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We’d like to recognize the Melissa Area Chamber of Commerce as a valued School Spirit Pays merchant.   Supporting School Spirit Pays is right in line with their stated missions:

To represent the business community of the Melissa Area in the development and implementation of goals and programs which will bring about economic growth, constructive change, and improve the quality of life

 

To encourage the growth of existing industries and businesses while giving all proper assistance to any new firms or individuals seeking to locate in the Melissa Area

To support all those activities believed to be beneficial to the community and area; to oppose those which might be detrimental

 

And, in general, to promote the welfare of all area citizens, following always those policies intended to accomplish the greatest good for the greatest number.

You can read more about the Melissa Area Chamber of Commerce at their web site:

Investing in education in a local community is a long-term business investment.   The better a community can educate it‘s own, the stronger the infrastructure for growth and expansion.  Stronger education attracts and maintains a population of families, meaning local businesses have more customers right in town.  The Melissa Area Chamber of  Commerce supporting schools with with School Spirit Pays is a way of dedicating every charge transaction to building the education and business infrastructure of the Melissa Area. 


Thanks for being a great example for other Chambers, Melissa!

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 In Lutz, Florida, you can find one of our most unique merchants, Deb’s Whistle Stop Depot.  Family-owned and with a distinct southern feel, Deb‘s Whistle Stop Depot offers residents an interesting variety of furniture, collectibles, antiques.

Are you looking for that Norman Rockwall signed print or mirror set to finish off your home decorating?  Deb’s has an ever-changing choice in collectibles available in store.  You can find everything from iron beds to leather furniture or have furniture custom upholstered at Deb’s.  In addition to shopping for home furnishings, shoppers also find all-natural soaps and lotions, candles, jewelry…even local produced honeys.

 The inventory can change daily at Deb’s so we recommend you check out what‘s in stock online at http://www.debswhistlestop.com.  

 

 

 

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We are proud to recognize Tailwaggers Bakery as a School Spirit Pays merchant.  Located in Mammoth Lakes, California, Tailwaggers is a boutique bakery for pets offering tasty and healthy treats for four-legged friends.  Both health-conscious and community friendly, Tailwaggers is a great example of great local company trying better ways. 

You can see a selection of fun dog treats and swag at Mammothtailwaggers.com.   Tailwaggers’ goods are baked fresh daily using healthy natural ingredients.  And, if your furry friend could use a little clean-up, you are welcome to use their self-serve dog wash right there on site.

We’d like to say thanks to Tailwaggers for supporting the kids in Mammoth Lakes Schools... and their pets.

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We’d like to recognize Dog Star Media as a School Spirit Pays merchant.  Dog Star Media is a small business marketing company based in Dallas, Texas.  They specialize in practical, measurable strategies for small business and leading edge graphic design.  For the last 11 of its 19 years in business, Dog Star Media has developed expertise in marketing cosmetic surgical and cosmetic dental practices.  Dog Star Media has clients in these specialties all over the nation and abroad.

“What I like best about School Spirit Pays is the absolute sense of giving,” said Donald Griswold, President of Dog Star Media.  This company has a realistic solution to local school funding issues and is offering leadership in that area to anyone who will listen.  How could you not want to support their efforts.  We use School Spirit Pays for our credit card processing which makes a little drop in the bucket but we also promote School Spirit Pays to all of our clients who have larger volumes of transactions.  We want to network School Spirit Pays because we believe in what they are doing.”

Dog Star Media charges benefit Dallas-area schools.  To learn more about Dog Star Media, visit their web site at www.dogstarmedia.com.

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Family-owned and offering a “hometown advantage” to customers, Rodenbaugh‘s Flooring America and Appliances is an ideal partner for School Spirit Pays. Rodenbaugh’s Flooring American and Appliances and Rodenbaugh‘s Outlet are both located in Allen, Texas and conveniently serves all of Collin County.  Credit payments charged at Rodenbaugh’s benefit The Foundation for Allen Schools.

