Disclaimer: this is the personal blog of Alexa L. Barnett and does not reflect any position of her employer.
When a young professional is recognized as a Nashville Top 30 Under 30, they make a commit to raise awareness about Cystic Fibrosis and to raise $5,000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation - Tennessee Chapter as part of a sixteen week program. At the 2023 launch event I met the Gaffney family. Their story moved me and I decided to raise $40,000 for the foundation. In the end I did not hit my goal, but I was able to raise $27,610 thanks to the generosity of 95 individuals, and I learned some valuable lessons.
The Full Story:
Of my 30 classmates, I raised the third largest amount. My other two classmates were ROCKSTARS. They also worked smarter vs harder. Their employers contributed $25,000 to their campaigns. I chose the martyrs path. I wanted to raise awareness, not just funds, and I didn't want any CRE615 sponsors or the vendors I work with as a commercial property manager to feel obligated to donate. So I avoided the direct ask, except with my immediate friends and family.
Instead, I shared my campaign efforts on my website, Instagram, LinkedIn, and three emails that I sent to literally everyone I have ever known. The emails outlined what I was doing, why I was doing it, and how they could participate. The 2nd and 3rd email shared my progress from the prior month.
Donations started coming in from people I’d never met, or knew in passing, and they not only donated but asked their employers to match their contributions. I still don’t know what motivated some of these donors, if they had a personal connection to CF, or just felt like being part of something good, but I am truly grateful.
Even crazier, people actually signed up at $250 a pop to attend my Magic & Whiskey fundraiser! The 505 Nashville generously donated the venue, Jack Daniel's donated the booze, the Daily Dish curated a special tasting menu at cost, and Chris Brophy (bless him) made sure everything ran smoothly so I could focus on sharing The Gaffney family story and raising awareness about CF research.
Here's what did NOT go as I had anticipated....
I am incredibly comfortable asking companies for sponsor dollars for CRE615, and I am just as comfortable being told no. That’s business. If they don’t feel the cost to sponsor is justified, that's on me to provide more value.
But many of the “easy closes” in my personal network did not donate, and frankly, it hurt my feelings! How many Girl Scout cookies, fun runs, book drives, and crappy wrapping paper sales had I supported over the years? And they couldn’t cough up $25?! It took being told no by a former employer for me to shift my mindset. He said "Alexa, this sounds like a great cause, but I support another charity that directly impacts someone close to me and I'm all tithed out." It reminded me that people spread themselves thinner than we might see.
The Key Takeaways:
Fundraising requires tough skin and you can’t take it personally when people you’ve supported don’t support you back.
A good cause, is not always enough, but a good event for a great cause will produce results. You have to make it worth their while.
Corporate money = monopoly dollars. Ask a CEO to write a $5,000 check from their corporate account, not a $500 check from their personal one.
People can tell if you truly care about something. Don't do it if the cause doesn't resonate with you, because it's a commitment.
Every donor gets a thank you card. Splurge on the self adhesive envelopes with your return address pre-printed.