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djotaku

It's 2017! (Lessons Learned and Plans for the New Year)

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This is year three for me, so I thought I'd kick it off by sharing some lessons learned and plans for this new year.

 

Year 1 (2015): I was jazzed and energized and so sure I could convince people to donate. Set a goal of $1k and spoke about it all the time. Even at work where we have to dance around it because they have a policy you're not allowed to ask for donations, I tried to bring it up in conversation. Ended up raising a little over $300 and that was with a bunch of pushing with my family members who kept putting it off. I could not participate in game day because of my sister-in-law's wedding, but I played all year long -- way more than 24 hours of gaming.

 

Year 2 (2016): I figured since I had to push my family members so hard the year before that I would try not to solicit donations yearly. Perhaps I could do it every other year so that people don't get Eric-fatigue. So I upped my social media game - mentioned it whereever I could - reddit, Twitter, FB (even though I'm otherwise not very active on FB), even casually mentioning it to the mother of a kid who goes to school with my daughter and whose son was saved at birth at JH NICU as well. And, I couldn't even make it to the "standard" of bringing in $200 - no tshirt for me. Only a little participation on game day as we had 9 month old twins at the time and I couldn't afford a lack of sleep.

 

So I spoke with a lot of people on the forums and came away with these lessons learned:

  • No matter how well-intentioned, no one donates unless you bug the crap out of them until they finally relent and donate
  • Based on responses from forum participants - as the charity gets more established and more and more people are trying to get donations - it's like trying to get people in your neighborhood to buy your kid's fundraiser chocolate - there's no one to buy it because everyone's kid is trying to sell it. Lots of people reported working harder to get less money in 2016.
  • I was told to check with my guild - some guilds hold a fundraiser night at a restaurant to raise money for members - a portion of that night's proceeds go towards it.
  • Incentives seem to work - I said I'd do 1 pushup per $1 donated and the few people who did donate did it to see me suffer as I'm out of shape from having to help out with the twins

 

Plans for the New Year

With those lessons in mind, here are my plans for the new year:

  • Continue to do some kind of exercise thing per dollar donated
  • Bug people into donating because otherwise they won't
  • participate with guild
  • I have a few domain names, but one I'm intending to keep is for my name (www.ericmesa.com) so I decided this year that I would make a subdomain (extralife.ericmesa.com) that would go to my extra life page. Because the URL changes every year it means that if someone sees my old ExtraLife videos on Youtube, they won't know the new URL to donate to. By using my own domain name, I can switch where it connects to each year so that extralife.ericmesa.com will always point to the most recent donation campaign .
  • To show people how much it means to me, I'm thinking of doing matching donations. (Have to clear with the wife first) Because if I'm trying to convince people to donate because of how much it means that JH helped my daughter, why am I not giving more? To keep things manageable, right now I'm thinking of 1 for 1 matching for the first $100 and then 25% matching after that. I think that's an amount I can afford while showing my commitment.
  • Install the app on my phone so I can take donations from strangers if I strike up a conversation in public
  • There's a parental mailing list for my kid's class at school - get permission from the admins to send out a solicitation to the parents list - just one time so things don't get ridiculous. (If they even agree to it because I could see things spiraling out of control if everyone used it for everything they wanted attention for)
  • Now the real out of my comfort zone thing - the one I've been thinking of since year 1, but always chicken out - talk to some businesses and maybe even my kids' pediatrician to see if they'll donate. I'm not in sales, I'm a computer programmer. When I *was* in sales back when I was a kid, I would mostly help people find the best of what they were already looking for rather than upsell them or get them to buy something they didn't already want to. And to be honest, just as in relationships, I'm afraid of "no". Well, afraid is a strong word, but no one likes rejection (which is why I think so few make it as actors and comedians). But I am going to try!

 

I'd love to hear lessons learned from others, your plans, and if you have any comments or critiques for me. I can take it and if it's constructive, I can use it to help get more for the kids.

 

Closing out with a plug for my donation tracker: If anyone wants to contribute to the project on github or just use it for their own. If you don't like mine and are on Windows, I recommend bfinley's donation tracker. It's what I've been using on WIndows and it's SO easy to use with OBS.

 

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A lot of great stuff here but I'll call out the app mention - it doesn't take donations.

 

There are actually two Extra Life apps. One is a registration app that you can use when you convince people to sign up and participate in Extra Life themselves. It does most of the work in setting up their account.