Founded in 1962, this classic family-owned business has maintained a customer-service, community-minded attitude.  Stores feature the top brand names in flooring and appliances but Rodenbaugh‘s is known for valuing its customers.

“School Spirit Pays did exactly what they committed to me in our first meeting: they matched my existing rates exactly, and they made the transition for all of our stores absolutely painless. As the first merchant to support the Foundation for Allen Schools through the School Spirit Pays program, we were pleased that they met their commitments, and were happy to introduce them to other businesses in Allen,” said Ronald Rodenbaugh, owner of Rodenbaugh's Flooring America.

Companies with this outlook are great matches for School Spirit Pays.  Rodenbaugh’s understands that if there is a way to give back to fortify funding for local schools, that this is an investment in their community.  Thanks for supporting Allen schools through School Spirit Pay, Rodenbaugh‘s!

You can visit Rodenbaugh’s Flooring America and Applicances online at http://www.rodenbaughs.com to see a full line of their products and for current specials.

 

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It’s that time of year - albeit a couple of weeks late - to be reflective and assess how the last year went. Followed by pronouncements of how this year will be different.

So let’s start with the look back. In 2013, School Spirit Pays had a number of great milestones:

From a foundation standpoint, this year was all about gaining new toeholds across the country. We did this by partnering with the National School Foundation Association, and also state consortiums. This let us move incredibly quickly into Indiana, Oklahoma and Florida, and has teed up our expansion in California from a large Southern presence to across the state. We also had great response to our outreach in the New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania region.

As we continued to grow foundations and recruit their business supporters to the program, we realized that we needed to broaden the focus of our field teams from strictly relationship management into deep expertise in credit card processing. To lead this charge we recruited Scott Hopkins. Scott came to us after a dozen years in increasing responsibility at First Data, our processing partner. We also saw incredible success across the board as merchants of all sizes signed up to support their local education foundations.

On the technology front, we made great strides in developing a robust platform that allows both our foundations and merchants to manage all aspects of their support and donations. To help round out our capabilities on the tech front, we recruited Dr. Kelsey Bruso, a Distinguished Scientist at Unisys to our Board of Directors. Dr. Bruso’s oversight adds incredible bench strength to our already excellent tech team.

So where does that take us for 2014?

On the foundation front, we are once again sponsoring the National School Foundation Association’s Annual Conference, this time in Philadelphia. We want to continue to focus on that part of the country for our next major beachhead. In parallel, we’ll continue to grow the states we have a heavy presence in by adding new field staff, and push further into those states we have a limited presence in.

On the technology side, we’ll get our tech platform launched in the first quarter. After that comes the launch of our own Gateway and Mobile Solutions. In parallel we’ll finish the beta tests of our Billing Presentment solution for School Districts and Municipalities.

And on a personal note, I promise to blog more frequently!

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We had such a great time with the National Schools Foundation at their national conference in Indianapolis, we decided to become a long-term sponsor, starting with their first-ever regional conference, held two weeks ago in Teaneck, NJ. Since the Indy conference, while targeted at a national group, was largely attended by midwest and western foundations, this made a great way to reach further into the northeast.

The conference was by all measure a great success. It targeted foundations in the New Jersey / New York / Pennsylvania region, and had attendees from dozens of foundations from each state. The presenters were great, the attendees were interested, engaged, and excited to hear about our program...what more can you ask for? Of course, the one downside to moving into the northeast is having to deal with a local business targeting the same foundations with a similar program. But luckily our success to date speaks to itself and lets us overcome any objections.

I want to thank the NSFA sponsors, Bill Hoffman, and Lynn Grasz for their gracious welcome and support. I'm looking forward to the Oklahoma event later this year!IMG_3194 IMG_3213

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Now that we're in five states, the time has come to take things to a national stage. For that, we chose to partner with the National School Foundation Association. We were really impressed with their work when we attended their national conference last year, and so decided this year to not only get involved, but to do so in a big way.

