Usually when an online business owner throws out a subject line like that you are thinking wow, what program did they launch, how many clients do they have, and how did they do it?
Spoiler Alert: These are not my numbers. This is the current number (and still climbing) of the funds we’ve raised to save our kids school and it’s teachers post mudslide. By “we” I mean a lot of people including over 400 donors. Our largest donation was a $50,000 grant and our smallest was $10. Kids gifted us their birthday money and athletes ran for us. Parents, family members, businesses, foundations, and friends from all over the country gave to our little school of 173 students, 9 teachers, and 6 specialists.
When my husband and I took over the job of Foundation Presidents (the fundraising arm of our school) it was because we both felt like it was important to be involved in our kids education and to give back. We were going on 5 years at the school and felt extremely lucky that we landed in such a special place. Our task would be the same as it had been for all the Foundation President’s before us – to raise $125k through two fundraisers, one in the fall and one in the spring. The money would go to supporting art, music, PE, technology, library, and STEAM. We wouldn’t do this alone of course but we would lead the charge. At least that was the plan.
We started out strong. Our Fall Campaign raised almost $120,000 and since we were so far ahead of the game we spent $30,000 of it on kilns for art, instruments for band, new computers for 3rd grade, and more. We were set to have a banner year.
Then disaster struck. The Thomas Fire was scary and disruptive. Our school was closed and became a staging site for firefighters as they battled the blaze in the hills above Montecito. The same hills I admired almost every day at drop off. The kids had been back in school less than a week when the warnings came of possible floods. It was more tiresome than truly alarming. Water seems so much more benign than fire. But clearly it’s not. The mudslides stole homes, families, our landscape, our sense of normalcy, and two of our students. We are still living with the grief of it all.
The mudslides also brought serious financial woes. Our school would lose significant property tax revenue that would necessitate cutting staff, teachers and programs unless something was done quickly. I can honestly say that when I sat in the meeting where they told us we needed to raise over $400,000 (in addition to what we’d already raised) to cover the budget shortfall I had to hold back the tears of overwhelm. Our job was now enormous and I had no idea what to do.
We met with community leaders, created a task force, took advice from everyone, started an emergency fundraiser, applied for grants, reached out to local and state politicians, went through 10 years of printed alumni directories to create a digital database that we could reach out to, direct mailed every person in the district, and went ahead with our La Dolce Vita event even after debating over and over again if it was insensitive to do so. It wasn’t. We all needed a celebration and it was a magical evening. We had 178 attendees and raised $142,000 which is pretty incredible for an event we almost didn’t have at all.
All together we’ve raised almost $300,000 in the last 4 months. Katy Perry, who went to high school here, is doing a benefit concert on May 19th and donating a portion of the proceeds to fund our music program. With that we will reach our goal. Wow.
Just as we had no idea what catastrophe was coming our way on January 9th we also had no idea what miracles and generosity would come to our aid and support. I stand in awe of it all.
Why am I telling you this? A few reasons.
I took my eyes off my business and it was a good thing. My systems work, the coaches are awesome, and new clients came in every month. We got great feedback, we got referrals, and I learned I’m not indispensable (although my team is). I started the process of removing myself as the main coach in my business over 18 months ago and it was painful. I lost money and I lost clients and at times I felt like the whole thing was just going to fail but it didn’t. Today I’m grateful that I made that decision and that I brought in Marissa Boisvert as Director of Coaching Programs. Not only is she a great coach but she does a lot of the things I used to do behind the scenes, only better.
I reconnected to my purpose. In serving something bigger than myself I remembered that the biggest motivator for me is making a difference. Making a difference will get me out of bed in the morning and have me tinkering away at night. It will get me out of my comfort zone and it will make me ask for things I would never otherwise ask for. It attracts the best people who share the same sense of purpose and who are talented and smart in ways I could never imagine or be. Acting from your purpose means nothing is quite as hard because it’s always worth doing.
I learned the power of teamwork. As the year winds down and we celebrate the huge hurdles our school has overcome the people in positions of leadership will get the kudos. Having been a leader myself I realize how upside down that is. What I will remember the most is not the work I did but the people that wrote grants, reached out to big donors, spent their weekend combing through student directories, writing letters to their neighbors, asking for donations from friends and local businesses, and giving of their time, talent, and energy. Teamwork means you are not alone in your efforts, everyone takes on what they are good at and no one’s ego gets in the way. That’s how you accomplish great things.
As I look to the future I know that each of these lessons will fuel me in life and business. So many times over these months I’ve missed my work, I’ve missed you, and I’m so happy that this experience reminded me how in purpose I’ve always felt helping others succeed. All of that is to say I’m so grateful to be back. xo