Friday, May 29, 2015

Spring Semester Fundraising

What a semester it has been! Last fall, this bike trip felt like an exciting idea but it’s turned into one of the largest realities I’ve ever faced. Without the constant, nagging distraction of school in the front of our minds this summer, we might actually make some serious fundraising progress. It’s crazy to think that at the end of this summer, we’ll be packing up all of our gear to brave the trails in Central and South America.

To sum up how our semester of fundraising has been in a word, I’d say educational. Some people might call it constant failure, but the optimist inside of me prefers a happier approach. Since we were in the nice Luther bubble of Decorah, we decided to test out various fundraising approaches. Our initial idea was to send out a clear and beautiful email. This thing had it all: a clean yet visually appealing banner for Habitat at the top, three concise sections explaining what we’re doing, where the fundraising goes, and why we care, an html button directing people to our funding page, and a personalized picture of the three of us sitting on the Luther sign. After finding a list of over 300 local businesses on the chamber of commerce website, we were positive we would soon be raking in donations. We were oh so very wrong.

After sending out the initial email, we received one donation. From someone who already knew who we were. All of our hours and efforts were shot down in an instant, despite our daily checking on the site. It turns out small business owners have better things to do than look at a random email from a stranger asking for money. Go figure.

Rather than getting discouraged, we shifted our focus from email to calling. Hearing our lovely voices and enthusiasm would be way harder to ignore than a random email, right? Throughout the process of calling over 100 businesses, you learn a lot. For example, it’s very helpful to say you’re fundraising and ask if the person has time. If they say “no,” you just saved yourself the minute of the pitch. If they say “yes,” you’ve got them locked in for the next bit of time and they don’t have to wonder what you’ll be talking about. You also learn how to tweak your pitch so people quickly know what you’re doing, realize where the money goes, and how it might bring them value. Overall, we got really good at having people at least pretend to be interested. If you need someone to get an email and send links to a random person, I’m your guy. If you need that email to turn into a donation, maybe find someone else.

After realizing our fundraising still wasn’t significantly growing, operation phone call turned into face to face visits. Once we made Jonathan shave and Kai shower, we put on our best flannels and headed into town armed with business cards and an informative sheet. Luckily, we actually were able to convince a few businesses we were a quality cause worth supporting and walked away with some money. I think most of the donations were because they wanted us to leave and it was the easiest way, but it still counts.

Probably the greatest gift we received was from Oneota River Cycles when Deke offered to teach us anything we wanted to know about bikes and gave us a discount on gear. I’m not sure if Deke was just in a good mood that day or what, but sometimes things work out better than you could ever hope. After a 45 minute conversation with Deke about our bike trip and plans, he asked us what bikes we were looking at riding. After telling him our top choice was the Surly Troll but it may be out of our price range, he said “well you know the VP of marketing for Surly lives in Decorah, right?” Not only does he live there, but he happens to be great buddies with Deke. The three of us, ever so graciously, allowed Deke to give him a call and see what we could work out and ended up putting in an order. Long story short, take a look at these bad boys:

We were feeling confident with our face to face approach, but then the worst thing happened—senior paper. There are few things in life that can suck the joy from the world and force someone into a dark and dreary cave of monotonous labor like a paper that determines if you graduate. Needless to say, successful procrastination techniques made it necessary to put fundraising on hold for the bike trip until further notice.

When we finally emerged back from the darkness and into the wonderful world of the outdoors, not in front of a computer, we realized we only had a couple weeks of time left at Luther. Instead of walking into more businesses, we switched our focus to a night at T-Bock’s and t-shirt sales.

Since we figured it would be tough to get equally poor Luther students to give us money, we wanted to find other ways they might be willing to support us. We decided to go to the necessities: beer, food, and clothing. Gallery of Tops was an enormous help and printed shirts in a weekend so we could sell them to anyone interested, already grossing over $500 for our bike trip. T-Bock’s helped with the beer and food, graciously offering us 20% on their Wednesday night sales if we had people help bus tables (we put the Habitat for Humanity board to work). The place was fully packed for over 2 hours, with people standing to wait for a table. The night was a huge success, and we walked away with another $600 just for telling people to eat food and explaining to everyone why it was so busy that night.

It’s definitely been a busy semester and we’ve learned a lot, which will hopefully help the fundraising this summer. However, Jonathan is running away from the work by moving to Colorado for the summer. He said something about a job rafting down the Arkansas river, but it’s just as likely he wanted to get as far from Kai and me as possible while he still had the chance. Kai is also out of most of the fundraising picture since he’ll be “bettering the lives of children” at a camp. Don’t worry, we’ll have a chat with him about priorities soon. With the two of them further away, fundraising will definitely be a different experience. Hopefully this recent business major of mine will finally be put to good use!


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