We're a presenting sponsor, and the registration sponsor this year, so you'll see us (and the cheerleader) everywhere you turn at the conference. But more importantly, we're introducing a new messaging platform, in which we celebrate our foundations, and the teachers they support, by asking a key question we can all answer: "Who Inspired You?". For us it was the Trentinis. But every parent, teacher, administrator and foundation leader has a story to tell. So we're going to capture them, and share them here, on Facebook and on Twitter. So many stories to tell, many empowered by School Spirit Pays and our unique twist on fundraising.

If you're going to be in Indianapolis April 24 - 26th for the NSFA 2013 Conference, please stop by and see us. We'd love to hear your story.

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If you've never been to Corpus Christi in February, I recommend you definitely wait for better weather. But winter aside, two weeks ago's TSPRA (Texas Schools Public Relations Association) event was an awesome welcome to South Texas. We met hundreds of communications officers and education foundation directors, all at the very top of their game.

TSPRA was kind enough, and intrigued enough by the School Spirit Pays story, to let us have both a session  on external fundraising sources (and even gave credits for attending!), and host a roundtable session (think speed dating) on the final morning over breakfast. Both were stellar platforms for us to get the word out, and also to spend some one-on-one time after each with interested foundations. We walked away with so many interested foundations in the South Texas area that we're actually going to add two new people on the ground to support them. That's my kind of outcome from an event.

Not from Texas? I've been told you'd find the same type of folks, but from all across the country at the NSPRA (National Schools Public Relations Association) Event in San Diego in July. We'll be there, and we hope we'll see all y'all (ok, I've been in Texas too long) there as well! Looking for a way to connect sooner? Come see us at the National Schools Foundation Annual Conference in Indianapolis in April. We'll be there in full force, and would love to meet with you and discuss how we can start writing you monthly checks of your own.

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The Ties that Bind

This is the story of Jim and Mary Trentini - their lives, and the legacy they left in death. School Spirit Pays is dedicated to their memory. In addition to their inspirational lives in education, their untimely deaths created the web of people that make up School Spirit Pays.

Jim and Mary were the parents of Patti Trentini, wife of my business partner Don. They died on American Airlines Flight #11 on September 11, 2001 when it crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Jim was a lifelong teacher, administrator, and coach. Mary was at times a stay-at-home Mom, school volunteer and longtime assistant to a school administrator.  Jim made it his mission to see every child fulfill its potential, in the classroom, gym or on the playing field. Mary provided a kind heart, knew every kid in school by their first name and was always a soft touch when one of the students didn’t have enough money for lunch.  Patti tells tales of never knowing who would be found sleeping on their couch or floor when she came down the stairs in the morning.  They were kids who needed a safe haven for a night and knew they could get it at the Trentini home.

The Trentinis both retired in 1995.  Don and Patti lived on the West Coast and Jim and Mary became bi-coastal grandparents. They always took AA #11 when they went to see Don, Patti and their three grandkids. In September of 2001 Jim had been called for jury duty.  After numerous trips to the courthouse he was excused from his civic duty on September 9th.  They immediately booked seats on their favorite flight to LAX on September 11th to go to California to see the grandkids.  And all our lives are forever altered by that change in plans.

It's easy to see why we would celebrate Jim & Mary at School Spirit Pays - their dedication to public education, their devotion to their students - but beyond that, there are ties that bind in the collection of people at SSP who are all related by the aftermath of 9/11.

Don and Patti made several trips to New York City post-9/11. In October of 2001, after a particularly difficult day spent trying to explain to city officials that Patti had lost both of her parents on AA #11 (only Jim was in the records) she and Don decided to walk back to their hotel rather than take a cab.   As they walked up the street they saw another person with the telltale plastic badge worn by the victims’ family members.  A conversation was started that lead to the discovery that Jeanine Hart Seaman had lost her beloved younger brother, John Patrick Hart, in the collapse of the second tower.  Over time and through the healing that comes with the sharing of sorrow and grief Jeanine and Patti became best friends. To borrow a line from a 70's song, they are clearly “twin daughters from different mothers”. Shortly thereafter Jeanine introduced Patti and Don to her dear friend, Gaylon Neustal.  Fast-forward to today and Gaylon sits on our board of directors.

