Hey, Buddy - Do You Have a Match?

The A Long Swim Team is awesome.  I feel privileged to be on that Team.

We started out thinking that it was a good idea to use the Channel swim as an idea to raise awareness – and money – for the Les Turner ALS Foundation.  In our first meeting with the folks from the Foundation, the inevitable question came up, “So, Doug, how much money would you like to raise?  What’s your goal?”

The first number that popped into my head made me a little embarrassed to even say out loud.  On the one hand, I was embarrassed because I afraid that the Foundation would think my number wouldn’t be worth their time to pursue.  On the other hand, I was embarrassed because I hadn’t the first clue how we would raise the money.  Everyone was staring at me, waiting for me to say something, so I went out on the limb and blurted it out, “$50,000.”

To my surprise, the Les Turner people thought that would be great.  In fact, they immediately dedicated their resources (event planning people, website and IT people, PR people, etc.) to be at my disposal to achieve the goal.  At least I was past embarrassment number one.  As for embarrassment number two – “how on earth are we going to raise $50,000?” – I had more help than I could possibly imagine.

At that point, A Long Swim became the confluence of three lightning-strike events; Medtronic, the Fern Foundation, and Ellen.

Medtronic stepped in just as we were getting started.  “How can we be the most helpful to your effort?” they asked.  “Match funding,” is all I could stammer out.  So, match funding it was, up to $50,000.  The Medtronic folks have been terrific to work with, and we were finally able to get a news report (http://www.nbcchicago.com/news/health/Making_Waves_For_ALS_Research_Chicago-126802438.html) that appropriately recognized the importance of the Medtronic Prestige disc that is in my neck and allows me to move my head to breathe when I swim.  I look forward to a long relationship with Medtronic, though I wonder how I can be as helpful to them as they have been to A Long Swim.

We made it to the initial $50,000 in donations, Medtronic matched it, and we felt like there might be some scattered donations beyond that.  Then, as another complete bolt-from-the-blue, A Long Swim was blessed all over again.  A Chicago-based foundation, the Gilbert and Jacqueline R. Fern Foundation, issued another challenge to us.  The Fern Foundation has been a longtime supporter of the Les Turner Foundation, and has offered to match up to $25,000 inadditional donations, over and above the $100,000 already raised.  Just like the matching grant from Medtronic, every dollar is doubled, and every donation is a two-fer.

The Les Turner Foundation alerted its constituents yesterday about the new matching opportunity, and A Long Swim received fourteen donations in five hours.  People are really responding.  For me, I eagerly look forward to meeting the Ferns so that I can stammer through another in-person thank you.  I am no longer embarrassed to say $50,000; now, $150,000 is “just around the next pier,” to use an open water swimming analogy.

More than anything, though, A Long Swim has had a secret weapon from the beginning.  My sister, Ellen, is a force of nature, and she has positively owned A Long Swim.

As a quick aside, I have spent a lifetime being Ellen’s kid brother.  Even at five-foot-four, she has cast a long shadow of capability and accomplishment for more than 50 years, and it is a shadow that I am comfortable knowing that I will never eclipse.  She has my father’s sense of humor and quick wit, and is a bottomless well of creativity and good ideas.

Ellen has had a very successful PR and marketing career, but her world is enough different than mine that I have ever really been able to see her in action.  One of the great gifts I have enjoyed is working with her on A Long Swim (in fact, the “A Long Swim” title was Ellen’s) because I am able to see firsthand just how brilliant she is.  She has a never ending stream of ideas, many of which she emails me after midnight, and we get to talk almost every day.  She has mobilized old friends, people who knew our father, sorority sisters and fraternity brothers, long lost relatives, teammates and age group swim clubs to spread the word about A Long Swim.  Ellen even hired a secretarial service to help out with all the printing and mailing.  As far as I am concerned, the funds raised by A Long Swim are a testament to Ellen’s hard work and execution of one spectacular idea after another.

So, here are the numbers:

  • 360                         Donors to date
  • $5 – $5,000           Range of individual donations
  • 33                            Number of donors’ states
  • $50,000                Original goal
  • August 3rd             Day we reached the goal (appropriately, it was Ellen’s birthday)
  • $50,000                Medtronic’s match, received August 4th
  • $108,000              Total raised so far, including the Fern Foundation match

This process takes my breath away.  The A Long Swim Team is awesome.  I feel privileged to be on that Team.

See you at the beach, but it will have to be soon – we leave for England in a week.  I will report back.