Welcome to the Fit Fundraising Podcast, where we bring you game-changing fundraising topics, direct from our meetings with major donors and nonprofits 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 nonprofits, 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: Welcome to the Fit Fundraising Podcast. We’re so glad you’ve decided to join us today and I cannot tell you how excited I am to have Mitch Marczewski here with us. He is the president of the Nightbirde Foundation, and they’re doing amazing things, helping women going through the cancer journey. And just providing such hope and inspiring people on all fronts. And again, thank you so much, Mitch, for joining us today. Please take just a couple of minutes to tell our listeners about the Nightbirde Foundation, maybe some of the things you’re working on, and give us a little bit of background if you would, just on how it got started.
Mitch Marczewski: Thanks, Roy. It’s an honor to be here on the podcast. Yeah, the Nightbirde Foundation exists to bring hope and healing to women who are going through their breast cancer journey. We were set up in 2022 in honor of my sister Jane Marczewski, her stage name was Nightbirde, and she was on America’s Got Talent a couple of years ago, she really inspired the world through her performance and her audition on that show, but not only that she inspired the world through her grit, her determination, her mindset, and just really the inspiring person that she was, on the show. So after she passed away of 31, at 31 of breast cancer, we set up a 501C3 to help women walk through their journeys and give them hope as well.
Roy Jones: Awesome and of course, Simon Cowell hit that golden buzzer for Jane, and they’ve featured her again and again, year after year and it was inspiring then, to see her going through the cancer journey and letting folks know that just because you have a bad day does not mean you can’t be happy. And again, we’re so thankful for the Marczewski family, but Jane means to all of us and what you all are doing and continuing her legacy. I’d like to talk today just organizationally. It’s been interesting just to watch the organization mature and grow and begin to do things in the field around the country. Talk to me about some of the things that volunteers are doing now, and I know you’ve had some events recently. How has that come together and with such a new organization, talk about how all that happens.
Mitch Marczewski: Yeah, that’s a great question, Roy. Events and volunteers are just, I think crucial to the survival and even just the writhing of an organization for a couple of reasons. Number one, we tend to believe that we can do it all ourselves. So somebody who does walk into a leadership role in a startup environment, they’re the type of person generally, they’re going to clean the bathroom, they’re going to do the books, they’re going to give me the fundraising, they’re going to go to the bank. They’re going to pack the boxes, they’re going to write the check, they’re gonna do it all. The lie that I had believed was, that I would just do all of this, until I couldn’t do all of this. Then I’d hire somebody to do all of this if I had enough money at the time to hire them, but I quickly realized that not only does that mindset hurt the organization, but it also deprives people who care about your organization, the opportunity to be a part of what you’re doing. It’s easy to ask them for money, but people who don’t have a lot of money that they want to do more. You have to give them the opportunity to be able to be involved in ways that are not just financial. Figuring out how to hold events and bring volunteers into those events was difficult at first. Partially because, again I believe the lie that if I can do it myself, why give it to somebody else? And, it’s a good mindset in the sense that I’m not being lazy, but it’s a bad mindset in the sense of me being able to bring people into our mission. To answer your question, putting together an event requires volunteers, and it requires having relationships with people in the location where your event is being held.
Roy Jones: Yes.
Mitch Marczewski: And I’ll give you an example of this, where we held an event, it was in Warden, Washington, smack dab in the middle of Washington State. I don’t know a strike.
Roy Jones: But you’re from the Columbus area, right? Columbus
Mitch Marczewski: Ohio. I’m far away, we’re kindred spirits in the sense that we both have a lot of farming around us, but that’s about it. So I had a donor who had, I’ve been inspired by James, he had given some money. I sent out an email to my donor list and said, Hey, we’d love to partner with any of you on doing an event, if that’s something that you wanted to do. So he reaches out, and says, Hey, I own a golf course, and I’d love to throw an event. I put together, some meetings and tried to do all the work and this guy was like the perfect volunteer. He says “I got it. I’ve got a team of people. I have relationships with the local businesses. I have relationships with all the local farmers. Let me take care of helping you run this event, all I need you to do is show up on the day, speak at the beginning of it, bring some swag, and just be a part of what we’re doing.” And, so my wife and I fly to Seattle, and we drive two and a half hours on Saturday morning to nowhere in Washington. And we had 125 people show up to this golf event. We raised 40,000 dollars. And it was all done with a motivated, connected volunteer with lots of relationships in the area.