As Jeanine was leaving New York to fly back to San Diego, she was inundated at the gate by insensitive reporters seeking personal interest stories. Keep in mind, today's standards of who could be where in an airport had yet to be enacted. Seeing her discomfort and sensing she was about to lose her composure, Dr. Ken Druck and his daughter went to Jeanine, put their arms around her and shooed the reporters away. Ken had years of experience with grief counseling and helped many 9/11 survivors learn to cope with their loss. But more than that, Ken and Jeanine developed a deep friendship. Today, Ken is a trusted member of our advisory board.

And unexpectedly, I – who considered myself very lucky that the closest I came to loss that fateful day was to have a San Francisco friend missing for a day until she could update us on her status as she drove across country to get home – had a 9/11 connection come into my life. My foster-son Joey's entire life changed when his father was trapped in Lower Manhattan on 9/11.  The terrible things released into the air that day as the Towers fell eventually claimed his father's life through the damage they did to his heart and lungs. This started a downward spiral of one caretaker after another using and abusing Joey, until he was finally turned out to fend for himself his senior year of high school. I would give anything for there to have been a Jim & Mary Trentini in his life. Upon hearing that Joey had come into my life, Patti replied "Perhaps there is a silver lining after the 9/11 cloud".

But the reality is that this web of people – Don, Patti, Jeanine, Gaylon, Ken, Joey, myself – all exist because of this terrible attack. That binding force provides the soul of School Spirit Pays ... the chance to honor Jim and Mary Trentini, not just on a personal level, but in every action our company takes, in every donation check we write to our foundations.  So while we can never change the fact that this terrible tragedy occurred, we can celebrate two very special people who lost their lives to it, and comfort ourselves with what their legacy has created.

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I get asked often what the thought process was for Don, Denise and I when we set out to build School Spirit Pays, a company with giving back as it's core mission.

It's one of those questions that can generate a bunch of different variant answers, but in general they settle into three categories: the short and simple; the slightly longer but insightful into who we are at this point in our lives; and the deep-dive into two people whose lives inspired us, and the threads that wove us and many others together after they died.

The short answer is "Why wouldn't we?" – If you're going to build a company from the ground up, I'd like to hope that everyone would be motivated by something bigger than themselves, and a goal of more than just profit.

The slightly longer version means you have to know more about the three of us beyond just the fact that we are all products of public education:

  • Don is a serial entrepreneur, father of three kids in public schools, and at a point in his live where retirement is on the horizon, so when starting a new company he wanted to ensure we build something sustainable. Don is the guy you want with you an a call when you have a really hard question to answer, or need the heavy hitter who can go one-on-one with any C-level executive and have them ready to do a handshake deal as you leave the room.
  • Denise is our zen-master, seeking and pushing us to do good and see good in others, and also is most-excellent Aunt to a huge population of kids, many of whom are even related to her. Denise has a broad consultative and executive background that lets her look across a set of variables and cut to the essence - in this case she looked at credit card processing and came up with the premise of taking commission payments out of the equation and targeting them for good. And her background with the March of Dimes gave her a unique perspective on the art of fundraising and appealing to the non-profits that are our partners.
  • And I am a technologist by education and a generalist by profession, which makes for a useful basis for creating a technology-driven company from a piece of blank paper. In addition I've spent decades volunteering and managing efforts for local and national non-profits – so I have an appreciation for what it takes to build sustainable giving back programs – which lends itself greatly to engaging and making our foundation partners successful. I am also the adopted-father to a teenager who was let down in just about every way possible by the public school system prior to my meeting him, so I have the personal goal to see that never happens to another child if I can in any way help it.

