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A Story of Adaptation, Hard Lessons, and the Ambitious Spirit That Propelled Us Through the Past Decade
When The Get Movin’ Crew was formed ten years ago, in far off 2007, we had no idea that 2017 would mark one of our biggest seasons of a-thon fundraisers we’ve ever had.
We had no idea how much money our services would be bringing in for schools all around the country or how many of our clients would return year after year to team up with us for their fundraiser. When we were starting out, we could barely envision what the next ten months would bring, let alone an entire decade.
But after surviving and, eventually, thriving, over the past ten years, we can say that there were many lessons learned along the way. One thing we’ve discovered is our ability to grow has depended upon our ability to adapt: Foreseeing trends and adapting to embrace cultural changes has allowed TGMC to become a leader in our field.
As we look ahead to the next ten years, we want to take a pause to reflect on the ups and downs that have brought us to this point. Whether you’re a long-time client, new to the crew, or just stopping by to check us out, we invite you to take a look back with us.
Taking the First Risk
When Wendy Tibus decided to take a risk and start a Fun Run business, she was diving straight into uncharted fundraising territory. Plenty of schools had heard of Fun Runs, and perhaps did their own version, there was no company (that she knew of) that offered services and tools for a-thon fundraising.
As a sales rep for a junk food fundraising company, Wendy had firsthand experience helping schools raise money for their initiatives. In the early 2000’s, she witnessed participation steadily decline and purchase orders get smaller and smaller. She often overheard parents grumble about needing to fundraise, requesting to opt out and choosing to just write a check rather than peddle products to their neighbors.
Moreover, many product-based fundraising companies were closing their doors and Wendy was beginning to see the writing on the wall. This seemingly negative decline in fundraising was matched by an even more vigorous trend in health and wellness, especially as it concerned children in America.
Perhaps someone else, someone who wasn’t in the fundraising industry or a former PTA president or the mother of two, wouldn’t have put the two trends together, but lucky for us, Wendy saw how they connected.
So, with a dream, the beginnings of a business model, and a generous early inheritance from Wendy’s grandmother (and the blessing of said g-ma), The Get Movin’ Crew was born!
In 2007 we didn’t have a fancy website or a robust social media following, but what we did have was even better: We had the guts to try something new.
Stumbles on the Road to Success
We initially got TGMC off the ground the old-fashioned way: Going school to school and offering our services to people we knew. Since Wendy was in the fundraising business, she had contacts in the right places – PTO leaders, school admin, and teachers who knew her and trusted her to pilot our freshly formed Fun Run services.
In February of 2007 Wendy applied for the business and by that spring she was already piloting the bare bones product to several schools in the southeastern Michigan area. We’re talking no Movin’ Max, no decorations, no energetic crew, just a Xerox copy of a pledge packet, some music, some communication resources to parents and the top-notch attitude of: “well, let’s see how this thing works.”
Overall, the pilots went well. Did the schools bring in a ton of money? No. But that was also due to the timing (late spring is a tough season to pull off a successful fundraiser) and due to the socioeconomics of the area in which the Title 1 schools were located. Even without those big dollar signs, Wendy felt the program was strong enough to invest in and she plunged into the entrepreneurial pool with high hopes of building a business that would stay afloat.
In the fall of 2007, we had our first nine clients lined up and ready to go. These early days taught us a lot about a-thon fundraising. It taught us about timing, working with different types of schools, and, perhaps most importantly, that sometimes the road to success is paved with stumbles.
Our first Fun Run was, to say the least, a disaster.
In a nutshell, here’s why: We looked much, much better than we really were. Our marketing materials were polished and professional and seemed to promise a seasoned, polished, professional event.
We were, at that point, none of those things solely due to lack of experience. When Wendy arrived to the school with her safety cones, felt flags and ambition, she didn’t realize that the person hired to be in the Movin’ Max mascot costume was sick at home and had no intentions of showing up.
She had three ladies there to help her pull off the event, but although they were eager to help, they had absolutely zero experience with Fun Runs. With only ten minutes to train the ladies before having to jump into the Movin’ Max costume herself and rush out to the buses to greet the students, Wendy could tell this first Fun Run was going to be an uphill battle.
