Friday, September 20, 2013

Relay For Life team captains- the business of Relay

Ahhh- September is here and that means dedicated Relay For Life team captains are registering online, hitting up Pinterest, dreaming up fundraisers, and making sure everything is in order to make 2014 the best year yet!  As we start jumping into meetings and kick offs, I want to share my “business approach” to Relay For Life.

Now, if this is your first time viewing my blog, let me give you a little background.  I am a successful small business owner, run a small team that raised a little over $7,000 last year, and most importantly, I am Cancer Man’s mom.   If you don’t know who Cancer Man is, you are in for a treat- just check out my little guy here. 

I know what you are thinking- Relay is not a business!  And you are right.  But, like anything worthwhile, you put in a lot of hours, you manage people, you advertise, and you are in charge of large projects.  Sure, you don’t get paid- but to tell you the truth, helping people through Relay is worth more to me than any job could pay me.  If you approach this year’s Relay like a small business owner approaches business, you are going to have a more profitable, successful and organized team this year.  And let’s be honest, who doesn’t want that!?

Recruiting your team
When looking for new team members (or captains for you committee members); think of the hiring process a small business owner would use to look for staff.  Would you want someone unreliable?  Would you want someone you had to beg to come to work?  Or would you want someone self-motivated, passionate, and willing to contribute?  If my bread and butter were on the line, I would pick the latter!  We all know that there is nothing worse than having to beg team members to participate.  You want someone on your team that feels the same fire YOU feel about making a difference, and ending cancer!  I personally prefer a team on 10 people who are going to work hard over a team of 20 where I have to pull all of the weight.

Profits and Profitability
To run a successful business, you have to be aware of your profits at all times.  Is your product or service worth the amount of time you are putting in?  The same thing goes with Relay.  The more profit you make during a fundraiser, the more you have going towards your goal!  There is nothing better than a fundraiser that makes 100% profit.  So, write letters, post on Facebook, and get as many businesses to donate to you as you can.  If you are running a fundraiser that is not 100% profit, make sure you are getting the best possible deal on the item you are selling.  For example, if you are getting T-shirts printed, check around to make sure you are getting the biggest bang for your buck.  If Relay was your business, saving a dollar shirt would mean an extra $100 in your pocket if you sold 100 shirts in your store.   An extra $100 towards you Relay goal is a HUGE deal, so be sure you are price conscious.  Don’t be afraid to ask for a better price.  Explain that you are fundraising for Relay for Life, and WHY Relay is so important to you.  After all, it is likely that the person you are dealing with has known or knows someone with cancer, and will support your cause.  This works online as well.  I was pleasantly surprised last year to save $40 on a pop up tent for my team to use just by emailing the company and explaining that I was purchasing it for a Relay For Life event. 

Social Media
Any small business owner will tell you that social media is a life saver.  Why?  You can connect to thousands of people instantly for FREE.  So, whether you use Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube or Instagram- take advantage of those platforms, and encourage your team to use them as well.  You never know where your next donation will come from.  Be sure any time you post to one of these sites about Relay that you link to your fundraising page.  Working on a Relay project?  Snap a picture and put it on Instagram!  Have an awesome fundraising idea?  Post it on Pinterest!  Do you have a team member performing in a Relay talent show?  Take a video, and post it on YouTube (side note- YouTube is one of Wes’ favorite platforms- his Honey Boo Boo Relay impersonation has over 8,000 hits!) Did you hit a fundraising milestone?   Celebrate with a Facebook post!  

Connect with others that have a common goal.
Speaking of social media- take the opportunity to connect and like Facebook pages for your event, and division.  Small business owners frequently support each other, and help each other with ideas.  The same thing goes with Relay!  Some of the best ideas I have seen (and used!) have come from reading Facebook posts from other Relayers.  It is also wonderful to be able to reach out to others that can relate to you for advice and support when you hit a rough patch (hey, we have all been there.)  When I hit a road block with my business, or need a fresh idea, the first thing I do is Facebook one of my friends who also owns a small business (you know who you are!).   Sometimes all you need is a fresh perspective. 

Another new and exciting way to connect with other Relayers is Relay Nation!  If you haven’t used it yet, you are missing out.  Relay Nation is essentially an online chat board that connects Relay For Lifers from all over the US.  Relay Nation is my go to place when I need input on a new fundraising idea, or a new idea all together!   Want to throw an adult prom, but worry about the kinks?  Relay Nation, my friends.  More than likely, you will be able to connect with someone who has done one before, and can offer advice. 

Learn from your mistakes, and use them to grow.
Mistakes happen.  Successful business owners know that mistakes are inevitable, and use them as a learning tool.  One time, I had this GENIUS idea to make up a ton of baby shower gift baskets to sell.  I rushed out and ordered a ton of supplies, made them all up, and eagerly posted them online.  Six months later I had sold ZERO.  What I learned from that process was that people wanted to custom choose sizes, colors, and products instead of buying a prepackaged deal.  Sure, my pride was hurt.  But learning that lesson was a valuable asset to me!  The same thing goes with fundraisers.  They are not all going to be smash hits.   Take what you learn from those mishaps, and apply those lessons to future fundraisers or events. 

