Welcome to the Fit Fundraising Podcast, where we bring you game changing fundraising topics, direct from our meeting with major donors and non profits nationwide. While most consultants are busy giving advice, Fit Fundraising stays on the front lines with non profits and major donors. This podcast is a glimpse into our world of work with non profits, as we get on the field with them and successfully model fundraising. Get ready to get fit with the hottest show in fund development, Fit Fundraising.

Roy Jones: Hello, this is Roy Jones and you have joined the Fit Fundraising Podcast. Again, we are just having great fun talking to some of the top nonprofit leaders in the country. You’ve heard lots of great interviews on everything from board governance to major gift work. And today we’re going to do something very special. We’re going to talk about how you start a nonprofit. And it really is unusual. A lot of people don’t talk about it, a lot of people step into this space. People don’t realize that there are more than 2, 000, 000 nonprofit organizations in the United States. And more than 60, 000 startups every year. Today, we’re going to talk to one of the newest, biggest, most explosive nonprofits that have come on the scene. And it’s my honor to introduce Mitch Marczewski. Mitch is the executive director of the CEO, the head guy at the night bird foundation. And Mitch, thanks for joining us today. 

Mitch Marczewski: Hey Roy, it’s great to be here. 

Roy Jones: I am so excited. We do some work together. I’m honored to have helped the Nightbirde Foundation with a few things and talk to me about what you do, tell Jane’s story, and then we’ll get into the family’s decision in launching this new endeavor.

Mitch Marczewski: Yeah, absolutely. Roy, it’s great to be here I really appreciate all the time and effort and energy you’ve put in me and in our organization it’s really been a blessing to be working with you and to learn from you all over the last year and a half. So to start the Nightbirde Foundation exists to bring hope and healing to women with breast cancer and we do that in a couple of ways. One we help women walk through their journey by giving them hope by handing them a gift of hope, which is a gift that helps encourage and inspire women that are walking through their cancer journey. And then on the other side of that coin, we help them with grants as well to help them cover some medical expenses that are outside of standard of care, because there are lots of therapies out there that are helpful, but they’ve yet to work their way all the way through the process to make sure that they can hit all of the marks that they need to for insurance to cover them so we walk alongside women, in that way as well. The Nightbirde Foundation was founded in 2022 in honor of Jane Marczewski, my little sister her stage name was nightbird. And you may have heard of her from her performance on America’s got talent in 2021, where she really wowed the world with her, not only with her voice and her song, but with her, like her enthusiasm and strength, and really resilience in the face of metastatic breast cancer. And through that audition, Simon Cowell had given her his golden buzzer to push her towards like for all the way to the finals in the show while she was sick. But unfortunately she had to drop out of the show, but then in 2021, because her health had declined and she passed away at the age of 31 breast cancer in February of 2022. So the Nightbirde Foundation is a 501c3 that we set up in honor of her after she passed, because we really wanted to leave a legacy that was more than just good memories and more than just, Hey, we miss you and we wish you were here. But we wanted to take her music, wanted to take her artwork, wanted to take her words, and really her story and be able to help women all over the world with it. 

Roy Jones: Wow. Now I know that even while she was going through her own cancer journey. Jane reached out and helped other women that were facing cancer diagnosis. Talk about that. 

Mitch Marczewski: Yeah so one of the things that really helped Jane be able to survive as long as she did, not even health, but it really enabled her to was we had set up a GoFundMe, we had crowdsourced, a lot of the funds to be able to pay for her medical treatments during the last couple of years of her life because she had really hit a wall with the traditional treatments that she was receiving at the time. And through the generosity of really thousands of people all over the world, we raised several hundred thousand dollars to be able to cover her treatments. But in really the last handful of weeks of Jane’s life, she had run into a young woman at the clinic that she was getting her treatment at. And through some conversations and through developing that friendship, she realized that this young lady was running out of funds and she wasn’t going to be able to continue her treatments and our family we’re really close with the finances as time was going on because, it’s a lot of money and we want to make sure that we’re managing it well. And we saw 20, 000 dollar transfer out of one of her accounts. We call her up. We’re like, hey, what’s you know? Like we’re not mad that you said it we just want to make sure you it was you the senate and turns out that she had given that this woman her name was Elaine, she’d given her twenty thousand dollars just on a whim then to help pay for her medical treatments. And Jane’s answer to why she gave it to Elaine was because she realized that it was freely given to her, so why wouldn’t she freely give to help somebody else? 