So when you put those three personalities in a room to talk about building a business, it's pretty easy to see how we walked out with a goal of a building a enduring company with giving back to public education built into its very core. Leveraging our strengths meant it would use credit card processing as a vehicle, change the business model to free up money to route back to education, and have a deep technology core and differentiator that keeps others from just cloning what we do.  With that, we set the goal of millions of dollars a year going from SSP back into public education. If you're following this blog you know that 2012 made for a pretty good start on all those fronts.

So that's us, and that's the lightweight version of what drove us to create SSP. I'm going to save the deep-dive version for a separate post...that story is so compelling (and emotional) and involves so many people that it deserves its own telling...

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"Slightly used, but she cleans up real purty!"

OK, maybe things aren't quite that bad in Colorado City, but given the changes that have happened since they voted down a tax amendment in 2010, sponsoring a blackboard so it can get cleaned isn't that far away.

For those not following, a great recap from Jennifer Pahika is here - http://linkd.in/SXVewc - but the basic background is that the populace voted down an omnibus tax increase for  town services and infrastructure. As a result, things happened - like one out of every three streetlights getting turned off in certain parts of town. Instead of revisiting the tax, the citizens instead starting approaching the city to turn lights and other services back on, one sponsor at a time. It starts to get ridiculous when you realize that that cost of sponsoring that one streetlight is significantly higher than the general tax increase would have been.

Now generalize the feeling that taxes are too high, and we don't exactly know what we're paying for - unless we pay one streetlight or garbage can at a time. How do we combat this unease at a time when school funding is more critical than ever, and the chances of going back to the well for more dollars grows more dire every year?

The answer lies in public / private partnerships. Districts have to look to new funding, and not solely be dependent on taxes and millages. Partnering with local businesses, or larger corporations in your back yard, can be a great way to create new funding for special projects. A great example of this is the new Plano Academy, in Plano, Texas. The ISD conceived the academy as Plano's chance to focus on what they call their STEAM initiative - Science, Technology, Engineering, digital Arts, and Math. What makes the Academy unique is that it is largely funded through a partnership with Texas Instruments.

But the reality is that not every school district has a TI in their backyard to underwrite major programs. Or they need general dollars not tied to specific initiatives, but for simple things like supplies, payroll, buses. No one business is going to sign up for the common place stuff - it's just not sexy enough. So back to my original premise, you can ask parents and other citizens to sponsor a blackboard, or a garbage can. I'll skip the toilet sponsorship if you don't mind, but thanks for asking.

So now we get to the School Spirit Pays premise - what if every business in town could underwrite at a level corresponding to their business volume, and it actually cost them NOTHING? Seriously, they're going to take credit and debit cards anyway, it's a part of doing business in our current economy. So why not let us give 25% of the net revenue on every transaction back to the schools? For a small mom & pop business, that's about $500 a year to the schools; but ask that local car dealer, and now you're generating that per month. Have that hidden gem of an Internet startup in a non-descript warehouse down the street?  Could be thousands and thousands of dollars per month.  The possibilities are endless.

And if you have a TI in your backyard, save them for the high visibility, big ticket items. But create a sustainable (and budgetable) revenue stream with School Spirit Pays. We're only a phone call or email away from helping you reach your funding goals.

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Kudos to the Executive Directors.  They are cheerleaders, ringmasters, cajolers, shmoozers, gladhanders, data analysts, budget masters, board wranglers ... and savvy, seasoned business people with a drive and a mission to make a difference. In education, which pretty much couldn't be a harder arena in which to play.  A tough row to hoe, no matter how you approach the problem.

So what makes the great ones standout?  We have dozens and dozens of foundations at this point, and every one a gem. But what distinguishes the few from the many as far as our program is concerned?  We've been debating this internally as we review each foundation quarterly, and came up with one common theme: those that see educational funding as a holistic problem that can only be solved by the entire community.

Boy, does that sound like I got an MBA, or what?