Schedule and Organize
Have you ever been at a fundraising event that is a hot mess?  No one knows what they are supposed to be doing, what time they are needed, what to bring, or how to help.  A small business owner would never schedule the biggest sale of the year without some careful planning and scheduling!  So, delegate tasks (I know this is a hard one!  But, you can’t do it all on your own!), and let people know when they are needed.   It seems like a no brainer, but just asking everyone to show up and winging it is like asking for a disaster.   Remember, your team members want to enjoy the experience of making a difference.  They are more likely to volunteer to come help at fundraisers when they know they can count on you to make everything to run smoothly.

Treat each donor like a valued customer
Have you ever noticed the difference between the customer service you get at a small business vs. a big box store?  The difference is small business owners KNOW, without a doubt, that their customers are their bread and butter.  If you get treated like crap at a store, are you going to go back there and shop again?  Heck no!  Donors who don’t feel appreciated or acknowledge won’t donate to again when the time comes around.  Spend the time it takes to send thank you notes to donors, and let them know how much you appreciate them.   After all, if you are reading this, you are probably what my son and I call a Relay for Lifer (someone who makes Relay a part of their life year after year).  Those yearly donations and connections can make a huge difference in your success. 

I hope this post has helped you look at your team in a new way!  Remember- entrepreneurs and successful team captains also have another very important thing in common.  They FEEL passion about what they are doing deep in their hearts.    I am so glad you are in this fight with me- together, we can do more than any of us can do alone!

For the cause! <3

What are your top Relay tips?  Share them in a comment below!  If this post helped you, be sure to subscribe.  Or hey, you can always show your appreciation with a donation at my Relay page

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Chad's Story

This blog post is a very special, and personal one.  My husband sat down and worked on his Relay For Life page tonight, and to my surprise, he shared his story on WHY Relay for Life is important to him.  It was so inspiring to me, that I had to share it with you here. 
As always- for the cure!

Hello Everyone,

I have decided after two years to join another Relay for Life Team.  I have been active in Relay helping my wife and son’s teams, but I haven’t joined.   Honestly, the memories are still very hard for me deal with. What I have enjoyed over the years is sitting back, and watching everyone fight to end cancer.  Everyone always had a common goal.  Last year at Relay they had a fight back activity where you made a pledge for the year of how you were going to fight for the cause. This took me back, because I have always been hiding while my family fights.  So, my pledge for the year was that I would share my story of my family’s battle with cancer, and be more involved.  I would hopefully let people who are out there that feel the same way know that is ok to hurt for the ones they have lost.  Also, hopefully it will show them that it is right to fight for the cause, and stand with all the people that are willing to do it.

At age 7 I had my first experience with cancer.  My mother had stage 4 ovarian cancer. This was a time when Chemo wasn’t really around. Through my mother’s strong will and stubbornness, she became one of a very few that survived this disease.  She didn’t make it out of the fight without scars, to this day she has a wide list of health problems that she has been fighting with for the past 25 years of her life.  At seven, I was very unsure of what would happen.  I can remember walking down a lot of hospital hall ways, and being in the hospital room with a lot of families in them. Still having my mother here to this day is amazing.

 My mom today.

The next experience with cancer was with my father five years ago.  My father was the rock for my family. He was the one that we all turned to whenever there was a problem.  One day, while working In Oklahoma City, I received a phone call from my mother saying that my father was in the hospital.  My heart dropped to floor.  I got to Arkansas as soon as I could.  Once there I found that many test had been ran on my father, and they had found that he had stomach cancer that had grown to a 90% blockage of his esophagus.

This struck me very hard.  I was torn, because my father was in pain, and my life was in a completely different state over five hours away.   Once we got the plan from the same doctor that had treated my mother seventeen years before, I returned home. Over the course of a month I spoke to my family every day for updates, and tried to return to my life. One day, I called and talked to my father.  He was very down, and told me his one fear was that if it did come time for his fight to be over, he would be in a strange place that he didn’t call home.  This caused me to hurt for my father, so I made a decision that was difficult for me to make, even though I knew that I had go and be with him.  My wife and I had just really started dating, and it is amazing that she stuck with me during this time, because I was so distant from everything in my life.  I had to have a conversation with Cassi, and tell her I had to leave Oklahoma and return home.  She was so supportive, and said that she understood. So a week later I left Oklahoma to help my mother take care of my father. 

 Cassi and I when we first started dating.

