matter.ngo

S.2 Episode 2: Generosity in Events

You’re using events to create awareness, welcome to the show! Tell us about Matter and what you do.

It’s an organization that was started here in our community by some people in the commercial real estate space. I love the way it started. It started by asking what can we do with our own two hands to serve the world. As successful business people there were people coming to them all the time saying can you support our cause and they said well what do we have that we could use to help others. In their case their answer was unique they had real estate space. They had all these warehouses. At times they were empty at times they were full with tenants. They said how can we leverage that to serve others? They started to adopt this concept they called repurposing corporate surplus.

They took in different items from the community. It started with food, sometimes office equipments, it got quickly into medical equipment. Over the course of the last 18 years the organization has matured and grown into this movement really of people that believe there are a lot of great people that don’t have access to a great life. But we can provide that access to have a great life. We are working primarily in the food space. Of course asking the same questions our founders asked, what does Minnesota have in our community we can export to the world? We have incredible food companies, we also work in the agriculture space, lastly we’re often known in Minneapolis as medical ally. Access to all this medical equipment. We take in millions of dollars of medical equipment that we repurpose all over the world. The last 15 years we’ve worked in over 70 countries around the world. It’s fantastic! Our community is such a generous one. We really become a beneficiary of the equipment and food that we can then repurpose so everybody in the world can have a shot at having a better life.

Everything is new in our hospitals, the equipment is being constantly turned over and I was thinking where does it go?  There are places in the world that would love to have gently used equipment. You guys do that!

Exactly, we live in a competitive hospital environment. Especially in Minnesota. It’s very competitive and we become the beneficiary of that.  This year I was in Congo and walked into a large hospital. Inside the maternity ward there were about 40 women giving birth and there wasn’t one bed in the room. They were all giving birth on the floor, there was blood and fluids all over.  It’s one of those moments where you think to yourself this is not right this is not ok. Here we have a warehouse full of gently used hospital beds. That really becomes our urgency and mission. It’s the right thing to do to give these women beds to give birth on. It’s just the beginning of it. It’s something we have great access to here in Minneapolis. Thankfully we can serve others around the world. I have the best job in the world.  I get to serve people.

How do you choose where you are serving?

It’s a good question. The line is long this list is long of people who would like to partner with us to get this medical equipment.  Really for us it comes down to partnerships. It’s about the relationships you can build with people. Find those shared values, visions, outcomes that meet and align. We look for those partners around the world where we can go hands on face to face. What is the vision you have? Are we the right group to help?  It starts there, once we establish that then it becomes detail work. Figure out what needs to be done.

Getting your hands on stuff is a task on its own, then deploying them is another, it takes time and money.  Something you do a great job with is engaging people in your mission. How are you using events to grow your engagement?

There are two areas I’d like to touch on. I started reading the book the Power of Moments. It’s a very intriguing book. They are making the case that when you reflect on your life there are these moments that stand out. It’s the power of those moments that shape your life moving forward. It forces you to make certain decisions of what you are going to do. It’ impacts where your family will be involved. He has so many cases in the book that he draws to prove this point. I found it helpful and interesting especially for events.

That’s what events become, a powerful moment. At least at Matter that’s what we are hoping to do. We want to create a powerful moment where people consider what’s important to them what do they need to invest in. The two areas for us, in the food area we have a Matter Box. It’s a box of healthy shelf stable food. It’s really a healthy eating starter kit. We collaborate with hospitals in the community and different organizations. The design is to help kids primarily understand what healthy eating looks like. It’s not that confusing or difficult but sometimes if you don’t have a tangible example you don’t know. ‘

We assemble these boxes and our strategy is called companies that matter. We engage corporations in town, and ask them to consider coming with their team and packing these boxes. We create an event. One of the things we’ve said is we want it to be the Disney experience. In that context it’s not oftentimes a big event sometimes it is though. It can be a work team of 10-20 people sometimes up to 100 people. It really becomes a moment for them to consider, I’m getting my hands dirty helping the community and we try to bring beside that what is the meaning you can bring to your community and whole life. Those are opportunities to create an experience for people to have that powerful moment. That’s the one space to grow engagement.

It creates an experience that is memorable and that’s what a lot of non profits or people conducting events struggle with.  You want a take away people can have that is memorable. We are trying to create that. One of the interesting things we came across, we did a large event with General Mills. It became a nation wide experience. Ellen Degeneres got involved with her million acts of good campaign.  What we developed was a movement around this you matter idea. We created these little you matter notes. Every volunteer writes a note of encouragement. It could be as simple as you’re special, keep going. Every volunteer that packs a matter box writes a you matter note. A kid gets that and read that. That became almost more so than the food the inspiration, really that was the moving piece for them. That was a powerful thing that we incorporated into a event, a simple idea that I thought it was a silly idea, but it’s amazing. Sometimes it’s the simple ideas that can be the spark.