 

The other app is a social media app which can schedule posts, et cetera.

 

Also, love the chocolate almonds example. A good reason to remember how much you raise sometimes isn't as important as getting out there and spreading the word about Extra Life itself. Even if you raised less this past year, if in your fundraising you convinced anybody else to raise money then you helped raise that money for the hospital too. Thus the addition of the My Impact graphic on everyone's fundraising pages last year.

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I'll bite. 

 

A review of my 4 years thus far:

 

Year 1:  I heard about Extra Life a couple of weeks before the event and thought it was a cool idea and great excuse to game for 24 hours.  I set my goal at $200, got platinum, and set out to fundraising.  I raised $200, only because I donated the last $75 for the shirt.  

 

Year 2:  I was dating my now wife, who had two daughters of her own that it was looking very much like I'd be the father of before long.  As it turns out, right around the time I resolved to raise a TON of money, I found out that I was going to be a father to my own biological daughter as well as two lovely stepdaughters.  It suddenly got real.  I also had landed a spot as tournament commentator for EVE Online's annual international tournament for a second year, which meant I'd be on air for two weekends being watched by between 7k and 20k viewers.  For a game that's played on the same server worldwide, this meant I was very recognizable.  I spoke briefly with CCP Games, specifically a friend of mine that I had played with before he went to work for the company, about my intention to raise $10,000.  I was going to host an in-game event that would wind up drawing nearly 1,000 players to participate, all in the name of getting out the word for Extra Life and hopefully raising some money.  He spoke with his bosses, and it turned out the company hadn't done enough charity that year to meet their typical quota.  So they offered to market my event, and if I could raise $5,000 on my own, they would donate another $5,000 directly to Extra Life.  Boom!   Great success!  

 

I pushed aggressively in the days leading up to the event, but didn't get as much traction as I had hoped towards my $5,000, and eventually $10,000 goal.  I'm not sure where I started that day, but it was somewhere shy of the $5,000 mark.  We started up the event, and it was slow going at first.  Not many people there despite the blogs on the EVE Online website, despite several interviews with popular EVE Online podcasts, and despite my plugging it live on the air during the tournament.  I was nervous, because without a critical mass of people, the event would flop and the few who even showed up wouldn't have a good time.  Then it happened.  Two of the largest "guilds" in the game showed up with enormous groups of people.  More trickled in, and at the peak we had 950+ people in the area participating.  The event lasted 3 and a half hours, and by the end of it I had come up just short of my $10,000 goal.  I received hundreds of donations ranging anywhere from $1 to $1,337, and my mind was absolutely blown.  I gamed the rest of the night hoping to push another thousand somewhere on the momentum I had gained, but viewers on my stream trickled down and not a whole lot more came in.  I spent some time online pushing friends and family to donate to get me to my goal, and I came up just short of $10,000, and then a large donation from my parents put me to $11k and change.  I put my feet up a bit, relaxed, and just kinda glowed at the amazingness of it all.  December 31st, sitting at work, I get a text message.  I look down and nearly drop my phone.  $2,000 donation.  Anonymous.  At first I think there's been a mistake, CCP only put in $2,000 of the $5,000 the promised, but I realized that they'd be giving that directly to EL and not through my campaign.  To this day I haven't figured out where that came from.  I even talked to @DJThunderstix about it and she said she couldn't even tell who it was from, it was through a company that helped other companies and people make anonymous donations.  $13,407 raised +$5,000 more to Extra Life.

 

Year 3:  Cocky from the year before, I figured I could ride the wave of my notoriety in EVE Online to another huge year.  I set my goal at $10,000 and started fundraising.  As it happened, halfway through this campaign, I found out a friend of mine's daughter, same age as one of mine, was fighting neuroblastoma for her second time at Children's Colorado.  Suddenly it became even more personal.  She was fighting for her life.  

 

We named a team after her, got a lot of people on board, and planned a gameday event at my house.  The EVE Online event went off well again, but with about half as many participants and even less donations.  I made a pledge part way through the year once I realized how short I was falling.  If I could hit $5,000, I would get the Extra Life logo tattooed on my upper arm.  We made that goal just before gameday.  Even with some big help from my parents though, I topped out at $7,729.  An incredible number, but I couldn't help but feel really really disappointed.  Worse still when I saw that our local chapter hadn't hit the same $100,000 mark they had the year before--by almost exactly the same amount I fell short of the previous year.  I felt ungrateful for not being excited about the amount I raised, but felt a little bit personally responsible for our local chapter falling short.  Our gameday event went well, but my team members didn't all get on board really.  I signed about 10 people up, and 3 or 4 of them actually raised more money than I personally donated to their campaigns.  As a team, we fell just short of the $10,000 mark.

