At ioby, we are lucky to be surrounded by experts from across the country. Our ioby Leaders can do some amazing things: They can build bat houses, transform vacant lots into gardens, teach kids how to tell stories through dance! And best of all, they’re not stingy with their knowledge. That’s why we like to feature some of our favorite Leaders in our Learn from a Leader series. We hope you enjoy!
About the project:
Sister Supply provides purchased and donated pads, tampons, and underwear to women who are homeless and/or living in poverty through Memphis-area women’s shelters and help centers. Effective menstrual products are costly and therefore out of reach to many women and teenage girls in Memphis. Without access to these essential items, finding and maintaining employment and/or staying enrolled in school can be challenging.
1. Get specific. Make your focus as specific as possible and write a short statement about it (you can also think of this as your mission). Sister Supply’s is: “We provide tampons, pads, and underwear to women in need.” Oral hygiene supplies? No. Incontinence supplies? No. Menstrual cups, Thinx, and washable pads? Maybe later, but not now. The more specific your focus, the more people will be able to relate to your message and the easier it will be to talk about your project. It’s the “do one thing and do it well” philosophy.
2. Talk it up! Make business cards and keep them with you at all times. We’ve made some of our best contacts at social events, so always have cards in your pocket. It’s an easy transition from the standard question, “What have you been up to lately?” to explaining your project and giving out a card. Also, talk to other groups who have done something similar before! We’ve gotten some really great advice from other nonprofits serving women in need in our area. They can help you avoid pitfalls even before you begin, and are always happy to talk with you.
3. Find a fiscal sponsor. Seek out a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that will allow you to run your funds through their bank account; this will allow you to take tax-deductible donations. Be sure to sign a fiscal sponsorship agreement with them to protect both parties—and also because you’ll need it to apply for most grants. You can find a standard agreement online and customize it to your situation. In addition, if your sponsor is willing, ask them to add a simple DBA (your project name) to their bank account—this will allow you to accept checks made out to your organization. Churches are usually willing to sponsor projects like these, but you can talk with any nonprofit whose work aligns with yours.
4. Set boundaries—so your project doesn’t eat you alive! For example, we don’t deliver. We have one pick-up location and are happy to make a box of supplies for you to pick up there. Also, we don’t supply to individuals; only organizations. This helps in two ways. One, we’re creating a few big pick-ups instead of several small ones, which is less time-consuming. Two, it protects us from getting too involved with any one individual. That may sound counter to our mission, but it’s sometimes hard to be asked for help in areas that don’t meet your mission, and that’s more likely to happen when you’re dealing with individuals. Remember that it’s okay to say no. Also in the interest of self-protection: delegate. Anyone can count pads and put them in bags, or pick up cupcakes. It doesn’t always have to be you.
5. Make your fundraisers pop. Going back to “do one thing and do it well,” have one big fundraiser each year and really blow it out. These days, almost every day has some sort of designation; for us, the one that fits is Menstrual Hygiene Day, May 28, so we’re throwing a Red Panty Party then! Be creative with your theme so it will be memorable and intriguing. If you’re starting a garden, maybe you could have a juice party on Earth Day or the first day of spring? But it doesn’t have to be a party, of course—there are tons of fundraising ideas on the glorious Internet.
[Summer Cycle kits packaged and ready to go to school-age Memphis girls in need. Photo via Sister Supply’s Facebook page.]
For us, Sister Supply just blew up! It really didn’t take long. We hit Facebook, two days later we had an article in the newspaper, then we got a website… It’s been really amazing. So be prepared: your idea might take off fast.
Our time commitment is cyclical (pun intended?). We give our shelters three-month supplies; when that three-month mark hits, it can get really busy. At our big fundraiser, we give girls ‘summer supply’ bags to take home with them, and those take a while to pack. So just plan ahead and make time at the points in the year that you know you’ll be extra busy.
We work on a goal of $10 per woman, per month. When we first raised money on ioby, we wanted to raise $5,100, and we met that goal, but throughout our first year we raised closer to $12,000 total in monetary donations. We’re now applying for grants so we can hire at least a part-time employee. The bigger Sister Supply gets, the more time—and money—it takes!
There are several other organizations that are working on various levels to de-stigmatize menstruation; they are all good resources:
- Distributing Dignity
- The Period Project (began as a student project)
- Girls Helping Girls Period
- Menstrual Hygiene Day
- Free the Tampons
About the authors:
Nikii Richey is an artist, studio manager, curator, jewelry-maker, part-time church lady and a co-founder of Sister Supply. She lives and plays in Memphis with her husband and two knuckle-head boys.
Sister Supply co-founder Eli Cloud is the Business Development Manager (and Marketing Coordinator, Special Event Coordinator, and Gallery Curator) for ANF Architects. Eli is personally committed to making a difference within her community and believes volunteerism is key to a life well-lived. She lives in Memphis with her husband, Eric; daughter, Lily; and Sausage, the perpetual puppy.
Inspired? Start your own project!