Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A New Way of Generating Personal Support

Starting a grassroots non-profit organization while still in college and then maintaining it and running it after recently graduating is not easy for many reasons. This is what I have done with Project Esperanza. Wanting to make the most of our funds raised, I haven’t ever drawn a personal salary from our pool of funds but we have used funds to go directly to our organization’s programs and to cover some necessary administration costs such as communication and bank fees (which are ridiculous when transferring money internationally as much as we do). If we had received grants from large foundations then perhaps things would be different but ironically, just around the time we gained our non-profit status and became eligible for receiving such grants, the economy took its downturn and many foundations stopped seeking new organizations to work with.

Additionally, through receiving daily e-mails from Foundation Center, it is apparent to me that there is an abundance of funds available for projects within the U.S., especially projects with the public schools, but next to nothing available for international projects. I find this frustrating as we are attempting to provide “public schools” to Haitian immgirant children living in the Dominican Republic which reach a sliver of the standards of U.S. public schools and have such trouble finding the funds to do so while I see weekly and sometimes daily notices of calls for proposals for projects that will further improve the already high standard classrooms in the U.S. If you find yourself disagreeing that U.S. public schools provide high quality education, come to Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic for a visit and let me give you a quick tour of reality here.

Having not received grants, although we have sent in several proposals, we continue to depend on monthly sponsors, sporadic or one time donors, fundraisers often held on the Virginia Tech campus, and merchandise sales. We now are in the beginning stages of setting up some sustainable businesses here in Puerto Plata to generate income and have many more ideas along those lines for the long run.

I know others who have made some sort of ministry or humanitarian work their full time job create an income by seeking supporters who donate money monthly or annually. I already seek this to cover Project Esperanza’s basic monthly operating expenses so I can’t do this for my personal expenses as well. Therefore, I have worked several part time jobs to make ends meet. Next month will be Project Esperanza’s fifth birthday. During these five years I have worked as a tutor and mentor for Virginia Tech athletes, bussed tables in Blacksburg, taught English at a language school in Puerto Plata, taught math part time at a private school in Puerto Plata, tutored privately, worked as an outsourced sales representative for companies in the U.S. while making sales calls via Skype from Puerto Plata, and as a freelance translator for English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole translating documents through a freelance translator website. I have applied and/or been nominated for a few fellowships that would provide a living stipend and believe I am still considered for one although I have not heard back from them in months. Things are hard! With a son, Project Esperanza’s bustling activity, and few opportunities for the aforementioned work, I am pretty pesoless with pretty much no assets.

However, I am now attempting to seek some personal support through a way that asks sponsors to do nothing additional to what they already do in their everyday life. This new route I’m taking is something that may be successful for others who want to make mission or humanitarian work their full time job but have reasons for not seeking donations in order to do so. I know that a founder of Campus Crusades for Christ successfully used this method to support himself and perhaps still does.

I recently became an Individual Business Owner (IBO) with an online company. Here is this our concept as I understand it. Many companies would like to transition to selling products online. This saves them lots of money in retail costs (the space to sell or run a store, employees to run the store, etc.). Selling online allows products to simply leave the warehouse and go straight to the customer. Companies who want to transition to selling online partner up with this company. Our company is paid to bring customers to these businesses. Many businesses that this company partners with are popular companies such as Sears, Barnes & Noble, and Best Buy to name a few. Other partnering companies solely sell online through us and their names are, therefore, less well known. As an IBO, anyone can register as a Customer under my IBO number. When these customers shop through me, I receive points. There is a system in place and these points translate into a monthly check. The more customers I have registered under me making more purchases generates more points and therefore more monthly income.

Some potential supporters may find this a convenient route for supporting me. However, some may not like to shop online. There is one product that I will push, therefore, to try to gain some supporters. There is a Visa credit card we offer. It is no different than any other Visa card, just has our company's name marked on it. Anyone can register as a customer under me (IBO #5940240, Key: MCH), logon, then go to “Shop”, then “Parnter Stores & Services”, and find where to register for this Visa card. Just by using this credit card, I receive points. The income I receive is obviously a very small percentage of purchases made on the credit card, but with several customers using the card, it adds up. I receive an e-mail whenever customers register under me and will add customers to a personal update list. Anyone else wanting to register as an IBO can e-mail me.