 

I should also mention that Savannah, the girl we named our team after, passed away just before gameday that year.  Days after her 6th birthday.  She lost her battle, which made me resolve even more to keep battling for her and all the kids like her.  I went into 2016 energized and determined not to lose faith and not to lose energy.

 

Year 4:  I was a bit more humbled from 2015, so I went into 2016 realizing I needed to focus on just grinding out donations a few dollars at a time if it took that.  I tried all of the gimmicks, from matching donations to streaming to things like my wife holding the video of me getting my tattoo hostage until she hit her goal of $500.  It dragged on, and felt like I was way behind, but going into gameday I was sitting at about $3,000.  We got more donations scraped together both at our event and elsewhere, and eventually I topped out at $4,008.  My wife hit her $500, and our team raised just shy of $5,000.

 

 

 

This year, I'm going in with new perspective, and need some strategies.  I'm telling myself that part of the problem last year was donation and election fatigue.  People on Facebook were jaded and grumpy with a very contentious election going on, and in addition to that many had already given significant amounts to my campaigns in years prior.  I'm hoping that a year were far less donations came in will assuage some of that fatigue, and not having an election going on will quiet some of the noise that drove people off of Facebook in 2016.  Time will tell.  I'm going to again shoot for $5,000, because that seems like an attainable goal, and try to reverse the trend of my total numbers moving downward.

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Disclaimer: I realize now that this is written that it's less advice, and more of a road map to my personal experiences with Extra Life. That said, I still think it could benefit others to read. At this point I'm hoping that sharing my long-winded tale can at the very least be interesting, and at best, it might offer some interesting perspective on perseverance to my fellow Extra Lifers.

 

------------------------------------------------------

 

1.) 2011: I personally raised $363 and my team raised $1,076. This was our first year, and for my four other teammates, it started out as just a fun thing to do to try staying up for the 24 hour marathon. I was dreaming big from the start though, hoping that someday, I could create a team that anyone from Pittsburgh could join, so my husband and I came up with Steel City Score Attack. I made a logo, and took off running. Though we started pretty late in the year, (I think we created the team in late August?), I was determined to be a good captain and encourage my teammates as much as possible. Mind you, that first year was sort of a trial run for figuring out how to do this thing. Our plan had been to get as many donations from family members as possible, and if we didn't meet our goal, to put the rest in ourselves. Game day itself was what cemented Extra Life in our hearts. My Husband and I threw a marathon party from our apartment and had the whole team over. We made it through the whole marathon without falling asleep, and my record of hourly tweets from that first year still make me smile. That morning, tired and cranky, we realized that despite our current disposition, we couldn't wait until the next year.

 

2.) 2012: I personally raised $401 and my team raised $2,599. Year two, we had a better idea of what to expect. This time, I had the team up and ready by early June and was already inviting my friends back. A few more entered the fold, and the team grew just a little. I think this was the first year I really got into it and racked my brain for new ways to fund-raise. I lamented the fact that I wasn't internet famous in some way, but I didn't need fame, just determination. I hit up everyone I knew to support me. When words weren't enough, I made some paper cranes for everyone at work. If they donated some money, they could have one. It worked better than I'd expected. Once again, I look fondly on the marathon house party, and laugh as i read through the tweets from then. Did I mention we made ourselves team shirts? They're awesome, and a great way to express solidarity.

 

3.) 2013: I raised $423 and Steel City Score Attack raised $3,203. We got started earlier than ever at the beginning of March. Something else of note happened that year. Pittsburgh was chosen as a guild program test city, and I was noticed for my undying enthusiasm and chosen as the first President. It ended up being a rough year for me, so I think my fundraising suffered for it, The lesson to be learned was that I had to accept my limits and not spread myself too thin. That was also the year a personal tragedy affected my chronic depression quite badly. My husband tells me it's a credit to my love for the cause that I managed to do as much as I did. I stepped down as president just six months later, but I've also learned that there's no shame in backing off when you need to. If you don't take proper care of yourself, how can you take care of anyone else?

 

4.) 2014: Personally raised $1,210 and team raised $3,557. My much needed break from the guild allowed me to focus more on my personal goals. It may sound selfish, but sometimes, you need to refocus your priorities to figure them out. It was the first time I broke that $1000 barrier, and it gave me quite a bit of my confidence back.  This was also the year I first came up with the idea to trade  pepperoni rolls for donations. This has proven a tradition at my workplace by now, such that people often ask me when they can get their next 'fix' of my baked goods. This was the first year for ELU. Much to my own surprise, I took the leap and gave it a shot. One of the best decisions I've ever made.

 

5.) 2015: Personally raised $1,000 and team raised $5232. Thanks to some inspiration from ELU, I got involved in the guild again, as vice president this time, determined to spread my attention more evenly. I must have done something right, because our team more than doubled in size, and we had a great guild leadership team who all pitched in and did extremely well in terms of forging new and lasting connections to area events.

 

6.) 2016: Personally raised $3,000 and team raised $5,512. The 2nd ELU happened early in 2016, and it filled me with more positive energy than ever. My team had another record breaking year despite the fact that for the first time ever, we held our marathon house party on a different date than the official day. That was a learning experience as well, but as long as your donors know what you're doing, they can forgive little things like date changes. I also did a lot more incentives last year than I usually do. I tried doing monthly challenges, game day challenges, and then a great big one. It was clear I may have set my goals a bit too ambitiously, but a minor adjustment means that I've condemned myself to play a VR horror game for everyone's amusement. Speaking of which, I need to schedule this to happen soon.  Oh goody...

 

7.) 2017: Personal goal of $4,000, and team goal of $7,000. I'm off to a running start again this year. The biggest lesson to be learned is to always be on the lookout for opportunities. By now, Extra Life is pretty much always in the back of my mind. It's a wonderful community, and it's become so much of who I am, that I can no longer imagine life without it. Sometimes I believe I didn't come here to be made a hero. I came here to be inspired by heroes. I guess in some ways, it's pretty much the same thing.

 

I've learned that together we GENERATE true goodness and that I love you all!

 

(PS, this is like, my own personal head-cannon theme song for Extra Life.)

 

 

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@Bacchanalian Your year 3 is a good lesson to keep in mind. Even if I didn't meet my goal, I still raised SOME money for my hospital and some is always better than none.

 

@K8Morosky Thanks for sharing your lessons learned and how sometimes you need to step back. The baked goods thing sounds like a really good idea as does the ExtraLife ideas page of chores for donations. We tend to have more of a everyone usually brings food for free thing at work, but maybe next time I'll put a little donation box and a note that the money goes to charity and see where I end up with that. Did you notice that in years 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 your team amounts were roughly the same even though you pulled in more? Do you think they see the goal being reached by you and don't try as hard? What's ELU - The thing in Orlando? Finally, I like your head canon song.

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3 minutes ago, djotaku said:

Did you notice that in years 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 your team amounts were roughly the same even though you pulled in more? Do you think they see the goal being reached by you and don't try as hard? What's ELU - The thing in Orlando? Finally, I like your head canon song.

 

As for the Team/Personal totals, I think it's a lot of factors. Maybe yes, seeing us closer to our team goal may have made some of my teammates complacent. I also know that we lost a few players in 2014 and 2016 due to people moving away, or just getting too busy with life. Really my focus has primarily been on beating last year's total every year. And I do think things move in a bit of a two year cycle. Some people simply aren't comfortable asking everyone every single year because they worry they're getting annoying.

 

As for ELU, yes, that's Extra Life United in Orlando. It's an amazing experience, regardless of how well you do in any of the tournaments. Even if you can only go once, it will definitely change you - in the best way possible. My little champions stamp books are some of my greatest treasures. <3 

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3 minutes ago, K8Morosky said:

 

As for the Team/Personal totals, I think it's a lot of factors. Maybe yes, seeing us closer to our team goal may have made some of my teammates complacent. I also know that we lost a few players in 2014 and 2016 due to people moving away, or just getting too busy with life. Really my focus has primarily been on beating last year's total every year. And I do think things move in a bit of a two year cycle. Some people simply aren't comfortable asking everyone every single year because they worry they're getting annoying.

 

As for ELU, yes, that's Extra Life United in Orlando. It's an amazing experience, regardless of how well you do in any of the tournaments. Even if you can only go once, it will definitely change you - in the best way possible. My little champions stamp books are some of my greatest treasures. <3 

 

Cool, my folks live in Tampa, so I'll have to check out ELU next year. It conflicts with an event this year, but I sure wouldn't mind Orlando's generally mild winter compared to up here in MD.

