FUNdRaising

For those of us deeply involved in entrepreneurial or nonprofit causes, how much do we think about fundraising? As one of those procedures that we know we must undergo for a greater good, but can’t help dreading in the hours leading up to it? Or as an activity that is best left to others- something we can delegate to others within the team or organization while we busy ourselves with what seems like an affair that is more immediately important?

I guess a better question would be, why is fundraising a facet of nonprofit and entrepreneurship to which many people have an aversion? Is it because… we perceive it as boring?

Fundraising provides mutual benefit for both the fundraiser and the charitable giver.

In an op-ed article for the New York Times, social scientist, musician, and author Arthur C. Brooks argues that fundraising is not all-so bad. In fact, he argues that it can be fun. The op-ed, aptly titled “Why Fund-Raising is Fun”, is how Brooks presents his case. He starts with an anecdote that involves him asking a class of aspiring entrepreneurs a question related to fundraising- nothing too different than what I did to start off this post. Specifically, he asks the group how many of them are looking forward to fundraising, and understandably, gets zero cries of enthusiasm. He explains to them why this should not be the case, and goes on to use some interesting data to inform the reader about his thoughts. HIs extrapolation is also quite profound.

Brooks begins by telling us he detected his own patterns in the data he was given. He found that those who donated money often ended up with more money (post-gift giving of course). He said he passed this data off as “meh”, but when he told university professors about it, they were unsurprised because it just confirmed what basic psych had already figured out: that people who gave charitably are generally happier than those that do not. Spending on oneself usually just has a marginal impact of self-happiness, but spending on others has results in a much greater increase. This is, simply put, because giving money or resources to worthy causes bestows a sense of responsibility, self-efficacy, and meaningful impact upon the giver.

So how does this translate into fund-raising being fun? Brooks argues that the fundraiser has the tools to tap into the psyche of a giver and show them the virtues of giving. By convincing someone with the means to use their financial resources not on themselves (resulting in less happiness), but instead on noble causes (more happiness), the fundraiser achieves a great deal of enjoyment from it.

ALS Research Breakthrough, Record Fundraising

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), colloquially known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a devastating neurodegenerative disorder. ALS has proved fatal in all cases, and so cures and effective treatment has been a major priority of scientists and researchers of the disease. I’d like to use this post to bring attention to some breakthrough work that has been conducted by Harvard stem cell scientists, as reported in the Harvard Gazette.

The research focuses on unconventional ways of treating the disease. The Harvard researchers have reportedly found a “meaningful treatment”, and are currently working with Massachustets General Hospital to drum up an intitial clinical trial to test not only the effectiveness of this new treatment, but the safety of it as well. The scientists were sure to add a cuationary note to their work, noting that much more work had to be done before physicians could offer it to patients with ALS.

By now, I’m sure you’re wondering exactly what this new treatment is, or what it entails. Basically, it’s helpful to know a couple of facts about ALS- principally, that it’s caused by a variety of mutations across dozens of genes. This in itself can be hugely problematic for researchers looking to develop a treatment because a clinical trials done on mice often focus on just one of these many mutations. Though these mutations are technically different, one commonality they all share is the fact that they increase activity in motor neurons to abnormally high levels. This overactivity proves detrimental to neuronic health. Put simply, the heightened activity causes production of defective proteins, and the strain from excitability of the proteins puts them in a vulnerable and weakened state. In order to further understand this, the researches used neurons developed from the skin cells of several ALS patients, and then conducted trials to see how the overactive neurons reacted to medication and treatment for epilepsy. It turns out the the anti-epilepsy medication effectively decrease the hyperactivity of the motor neurons.There’s still a long way to go, but clinical trials are now being conducted to see if there are any side-effects in patients being treated with this medication.

This does look pretty good, especially considering the time and financial resources that must go into researching diseases like this. And that brings us to even more good news.

This research out of Harvard is freshly on the heels of news of some great fundraising for the ALS Society. Only a week a ago, local news broadcasting station WAVE3 reported that Heaven Hill Distillers donated over $400,000 to the Louisville, Kentucky Chapter of the ALS. This is a record-setting corporate donation, and the funds have been raised via the sale of a bourbon called “Parker’s Heritage”. The spirit is named after founder Parker Beam, who has ALS. Oh, and the goal was $250,000. They raised over $200,000 in extra funds.

Another successful fundraising campaign comes from the organizers of LiveLikeLou.org. The site launched about two years ago, with a fundraising goal of $40,000. The Pittsburgh Gazette reports that the site recently held a fundraiser that brought in $140,000- bringing the total funds raised to over $800,000. Good work!

Straight to the Doorstep

A recent New York Times article highlights a health initiative making waves in the South Bronx. The project is known as the South Bronx Mobile Market, and aims to bring fresh produce and healthy food options to impoverished communities in the City’s northernmost borough. The South Bronx has some of the highest indices of health issues associated with poor nutrition: obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. But many residents are concerned; fresh produce or healthy food options are not readily available. In fact some residents say that its actually easier and cheaper to grab fast food than go to a grocery store for a more nutritious option. And when they can make it to a grocery store? Lots of large chains label their produce with heightened prices (the article makes reference to one grocery store charging $7 for one pepper). One resident featured in the pieces says that she has to make the trip to Washington Heights or Chinatown- quite a ways from the South Bronx- for affordable food.

But South Bronx Mobile Market looks to challenge that unhealthy danger by breathing new life into the community. The program, modeled after similar initiatives in New Orleans, Detroit, and Chicago, was funded from about $65,000 of donations and grants to BLK Projek, an NPO that envisions food as a means to empower minority women and youth. The Mobile Market utilizes a repurposed school bus that runs on used vegetable oil that provides curbside grocery service. Customers climb aboard, and examine a healthy variety of produce. Founder Tanya Fields goes out and buys the produce, loads it onto the bus, and takes it to the communities in need. South Bronx Mobile Market accepts food stamps, as well as credit cards and cash. But for those who can’t afford the food, Ms. Fields says that she gladly gives it to them at no charge.

Although its making a beneficial impact on the community, there’s much room for growth and improvement. Right now, Ms. Fields just transports and delivers produce, but she hopes for the installation of solar panels. That way, she can power a refrigerator and provide meat and organic dairy. There were also a few kinks this winter- at least one occasion saw the bus’s need to be started with the assistance of jumping cables, and another that saw it fail to turn on altogether. However, its future looks bright; residents welcome the good will of BLK Projek and South Bronx Mobile Market, with a warm hope.