Roy Jones: Wow and so it begins. 

Mitch Marczewski: So it begins. 

Roy Jones: That is neat now talk to me about you mentioned one of the crowdfunding tools. It really is a new thing. A lot of people, a lot of organizations think they can just set up a crowdfunding account and all their fundraising problems are solved. Talk to me about some of the advantages and how did that help you initially? To kickstart the organization and then how did that help you? Did you actually get the money? Talk to me about that whole process. 

Mitch Marczewski: Yeah, the crowdfunding definitely has its pros and cons as really most things have, the pros, at least in our situation was it was very easy and quick to set up, even after Jane passed away, we spun up a GoFundMe crowd funding page to be able to help not only with just general expenses on funeral and stuff like that, but also we wanted to raise money for this new endeavor called the nightbirde foundation. And we didn’t have it was within days of her passing away so we didn’t have a 501 c3 application didn’t put together, we didn’t even have a vision for what that would look like yet. We just wanted to make sure that we could really use the moment that we had to be able to draw attention to what we were going to do with Jane’s legacy. So the ease of use and being able to spin that up was really a helpful thing for us. I think that’s the first thing, I think secondly, they’re pretty widely trusted, as well and they’re easy to find. Even if you Googled like Nightbirde, Nightbirde foundation, Nightbirde funds, or whatever that GoFundMe is going to pop up in those results just because of the way that their website set up, their SEO is really well done and their marketing is all really polished, so those are the pros and they’re easily shareable, you can raise them, you can definitely raise money that way. 

Roy Jones: And how much of the funds raised did you actually, get? How much do they keep, how much does it gets passed on to nonprofits? And I’m sure it varies from crowdfunding program to the next.

Mitch Marczewski: Yeah, I want to say, and just off the top of my head, I want to say it’s we lost 5 percent or something like that. Because it was like credit card processing fees were built into that, but there is some sort of there’s basically a fee to use the platform. 

Roy Jones: Seems very reasonable. Now, what are some of the downsides? You referenced that. Were you able to get the donor names? Could you thank donors personally? Talk to me about some of that kind of thing. 

Mitch Marczewski: Yeah, so I think the difficulty and the downside, I should say, with using a site like GoFundMe or even give send go or something like that is there are privacy limits and concerns around those from the crowdfunding sites perspective. So you do have the ability to communicate with the people that donate, and you can thank them. But you can only do it on their terms.

Roy Jones: Right through their site.

Mitch Marczewski: Their site. So the only way that you can directly communicate with somebody is, if they write you a note, like let’s say they email you or they press the contact me button bill that will go to Me and then when I reply back It goes directly to that person’s email address, so there is a way that you can go around it in that regard. You can also like mass thank the list or whatever, but as I’ve learned over the last year and a half or so, the value of raising money is twofold, it’s not just the value of the money, but it’s the value of the list that you receive in raising that money as well. So whether it’s not funding site, it’s a direct mail list, it’s a event, that you’re holding. Or it’s even just the conversations that you have with people around you, for sure you want them to give you cash, like that’s a no brainer, but what’s more important than that in some ways is whether or not you can develop a relationship with that person in the longterm. And it’s very difficult with the crowdfunding to develop a relationship with the people that are giving, because it’s almost, it’s not anonymized, it’s not like they’re totally anonymous to you because you have their first name and their last name and ability to connect with them. But you don’t know who they are you don’t know where they live, you don’t know what their address is, you can’t send them anything, you can’t email them, you can’t text them, you can’t call them, unless they opt into that conversation with you. 