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Extra Life is such an amazing organization, and it has such an amazing community.  For me it's pretty personal since I was born premature, and as a result was placed in an NICU.  This has lead me to be pretty determined to raise as much each year, and even though it's not a lot it is something.

 

2014 - I set my goal at an easy $200 as I wasn't sure what would happen.  At this point I wasn't streaming anything, and I didn't really market myself.  Thanks to some chattering at bars, family, and friends I was able to bring in $330.

 

2015 - Stoked from 2013's success, and a commitment to stream more throughout the year I set my goal to $500.  For various reasons relating to life just being a bear I didn't get to stream as much, and the donations really didn't come in.  I only brought in $170.

 

2016 - I was bummed from 2015's lackluster donations, but I knew every dollar counted even if I didn't raise much.  I kept my chin up, and just basically did the same thing.  My Social Media presence was a bit better than previous years, and I tried to bring it up whenever I could in various social situations.  People talked about it a lot; reacting/sharing on social media, talking to me about it, etc..., but the donations didn't really happen again.  I ended up bringing in $240 last year.

 

So after all of that what I've learned is that I really need to build up my "brand".  I go out to bars a lot, and socialize with strangers.  Inevitably through natural conversation Extra Life comes up.  I usually explain the program well enough, but trying to get them to remember the URL, and everything was pretty much impossible.  So, I bought some business cards.  They just arrived in the mail yesterday, and I'm super excited.  My goal will be to always have at least a few on hand to give out if/when it comes up, and to try and really spread the word.  I'm also planning on stepping up my streaming even more this year.  Streaming consistently is pretty key, and just build up that core audience as much as I can.

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Best advice I can give is dont get discouraged by lacking in donations to your personal goal.  Just the act of spreading the word of Extra Life is a good thing.  I was able to get my company and another local company to hold events for Extra Life.  The donations raised by their events didnt go to my goal, but they did go towards our local hospital.  I was able to get a number of friends involved in Extra Life; they all raised money towards our local hospital.  Even if it doesnt go towards YOUR goal, raising awarness and getting people involved is important and beneficial.

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I did pretty well this year and I did a few things differently than I have in the past that I think attributed to it.

 

1) Stream if you can.  My PC isn't good enough to stream some games, and I don't have a camera on the Xbox, so I stuck strictly to PS4 games so I could stream everything as well as have video/audio.  I think this helped because people are able to tune in, see you, and hear you talk about why you're doing what you're doing.

 

2) Have something going on that's entertaining if possible.  Part way through my stream my girlfriend came home with a Nerf bow and arrow so I rolled with it and for every $5 someone donated she got to shoot me in the face with it on stream.  At this point donations really started rolling in.

 

3) Just keep pushing it.  The more you explain why you're doing what you're doing the more likely people are to feel obliged to give.  

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This is my sixth year of Extra Life.  My first year, I set a goal for $500, surpassed it, and each year so far I've raised more money than the last, up to a personal best of $1660 in 2016.

 

I'm not on Facebook.  I'm not on Twitter.  I post something to YouTube about once a year, and I pretty much only stream on and near Extra Life game day.  I'm introverted and I like my privacy; social media just isn't my thing.

 

But the reason I keep on increasing my fundraising each year isn't just because I ask everyone I know (literally everyone I know - this year, my new music teacher and the restaurant I got my game day grub from both donated!).  It's because I keep on forming new relationships - particularly, through multiplayer gaming on Xbox Live - and it is those people that I have some sort of relationship with who are eager to support Extra Life through my efforts.  I've had no success when it comes to asking *total* strangers the way established streamers etc. do.

 

This year, I do plan on streaming a bit more - I'd like to broadcast my first Mass Effect: Andromeda playthrough and hopefully raise some money there - but otherwise, my fundraising strategy is pretty low-key.  But it works.

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Game day in a month. Update:

 

I surpassed my goal! And raised more than ever! >$500.

 

Things I did:

 

  • 1 for 1 matching for the first $100 donated.
  • Pitched to my kid's teacher and teacher's aide
  • Pitched to the parents' mailing list

Won't have the same opportunity for the last 2 next year because my oldest went from a very small private school to a very large public school. We never see the teacher (in the previous school I saw the teacher every day when I picked up my daughter). There also isn't a parents' mailing list. So I'll have to get more creative in 2018. But for now I will celebrate raising more for the kids than ever.

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