E7 – Inspiring the community to come together with Jane McCarthy
Jane MaCarthy is the guest in this episode of the podcast, and she is quite inspiring. Her work with the relay for life is so amazing. I hope you enjoy the episode.
In the picture to the right, you can see the tube she is speaking about during the interview.
The transcribed version of the interview is available further down.
Diana: Today. My guest is Jane McCarthy. Welcome, Jane.
Jane: Hello. How are you this morning? Oh, well it’s actually this afternoon in New York right now.
Diana: It’s evening with me so yeah.
Jane: Okay. That’s the beauty of Zoom. We talk to each other from all over the world. It’s so cool.
Diana: I appreciate that so much. Also, I appreciate you wanting to be on the podcast with me. I think this is amazing. I so look forward to hearing your story. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into fundraising?
Jane: I live in York County, New York, which is about 50 miles North of Manhattan, New York City. When my son was in second grade, I went to an event called Relay for Life and Relay for Life is part of the American Cancer Society. What you do is you actually go to an even. It used to be 24 hours overnight, and you have survivors there. There’s an opening ceremony where we come together and celebrate survivors and caregivers of cancer, they were fundraising.
So, think of a huge fair, where each booth is set up for different fundraising and all of that money back to the American Cancer Society. Then at night, when it gets dark, the most poignant part is what’s called a luminary ceremony where we put out bags in memory, or in honor of people that have either passed because of cancer or they’re survivors and you line a field and then you light them and then you walk the track. The point of Relay for Life is to walk the track all night because cancer never sleeps. Our job is to show those people that are survivors and those that have been lost to cancer, that we can do the hard work and still have hope
So, when my son was in second grade, I went to Relay for Life and I walked up to this woman that was in charge of the event. She worked for the American Cancer Society. And I said, I think I have the passion and the skills to do some of the work with you, and that fall, our kids ended up being in this the same class for the first year. She called me and said, I remember meeting you when you were interested in getting involved. So, I went to the first meeting and I got involved with getting teams together. We at that point had about 60 teams. When I got involved, I got us up to 120 at our highest. From there, my passion just grew, and I loved uniting the community from three year old’s to 75 year old’s around a cause. I became the Chair, and I was the Chair for Relay for Life of Yorktown for eight years.
Diana: Wow. Was that only for, that? I’m sorry, it’s called something else in Danish. We have the same concept.
Jane: It’s the American Cancer Society and the Relay for Life. The reason it’s called Relay for Life and it’s purple is that it’s for all cancers and Relay for Life is used to raise funds to improve cancer survival rate, and to decrease the incidence of cancer and to improve the quality of life for cancer patients. So, what happens is, all the money gets raised and goes to the American Cancer Society and we go to all different communities. And so, I was responsible for the Yorktown community and then there would be another community that would also be raising money. Over the years, the American Cancer Society through Relay for Life has raised over five billion dollars to date. Our Relay for Life it will be eight years that I was doing it, came in the top 10 for fundraising in our region. We raised a million dollars over 10 years and more.
Diana: That’s amazing. You were the Chair for Relay for Life for eight years. Is it I say only, but I really don’t mean only in that sense, but is it only that once a year event or is there multiple fundraising throughout the year?
Jane: So, the event takes place in June in our town and it’s once a year. I will tell you and I will tell anybody that gets involved in fundraising. It is a 12 month, 24/7 event. We never stopped fundraising. We went into all of the schools. We talked in all the communities. We had a kickoff that started in February. We would be having the press, social media. It got bigger as we went along. So yes, it was one night or one 24-hour period or a 12-hour period, depending on the relay. But it was a 365-day fundraising effort.
Diana: All of the things you’re doing between each race, or is it a race?
Jane: We call it relay because it’s usually around a track or it’s on a field and it’s really walking the track. It’s really a race to fight cancer, but it’s not a foot race. It’s a walking, fundraising hour event. Before it went virtual was one of the most attended events in our community. At times we had 5,000 people attending.
Jane: Yeah. Really the way I can explain it best also is that it really is a community event where we bring people of all ages to come to the field. When I got involved in this, my kids were little, so I had a second-grader, and I had a sixth-grader. We started our own team called Stars of Hope. So, on top of being a Chair, I was on a team and I was a team captain, and we would fundraise going outside of supermarkets, grocery stores. We would sell chocolate-covered strawberries, or we would sell the Luminaria bags and we would just ask people for donations and it was amazing to see what people would give.
One year we took a hamster habitat track trail and glued it to a cardboard piece of very thick cardboard and made a coin machine so that people could drop coins in and each time we would go out and fundraise it was fun to see how much money we would raise just in people, just throwing in their Change for Change. That’s what we call it Change for Change. We would have them, the change in being able to see, our kids loved that because it was like a game and we were then also, in turn, raising money.