Roy Jones: Yeah, it really is people who are starting organizations. So often forget that it is really about managing relationships with people, and if you don’t have their name or you don’t have their address, you don’t have a way to reach them, it’s great that you get the initial donation, but we’re after the 2nd donation and the 3rd and the 4th and the 5th and the 6th and the 7th, we want to have a long term relationship with every person that engages with the organization. And it is something that you lose in that process. So very interesting. Talk to me about the process of getting you mentioned the great advantage with crowd funding sources is you could start up quick. You didn’t even have your tax ID number or your federal nonprofit, status talk to me about that process. How long did it take? What are the steps involved? What’s required? And how soon after you started raising support? Did you actually get your nonprofit permit? 

Mitch Marczewski: So the nonprofit permit process for us, I forget what the exact IRS form is called, but it’s basically your determination letter that you’re a 

Roy Jones: 501c3 organization.

Mitch Marczewski: Yeah. I would say we started that process in the weeks after Jane passed away in mid to late February. And I want to say we got our designation back in late May of the same year so I want to say it was a month turnaround. And a lot of that was just the back and forth with my, we used an attorney to help me get guide that process. He’s a friend of the family and, I think I paid 1, 500 maybe total for the whole thing. To start to finish.

Roy Jones: I guess you don’t have to use an attorney, but you would recommend that process? 

Mitch Marczewski: I would recommend it yeah, the form is very long. There are lots of things that go into it that you just don’t think about, like a whistleblower policy or a conflict of interest policy and then figuring out, okay. What’s the scope of your work and your mission and, what are your bylaws look like, how many members are on your board, how many of those that are voting members, are you using Robert’s rules of order? Are you using a different type of structure to run your meetings? Are you doing all in person meetings? Are you only doing one in person meeting a year? And then in terms of even the way that compensation is structured, is that a fully a board thing or is it a board subcommittee thing that has,

Roy Jones: right?

Mitch Marczewski: So you see all those things go into it, that I just didn’t think about until I started going down that list with my attorney, saying, he goes okay what do you want to do about this? Okay, I need to draft this up. Personally, I think having somebody else guide you through that process is worth the money because you’re going to spend a lot of time like you’re going to spend a lot of time running things down that they already have ready for you, like a boilerplate conflict of interest, like even our bylaws and stuff had a general structure from that’s a best practice structure that we adapted to our situation. Finding someone to manage that process for you and with you is, I think, really crucial. 

Roy Jones: Very good. Talk to me about, you referenced the board structure. And I know every organization is different. How did you structure your board of directors? And who’s on your board? How does that work? How do they participate? How often do you meet? And what would you recommend others do that are in the same place you were?

Mitch Marczewski: Yeah. And something we learned in our process in terms of our board of directors was we initially thought, oh, we’ll have a whole our family will be part of the board of directors because we want to make sure that Jane’s legacy is honored in the way that, we felt like it needed to be, we quickly found out that the IRS doesn’t exactly smile upon a all 

Roy Jones: entirely family composed board,

Mitch Marczewski: or even at least like majority, if the quorum is just your family usually it’s not smiled upon in that way. I don’t think it’s like illegal to do that, but I think it’s not right. 

Roy Jones: It’s not best practice. I think you’re right. And everything has to be disclosed, of course, right? So it’s all part of not only your 50133 filing. But the decisions you make relative to expenses and programs and overhead and money and all that kind of thing. Very interesting now, tell me about your board. What how did you decide to structure it then?

Mitch Marczewski: Yeah, the way we did it was we had obviously you need. Odd number of people, 

Roy Jones: right? 

Mitch Marczewski: That odd number can’t be 

Roy Jones: right. 

