible for me. I have a small family, my friends are all starving graduate students, and "spare time" in which to do fundraising activities is about as foreign to me as sub-Saharan Africa. I depended almost exclusively on my solicitation letters — and yet, somehow, it all worked out. I reached my goal.

With that strange sense of calm, I can look back at what I did and see how it worked. I sent about thirty solicitation letters, and about twenty of those recipients donated. The few no-replies were mostly long shots — cousins with burgeoning broods of children whom I rarely see. For the most part, my family has been exceedingly generous about an event they are actually quite far removed from. (Is there a prize for having the most non-regional sponsors? Because the vast majority of my donations are from Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska!)

But I also wouldn't be even close to my goal if it hadn't been for the non-solicited donations from friends. In one day, a single, unexpected cash donation moved me from "I might get close…" to "I'll definitely reach my goal!". I also earned some bonus bucks through MS-related events that haven't tallied into my count yet. A friend of mine who thought I still had another hundred to go was pleasantly surprised to learn he had actually put me over the top!

Another factor I've started noticing is my Facebook counter has been getting me some last-minute donations. Apparently, people find a cause more irresistible if you actually look like you're going to succeed in meeting your goal. Because those bonus bucks are still out there, I've gotten a few donations even after reaching $1,500, which gave me a new goal: to actually raise the money I'd gotten in fundraising remission. It would be an amazing sense of accomplishment if I could actually "cancel out" the bonus bucks I thought I'd have to rely on!

I started this fundraising process thinking I'd be very lucky to make even half of the minimum, and I solicited without really expecting much response. But the one thing that has kept surprising me throughout this endeavor is the unexpected generosity people will show for a good cause. This Challenge Walk has given me a renewed hope — not just that people with MS can have better lives, but that we all can when we work together toward a worthy goal!

Kahmmie was a first-year walker in 2010 and had just started to get involved with the MS community, with the inspiration of her then significant other, Ken, this site's webmaster. She lived in the Boston area and attended graduate school full-time.

Fundraising Tip #13: Soliciting friends of friends

Written by on August 4, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Most of your fundraising solicitations are sent to first-degree contacts: your friends, your family, your co-workers. But many more people are affected by MS, and that which affects your loved ones affects their loved ones, too. Why not expand your network and reach out to these second-degree connections?

In my case, I walk for my mother, who was diagnosed with MS in 1990. My three older brothers are unavailable to join me in the MS Challenge Walk, but their motivation to fundraise is no less than mine. I wanted to ask them to send a solicitation letter to anyone they knew that I might not — but then I figured, I'm already sending more than a hundred letters myself, I'm set up for such a process, why not do it for them? I instead asked my brothers for names and addresses from their rolodex. I then prepared a different letter to those individuals. Instead of beginning with:

"I am writing regarding this September, which will mark my sixth participation in the MS Challenge Walk, a two-day, 30-mile event that raises money for and awareness of multiple sclerosis, which affects my mother."

I wrote:

"I am writing regarding this September, which will mark my brother Ken's sixth participation in the MS Challenge Walk, a two-day, 30-mile event that raises money for and awareness of multiple sclerosis, which affects our mother."

I continued to make these little changes throughout the letter, constantly referring to myself in the third person, and ended by signing by brother's name. After getting final approval of the letter from my bros, I mailed the letters with self-addressed stamped envelopes directed to me. Sure enough, a week later, those envelopes started coming back with checks in them: "I got your brother's letter and am happy to help you in your walk for your and his mom!" Now that I've made that initial contact, I can (and have) solicited these same people for future walks under my own name.

Note that I am not promoting identity theft or forgery. Pretending to be someone else requires a friend or relative's full permission and cooperation, and they should be kept abreast of who you are soliciting and how.

Online networks like Facebook and LinkedIn help us meet friends of friends, but "social networking" works in the real world, too. Ask your siblings, parents, co-workers, and friends to fundraise on your behalf, and leverage your connections to bring us that much closer to a world free from MS.

Ken joined the MS Challenge Walk in 2005, more than a decade after his mother was diagnosed. After walking for three years and 150 miles, he switched to the support crew and now rides his bicycle along the trail, providing whatever encouragement (and snacks!) he can to the 600 walkers. He is also an alumnus of the event's steering committee and is this site's webmaster.

Money motivation

Written by on July 30, 2010 at 1:04 pm

I'm not sure if it's a Midwestern sensibility, a sense of shyness, or just plain pride, but I have always felt awkward asking people for money. I knew this long before I signed up for the Challenge Walk, so from the start, I knew that the solicitation and fundraising aspects of the event would be my biggest trial.

On any given day, if you gave me the choice, I'd probably be more comfortable walking an extra 30 miles than asking for donations! But that's not the way this walk works, and the bar is set high with a requested $1,500 minimum per walker. So not knowing what else to do, I followed the lead of my boyfriend (a long-time walker and bike crew member for this event) and started writing solicitation letters.

Those who received my solicitation were, without exception, family in some way, and I have the extra challenge of not living near any family. Could I really expect people who live over 1,000 miles from New England to care about this walk? What's more, I know that some of them are having a hard time making ends meet right now; could I in good conscience even solicit them in the first place? With all these questions weighing on me, I became worried that I should start eliminating prospective donors from my already small pool. What's more, I was becoming convinced that there was no possible way to hit that fundraising minimum.

But Ken, kind and sometimes even wise man that he is, gave me a small but intrinsic piece of advice — it's not my place to decide whether someone else can afford to donate, or to decide how big a priority charity is for them. All I can do is offer the opportunity and see who wants to take it.

With that in mind, I rallied my courage, stamped a bunch of envelopes, and dropped them all in the mail before I could change my mind. Now that some donations are coming back, I'm seeing his point: some of the donations are much bigger than I expected. A few are a little smaller. But overall, I'm surprised by the level of generosity my family is showing to this walk — even if they aren't anywhere near New England and don't know anyone who has MS, many of them still want to support me in my pursuits, and for some of them, that's reason enough to contribute. For others, perhaps they're glad to know that I'm spending my spare time promoting good causes. I may not know each person's motivation for donating, but I do respond with all the gratitude I feel for their support.

Though that $1,500 goal is still very lofty, this first round of fundraising has given me the motivation to look for other opportunities to close the gap. I don't know if I'll be selling my home-grown cucumbers, hosting a back-to-school party for my classmates, or just outright begging, but I'm going to do what I can to raise money for this cause. Whether or not I make the minimum, I can walk proudly if I know I gave it my best effort.

Kahmmie was a first-year walker in 2010 and had just started to get involved with the MS community, with the inspiration of her then significant other, Ken, this site's webmaster. She lived in the Boston area and attended graduate school full-time.