One of the events I’d like to mention is an event we created with Cargill called Matterbox Madness.  It’s an opportunity especially this year with us hosting the final four event. We bring companies together, last year we had 30, and they each form a team and get really competitive and compete against each other bracket style to find a champ that is a Matter Box packing champion. It’s a fun opportunity, another principal we employ, people like to have fun. To come together and create something fun.

Another thing we’ve tapped into is the corporate groups are type A personalities and they like to compete. That’s an event that is coming up this spring around the final four tournament. We are going to try to incorporate as many companies as we can.

A lot of people ask the question, when you approach these companies with these ideas, you have to have them flushed out, but at the end of the day, how do I go approach them?

I wish there was a silver bullet for this one or a magical answer. Our development team is always looking for what’s that sneaky magic, I hate to break it to our team and myself, it really is a lot of hard work. Classic networking, getting out, knocking on doors. I would say there are some strategies we use. We work with our board of directors, we have this group of influencers we’ve brought together and ask them who do you know. We ask our board members every quarter that they would make one connection to an influencer in the community for our development team.

People want to have fun and want to feel like they are enjoying themselves, how do you design an event that is fun and entertaining?

That’s the second category I want to reference, it’s the gala events, we have a handful events we do that are more what you’d call traditional gala events. One of the things we looked as is trying to really push on the status quo or how things have always been done. We get in the room and do what we call the fight unite strategy. Let’s get in a room and fight about ideas and then unite on something in the end. We push for outcomes through that strategy. It’s helped us to challenge some things. A lot of galas we go to we see stereotypical things. What happens is it becomes a little mundane. We are always looking for things we can do that are different.

Two years ago we decided to do our gala event at the sun country airline hanger. The owner is a friend and supporter of ours. There were a few things that happened. It allowed us to reduce cost on venue space, it gave a lot of flexibility on what we could do in that space, it allowed us to put the financial resources into a creative outlet. We were able to pull off our most successful event raising over 1 million dollars and everyone that was there was blown away. I don’t think it was that we were magical in our execution or set up, I think it was so many different elements that people were taken back by that.

When you do something like that, tell me the benefits with not dealing with a hotel or traditional hotel.

It’s a great thing to comment on because we took a different approach to it this year. There are cons as well. It’s a lot of work, you are trying to figure things out every time. There are benefits to going to the Rivercentre. It creates a lot of work for our team and the folks we work with. But there are real upsides, for example, we did our Gala at our own warehouse. The venue was free, and then we were able to work with food vendor’s in town. We had 7 different restaurants that agreed to donate. When we went to each of those, they donated an item or a couple of items so it wasn’t a huge burden to each group.  We took our food budget from $55,000 to $0.

So what does that money go to?

It’s a combination, some of that goes to the bottom line then we are able to leverage that for other things. What’s really cool is during the event we announce that! There is a round of applause. There’s an element of stewardship, we have the flexibility to do that, but you can’t do that for every event.

You brought up a really good point. A couple of principles we employ is we are always looking for those win-win situations. Where a company comes, donates, we acknowledge them, they gain business. We win from the financial side and they win as well and feel good about it. We are continuing to look at what are those win-wins. Two of the words we use when starting the planning process are fun and meaningful.

Tell me more about the fun element.

I’ve become a believer in data driven decisions. Data can help. We try to do as comprehensive of a survey as we can to find out what the elements are that people like. It’s nice to get the data and have data to prove people like these elements. That’s one place we start. We do a team debrief and look at those elements. People here in the midwest like other interesting people that come to town outside of Minnesota, celebrities, artists, comedians, whatever that might be. Most people won’t say they do, but the reality is, from our research and surveying, people actually do like it.

How do you tie the meaningful part in while keeping it fun?

One of the constant critiques we get is that the event is too long. I don’t think anybody complained about a short event. I think that’s a challenge for organizations, you have so many things going on and you want to tell them it all in one night. It’s a difficult thing to widdle that message down. That’s an area of growth and opportunity for us. You can kill the fun if you try to get too much information across. Other things get hurt along the way.

When it comes to using these events to get the message across, how much of the program is helping the audience to understand the mission?

We survey the audience to see what works. It’s something we can continue to improve. For us the power of the story is really one of the things we put at the top to drive the meaning. The most effective story is video, you can limit and control what’s being presented and how long. This year was a little bit unusual, we had a gal, a new partner is in Zimbabwe and had all our friends from there come over. One of them, when we got to know her, could tell she had a gift for sharing stories and captivating your interest so we had her before the appeal get up and share a story.  There’s a little risk in that, but she has a true gift to be able to understand the audience and she hit a home run.

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