Mitch Marczewski: So we decided on three myself, my friend Matt Parker and my friend Tiffany Lee. The way that we thought about the board initially was I wanted to fill a couple of roles, at least starting out. One, with people that we knew and that we trusted, and two, that would bring something to the table that we thought would be valuable, so like Matt is my admin business, like direct mail, he like understands, and he worked actually with you, Roy. At another nonprofit as a development guy. So he had that experience built into his resume. And then Tiffany is a musical artist in Nashville that had a good relationship with Jane and a good relationship with our family, so when we set it up we initially had that kind of as a thought was making sure we filled some of those roles. And then two, we also wanted people that weren’t going to micromanage, the process either. 

Roy Jones: Yes,

Mitch Marczewski: Especially as we’re growing, not feeling like I had to call them every two weeks to get it, or that they were going to call me and grill me on, how many miles I drove that month and whether or not I was,

Roy Jones: right, so that’s an interesting point because, so often especially with new nonprofits. There’s really 2 kinds of boards that you can have, you can have a working board where board members basically function as staff members. And then you can have a governing board, which is sounds like what you have, where they set direction and policy, but they leave it up to you to run the organization. I guess every organization, especially if you’re a startup kind of has that decision to make whether you want a working board or whether you want a governing board, thoughts about that, did you think through that process or you just?

Mitch Marczewski: Yeah, I think I’ve thought about it more since we got it started because and I guess I’ll zoom all the way back out since you framed this as hey, starting a new nonprofit. I have zero nonprofit experience. Walking into this as an executive director of a nonprofit. I shouldn’t say zero like I was on staff at a church for a long time, I understand some of the ins and outs of not working for a for profit organization and that way, but so when I rolled into this was dropped into the spot on by the unfortunate circumstances of Jane passing away, I didn’t have enough time to really even think about the implications of, whether I wanted my board to be a working board that would help me actively do things or whether I just needed them to be in place to help govern. And as time has gone on, I think what I refer me back up. When I first thought about it, I definitely thought about it more in the governing board than I did in the working board.

Roy Jones: Sure. 

Mitch Marczewski: So I will say that if we’re going to use those two categories. Thought about it that way primarily. Underneath of that, I knew I didn’t want to have a governing board that basically were just a bunch of Bosses that were not involved in the day to day, but wanted to micromanage the day to day, so that was a more of a character personality thing that I was really conscious about I was like, okay Matt’s not gonna micromanage me like Matt trusts me to do what I know that we’ve all agreed that we’re gonna do. No, there are other people that probably would bring more to the table than Matt does to the board, but I know that they don’t have as high of a level of trust in my abilities and to get things done the way that, they need to get done. So I shy away from those people, because I have enough to do.

Roy Jones: Yes. 

Mitch Marczewski: I just, I have enough to do. 

Roy Jones: Tell me. 

Mitch Marczewski: And then also manage the organization, then also manage the anxieties on my board, like I didn’t want to sit in that spot. 

Roy Jones: One of the things that was interesting to me and really just watching the transformation of the organization, some of this was I’m sure from board input, a lot of it just had to do as you develop the organization, I call it offer development, but deciding what it is you’re going to do to help the clients that you serve, to help those young women going through this cancer journey, talk to me about the scope of services and how that start it out and where you’re at now and how you present and talk about what those things are with your donors and supporters.

Mitch Marczewski: Yeah, that’s a really good question ’cause this has been a big learning let learning lesson. A big thing I’ve learned I should say over the last year and a half is that. When we started the Nightbirde Foundation, We, our family and I specifically really thought that we were going to be a nonprofit that focused primarily on helping young women get integrative treatments that are outside of standard of care, and that we were going to help them walk through that journey.

Roy Jones: So you’re basically just going to be a grant making institution.

Mitch Marczewski: Grant making organization totally. That grant making organization and we thought, that we would be able to motivate and inspire enough people to be able to come alongside of us in that journey. But what I quickly found out in that process was that making grants is great if you have a lot of money to make grants. It’s very difficult, especially if you want to give away lots of large grants, you have to be able to have some significant funds to do that. And we realized that, most people don’t have the funds or the appetite to be able to spend 100, 000 dollars on one person’s treatment. Like the rate, the juice to squeeze ratio just wasn’t there for most people.

