May 30, 2013

The Spiritual Journey of Crowdfunding

Every day I wake up and count my blessings. I'm grateful to have a roof over my head, food in the fridge and most importantly, I am breathing. This month there was additional energy swirling around me and Go Inspire Go (GIG).

As many of you know, Go Inspire Go embarked on our 50/50 crowdfunding journey 36 days ago. We're on a quest to uncover 50 everyday heroes in 50 states. We are about 85% of the way to our $25,000 goal with just four days to go!

More than a year ago, my board members Marcia and Connie planted the seed about crowdfunding and waited for me to say "GO." We chose Indiegogo for our 50/50 campaign.

With more than 40 volunteers on this campaign, I confidently assumed, “we got this.” Connie, our campaign cheerleader, organized and managed us with spreadsheets galore.

Pre-planning meetings included generating buzz with social media, examining case studies, email outreach to schools, artists and nonprofit organizations, and creating design elements which included a handful of technical/design friends who helped with the title animation and logo for our video. And of course, many iterations of our campaign video. This took more than 100 hours to produce.



No one could have predicted what happened after we launched...

One of our volunteers' grandmother passed away. She rushed to Los Angeles to plan her funeral. Another volunteer spontaneously collapsed in the bathroom, slamming her face into a metal shelf as she became unconscious and another volunteer had two surgeries followed by her apartment flooding.

What was going on?!

You know that saying that things come in threes. Not true. I got a call from my cousin in Michigan, who told me her mom passed way from lung cancer. Coincidentally, I got another a call from a close childhood friend, who told me her mom (whom I consider family) was battling late stage lung cancer too.

Whaaat? I. Need. Time. To. Process...

I had a campaign to run, videos to shoot and blogs push out. Throw into the mix six classes to teach and grading.


You know the saying, “Challenges are here to teach you something"? Even though I always try to look for the silver lining, I've spent all month wondering what this was supposed to teach me. Just a glimmer, please?

Today, I got it.

For me, the GIG campaign goal was to raise awareness, consciousness and inspire action. It ended up being much more – this has been a spiritual journey. If you look at my gratitude journal, you'll see that a constant theme or mantra is "I feel supported."

This platform allowed my team and I to create and organize a movement and to encourage everyone I care for to use their power, in any way, to help make their community a better place. As long as I have the support of my team and viewers like you, I can continue supporting the community heroes we feature.

I've been working tirelessly with a team of 60-80 volunteers for the past four years on pieces of the puzzle: production of videos and blogs, design elements and searching for ways to make this a sustainable long lasting, impactful vessel that serves people like you.

During our GIG Social Media Photo Walk on May 19.

But this is why we do what we do:

People like Michael Fullam, a 50/50 donor who recently reached out to tell me that GIG has helped him feel hopeful in a time of hopelessness -- this on the heels of his mother's recent death.

People like Ron Holt, a GIG hero who is on a crusade to inspire equality around the world through his unique research about the biology of sexuality and his message of authenticity. People have reached out to Ron telling him that they're glad to have come across the video and hear his message because it saved their lives. Another viewer came out to Ron and for the first time came to terms and accepted their authentic self.

A viewer wrote to Ron:

"My name is (removed) I am a young gay male (17), I have not been at any of your conferences, but I did see your video on YouTube, and would like to personally thank you! I wish someone like you came and told me that being gay is OK a lot sooner then I found out. I told my mother I was gay at 15 and I have been living alone since then working full time all because I was gay. Something so small can really change the way people view you! So thank you very much for helping and educating other on this problem of gay hate. I really do appreciate it!"

And people like YOU, who email, comment and share our content.


This is just the tip of the impact we've created. I could have never imagined this when I started this little idea in 2009. Our videos and blogs show the world that YOU can make a difference both big and small. We just want you to GO … get inspired … and GO do it!

There's nothing more gratifying than being able to give someone the gift of awareness of their own power and ability to give back. Simply put JOY.

Every minute we have in the day is an opportunity for us to share our gift of joy.

It seemed that every time a barrier was presented to us, there was an invisible ladder, a rope, a helping hand. Just like miracles, we don't always see them, but I know we feel them -- if we are present (and focus on our breath).

