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We Will Deliver! Week 4 Spotlight: University of Georgia

Starting a new PIH Engage team is not always an easy task. A new Team Coordinator leaves the annual Training Institute with ideas, passion for change, and a plan to go home and recruit people on their campus or community to the movement for the right to health. But many times it can take longer than you hope to really build up steam. 

This week we're highlighting a brand new PIH Engage team at the University of Georgia, and their efforts in the We Will Deliver! personal fundraising campaign. Read more to see their perspectives, and the perspectives of Benjamin Aloysius, the Lab Supervisor with the County Health Team at Pleebo Health Center, where funds from the campaign will help expand much needed capacity. 

Mihir John applied to become a Team Coordinator in May of 2016. He attended the 2016 Training Institute in Boston, MA, and went home to recruit his team right away. The team quickly built steam at the University of Georgia (UGA), getting coverage in the school paper and recruiting many students from campus to join in. Mihir's team includes Heather Street and Langston Gilmore as their Fundraising Leads, and many members who dive headfirst into campaigns. 

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During the We Will Deliver! fundraising campaign PIH Engage UGA started to take off as one of the leading fundraising teams, and now they're rounding their goal of $6,000 raised for the Pleebo Health Center in Liberia. We reached out to Mihir, Heather, and Langston to get their views and tips on how their team has been doing We Will Deliver!

It’s your first year as a PIH Engage Team, how did you feel about joining the We Will Deliver! Campaign?

Mihir: "At first, I was overwhelmed to be joining this huge, grassroots fundraising campaign. Listening to the ideas and experiences of other successful teams gave us great ideas, but it also made me aware how young our team was in an organizational sense. We’d been working together for about two months, and it was difficult to provide the strong sense of community that we needed to make fundraising a priority for all of our members. The most crucial aspect of launching our campaign, in my perspective, was the knowledge that no one person was responsible for making us successful. Our fundraising leads took charge of our concrete plans, like letter and email templates, while our other leads did a great job of motivating our team, always leading by example. The overwhelming feeling of planning an entire fundraising campaign quickly disappeared as we worked through our goals, week by week. The constant collaboration to make this month a success was the most important piece of our campaign at UGA."  

Heather: "I just wanted to add a little side note: the fact that we were a first-year team exhilarated me. I thought that every single bit of progress we made was incredible because we were doing something that had never been done at the University of Georgia! But, it was definitely a lot of work, just like Mihir said."

You recruited a large number team members really fast how’d you do it and what lessons did you learn along the way?

Mihir: I think we had a leg up on a lot of teams in that the University of Georgia is so large, with such an active student body. But, that’s not to say that bringing people together, and building their commitment was an easy task. Especially in our first year, people will come back to our meetings and events if they feel a sense of community. In that sense sharing our Stories of Self - why we feel that Partners in Health is a cause worth fighting for - turned out to be our best tool. Free food brought people to events, but the stories and community brought friends back again. Of course, it was discouraging at times when people didn’t turn out like we expected. But, especially in our first year the team members who came back were clearly invested in what we were doing for the right reasons.

In a more practical sense, one of the best things our team did to raise interest early on was ask all our exec team members to talk to five friends about our team. This generated a lot of early interest, especially from people who wanted leadership roles in a growing organization. This is why we decided to implement mini-leads, positions under each of the three main branches that had specific focuses. For example, our fundraising team has Finance, Event Fundraising, and Personal Fundraising mini-leads. This has been a great way to foster our team members taking initiative, and building commitment to the team, since we’re all founding members of this new group at our university.

You did something really unique, and sent out letters to individuals asking for donations – how did this go, and how did you think of it?

Heather: "At UGA, pretty much every major philanthropy does a letter-writing campaign to kick off their fundraising, and it’s always been effective! As college students, there’s no doubt we’re busy. But that’s no reason that we can’t make a difference and fundraise! Langston and I, the fundraising leads, made a letter template that outlined what PIH Engage does and what our local chapter was doing to fundraise for the Pleebo Health Center. We included price points also, to increase the impact of the donation. Then, we asked our members to fill out a spreadsheet with addresses and names of people they were wanting to contact. After giving members an opportunity to personalize the template, the exec members wrote the addresses on envelopes, stamped them, sent out the letters, and waited for donations to come back! It was quite a bit of time and effort, but we really believe that it was worthwhile. Taking it further, we also used the same template to send out emails! Making it easier for people, especially students, to fundraise, is so important in having an effective fundraising campaign."

Langston: "In addition to what Heather said, we’ve had great success with the letter campaign thus far.  Of the amount raised by our team, over 72% (and counting!) of our donation total has come directly from the letters that we sent out.  We all managed to send a total of 165 letters to our family, friends, teachers, or anyone else who has been influential in our lives and shaping us into who we are today.  When we got together at the beginning of the year, we knew we were very new to the entire process, but we still wanted to project a sense of professionalism and organization.  Therefore, we decided to put a lot of time into the writing, formatting, and design of a letter to send to potential donors.  This was the central focus of our fundraising drive, with the email campaign following suit, and much of the phone-a-thon being centered around follow-up phone calls to those we sent the letter to." 

Has anything surprised you during your fundraising campaign?