Roy Jones: Yes. 

Mitch Marczewski: It was there for some. We had one or two of those people that would say, yeah, of course I’ll write a 100, 000 dollars check for one woman to go through their cancer treatment. Like they exist. But having that as our primary offer, just wasn’t, we weren’t going to be able to do what we needed to do as an organization. Number one. And I think the second part about that too. It wasn’t purely a business decision, that we made in terms of the offer changing. I can make it sound like this wasn’t working, so we tried something else. We also reflected a lot upon, what did Jane leave us behind? And what did Jane do to inspire so many people? And we realized that it wasn’t like as inspiring as it is that Jane gave Elaine twenty thousand dollars to continue her treatment, that’s not why hundreds of thousands and even over a million people follow her on Instagram and buy her merchandise and listen to her music and read her poetry book. Like they do all of those things, not because of Jane’s generosity, but because of the hope that she inspired in them because of her story. And we realized that people want to give that away. Like they want to experience the hope and the inspiration and the encouragement, and they want to be able to hand that to somebody else. And we do that with in our own everyday lives. You go to a great restaurant or you watch a great movie what do you want to do? Like you want to share it with your friends because you’re like, Oh, this place was awesome you have to go, check it out. The food was great, this movie was amazing, oh my gosh, this book, I went to this concert. People want to share what they’ve experienced. And we realized that Jane helped a lot of people experience hope and encouragement.

Roy Jones: Sometimes it’s not just about the money, is it? For people to get through that cancer diagnosis, that cancer journey, just to know that there’s an organization that comes alongside them, that, as you said, inspires them, gives them some of the same things that inspired your sister. Talk about that. Talk about some of those hope baskets that you’ve delivered and about some of the people that you’ve ministered to that way. 

Mitch Marczewski: In the midst of our offered development shift, we realized that not only did people want to talk about what Jane was doing, they really loved the idea of giving something physically away that represented the hope and encouragement that they had experienced. Because we saw all that we saw with Jane’s CDs and music where people would buy two or three or four physical CDs, which are a rarity, because they wanted to give them to their friends or to somebody who was suffering. So as an organization, we shifted our offer away from being primarily grant focused to shifting to being like, we’re going to give away gifts of hope with some of Jane’s music, with Jane’s poetry book, with a stainless steel tumbler with one of Jane’s really encouraging quotes on it, in addition to a handwritten note from a donor or supporter helping encourage that woman in the midst of her fight. And in doing so we realize that we are our mission then becomes way more scalable and way more duplicatable, in the sense that people then can start sponsoring women, they can purchase these gifts of hope and they can give them to somebody else. So when we give these gifts of hope to women, they often want to turn around and do the same thing to someone else. And that offer development shift was just so crucial in survival and not even just survival, but just the ability for us to thrive as an organization. Is taking what Jane had given us, and giving it away to somebody else in a way that’s not only just us doing it, but that people can walk in that mission with us.

Roy Jones: Wow, what a model, what a legacy, any of these gifts of hope that you’ve presented come top of mind. 

Mitch Marczewski: Yeah, we had one that was, we have a handful but, there was a lady in Houston Texas, who had, she had stage four metastatic breast cancer, and she was having a rough go at it, and her husband actually reached out just via email, and he said, hey I’m not sure what your organization, whether your organization would support grants for us, we just wanted to say we really appreciated Jane, we’d love to talk about it. So I had my sister or my sister in law I should say, my sister in law lives in Houston, I sent her a gift of hope and she drove it over and hand delivered it to them on, as a surprise to them, and she was just over the moon excited that Jane’s, that somebody connected to Jane would come to her house in the midst of her cancer and hand her something to encourage her and my sister in law, Ashley stayed and she prayed with her and she talked with her for a while. And Ashley, my sister in law’s driving home, she calls me and she goes, that was more impactful for me, I think that it was for her. And she and this woman is, she’s crying and she’s talking about her cancer and she’s talking about, and she recently, she passed away a couple of weeks ago, this lady that we had given this gift to. And her husband calls me and just said, Hey thank you so much for bringing that gift to my wife. You just can’t believe how much of a difference that make and made in the last handful of months of her life. So that’s just like one story, of really many of not only the gift being the impact, but also bringing other people into the gift giving process. It’s really just crucial.