Miracles during this 50/50 journey:

1. We are more than 85% toward our goal. We have four days left. Please donate and share like crazy!

2. More people have joined our campaign, we started with about 10 and now we have 40+ volunteers

3. Wize Commerce will donate $5,000 to our campaign and are developing a Corporate Challenge from local companies to donate and inspire volunteerism

4. Pollination Project will give our first hero featured a $1,000 seed grant

5. Jason Pate and his team at Tava Indian Kitchen are hosting our Go Inspire Go celebration (meet and greet) event on May 30 at 7:30 p.m. Sign up here!

6. Despite all that has happened to our team, we are still breathing

For those of you who have donated, reached out to your network to share our message and all the social media followers who have liked us, we wish there was a "LOVE" button for you all.

And to my amazing team -- THANK YOU for all the hard work and love -- and pushing me to be a better person and leader!

Take Action:
1. Please donate to our Indiegogo campaign - Only four days left to reach our goal. We are SO CLOSE! We need your help.

2. Sign up and share the GIG Event tonight!

3. Send us story ideas!

Onward!
Toan

P.S. Want to learn more about our journey leading up to this 50/50 campaign? Check out our special 50/50 blog posts!

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May 22, 2013

YOU Have the POWER. Let's Count the Changes Together!

When you throw a pebble into a lake, it's hard to count the billowing ripples.

Billowing ripples of good are some of the reasons why I pursue my passion work with Go Inspire Go (GIG), a nonprofit movement I started that uses video storytelling to inspire people to discover and use their power to help others.

GIG discovers regular, everyday people who are heroes in their community and tells their stories in an authentic way, leveraging social media to spark similar positive contributions.

A quick snapshot before our GIG Photo/Social Media Walk

The IMPACT of GIG since its genesis four years ago is awe-inspiring, from kids as young as five to the elderly. With the help of dozens of volunteers across the globe, we've built a platform to host our stories.

GIG Website Sketch Circa 2009

This effort has resulted in contributions of more than half a million dollars of work -- all thorough the inspiration of volunteers. I tirelessly labor countless late nights and early mornings, but it doesn't feel like work.

Current GIG Website

There are many major accomplishments that give us pause and joy and it’s most validating when we hear from those whom GIG has touched. One recent connection came from viewer Michael Fullam, whom I met briefly when I was a television reporter in San Francisco more than four years ago.

Michael Fullam and Toan Lam at GIG Photo Walk

Michael had been quietly following GIG, consuming our online content as well as blogging and sharing it on social media. The stories resonated with him -- but I didn't understand the impact.

I recently reconnected with Michael at our GIG photo walk this past Sunday. We talked about the TV biz, some common folks we knew and his mother's recent death. She died of cancer. The buzzing of excited conversation and traffic muted as we connected about how hard it was for him to grieve the loss of a parent. Although I can’t say I could understand – since all deaths and the experience of grieving is different for everyone – I could feel his pain. He grabbed my arm as I told him I lost four family members in 13 months more than a decade ago. One of whom was my father, who also lost his battle with cancer. I could sense that the tears of sorrow that welled up in his eyes turned into tears of joy as he smiled, and said, "We need to see more of your stories.” He later emailed me… which led to my eyes filling up with tears.

"So very nice meeting everyone. I was blessed to be there today," he said. "What energy there is and what a natural cheerleader you are! If you read my blog today, you know that once again I have been touched by a death.

"It's seems to be harder and harder to deal with. Perhaps it is my mother's death and the continuing sorrow. The hopefulness through GIG has really been a blessing to me today, so thanks!"

Emails like Michael’s make all the hard GIG work worth it because his feedback enhances and encourages the work that we do.

Beyond the positive reinforcement, Michael donated $100 when we launched our Indiegogo 50/50 campaign. Before the GIG walk, he added an additional $500. Then after we met, he wanted to help us reach our halfway fundraising mark by donating another $1,500.

WOW.

Another email I received a couple of years ago was from a elderly disabled woman who donated $10. She wrote a short note, "I don't have a lot of money. $10 means a lot to me. But I wanted to donate this small amount to your organization because I believe in what you're doing." I remember checking the message on my phone after parking my car and sobbing incessantly. This support was validation. It’s as if someone said, “I see you.”

After passing up many lucrative job offers and making less than a third of what I used to make as a TV reporter, things like this make me feel like I’m on the right path. This is my joy. When you discover your power and you use it to impact others – that is joy. That is why we’re all here. I want everyone to experience this. But of course, money keeps a roof over my head and food in my belly. It too is essential.

