The first-person donation request works, at least it does on me

Yesterday I got an email from someone named Bruce. The subject line read, “Hello from Bruce,” and remarkably – considering I have made a living in the past by devising spam subject lines (I know… there’s a special place in hell for people like me) so I know spam when I see it – I opened it.

Turns out it wasn’t spam at all. It was an email from Bruce Brooks, who happens to be the boyfriend of one of the best people I know, Mimi Eckstein. Among all the people I’ve met since I moved to Austin almost 10 years ago, Mimi is a standout. I met her when she was looking for contributors to AustinWoman magazine, of which she is the founding editor. I spoke with her on the phone quite a lot, even when I wasn’t working on a story, because she was just so darn entertaining, supportive, and interesting. She was also one of the few people I knew – and know – who care so passionately about making a good magazine.

Mimi also worked like a dog. I don’t mean late nights and weekends, I mean all night and all weekend – all the time. She managed, wrote for, laid out, assigned, edited, proofed… everything for AustinWoman. Her boss … well, let’s just say her boss didn’t seem to appreciate it. At times I know Mimi was at the end of her rope, but she was always professional and committed to making AustinWoman the best it could be. I really believe Mimi taught the owners of AustinWoman how to make a magazine. During her time there, the magazine’s page numbers more than doubled – and with more pages comes more work, of course.

Toward the end of her time at AustinWoman (five years, I think), Mimi started to get weak. Her legs would just fall out from underneath her. She eventually quit AustinWoman, exhausted, and was soon thereafter diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She quit smoking and eating dairy for a while. She uses a wheelchair or a cane now, or just holds on to the walls. Some days are better than others. She still freelances her butt off to make money, but she has a hard time generating the income she used to at AustinWoman (which was not even close to what she deserved to make, but it was something). The good news is that she’s still highly entertaining, sharp, and more positive about her future every day.

So back to the email…. Her boyfriend, Bruce, is riding in the MS 150, a 150-mile bike ride from San Antonio to Corpus. He had sent this email to all of Mimi’s friends asking us to support him on his bike ride by donating to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The email came with a link to the NMSS donation page, and the form to make the donation could not have been more simple. I donated $30.

How else would NMSS have gotten my money? Direct mail? An ad in the paper? A flyer in the breakroom? I don’t think any of those strategies has ever worked on me. But here was Bruce, the boyfriend of one of the people I like the most who also happens to have MS, personally asking me to donate money to this cause for which he will undertake this grueling, two-day bike ride. He’s been training, bought equipment, taken the time from work, etc… I just need to click twice and type in a number and my address. Mine was the easy part.

It helped that he was helping Mimi. It also helps that the two times I’ve met him I thought he was amazingly nice. One time, Mimi and Bruce came over to my house for a party. There were a bunch of kids in my backyard, and one of them got a ball stuck in a pear tree. Bruce didn’t know anyone at the party much less the kids, but he’s the one who climbed up the tree to retreive the ball.

The I Live Here, I Give Here people are on to something with their grassroots approach, I think. It seems they’ve invested a lot of their effort in training 70 Austinites to go out and spread the word about donating money to local, Austin charities. I don’t know how they chose these people, but I’m willing to bet they’re a bunch of bike riders and tree climbers.

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