Diana: I don’t think I quite understand. I understand doing something for money, but I don’t quite understand it. So, they put money into what?
Jane: So, do you know, like hamsters have those little habit trails they’re called here?
Diana: Yeah, the wheels kind of thing?
Jane: Yes, but there are tubes. In relay for life, it’s purple. We found purple plastic tubes that we linked together that you could make into like a bag and people could throw their coins in it. It was just a cool visual for people when they came up to us outside of a venue where we were fundraising, they could see what we were doing, and they thought it was creative and they would give us more money.
Diana: That’s a really good point. Be creative.
Jane: Yes. Be creative. That brought me to one of the most creative things we did is our schools in New York, not every school is allowed to fundraise because I think now there are so many nonprofits out there that, they don’t want to just fundraise for one nonprofit. So, they’ve made the choice not to be able to fundraise in schools, but we still wanted to get out the information about Relay for Life. So, we had to think about how we were going to do that because once we got the kids to the field and they were there for the carnival or the fair atmosphere, we knew they would then donate that way.
So, we created what was called a Chain of Hope. We cut up strips of paper in all different colors in hundreds of hundreds of strips. So, for one school, there were a thousand strips, another school, there were 500 strips, and we would give them out to the teachers. We had a lesson plan that went along with it. The kids would learn about how they can fight against cancer and they could learn about hope and the value of fundraising and being in a place where they’re helping others and teaching them empathy and every child, and every administrator and every teacher wrote on the links. Then we stapled all the links together and then on a month before relay we actually had a Paint the Town Purple day.
Every school would display their Chain of Hope and they would keep it up for the month. So, the kids would get involved and get excited about the fact that their link was part of something bigger. Then we would have them bring it to Relay for Life and we would have a Chain of Hope lab and all of the families and all of the kids would come. They would walk the track with their Chain of Hope.
Diana: That’s really creative.
Jane: So beautiful and so heartwarming. We had a little nursery school, we had two and three year old’s walking around the track with their Chain of Hope and on theirs, they may have just, colored in a heart. One of the things that we learned, and I was the one that collected all of the Chains of Hope. You could see as the kids got older, how things shifted, and by the time you got to high school, many, many, many of the kids were writing a tribute to a relative of theirs that had either passed or was a survivor of cancer. It was heartwarming and humbling to know that our work was changing, how young people thought about this disease, and what they could do to bring hope to others.
Diana: I love that also the fact that you were having the kids be aware and teaching them about the disease. A lot of cancer can be prevented or can at least be done something if you live healthily. There’s a lot of diseases, that you’re not as likely to get without me being a doctor or anything. But research shows.
Jane: Right. The other thing is this is sad, but it’s also heartwarming. In the eight years that I was the chair. Five of those years, we had a student that was fighting cancer at that time or a teacher. So, these kids were trying to figure out what they could do for their fellow student or their fellow teacher, and coming up with fundraisers and coming up with different creative ideas helped tremendously.
When people came to the field they loved the creativity that came with some of the fundraisers to bracelets, to people’s favorite food they would have or, putting donuts nuts on a string and having a doughnut-eating contest, as simple as that. One of the most successful, fun things that people did, having a karaoke machine, and having people donate to be able to sing. The kids and adults love that, that went on for hours. So, you know, thinking out of the box at things that make people get out of their comfort zone to have fun at an event, knowing that all of that money is going to go towards helping others is huge and just makes a huge difference. It doesn’t matter what age you are, it’s a huge thing.
Diana: What is the coolest way you’ve raised money in relation to this? A small thing that was either, you think was really, really cool. One that just took you by storm, in raising a lot of money that you maybe didn’t expect.
Jane: I have two, we had a psychic. My team would get a psychic to come and we had a fundraiser for it and made thousands of dollars. So, that was different, fun, and creative. Another was a woman that I knew from years and years ago. So, this was probably 10 years ago, started Dancing with the Stars, Yorktown Stars and she got, highly popular or respected people in our community. Our local principals, business owners, the mayor learn how to dance and they danced like the show “Dancing with the Stars.” That was a huge success for three years. People loved it. Those were fun things that we did.
Then one year I remember my birthday is always around Relay for Life. So, my birthday is June 12th, and Relay for Life is always between June 8th and the 16th. One year I had put out asking for donations just on Facebook and I got a donation for $500 and I wasn’t home at the time. When I got home, I went to my computer to see who did the donation and it was a woman that I had known from when I was in kindergarten. I had not seen her live in 52 years, but we had a connection on Facebook
I’m very rarely speechless. I was absolutely speechless, and I wrote to her and I said, I am never speechless, and I’m overwhelmed, and I thank you so much. She wrote back and said, Jane, I’ve been watching for years, what you’ve been doing, and I needed to contribute to something that I could see the passion and the purpose that you have. So, what I would say is you don’t know who’s watching you on social media and you don’t know what impact you’re making. If you don’t ask, you won’t get it. You may get so frustrated about asking, but all it takes is that one person to get you to get excited again because you’ve made difference and they’ve made a difference because they’ve seen the passion and the purpose that you have as a fundraiser.