Langston:  I think that the biggest surprise to me about the campaign so far is the amount of responses we’ve had to the letter campaign, both directly from the letter and indirectly from emails sent out and the follow-ups from the phone-a-thon.  Because we reached out to people who have been influential in our lives, it’s actually been incredible to see how much they care about something that we’re passionate about--Partners in Health.  Every time a donation comes in, whether it’s from a very close relative or someone we haven’t been in contact with in years, it’s an incredible feeling knowing that they cared enough to support your cause.

Mihir: I agree with what Langston said. Simply reaching out and asking by letter, email, phone call, or venmo request was almost always met with a positive response. Just like 90% of our team I was scared to ask people, even my close friends and family, for money. But all it takes is asking; many of my friends and family reached out to me the day my letters arrived to congratulate me on my work and donate immediately. Just like Langston mentioned above, they care about seeing a cause we truly care about. If I had to sum it up in one sentence: never underestimate how much the people in your life can care about something you love.

Do you have any advice for folks as they work on their campaigns?

Heather: "Don’t be afraid to reach out to your fundraisers. Fundraising can really intimidate people, and your team needs to know that there’s nothing to be afraid of. I would probably sum up the formula for success in three steps:

1. Educate your team! Before you do anything, before the start of the campaign, educate your team on the reason for the campaign. We had a whole meeting in October where we discussed maternal healthcare in Liberia - we made it real for them. By sharing stories of mothers at Pleebo Health Center, we showed them exactly why we were fundraising.

2. Get together! After educating your team, have a kickoff party, phone-a-thon - get people together, because it’s so much more fun to fundraise together! Encourage all of your members and give them ideas and resources every step of the way. We used a letter and email campaign, but you can get creative. And lastly;

3. Keep everyone motivated! We actually had a weekly fundraising update and we had shoutouts for our fundraisers that were doing especially well and hit their goals! That was a great and easy way to keep the hype, especially since four weeks is a long time to keep everyone excited about raising money.

And, just as an aside, never get discouraged. Every missed donation is not a failure if you educated someone about the cause. If you made someone more aware of the issues facing global health today, you succeeded.

Langston: Reach out to people individually to motivate them to get involved.  When something’s said in the entire club’s group text or email list, people are less likely to actually get around to following through on the plan.  If you reach out to members individually when asking them to do things, it’s more personal and garners more participation and initiative on their part.

What do you plan to do to finish strong?     

Heather: "Of course, it’s a bit difficult because a lot of people are off enjoying their breaks and eating and sleeping (as they should, breaks are the best), but to keep the motivation up some of our more brave members are doing this awesome fundraising tactic called “Wacky Wagers” where, if they reach their goal, they’ll do something embarrassing (preferably in public) to motivate donors to contribute to their total. Mihir is doing something totally crazy if we reach our team goal and I’m sure he’d love to tell you what that is…"

Mihir: "I’m getting a 'new' haircut if we hit our team goal! I’m sure there will be plenty of pics next week!"

How can someone hit their fundraising goal?

Mihir: "Our team had a few different methods to help everyone reach their goal. The letter and email campaign were the primary sources to reach out and ask for donations, and they were the vast majority of my fundraising. But, it’s important to realize that background plays a huge role in how much someone can raise from reaching out to their immediate friends and family. Because of this, we made sure we had plenty of opportunities to fundraise in other ways such as canning in downtown Athens on football weekends and also tabling on our campus. I was happy to be a part of all of these efforts with a lot of our team members joining in!"

If you're as inspired as we were from hearing about the efforts taken on by Heather, Langston, Mihir, and the rest of the PIH Engage UGA team, you can still join the campaign right here.

 Another case for expansion at Pleebo: Laboratory Space Needed.

There are many components to a strong, functioning health care system. One that's often overlooked is capacity for labs, but it is so important to providing quality care. Getting a diagnosis right the first time saves lives. At Pleebo Health Center, expansion to much needed facilities and services will mean vastly improved health for the people of Maryland County. That's why PIH Engage teams like University of Georgia are so important in this fundraising campaign. Their efforts make it more possible for PIH Engage to deliver on our promise to increase capacity at Pleebo.

To illustrate the need for laboratory services, see this conversation between Anthony C. Blay, Community Health Officer and Benjamin Aloysius, Lab Supervisor with the County Health Team at Pleebo Health Center. 

Anthony: "We are in the lab now, here at the Pleebo Health Center. These are the family staff working here day and night. Mr. Benjamin, what do you do here?"

Benjamin: "We do so many things here [for example,] evaluation."

Anthony: "What are some of your constraints? Do you have some challenges?"

Benjamin: "We don't have materials. Hemoglobin is necessary for the hospital. We used to do it on a machine. But then when the blood is low [it is much harder to treat patients]."

Anthony: "Looking at the size [of the center]..."

Benjamin: "When I came to this place last September from Bolivia, I saw the place is very small. It needs to be enlarged. We have to do tests, we have to do analysis, we have to do all of these things here. Every place has to get it, like a TB test you have to do it in a different place, not in a lab, you see?"

Anthony: "But because we have no space now, so you do everything here?"

Benjamin: "Yes, so we do everything here."

Anthony: "You are appealing for an expansion on the [health center] so that everything that needs to be tested will have its own lab are. That means the room will be different, tests like malaria will have their own room is that what you mean?

Benjamin: "Yes."

Join the campaign today and help PIH Engage deliver on our promise to Benjamin and the rest of the folks working hard at Pleebo Health Center.

We're close to our goal, but together, We Will Deliver $100,000 to fund the operations of the expanded Pleebo Health Center. 

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