Roy Jones: Every event is different. Every organization has different kinds of events. Talk to me about some of the other ways that people can volunteer. You mentioned gifts of hope. Talk to me about some of the different things that people are doing in addition to events.
Mitch Marczewski: One of the things that we do as an organization is we send out these gifts of hope to women that are going through cancer, and these gifts contain Jane’s poetry book, they contain a CD of Jane’s music, they contain a Tumblr, like a stainless steel Tumblr with one of Jane’s quotes on it. And then it also includes a handwritten note within that gift of hope as well. So one way that we’ve been creative and bringing people into what we’re doing is we’ve had them write notes to women, whether they’re personalized notes or not that go into those gifts of hope. We have them actually pack, like physically pack and stuff those gifts as well, so we have all of the pieces and parts, the flat boxes, the cups and cases, the books and boxes, and they take time as a group packing those boxes, writing those notes. Many of them pray over the notes in the boxes before they go out. So we involve volunteers on that side of things too. And then thirdly, if people actually want to be the ones that deliver the boxes themselves or the gifts of hope themselves, if there’s somebody that lives in their area that’s going to be receiving one, oftentimes I’ll reach out to donors in that area and say, Hey, I was going to mail a gift of hope to this lady that lives just outside of your town in Connecticut. Would you be open to just driving it over to her and meeting this woman face-to-face. And all 3 of those things allow people to engage in what we’re doing in a way that’s not just financial.
Roy Jones: That’s terrific. Now, you mentioned finances and you reference the fact that a lot of times people become better donors when they volunteer and do things, whether it’s hosting a golf event, hosting a 5k in their community, helping deliver gifts of hope to people going through the cancer journey. But talk to me about those 1 on 1 meetings that you have with donors who support the organization. How does that happen? How do those meetings happen? How do you prioritize that? And just how important is that to the growth of the organization?
Mitch Marczewski: It’s very important to the growth of the organization. I’ll say that 1 of the things that I think I didn’t understand when I walked into this role, was I thought major donor development was sitting down and asking major donors for money because I know that they have it. And while that is a part of that process, I think I discount how much relationship development went into that those asks. So in terms of me flying around because we’re a nationwide charity like we’re based in Columbus, Ohio but I have donors and people that we serve literally all over the country and all over the world. I send gifts of hope to South Africa, to the Philippines to France to Germany, and to Canada, like I’ve got them all over the place. And I’ve donors, I’ve so many donors in Australia for some reason, so there’s just donors everywhere. So for me to get on a plane and fly to Seattle and leave my family, my four kids, and my lovely wife for days on end, I have to make sure that those meetings are going to be meaningful and important. So when we go through our list of people that have donated, we use some wealth research, we do some research on them to make sure that we understand what they’re giving capacity is based upon public data, it’s nothing. We’re not, it’s not like shady it’s like, how much money is this person given away in the past? Are they on a board? Do they give politically and religiously? All of those, you cover that stuff all the time.
So we prioritize those meetings around capacity and we prioritize those meetings around gift frequency. In those meetings, I’m primarily just thanking them, getting to know them, and allowing them to tell their story. I’m asking them, how did you hear about Jane? When was the first time you watched that audition? How did you feel when you walked away from that? Oh, do you have somebody connected in your family that has cancer? And I’m sitting and I’m literally developing a friendship with this person. And then what inevitably that ends up coming to is, Oh, tell me a little bit about more about the Nightbirde Foundation. Tell me a little bit more about what you guys are doing, and what it does is it builds trust, it builds rapport and it also helps both of us diagnose fit. Is this a person I want to partner with? Am I the type of organization that this person wants to support and being able to walk into a meeting knowing that the goal is to develop friendship and trust not to walk away with a check, changes the game.
Roy Jones: Yeah.
Mitch Marczewski: It just changes the game because I’m not worried about it. I’m not nervous and if it’s not a good fit I say, that was great to meet you, I’m so glad that Jane was inspiring to you. And I’m so glad that you were impacted by her story. Like I really love to see you next time I’m out here, have a great rest of the year. And I go, I say next and I go to the next.
Roy Jones: It really is about identifying their passion, and finding out what they want to do. It is conversational, you’re not going in with a PowerPoint pitch deck and pitching, asking for money, it sounds like you’re going in and having a conversation with people, correct?