Diana: That really is something I can understand that you’re speechless, You’re totally right. Both in business and in fundraising and for everything else for that matter, you never know who’s watching on social media. So always having your, message out is a really good idea.
Jane: I literally have people to this day leaving purple things in my mailbox, or put posting purple things on my website. I am known throughout my community as the Purple Power Lady. I chanted purple power. That is part of my brand, the Purple Power Lady.
Diana: That’s kind of funny. Okay. So, you are not involved anymore, or you’re just not the Chair anymore.
Jane: I’m not the Chair. I did step back. What happens is, you know, you do it for so many years and then you get burned out. You need new people to get involved and fuse a new generation of people. So, I’m involved, and getting back involved, I’m about to do a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, in October. I continue, it is my heart. It is where I believe my passion still lies I am going to get back involved.
Diana: Looking back, is there something where you guys thought this is going to be an amazing idea, this is going to be so good, but then it totally flopped? It didn’t get many donations or not a lot at least, or something that you thought would be way better than it actually was.
Jane: I’m drawing a blank. We really lucked out. I think that we have a community that knew how important this was. I will tell you one year we had a disaster and it had to do with mother nature, and it goes along with what’s going on in 2020 because it’s expectations right. So, this was the biggest flop. We had our event scheduled and we did not have a rain day and our events are outside. So, we were not prepared for the weather if it was going to be bad and we were going to have to cancel the event. We did not have another date on the calendar. 15 minutes before the event, a huge, huge storm came through lightning and thunder and rain and we all had to evacuate the field.
We had 2,500 people on the field. We had to evacuate it. We evacuated it for 20 minutes, came back on, and had to evacuate it again. I remember sobbing, being so sad that we were not going to have this event and thinking at that moment, never again, would we plan an event without having a backup date. Then we ended up having a relay replay a week later, the town did come out and it was a beautiful day and we made it up. But from that day on, we always had a rain date. By the way, we’ve never had to use them again.
Diana: Of course.
Jane: So, you know, it’s like bringing the umbrella and then it doesn’t rain. I would say that was probably one of the biggest aha moments we had in the history that I was involved in. We found that most of the fundraising and by the way, our town in its heyday when it was at its best could raise $50,000 in the first three hours of the night of the relay.
Jane: Yes, because it was a carnival. So, what we learned is that most of it was happening at the beginning of the night anyway, before midnight. As I said, it’s a 365-day effort. So, all of the people that are running that event, the exhaustion after that, and then having it not be able to go off the way you want It takes a lot of grit and resilience and hope and determination and knowing that it’s for a greater cause.
Diana: Is that the hardest thing about fundraising you think?
Jane: I think it’s twofold. I think its many people have a hard time asking and it goes back to what I said earlier. If you don’t ask, you don’t get it. The other thing that’s hard about fundraising is it does get tiring. I’ve been fundraising now for 12 years. People know that I fundraise. I took a year off because I thought that even my donors needed a break. So, this year, two days before my birthday, I said, you know what, Relay for Life is virtual this year. There’s so much going on. The American Cancer Society needs help. I’m going to put it out as my birthday and within 24 hours, I had raised $1,200 because people knew that this was what my passion is. I realized that it’s not my job to figure out if people are going to donate or not. It’s my job to ask and to give them the opportunity.
Diana: What would you advise people if they are afraid of asking or maybe even afraid of no’s because when you’re fundraised, you also get a lot of no’s. What would your advice be?
Jane: I would have two-fold. One is that one thing that helped us tremendously was to have one page about what you’re fundraising. Know your facts, know where your money’s going, how it’s used. Have a story, tell a story, and relate why it matters that you are fundraising for whatever you were fundraising for. As long as you are authentic and you were telling your story, the rest comes naturally. It’s more important that the story that you want to tell is out there and then the facts are backup for it.
Diana: That makes sense because if people feel you, they will be more likely to donate.
Jane: Absolutely. Absolutely. It happens all the time. You know, we have a little girl, and she was diagnosed with cancer. She was in second grade at the time and when her mom had to tell her that she had cancer, she said, oh, that’s okay, I’m going to get through this and now I get to have a Relay for Life team. Can you imagine that that was the first thing she thought? But she had seen and heard and been a part of Relay for Life since she was in kindergarten and she saw the hope and she raised thousands and thousands of dollars and she is now a 13-year-old girl thriving and doing beautifully and still involved with Relay for Life.