Roy Jones: Tell me about this young man on the East Coast somewhere New York, is that where he’s from? What’s his name? 

Mitch Marczewski: Yeah. Joe. 

Roy Jones: Joe. Give that as an example of just how people are getting involved in this thing at all levels. 

Mitch Marczewski: Yeah, I have a couple examples actually out of New York state. So Joe, he’s 10 years old, young kid. He and Jane actually, they talked a little bit when Jane was still alive. And he was experiencing a lot of bullying in school and was really really down about it and really frustrated about it. And Jane would send him like encouraging texts or voicemails or whatever about, telling him that he didn’t need to give up and then he was just really encouraging to him. So after Jane passed away, Joe made it his mission to help the Nightbirde Foundation in any way that he could, because he had experienced hope and encouragement from Jane while she was still alive. So he’s held a couple different fundraisers on Long Island, he partnered with a donut shop to make a Nightbirde Foundation donut that sold for a week. And, it was like a dollar a donut went to the Nightbirde Foundation and they sold out every day. Those doughnuts, they created a special drink at a local coffee shop for the same thing. And he has just been like the best little ambassador for the Nightbirde Foundation over in Long Island, and there’s like a, their local newspaper, right? Wrote about him helping us. And there’s a picture of him delivering a gift of hope to like his mom’s friend who has breast cancer. So like even just the ability for what we’re doing as a program. To be able to be handed to a 10 year old to be able to go do something with, is really cool. And if we wouldn’t have made that offer development shift, I wasn’t going to be able to let Joe, be the guy that writes checks to the grant. It just doesn’t work.

Roy Jones: It doesn’t work. It’s very interesting. You’re not only are you empowering those going through the cancer journey, but you’re empowering those that want to help. And that’s pretty special. Mitch Marczewski, man, you are an inspiration to me. You just think about all the nonprofits that are starting up. Just I so appreciate you sharing what you’ve learned about some of the upsides and some of the mistakes with some of the crowdfunding programs, helping people to realize that it is about the list, what nonprofits are about or about stewardship and safeguarding not only the relationships of the people we serve, but the people that help pay for that. Your thoughts about the importance of getting professional advice, legal advice, fundraising counsel, those kinds of things it’s worth the investment, how you’ve structured your board, and then what you’ve learned in offer development and trying to tailor the hope that you provide to not only inspire those going through the cancer journey, but to inspire those of us that get a chance to serve. Man, Mitch, I so appreciate what you’re doing. You are a model to all sorts of nonprofits, not just those going through cancer, but you’re offering hope and a model of inspiring others and I just thank you for what you’re doing. If somebody wanted to reach you, if somebody wanted to get involved in the Nightbirde Foundation, how do they do that?

Mitch Marczewski: You can go to nightbirdefoundation.org. Knight Bird with an E at the end of Bird, it’ll probably, you’ll get there eventually, but that’s helpful knowledge. Yeah, nightbirdefoundation.org gives you all the information on what we do, how we do it. If you want to get engaged and involved, you can contact us there. If you want to reach out to me, my email is Mitch at nightbirdefoundation.org. And we’re found on all the social media channels as well. You’ll be able to find us and if you haven’t heard of Jane, haven’t heard of Nightbirde, Google Nightbirde, A G T. Watch the seven-minute audition, and have your life changed.

Roy Jones: I so appreciate you, Mitch, man you are one of my heroes. Thank you so much for all you do and look forward to having you back soon. Thank you once again, everyone for listening to the Fit Fundraising Podcast. Together, we are transforming this world together, we’re offering people hope together we’re reaching out, showing people how to form nonprofit organizations and impacting their communities for good. Thanks for being with us today.

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