Mitch Marczewski: Totally. And there have been situations where I’ve sat now with people and I’m like, tell me about some of the causes that you supported in the past, and they’re saying I had heart disease when I was, like the guy that let’s say a guy 65, he’s I had a heart attack at 57 and, so I really love supporting like the different heart societies and different treatments in that way. And yeah, I’m like, my mom had breast cancer but, I really focused my time on like cardiovascular stuff. And I’m not going to say you should care more about breast cancer and give that money to me. I say that’s amazing. I’m so glad that you found a place where you can plug in and be able to help people in the way that you’ve been helped. I said, there’s anything that I can do to help you and do it in that mission. Let me know.
Roy Jones: Now, how do you communicate with your donors, both your major donors and regular donors, obviously you’re doing email, are you doing direct mail? Still? Talk to me about your communication system or process.
Mitch Marczewski: Yeah, so we do send out a direct mail piece between every six to eight weeks is our cadence right now. We found a pretty good stride on that, I’d like to shorten it maybe a little more, but that’s where we are now. The nice part about the direct mail piece and, cause many people will say direct mail is dead, why wouldn’t you just email them? It’s free to email them because nobody has to physically handle an email. But everybody’s got to physically handle a piece of mail. And it’s especially true in the political world like that person is going to take that political mail piece out, but they’re going to look at it long enough to throw it in the trashcan, but at least they’ve looked at it and thrown it in the trashcan. Same thing for my direct mail, where somebody is going to pick it up. They’re going to see Nightbirde Foundation on it. They’re going to see it’s got a first-class stamp on it. If they open it, they’re going to scan it and they’re going to pitch it or they’re going to scan it or they’re going to give, but the thing for me is that I’m staying top of mind.
Roy Jones: Your direct mail and your email work together and they both drive donors to the giving page on your website.
Mitch Marczewski: Correct? Yeah, both of them do. Now, there’s always a call to action in both of those places, but from a direct mail perspective, at least that person is handling it, they’re looking at it they’re saying, hey, this person is doing something with my money and I may not want to donate right now, but I at least know this is what’s going on. And then on the email side of things, you’re able to be more frequent obviously, because it doesn’t cost you as much to be able to do that. And it allows you to be a little more targeted in your communications as well. So if I have somebody who has received a gift of hope, and I have them in my system, I can send them an encouraging story of somebody else who also received a gift of hope, and I can tailor it as opposed to, just a mass generic email talking about this person that received a gift of hope I can say, Hey, Julie. We’re so thankful that you’re a part of our family and that you receive one of these gifts of hope. Here’s a story of Elaine who also received a gift of hope and she was in similar circumstances. That’s way different than just like a generic email.
Roy Jones: Absolutely. Talk to me about, just real quickly, what do you see from social media? Does that drive a lot of donations or is it primarily a branding or PR tool?
Mitch Marczewski: I see it more on the branding and PR side of things. Some people may see it differently. Social media is great because like it’s one, it’s free in the sense that it doesn’t cost me any money to do anything on it. The problem with that is you’re fighting against an algorithm that changes daily. So I can post a picture of me and my sister and I’ll get a hundred thousand likes. And then I post a picture of me and my sister and a link to buy her book and I get a hundred likes. It’s very arbitrary, and it’s also gated in the sense that, yeah, I have a million followers on Instagram, but I have to pay Instagram 10,000 dollars to talk to those million followers. And know that I talked to every single one of them. So there’s that element inside of it too. And then secondarily. You can do online fundraising like through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and through other places, the problem becomes the data like, sure, I could throw out a fundraiser for Giving Tuesday on my Knightford Foundation Instagram and raise 10,000 dollars from people I don’t know, and I will never know, and I’ll never be able to follow up with, and I’ll never be able to contact again in a personal fashion. So I don’t use it as a primary tool. If I raise money on social media, sweet, but it’s primarily a place for me to market and to communicate even with some of my followers.
Roy Jones: Excellent. As we finish up the thing I’d like you to do. If you had somebody here who was getting ready to start their own nonprofit, what’s the one piece of advice you would give them? What have you learned over the last year, 18 months that you could pass along to somebody that’s getting ready to start a new nonprofit?
Mitch Marczewski: I would say there are probably 2 things that I think I would say, I think 1 hold it really open-handedly. And make sure that, what you’re doing, that you’re not so locked in on that’s exactly what you’re going to do for the next 50 years. Because it’s going to take time for you to figure out what impact you’re going to have in the world and how you’re going to do that. So in my case, I had a very clear vision of what I wanted it to be, and it wasn’t the right vision, and I was by the grace of God, I was able to be able to see that. And be able to make the change that I needed to make, even though the change was going against what I wanted to do.
Being able to have humility, I’m not saying that I’m trying to say this without saying, look how humble I am. So I’m just saying having the humility to be able to hold your thing with an open hand, I think is crucial.
Roy Jones: And listening to your clients and listening to your supporters to help guide that, right?
Mitch Marczewski: Oh absolutely, listening to both of those people, because it’s easy for you to think I’m running this, it’s my thing, I have a vision, I’m the boss, I got it. When really, the people that you’re serving and the people that are giving to you, they’re the boss in a lot of ways of what you’re doing and how it’s going to work because they’re your customer, they’re the person that you’re serving and you want to serve them in a way that’s going to help them not serve them in the way that you think they should be helped. So I’d say that’s probably number one. And then I think like number two, and I’m just saying this because it’s been my experience with relationship development. You have to learn how to care about other people and what they care about and not primarily look at it as a transactional thing. Because I have a lot of people with very high net worth that I sit down with, and it would be very easy for me to try to force my vision into their pocketbook. And just tank the relationship and not get anywhere and also get really frustrated. But being able to walk into a meeting and say, Hey, I care about you. And I care about what you care about. And let’s figure out what that is. And I would love for us to be able to help each other in any way that we can. And it just frees me up from being so from chasing the dollar, and it allows me to use what I’m doing to serve other people as opposed to saying, this person’s got a lot of money. They’ve given me money once, let me see if I can get them to do it again.
Roy Jones: Wow. Yeah, it really is. It’s insightful and it really positions what you’re doing. You’re ministering to donors and supporters, just like you’re ministering to these courageous women going through cancer. One helps the other. It is so special, Mitch, what you’re doing. We were learning so much just from your experience hands-on, whether it’s working with volunteers, organizing events in the field, meeting with major donors, and finding out their passion, not just arm twisting about your passion and then how you’re communicating with them and it’s sincerity, and as you said going to them with that transparent, open, tender heart, and being a great listener and aligning with their passion. You’re doing something very special Mitch Marczewski, I am so honored to know you and see you build this thing out. I know how proud Jane is as she looks down from heaven at what you guys are doing because you’re having an impact and it is changing lives for all eternity, so thank you so much. If somebody wants to reach the Nightbirde Foundation. If they want to reach you, they want to make a donation, if they want to get involved, they want to be one of your volunteers or they know somebody that are going through the cancer journey. How do they reach you?
Mitch Marczewski: Yeah, you can go to nightbirdefoundation.org. That’s the main spot, you can do all of those things, you can nominate somebody for a gift of hope, you can purchase one as a holiday gift as a Christmas gift for somebody so if you got on, bought one of those things, you could give it away. You can sign up for all the things Nightbirde Foundation-related, which you can find right there on the website. If you want to chat with me. You can reach out to Mitch@nightbirdefoundation.org Nightbirde with an E at the end of it is how we do that around here, but really it’s an honor to be with you, it’s an honor to be part of the Fit Fundraising team and be able to be a part of what you’re even doing and helping other nonprofits all over the country as well. It’s really been an honor to work with you all over there. And I would say I guess I probably should have said this during my one thing at the end of the episode that I gave two, so now here’s number three, one thing is, finding somebody like Roy who helps you be able to figure out what you’re doing. I didn’t say this during the interview and I took it because I was my mind was all over the place but, I wanted to make sure that I said it hiring Roy to work with us was the best decision that I made I think from a nonprofit perspective, and I’m not just saying that because I like Roy as a person, which I do. But because having somebody who can normalize what you’re going through who can point you in the right direction, who that you can trust that’s going to give you the right advice, then being able to have the humility to follow that advice. I think it’s just huge because I would have, there are things that I did in the first year that I thought would never work, but I did them because Roy told me to do them. And they’ve paid dividends. So having somebody like Roy to partner with you, to help you really build out your offer, to help you understand your cadences with direct mail, helping navigate the major donor conversations, even to be the guy that you’re trying on his shoulder because you went into a donor meeting and he told you what you’re doing is dumb. Having somebody like Roy is just, it was huge so if you can prioritize that on the front end, like you’re really going to go places because it’s been my experience.
Roy Jones: Wow, I am honored, Mitch, and you’re my friend. Thank you so much for doing this. I’m so looking forward to just seeing all the startups out there take advantage of the things that you have learned. The fact that you take some time to teach others in this nonprofit space means so much to us. So all of you out there, thank you once again for joining us here at the Fit Fundraising Podcast. Thank you for stepping up, thank you for being part of changing our world as we work together to have an impact. So thank you so much. Thanks for joining us, we’ll see you next episode at the Fit Fundraising Podcast.
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