Diana: That’s amazing. You said that you were going to do something this fall, October. Can you tell a bit about that or is it a secret?
Jane: I’m involved in a networking organization for small business owners called Master Networks. There is a guy that I’ve become friendly with who is going to be part of Real Men Wear Pink for the American Cancer Society. So, every single day for a month, he has to wear pink. So, I am going to work with another woman who’s involved with the company called Tastefully Simple, which is a healthy food, fun food recipe type organization where it’s mail-ordered food. That’s a really, really cool, and wonderful food. The three of us are going to work together on putting together a fundraiser that we’ll do online through a Facebook live and get donations and then the money will go to the American Cancer Society. It will be a win-win as you’ll get good food, you’ll get good content and you’ll be helping others.
Diana: That sounds like a lot of fun, actually.
Jane: Absolutely. Simple ones that kids absolutely love to do are car washes. That is huge in the United States. You go to the gas station and you charge people to wash their cars. People love it. Especially little kids getting wet and all day and played with the hose and washing people’s cars. The other big one, oh my God, I can’t believe I didn’t bring this up as a boot drive.
Our firemen have huge boots, that they wear when they fight fires. We have taken over the middle of our town in May. That’s when we have Paint the Town Purple and we have a purple line painted down the street, and then we have purple boots, and we stand in the street and we get people to donate money. One year we raised $5,000 from people donating money into a boot from their cars through change and just single dollar bills my motto has always, always been “A little bit from a lot.”
Diana: Yeah. A practical question. Since I’m in Denmark, and in Denmark, there’s like very strict rules about doing fundraising. Are you just allowed to do something like that, like paint the purple lion on the road…
Jane: Oh, no, no, no.
Diana: …or is there some kind of permission?
Jane: Oh yeah. There’s a lot of rules and regulations and that’s another thing. If you are the person in charge of any fundraising, you want to collaborate with the town or the officials that you need help from. You want to have a really good relationship with them, and they need to know why you’re doing it, how you’re doing it, and for how long you’re going to do it. Everything here needs, paperwork, and insurance and there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes in order to make these things happen.
Diana: Jane, if someone wanted as a single person to do something for charity, let’s say the American Cancer Association, just do one small thing. What would you advise them to do?
Jane: I would have them find out more locally in their community, how they can be more involved. You can Google American cancer society or volunteer opportunities and I would say starting out a lot of people don’t have the money, so it’s giving time. So, how can you get involved in your community to give time to something that sparks you, that lights you up, that makes you want to do more?
Diana: That’s good advice. I totally agree. Do you have any last advice or thoughts on something you didn’t get to say or around the whole fundraising part?
Jane: I just think that you said it earlier. I think that if you come to fundraising with intention, with powerful asking and powerful questions with your story and give hope that it will come. The other thing that my mom said to me, my whole life is the more you give, the more you get. So, if you can’t give money and you can give of yourself, you will get it back. tenfold. If you can give money, you’ll still get it back. It always happens. I’ve been around a long time and I’ve seen it happen over and over and over again.
Diana: That’s really comforting actually.
Diana: Thank you so much, Jane. If someone wants to get a hold of you, get, to maybe ask you how they can get started or get in on what you’re doing. Can they do that somewhere?
Jane: Absolutely. They can go to my website which is janestorm.com or they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Diana: Great. I’ll put that in the show notes as well and of course also the link to the American Cancer Society.
Jane: That’s great.
Diana: Thank you so much for joining me today.
Jane: Thank you for having me and I look forward to listening to all of your podcasts.
Diana: Thank you. This was a really interesting conversation with Jane, and she had a lot of really cool input. I want to talk a little bit about two things. The Chain of Hope amazing. The thing about having all of the kids out and making this with her, that was just so cool, and I got this idea of doing something like this at Christmas in Denmark. So, I’m thinking if I can get this in, in some way.
Then the other thing is to remember that you don’t know who’s watching and who’s listening and who’s seeing what you’re doing on social media. There might be people who are just following what you’re doing without interacting with you and then all of a sudden they will. So, keep on doing whatever it is you’re doing and be there on social media. I really think that’s an amazing message for anyone who is doing a lot of great work to fundraise.
Once a month, I host a Zoom networking call about fundraising. We get to know each other a bit and just talk fundraising. So, if you want to join the next networking event, you can go to smartbusinessplanning.com/network.
In next week’s episode, we’re going to hear from Kieran, who is telling about major donors and how to fundraise is a huge skill. His story about going from working in banking to working in fundraising and being called the Generosity Guy. That is an amazing story so I hope you will listen in.