Once returning home we began our battle.  By then chemo had completely broke my once strong father.  He had gone from 195ibs to 90 lbs, and I think he lost weight every day after that. He was on a feeding tube because he couldn’t swallow any food.  Just thinking about that is enough to kill me.  My father didn’t taste food for the last year of his life. We tried a wide variety of treatments, he had chemo while hospitalized, chemo from home, radiation, and surgeries. None of these were successful. The time I knew that the outlook wasn’t going to be good we were at the doctor’s office getting him a chemo treatment , and he got up to go to the bathroom.  After five steps,  he went straight down into my arms. It was a downward spiral after that. 

 The family after dad started chemo.

My hope was gone, and I was a beaten man.  The only thing that kept me going was that Cassi had decided that I shouldn’t go through this alone.  She decided to make a huge leap in her and her two year old son’s life.  She left her job, and moved to Arkansas.  She helped give me strength, and became another care giver for my father during his last year.  My mother, Cassi , and I worked in shifts taking care of my father .  

                           Wes and I in a rare moment of play time after moving to Arkansas.

 He didn’t do a lot of walking the final three months of his life. I remember him falling, and my mother calling me at work, and me coming home to check on him. Once I got there I knew he was really bad, and close to the end. I told him that I was going to call an ambulance and I remember him being so mad at me- like I had betrayed him, because his wish was to pass away at home. I was crying when I told him these words, “I am not willing to give up on you yet , dad,  and I am not willing to let you give up either.  I give you my word, once they tell us it’s over; I will break you out of the hospital if I have to, and bring you home.  I am just not willing stop fighting.” His response to this was, “Well fine at least shave me,  I am not going to go anywhere looking like a mountain man that can’t even take care of himself.” He was always worried about being proper, and how he didn’t want people to see him as weak.  So, I shaved his face, combed his hair, and we took him to the hospital.

Once at the hospital, the doctors didn’t want us to lose hope, so they kept up with the treatments and the other things for quality of life that they could do. We were in the hospital for almost a month until they finally said he would be lucky to survive a couple more days.  I was the one that had to lean over while he was in the hospital bed, and inform him of what we had been told.  In the edited words of my father he said “Stuff happens.” Than he looked me dead in my eyes, and said, “Son, I know I said I never wanted you to put life on hold for me, but I am glad you are here.”  At that moment,  I knew what we had to do, which was grant his wish and take him home.

Getting him home was not an easy task. We had hospice (which is a life saver please don’t miss read what I am writing- they help so many families, and I can’t thank them enough) but, hospice can only be there so much.  There are so many people that need them throughout the city they work in, they came in for around an hour a day, and the rest of the time it is up to caregiver’s.   I will spare you the details of all of the health care that my mother, Cassi and I had to do, but I would like to say that as a father myself,  I will do anything that I can never to have my son do the things for me that I had to do for my father.  Every day I close my eyes, and I can only remember the bad times while my father was sick.  I struggle to remember all of the great things he had done. Every once in a while when I get ready for work,  I hear my father’s voice saying “Make sure your shirt lines up with your zipper boy.” Or, “Slow down while you are shaving your missing to many spots.” and I smile.

My father survived for three weeks which was a lot longer than the two days they thought while he was in the hospital. During that time Cassi did a lot of reading for me about how to cope and deal with losing a loved one.   She also researched things we could do to help make things easier for my father.  The main thing she found was you always needed to make sure you said goodbyes, and let them know you loved them. This was hard for me and my father, because we were both non affectionate type people.  But, two days before he passed I took the opportunity to tell him how much I loved him and that I promised I would watch over the family. He looked at me and said “I love you to, now stop this.  I am having enough trouble right now without all this boo hooing.” I know this sounds harsh, but no sweeter of words could have been said by Jack Selby.

The last night was horrible.  We had to hold my father down, and it was like watching World War Three was going on in his body.  The only thing I really remember was telling Cassi to take Wes out of the house, because he shouldn’t see this.  Then, I remember sitting next to the bed and feeling peace go through the house.   I looked up, and my father, after a year of fighting, had passed.

My father passing away was not a total loss to me.  First, it gave me my wife, Cassi.  We got married on October 10th, 2010 (or 10-10-10, so I can always remember it.) She took the experience, and channeled her love for my father to Relay for Life.  And, if I do say for myself, she is one of the biggest fighters for the cause I have ever met in my life.  Her passion in turn, has rubbed off on our now seven year old son. His name is Wes, but you might know him as “Cancer Man.”  Last year my son decided he didn’t want to just tag along with Cassi, and do Relay stuff.   He wanted to do things to make money for himself.  He came out of the end of the year as the top fundraiser in our area- at the age of seven.  I will tell you, he could be a high school quarter back and throw the winning touchdown in the championship game, and I wouldn’t be as proud of him as I am for his fight against cancer.

 I hope this encourages you all to donate to the great cause, and stand with us.  Whether it to me, or someone you know, a dollar can help save someone’s life.
A balloon release at our wedding reception to honor my dad.  Cassi and Wes wanted to send him a message to heaven.