Seriously ... our best kickoffs, and best follow-throughs, were where the Executive Director brought a broad group together to get things started: their board, the district superintendent, the mayor or a city council member, the chamber president, and three or four marquee businesses already supporting the foundation.  The message communicated was simple: "we can do this; we can band together and make a significant difference for our schools and our kids at no cost to local businesses; and I EXPECT each and every one of you to participate".

They did it, so why don't you? My message to you is to think big. No one is going to fault you for making this a community project: for inviting politicians, bureaucrats, supporters, naysayers, and any other influential person in your district to participate. What are they going to do when they see the invite list, say "no"?  And if the message is "you can do this, it costs you nothing, but it means significant monthly revenue to the district" again, what are they going to say, "no"?

And never forget the low-hanging fruit: your city, and your school district. Both can and should be avid supporters, and both can participate in the School Spirit Pays program. Pay a water bill? Generate revenue for your schools.  Pay for summer school? Generate revenue for your schools. That's what the few from the many do: see every person, every function, everyone they talk to as a contributor to their district via School Spirit Pays.

So if that sounds like I'm tooting our horn because we've got great Executive Directors on board, it's not just because we love them (though we do!). It's because we've learned from them, and we want to share that with you. It's because our mission is to raise money for YOU. If you think big, we'll help you. Our Modern Major Generals did, and they are generating thousands of dollars each month for their foundations.

The real question is: will you let us help you do the same?

 

* for those Gilbert & Sullivan fans, yes I did dare to borrow a song from Pirates of Penzance for the name of this blog...

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Which isn't quite like skating to where the puck will be ... but for those of us who came out of the technology sector, it makes perfect sense!

So, new year, new blog. My marketing team asked me to start off with a look back at how well 2012 turned out for us. So I did the research for that so I wasn't just working off anecdotal info ... lots of notes, metrics up the wazoo, and at some point, I realized that none of that mattered.  When I mapped it out, what I saw was an inflection point, happening in front of my face. The curve in the hockey stick. The realization that the tests had been run, the fine-tuning had taken place, and we were about to go crazy from overwork. Let me explain how I came to that conclusion:

A year ago, we exited our "pilot" phase. Two districts, in North Dallas. Each committed to the program, but soooo many lessons learned in rolling out those first test markets. Kind of like any startup, to be honest (this is my fifth). So not surprising, but in need of a quick course-correct with some new programs and processes based on learned knowledge.  Not to say that those first two foundations weren't getting great monthly checks - they were happy, but we weren't.

So we made the changes, rolled out to the rest of Dallas, and saw immediate success.  Then we went to South Texas and saw the same results. So the model worked.  Then we started moving to other states, focusing on places where we had contacts: California, Michigan, Illinois, Florida. Same results, immediate uptake, and great success turning that into revenue for our foundations,

So coming back to my numbers and charts, what does that mean?

It means we started the year with just two pilots, and ended the year with more than two score foundations on board, about 2/3 of which are already receiving payouts. Our smallest foundation earned a little over $2,200 in their time in the program, which, since they measure success in scholarships granted, means they'll give out four additional scholarships from their SSP donations in 2012 (they gave out 15 last year total, so that's a pretty dramatic increase). For our biggest foundation, they earned a little over $21,000 in eight months ... which equates to a 40% increase over their planned operating budget for this school year.

So where's the hockey stick analogy come in? The month over month, quarter over quarter growth says we're moving into an acceleration period. I can see the inflection point, the curve in the hockey stick. We're starting to get incoming leads and requests from all over the country, so the word is getting out. We've had a major retail chain come to us and say they want to be part of the program (more on that next month).

So the real point of this post isn't how well we're doing ... it's why aren't we doing it for you? If you've got an educational foundation, a PTA or PTO, or some other youth service non-profit, why aren't you letting us roll out a program for you, and create monthly recurring revenue? Every month we send more checks, each of them bigger than the previous month...all I want is to send you one too!

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