Go Inspire Go is at a critical point of its growth cycle. We know that our mission is strong and effective. We now need to financially sustain all of our good work and we ask you to consider supporting a financial donation to GIG and our Indiegogo GIG 50/50: Uncovering 50 Inspiring Stories from 50 States campaign

I've been juggling my day job (teaching at two local universities as my side GIG), managing a non-profit board, volunteers, networking, shooting, editing, blogging… the list is endless.

Moments Before Surprising Jorge Munoz On Location in Queens, New York

I admit, there have been days where I thought I couldn't keep pumping out content at this rate. That feeling is amplified when I consistently get at least two job offers monthly. The paycheck is seductive, but I can’t do a 9-to-5 because it would be the demise of Go Inspire Go and its impact. The thought of quitting, although fleeting, visits me once in a while. But emails like Michael's energize and fuel me.

One of my favorite quotes from Dr. Maya Angelou is, "When you get, give." I didn't know that I was giving Michael the inspiration he needed to get through a tough time. However, I admit, I’m feeling a bit selfish because I’m the one who is getting so much more than what money can buy.

Upload YOUR Inspiring Pic and tag us: #gig5050 & @goinspirego

When you’re on the ground meeting people like our heroes Jorge Munoz, the "Angel in Queens", Nico Castro, the "6-Year-Old Halloween Hero" and Rev. Lemaire Alerte who GIG helped send "32 Kids to School in Haiti", you can’t pretend they don’t exist. I also know that viewers like Michael, who is slowly discovering his own power to make an impact, need these inspiring stories to spark that awareness, compassion and joy.

Jump for Joy and Join US!

Thank you Michael for sending the ripple back. You give me, my volunteer team and GIG’s mission hope.

Create a Ripple & Take Action:
1. Inspire someone. Throw your pebble into someone's lake. Send someone a positive sign of encouragement. It just might provide a sign of hope.
2. Share YOUR story
3. Donate and join our 50/50 movement!

To see more pics of our Photo Walk go to: Facebook
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May 6, 2013

GIG SPARK: Ellen DeGeneres's Mom Betty Inspires Unconditional LOVE

Ellen Degeneres makes me laugh out loud every time I watch her and I love that she oozes authenticity. No matter whom she's interacting with, whether it's a push-up challenge with First Lady Michelle Obama or interviewing a regular Joe or Jane she's plucked from YouTube, Ellen seems to genuinely enjoy the human connection. "Fun," "inspiring" and "kind" are words that come to mind when I hear her name.

They're also the same words I would use to describe her mother, Betty DeGeneres, whom I recently met at the Center for Excellence in School Counseling (CesCal) conference. She was there to receive an award for "Excellence in Advocacy for Safe, Welcoming & Inclusive Schools."

When Ellen publicly came out, her mom quickly became a visible ally to the LGBT community. Betty has continued to be a strong PFLAG mom for more than 15 years and is the spokeswoman for Care with Pride campaign, an initiative to educate and raise visibility on issues related to bullying.


“Clearly, what inspired me to be a strong advocate for safe, welcoming schools for all students - especially LGBT students - was my daughter's coming out. We should do anything and everything to rid the world of these negatives,” Betty DeGeneres said.

My childhood friend and LGBT activist, Vinnie Pompei, is a main organizer of CesCal and he invited me to be part of that gathering in San Diego.

When I told Betty that I was there to produce a Go Inspire Go (GIG) video on Vinnie's admirable quest to inspire safe and inclusive schools, she genuinely seemed interested and wanted to know more about GIG. I told her about our GIG Spark (Lesson on Compassion) program. She was a good sport and was game to create this GIG Spark. Her message of equality and love will move and inspire you -- especially if you're a parent, grandparent or guardian of an LGBT youth.


After meeting Betty, I could see where Ellen gets her inspiration, authenticity and kindness. It's SO true -- that true love knows no discrimination -- words to live by.

In the words of Ellen, "Be kind to one another."

Take Action:
1. Don't react when a loved one trusts you enough to come out and show you their authentic self. -- It's OK if you need a moment -- take a deep breather, accept, love unconditionally.
2. Share this blog/video
3. "Be Kind to One Another" - Ellen

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