Interview: A Model (Citizen) Fundraising Partnership, Part 1
[Editor's note: In our January issue, FundRaising Success talked with Dan Fleyshman, founder of the Model Citizen Fund, about his organization's fundraising partnership with the Karma Foundation. Today we run the full interview with Fleyshman. Check back next week for part 2, an interview with the Karma Foundation's Marvin Epstein.]
At age 23, Dan Fleyshman became the youngest owner of a publicly traded company after selling $15 million of clothing to retail stores and securing a $9.5 million licensing deal with Starter Apparel. An avid philanthropist, Fleyshman supported two dozen charities before ultimately founding the Model Citizen Fund, a nonprofit that provides backpacks with more than 100 items to underprivileged people around the world.
Recently, Fleyshman teamed up with the Karma Foundation, a philanthropic, members-only networking group, to raise money and provide more survival packs for the homeless. More than $25,000 has been raised so far through the partnership through a variety of fundraising tactics.
Fleyshman and Marvin Epstein, executive VP of the Karma Foundation, recently spoke with FundRaising Success about their organizations and their fundraising partnership.
FundRaising Success: Can you talk a bit about the Model Citizen Fund?
Dan Fleyshman: Model Citizen Fund is a nonprofit organization that supplies and distributes life-sustaining goods to homeless and disaster-relief victims all around the world. Our distribution model is to be able to fit about 150 survival items into one backpack, making the emergency relief kits portable and easily accessible. Thanks to our hardworking staff and generous brand-name suppliers, we fill the backpacks with nonperishable food, medical first aid items and other survival necessities. I like to refer to the packs as a "portable mini mart" — everything you truly need is found in there. For an average individual, the items in one backpack are enough supplies to last for about a week.
By providing these kits to the less fortunate, our ultimate goal is to increase the recipients’ overall confidence and belief in their fellow man, and self-esteem. The result is to give them a better chance to improve their lives in a way that they may not have had before. Personally, I believe that the moment you give a homeless person our backpack, it changes two lives forever. More often than not, the donor sees the look in the recipient’s eyes when being handed a backpack, and the emotions simultaneously overcome both parties. That kind of good will you can’t buy or script — it’s truly an unforgettable experience. I find the success of any nonprofit lies in the ability to benefit both the donor and charity’s beneficiary, and to date, Model Citizen has done just that.
FS: How did your partnership with the Karma Foundation form?
DF: I was originally introduced to Karma Foundation by one of their partners, Marvin Epstein. Through Marvin, I quickly learned what Karma was all about — successful entrepreneurs and executives who are a community of people looking to enhance their lives and their network, all while being able to benefit and support remarkable causes.
As soon as I heard about Karma, I was immediately interested. I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was a teenager and hold a record for being the youngest founder of a publicly traded company in history. Business strategy was always on my mind, even at a young age. In high school, I started a licensing company and went on to sign a licensing deal worth $9.5 million with STARTER apparel. Then in my early 20s, I went on to launch "Who's Your Daddy" energy drink and shortly after created Victory Poker in 2010. I’m very passionate about poker and am proud to say that Victory Poker is the third largest team of professional players out of the 550 poker sites on the market today.
By becoming a Karma member, I could network and share my story with people who are as passionate and interested in entrepreneurialism as I am. I see Karma as an all-encompassing community, where the benefits for a member are endless, and decided to inquire about how they could help Model Citizen Fund. Once I applied for a charity sponsorship, I entered a screening process like all of the charities do, and after many sit-downs and one-on-one strategy sessions, Model Citizen Fund was named one of the beneficiaries of an elite Karma event.
The event itself was spectacular: Over 4,000 attendees made it out to the Vegas-based social event, where performers like Grammy-winning artist Chris Brown, Jersey Shore's DJ Pauly D, DJ Paul Oakenfold and Rev Run entertained the crowd. Proceeds benefitted Model Citizen Fund, which in turn helped the victims of Hurricane Isaac. I couldn't have asked for a better outcome or more effective way of fundraising.
FS: Can you discuss the fundraising tactics Model Citizen Fund and Karma Foundation utilize?
DF: Model Citizen Fund has a couple of different fundraising elements, all working simultaneously to maximize donor involvement and overall effectiveness. One of the most standard fundraising strategies that most nonprofits practice is private donations — reaching out to friends, family, colleagues and anyone you personally know. This is a great "step one" approach when looking for donations, but it shouldn’t end there.
The staff at Model Citizen Fund then reaches out to suppliers — the big-name companies that want to help produce, design and distribute certain products. Instead of paying full retail price for the supplies found in each backpack, we have access to a significant discount simply by reaching out to these companies and remaining passionate when discussing our cause. Of course, buying in bulk also helps. Model Citizen Fund is operationally funded by me and other donor relationships. We have not launched our grant request program, although we plan to in 2013. This is a long process, and you never know if it will be successful. Our staff, distributors and board members all volunteer their time to the nonprofit, another example of the immense passion behind our overall mission.
Another effective strategy Model Citizen Fund has employed is hosting different types of events to benefit our cause. We have hosted nightlife entertainment events, music festivals, poker tournaments and more. The different connections I’ve made in the past are helpful when having to reach out to venue owners or event coordinators. For example, my high level of participation in poker tournaments and the relationships I’ve made through Victory Poker helped put together a game night in honor of Model Citizen Fund. Every relationship helps and makes a difference.
When we partnered with Karma to fundraise, they had a variety of fundraising strategies in play that were direct and effective, creating a smooth process all-around. In one instance, Karma hosted a more intimate fundraising social event at my home in Beverly Hills, (which was a follow-up to the Vegas event) where members turned up to donate, learn more and have a great time. Again, 100 percent of the proceeds benefited Model Citizen Fund and Hurricane Isaac victims. From there, Karma produced a short video piece on the effects of the hurricane and how families are still coping today, which was shared throughout all of our social-media platforms.
Social media is another great tool available to boost donations. You’ll be pleasantly surprised knowing that other people in the world are equally as passionate about the cause, and multiple free platforms are available right at your fingertips.
FS: How would you describe your fundraising philosophy?
DF: My philosophy is simple: Tell everyone what you’re doing, be confident, be efficient but most importantly, be passionate. That’s the true recipe for success.
FS: How has the partnership evolved?
DF: Once I started to reach out to Karma, my fellow members immediately expressed interest in our charity’s efforts. To this day, that interest has grown and evolved to reach more than just the members, but also their friends, family and professional connections. Not only has word about Model Citizen Fund spread, but donations have significantly increased through our partnership with Karma. We continue seeing that trend, and we couldn’t have done it without creating this partnership. In addition, and totally unexpected, they presented me with a certificate of recognition from elected officials recognizing my work.
FS: What advice would you give to fundraisers looking to expand their fundraising and perhaps reach out to corporate or other nonprofit partners?
DF: If you’re going to reach out to anyone on a corporate level, there are three things you should expect to encounter. For one, these people are extremely busy. Two, the corporate company most likely has other nonprofit involvements, so adding another to the list is probably not on a CEO’s agenda. Lastly, corporate execs don’t have a lot of time on their hands to listen to a 60-minute presentation on your mission.
With this in mind, you need to be concise and efficient with presentation delivery to the corporate world. The execs are not going to be the "hearts and flowers" emotional-based group — they are more practical and tactical than anything else.
My advice is to really understand who you are presenting to: Do your homework, and research the company beforehand. And see if they are adamant about a particular cause, and try to connect your own mission to it. Don’t make your pitch too complex to understand — keep it short, concise and unique. Stand out amongst any other nonprofit presentations, and always distribute supporting material. This way, even when the elevator pitch is done, your pamphlet sits at their desk, constantly tempting them to give you a call back. Endorsements from their contemporaries about your cause are always helpful as well.
FS: What are some key takeaways you've learned from your work with the Model Citizen Fund and Karma Foundation?
DF: Any time you are working in nonprofits, there is tremendous good will and gratification. For the most part, that’s why people launch nonprofits. It’s not because you’ll make money or be famous. Karma provided us with an end-to-end solution, or what they call a "philanthropy legacy strategy," integrating business-minded individuals with charitable donations. Karma founders work with you in a cooperative way and are sensitive to your unique mission. They made fundraising and networking easier and more effective for Model Citizen Fund, all while having an unforgettable time at both small-scale and large-scale events. I truly believe the relationships I’ve created as a member of Karma will benefit me throughout my lifetime, especially when raising donations.
FS: How has your background as a CEO helped you in the nonprofit/fundraising world?
DF: When you’re deciding to be an entrepreneur and create a new opportunity, whether in the for-profit startup world or the nonprofit space, you are taking a certain risk and putting yourself out there. Fundraising is much of the same thing. You are constantly networking, finding new relationships or partnerships to build off of, and creating awareness through socializing. As a CEO, I’ve learned to properly and effectively network with others, ever since my high school years. You have to have a certain flair and relentless, and you can’t be afraid to hear a harsh "no" every once in a while. If you don’t ask for a donor’s time, you will never have his or her interest. The risk is worth the reward.
FS: Anything you'd like to add?
DF: Anything that’s a small success is still a success. You have to build on even the smallest positive improvement. When it comes to working in the nonprofit world, you are constantly fighting an uphill battle where the playing field is never even. You have to continue remaining passionate and positive. Remember, tossing even a pebble in a pond will help get the water's circle to eventually touch the shore.