She profusely apologized to the Fun Run chairperson for the mishaps, but there was little sympathy to be had and the school even threatened to revoke the pay for our services. Yep, on the road to our success this was definitely a stumble that left us licking our wounds and wondering how to avoid such a fall in the future.
How do you recover from being told, “your marketing materials are great, but your Fun Run stunk”? You carry on. We considered canceling the rest of the Fun Runs for that first season, but then we though about the rest of the schools counting on us and hoping to raise money to support their students, teachers and programs.
So, we decided to pick ourselves up and never to let another disaster like that happen again. Overall, that initial season ended up being rather successful. From this first Fun Run, we eventually morphed into the business we are today – one that actually mirrors our quality marketing. But, this growth came in spurts as new ideas were formed and new adaptations were made to fit our clientele.
Working Harder, Not Smarter
By Spring of 2009 we thought it was time to start branching out beyond Michigan. We bought a second mascot suit and a second Fun Run kit and made our way to the Windy City to try to start another branch of TGMC. This first dip into franchising taught us a lot.
Initially, we thought the company would grow by forming branches and TGMC subgroups in metropolitan cities throughout the US, but we quickly learned that this was not the best way for us to grow. It was expensive and there was not enough money to be made in the short amount of time available to fundraise in the north (we’re talking 8-12 weeks in the spring and fall) to substantiate a viable business that would be lucrative year-round.
Plus, you can only do so much with one Fun Run kit, which means hosting Fun Runs at a max of two schools per day. Ultimately we found that this was working harder, not smarter. So, we decide to change our trajectory.
Our First Big Milestone: Foreseeing the Tech Boom
We first realized a technology boom was on the horizon when Blackberry phones started popping up like weeds. Everyone had a phone in their hands and were using them to get onto the internet. We were learning how to access websites via mobile devices and do things online like never before.
As time went on, we saw that major charities were taking advantage of this online craze and we picked up on some of the ways that they were able to use the internet to raise money. We knew that taking our services online was the way to go. Not only would this make our services more accessible, but it would also prevent clients from using us one year and then dropping us the next, thinking they could take what they learned and do their own Fun Run.
Our services, at this stage, were duplicable and we needed to find a way to be essential. We started looking for a way to take donations online, while keeping our full-service program.
Working Smarter, Not Harder
By 2011, our DIY services were born. We knew it was important to teach and equip schools to do their own events, while opening up our services to many different types of a-thon events. To do this, we knew we had to offer an online software. However, the price of this technology was far beyond what our macaroni and cheese budget could afford.
So, we tried to do it without the fancy software. We used Paypal and Excel for a while, but this proved to be a ton of manual work that was inefficient and opened us up to potential mishaps. It was risky, we were shut down on Paypal for a stint, and we were overworked with 18-hour days.
But, then we caught a break. Fortunately for us and our future, we were contacted by an affiliate with a company that could provide software that could allow us to host events/fundraisers online. Rather than pay an exorbitant amount up front, it was agreed that the software company would take a percentage of our online activity as payment. This we could do and this we did in the summer of 2011, thus officially forming the beginnings of our current online services!
Looking Ahead to the Next Ten Years
The past decade brought a lot of ups and downs. We started small, stumbled our way to a successful business model, and finally found a steady rhythm and a promising future with our online services. One thing is for sure: we never could have got to where we are without looking beyond the status quo and foreseeing some big trends that would alter the way we do fundraising in this country.
First, we saw the decrease in product fundraising, then we noticed the rise in health concerns for our youth and the subsequent need for healthy alternatives in our schools, and, finally, we foresaw the tech boom that would come to reimagine how people interact, communicate, and promote their charities/fundraisers.
Every year, The Get Movin’ Crew has had 76% growth or better with our number of clients, and for the past 3 years we’ve had over 100% growth with online donations – showing us that schools are raising more and more online. Looking ahead to the next ten years means keeping our eyes peeled for that next big trend, that next cultural shift that is going to determine how fundraising will be conducted from now to 2027.
When we first started, there was only a sprinkling of businesses doing what we do. Now, the pool is thick with companies that offer fundraising services and websites that offer crowd-funding. We are working on finding ways to continuously improve and set ourselves apart by: