Starting a nonprofit
The Masks2All Journey
Lessons from starting a nonprofit to distribute face masks during the Covid-19 pandemic
1. Our Journey
In April 2020, our group of friends came together to create Masks2All, a nonprofit distributing face masks to the most vulnerable members of our community.
What started out as a small project — delivering two masks and a sanitation guideline handout to each unhoused individual in Berkeley — has grown larger than any of us could have ever imagined. To date, Masks2All has distributed over 180,000 face masks in five cities with the help of 90+ partners, and more masks are currently in our distribution pipeline.
As we reflect back on our journey, it’s hard to wrap our minds around how far we’ve come. Kicking off our first fundraising efforts, struggling to source face masks in bulk while they were sold out across the country, obtaining a fiscal sponsorship while simultaneously trying to learn what nonprofit fiscal sponsorship entails — we’ve had our ups, downs, and challenges, and no shortage of lessons learned along the way.
We’re writing this article to share our story, but more than that, we’re sharing our story because we hope that it will inspire someone reading this to make a change.
Maybe, like most of our teammates, you’re a recent college graduate looking to create an impact. Maybe, like us, you’re also part of a group of friends with a project in mind, but you don’t know where to begin. Or maybe you’re neither.
Whoever you are, we hope that this window into our journey inspires you to create the impact you’ve been wanting to make, and perhaps more importantly, gives you one more reason to believe that it is very possible.
– Neeknaz, Ruth, Yoko, Vicky, Mo, Juliana
2. Fundraising and finances
We decided to kick-off our campaign as a crowdfunding effort. Before we began fundraising, the first choice we had to make was which crowdfunding platform to use. After doing some research and realizing that most platforms charge the same fees (around 2.9% + 30 cents a transaction) we opted for one that is popular, recognizable, and easy to share — GoFundMe.
When we set up our GoFundMe, we had to decide how to frame our project. We tried to keep our GoFundMe description succinct while making sure it answered the following questions for potential donors:
- What is the goal of this fundraiser?
- How will my money be used to achieve this goal?
- Why is this goal important, and what will the impact of this goal be if it is achieved?
- Who is organizing this fundraiser, and why should I trust them?
The final step of our fundraiser kick-off was deciding how to share our GoFundMe. We started off our fundraising push by doing two things:
- Posting on personal Facebook accounts: We used Facebook as a starting point to get initial traction with our immediate and most likely donor base — friends and family. In order to effectively engage online, we staggered and personalized our posts to gain traction over the course of two weeks, yielding a high donation rate and brand recognition in our team’s immediate network.
- Directly messaging our friends and family members: While posting on Facebook was effective, the more direct approach of sending personalized messages to friends and family (either through text, email, or a phone call) helped us secure larger and more frequent donations. After reaching out to close friends and family, we asked them to share our project with others, and we ensured that everyone being asked for donations knew exactly what their contribution would go towards.
One way that we highlighted the impact of our work was by emphasizing that $10 will bring 4 people 2 masks each. Translating a dollar amount to impact can help potential donors visualize the impact of their donation. We specifically decided to use $10 here (instead of saying “each mask costs $1.25,” for example) because we wanted to imply a suggested donation of $10, which is both an impactful amount for us, and also a low enough amount that it is a low-commitment donation.
Leveraging social media
After our initial round of Facebook posts, our fundraiser’s momentum started to decline, pushing us to broaden our reach through more targeted social media campaigns. Our most impactful efforts were the following:
- Making a Masks2All Instagram account: An Instagram account was one of the most impactful fundraising and marketing tools we had. One of the main reasons for this is that our teammates’ extended networks are largely college students and young professionals in their 20s, who are generally very active on Instagram. When we made the account, we followed a lot of our teammates’ followers, many of whom followed us back. Posting consistently allowed us to build out our follower base, with Instagram making it easy for friends to reshare our posts. This platform also allowed us to connect with other local nonprofit organizations, volunteers, and mask donors (see Sourcing section for more on mask donors).
- Using the team’s personal accounts to post Instagram polls: Leverage the “poll” feature on Instagram stories and ask followers if they are willing to donate one of two amounts (listed on the poll) such as $5/$10. Once an individual votes for an option, we would request that amount from them via Venmo, giving potential supporters the option of a very low effort, low cost donation. We typically received ~$200 per poll. Note, results can vary depending on the organizations’ follower volume and engagement. We recommend using polls at a lower frequency given that multiple polls within a short time period will likely yield diminishing returns.
- Creating a Masks2All Facebook page: Similar to on Instagram, posting content consistently on Facebook allowed us to create traction among our followers.
- Posting in local Free and For Sale groups: At UC Berkeley and many other colleges, Free and For Sale groups are a type of local Facebook Marketplaces for the community. We received a lot of donations after posting in Berkeley’s Free and For Sale group, as well as other university groups (we asked our friends at other schools to do this, since you need a school email to enter these groups at most schools). If you are not a part of a school community, other local Facebook groups where people buy and sell items can be great places to post. Posting on Facebook Marketplace directly is another option, but due to how vast it is, it may be hard to gain traction.
- We made a Reddit post on the UC Berkeley subreddit, and then followed it up with a second one. These posts helped bring in a good chunk of donations, likely because many UC Berkeley students and alumni use Reddit. We tried other local subreddits, but our posts usually got banned by the Reddit algorithm, and while on the UC Berkeley subreddit the moderators were willing to overturn the ban, other subreddit moderators felt that our posts violated their subreddit’s policy of banning solicitations.
As we looked into receiving large-scale donations — both financial and in-kind mask donations — we realized that being unable to receive tax-deductible donations put us at a disadvantage.
In order to maximize our ability to receive tax-deductible donations, we decided to explore pursuing a fiscal sponsorship. You typically need to be a registered nonprofit to have this benefit, but because the nonprofit registration process can be time consuming, a better option for short-term efforts such as ours can be to obtain a fiscal sponsorship from an existing nonprofit.
Given one of our team member’s prior strong connection to a nonprofit, Berkeley Student Food Collective (BSFC), we were able to request and secure a fiscal sponsorship with them.
Below are recommendations if you decide to pursue fiscal sponsorship:
- Read about fiscal sponsorship: There are a variety of free resources available online that explain the details of fiscal sponsorship, as well as sample sponsorship agreements to base yours off of. Start the process off with some googling and reading.
- Find the right fiscal sponsor: From our experience, leveraging personal connections to find a smaller fiscal sponsor can be a great choice, especially because larger organizations can be slow-moving when processing your sponsorship request, require high levels of documentation, and charge a fee for fiscal sponsorship. However, if you are not on a tight timeline and don’t mind paying a fee, a more established sponsor might provide you with more support and guidance.
- Agree on clear terms with your sponsor: If your fiscal sponsor is an organization with experience in fiscal sponsorship, they may have a set of terms prepared, but if not, be prepared to draft an agreement. Looking up sample agreements online is a great place to start, but you will also have to consider your own organization’s needs. Because we required a low involvement level from the BSFC, they did not take a cut of the funds we raised, but note that most nonprofits will ask for this as a part of a standard agreement.
- Get advice from an accountant: You’ll want to make sure everything you’re doing is financially sound. While a more experienced fiscal sponsor may be able to guide you here, because this was the BSFC’s first fiscal sponsorship, we found that reaching out to an accountant for a short consultation (which she kindly provided for free, so don’t be afraid to ask for a free or low cost consultation!) helped us understand some basic best practices. Two things we made sure to do are listed below (disclaimer: please talk to your own accountant, these are just general guidelines).
- Use a separate bank account: Keeping personal finances separate from your project’s finances is important in case you are ever audited by the IRS. We used a personal bank account of one of our team members set aside for this purpose — this is where the money from our GoFundMe went, as well as donations we received via Venmo. Note that this money was NOT tax-deductible, since it was given from one individual (the donor) to another (our teammate). The tax-deductible money we received was kept in a bank account operated by the BSFC.
- Keep all receipts: In the event of an IRS audit, it’s important to keep all original receipts, as well as a location of all digital copies. We created a spreadsheet where we tracked all expenses, and required team members to upload copies of their receipts to a centralized Google Drive folder before they were reimbursed. Keeping our receipts was also important when getting reimbursed from the pool of our money that the BSFC held on to (the tax-deductible donations that were made).
Corporate donations and matching
Crowdfunding (e.g. GoFundMe) is a strong option to use when launching a nonprofit fundraising effort. This method can be easily exhausted, however, after outreach to first and second degree networks. Through our fiscal sponsorship, we were able to leverage two other efficient fundraising channels — direct corporate donations and corporate gifting programs.
Corporate matching programs: Corporate matching gifts are programs that allow an employee of an eligible company to donate to a nonprofit and have their donation matched by the company. This was an effective way to maximize our efforts and money. However, one important factor to consider when pursuing this avenue is the time lag in matched donation. Benevity, the platform facilitating the corporate matching, generally takes one month to process the funds into our bank account — thus, requiring us to plan around delayed access.
Approach: We compiled a list of companies that had gift matching programs and prioritized companies where our teammates had personal/professional connections.
- Employee Criteria: The contacts must be registered employees and able to make personal donations in order to have their donation matched by their employer. Employees can also crowdfund from their social network to increase their personal donation before getting it matched.
- Nonprofit Criteria: Donation eligibility requires nonprofit recipients to be a 501c3 (or sponsored) organization and registered for Benevity. For us, we leveraged our fiscal sponsorship with The Berkeley Student Food Collective to secure matched donations.
Direct corporate donations: Direct corporate donation is when a company gives an organization a one-time or recurring financial donation. We received corporate donations from Birkenstock USA and ZS Associates. The donations we received from corporations were secured through our teammates’ connections. Our take on corporate donations is included below:
- Pros: Large donations (e.g. $500, $1,000+) can more likely be secured from corporations versus individual donors. Most corporations (especially in more progressive, urban cities) are likely candidates to donate given strong CSR values and tax deductions (if a 501c3 EIN is provided).
- Challenges: Although corporate donations are lucrative, extensive sourcing is required to locate the appropriate individuals. Best practice is to leverage your personal/professional network to get an introduction to a key stakeholder (e.g. employee in CSR division, manager-level). However, if you do not have a direct/adjacent connection, higher volumes of cold calling (recommended) and/or emailing are needed (albeit a much lower hit rate).
In-kind mask donations
When we started Masks2All, we operated on a monetary donation and mask purchasing model, primarily crowdfunding donations and then bulk purchasing masks at low scalable prices. As our geographic goals expanded past Berkeley and Oakland into Richmond and then San Francisco, we realized that we would need to raise over $30,000 to meet our distribution goal of two masks per unhoused person in each city using this model.
Once we hit this point in Masks2All’s development, we decided to deprioritize raising money and begin reaching out to mask producers for in-kind donations, which turned out to be crucial in allowing us to meet our distribution goal (see Sourcing section for details).
3. Sourcing Masks
Starting out — purchasing masks
We began Masks2All intending to purchase all the face masks we would donate.
The question of where to buy face masks was a difficult one — we spent many meetings in April going back and forth on who to buy from and how much we were willing to pay. We looked for a vendor that could provide the quantity of masks we needed at an affordable and scalable price, but in the early days of the pandemic, masks were still an expensive commodity to the public, with reusable masks priced between $3.5 to $10 each.
We often joke about how at the start of Masks2All, we almost made a bulk order where we would have ended up spending $7.50 per mask. Luckily, we did our research and took our time selecting mask vendors, meaning that we ended up almost always paying close to $1.25 per mask.
We secured our first 10,000 masks from For Days, an LA-based sustainable clothing manufacturer. They sold us 6,000 masks at cost, and donated another 4,000, allowing us to begin our distribution in Berkeley and Oakland. To secure For Days as our first vendor in a two week time period, we took the following steps:
- Used targeted keywords to search for mask donors (e.g. “masks,” “buy one, donate one,” “1:1 match”)
- Google, Facebook, and Instagram algorithms provided us with lead through our search cookies — the more we searched for mask donors, the more our targeted ads showed us mask producers
- Built an excel tracker for a list of potential mask contacts and contact information (e.g. emails and phone numbers)
- Cold emailed and called dozens of vendors, sharing collateral, such as a one-pager and slide deck describing Masks2All, to drive a potential partnership
After their initial donation, For Days was unable to continue supplying us with masks at the price and pace at which we needed them, so we had to expand our sourcing efforts.
At this point, we used Vicky’s connections to the wholesale fashion industry to make mask purchases from vendors in the Los Angeles Fashion District. She was able to find a vendor selling reusable cloth masks at the same price as For Days, and we bought 2,000 which we set aside for distribution in Richmond, CA.
We also leveraged our connection to the L.A. Wholesale District later on in the winter, when we decided to buy and donate some blankets in bulk with some of our extra funding. We donated 528 blankets to West Oakland Punks with Lunch and Urban Angels SF to help protect their clients from the cold weather — although this donation did not directly align with our core mission of face mask distribution, we made the call to branch out slightly in our work to support the imminent needs of our clients.
Sourcing mask donations
As we moved forward with distributing the masks we had purchased, we began to realize that we would not be able to finance masks at the scale that we wanted to distribute them solely through raising money on GoFundMe.
While exploring more fundraising options, we also began to reach out to mask producers asking for in-kind donations. We quickly realized that many companies and even individuals were interested in donating masks to us, with quantities ranging from a few dozen to a few thousand.
Before long, the majority of our mask supply was coming in as donations rather than purchases — we ended up receiving over 30,000 cloth masks and 150,000 disposable masks in donations!
Below are some successful methods that we developed for sourcing and keeping track of mask donations:
- Cold-outreach on Instagram: We found most of our donors through searching for small and medium sized companies that produced masks, as well as community-based mask donation efforts, and asking them if they were willing to donate to us. We made it clear that because we are fiscally sponsored by a registered nonprofit, we are able to accept tax-deductible donations. One way that we attempted to encourage these companies to donate to us was by offering to share photos of their donations on our Instagram page and tagging them, in order to advertise their masks to our followers.
- Cold-emailing and cold-calling: We found organizations to cold-email and cold-call through Google searches. We often found that cold calls were more effective than cold emails. With larger companies, we found that it was important to convey to the company why it would be a value add to them to donate to us. We emphasized our ability to share and promote their brand and that they would be able to advertise that they participated in supporting their community.
- Using excel tracking sheet: Tracking outreach was important, as we had many team members contributing to our donation sourcing effort and wanted to make sure that we followed up on all of our leads.
We wanted to build a network of a few stable, strong mask sourcing partnerships instead of one-time delivery drop offs and scattered communications. We looked for a relationship where value can be provided to both parties — not a simple one-way donation funnel. After reprioritization, we found a company, Mask-Four-Mask, that aligned with our primary prioritization metrics: bulk donations for quality control and recurring donations.
We were able to secure 20,000 masks in donations from Mask-Four-Mask. We built a strong partnership by doing the following:
- First meet & greet meeting: In order to assess a potential partnership, we set up an initial call to pitch our organization, assess both parties’ needs and expectations, and understand the overall organization/mission.
- Weekly meetings (for the first month): To build a solid foundation, we engaged in weekly meetings for a month to discuss logistics and additional needs. During these meetings, we came prepared with prior week’s next steps: provided ad hoc research and advice on social media, created a Google Drive for information transfer (e.g. list of nonprofits, pictures, tax deduction letter), and engaged in logistics alignment.
- Ad-hoc updates: Once a relationship was formalized, we shifted to ad hoc meetings and offline connects. It was important to maintain some form of a weekly touchpoint to ensure continued investment from both parties. For us, we stayed connected as we provided the logos of our distribution partners, pictures, social media tags that Mask-Four-Mask could leverage on their site and keep updated on our progress.
Through this partnership, we accelerated our efforts in San Francisco and Oakland by over two months. Huge shout out to Erin Rose, the founder of Mask-Four-Mask, who always went above and beyond to provide and coordinate such a large scale mission with her stylish/timeless masks.
KN95 mask distribution
The largest donation of masks we received from a single vendor was not one that we actively sought out. After getting a friend to post our GoFundMe on a Stanford Facebook page, Jack Yuan, a student at Stanford running a PPE supply company, reached out to us offering to donate an initial 100,000 KN95 face masks.
Jack and his company Watchtower PPE Supplies ended up donating a total of 150,000 masks to up — the original 100,000 KN95s, and then another 50,000 blue disposable masks which we distributed in Washington, D.C. We were also able to connect Jack to other nonprofit organizations, facilitating additional donations of 300,000 masks.
This incredible donation changed the course Masks2All and the scale of our work, and was also a huge learning experience for our team.
The value proposition we started out with centered around the sustainability of offering two cloth masks per person, which meant that we were exclusively looking at reusable masks. We also wanted to keep our geographic scope narrow, distributing only in the Bay Area, so as to not stretch ourselves too thin.
This unexpected opportunity also highlighted the importance of being flexible in our value proposition. Being flexible and shifting to include disposable masks allowed us to do the following:
- Expanded impact: With the large quantity of disposable masks we received at once, we were able to distribute masks at a much larger scale and faster pace comparable to distributing only cloth masks.
- Expanded scope: Our receipt of the KN95 masks also coincided with the height of the California wildfires, allowing us to help protect our community from wildfire smoke in addition to Covid-19, which cloth masks do not do.
- Expanded geography: Flexibility with our geographic scope also helped us distribute more masks than we could have otherwise. Due to having limited manpower in the Bay Area, Neeknaz’s dad living in Washington, D.C. was able to help us distribute masks there too.
Within a few weeks of beginning our conversation with Jack, the 100,000 KN95 masks arrived at our intern’s house in Berkeley, and we began distributing them. Learning how to handle the logistics of distributing such a large donation was another significant learning experience. We began to be a lot more organized in our scheduling — for example, we began using a Google form to take in donation requests instead of coordinating over email. Being more thoughtful about our distribution allowed us to become incredibly efficient — at our peak, we distributed 30,000 masks in a single week!
In order to distribute enough masks to cover all unhoused individuals in each city that we targeted, the first step was to conduct thorough research. We aimed to answer the following three questions through our initial research:
How many unhoused individuals reside within the respective target city? How many are sheltered vs. unsheltered?
Achieving strong population estimates for both sheltered and unsheltered individuals was key for planning and ensuring that most, if not all, unhoused individuals would receive two masks. We ensured robust estimates through benchmarking against several resources, such as new reports and reports found on city government websites. Note, major cities generally have reports on the unhoused populations (e.g. Point In Time reports) that detail important metrics, such as sheltered and unsheltered counts.
Which organizations in each city should we partner with to distribute face masks to maximize our reach to as many individuals as possible?
We started broad and compiled a list of all potential partners by performing searches with terms like “[city] homeless shelters” or “[city] homeless organizations.” Homeless Shelter Directory and ShelterList are two websites that are good starting points. We also reached out to each city’s government to get a list of the organizations they worked with. Note, it was key to identify organizations that serviced sheltered and unsheltered populations to ensure proper coverage.
Once we had an initial list of distribution partners to reach out to, we asked them for other organizations in their network that might be interested in receiving mask donations in order to expand our distribution network.
In SF specifically, we found that there were more organizations than we could reasonably distribute to, and that many of them served the same neighborhoods. In this situation, we prioritized making sure that the organizations we reached out to were geographically distributed throughout the city, ensured distribution of sheltered and unsheltered servicing organizations and benchmarked numbers against the unhoused city reports.
Where are the sanitation/handwashing stations located in each city?
We compiled a list of locations in which unhoused individuals could go to wash their hands and masks by searching online, emailing the city, and calling 311. When we developed this list, we would cross-checking it with our distribution partners.
Connecting with partners
After compiling an exhaustive list of distribution partners from our preliminary research, we began reaching out to them. We used the following process in our outreach:
- We found email addresses of staff members associated with donations, community outreach, or general operations. If this was not possible, we used their general contact address or their designated contact form.
- We emailed each organization to offer a donation and ask what their current demand for masks was by using a Google Form.
- If an organization was not responsive via email, we would call their headquarters directly to expedite the outreach process.
- If an organization did not have an estimate for the total number of individuals they serve (many organizations experience high client turnover), we asked them how many new individuals they tend to serve each week, and then used this number to calculate a month’s supply.
Once we had the number of masks needed and delivery logistic details from our distribution partners, we let them know to expect an email or phone call from us in the near future with the specific date and time to expect the mask delivery.
Within our mask supply chain, we positioned Masks2All between mask manufacturers and our nonprofit distribution partners. As a result, we relied on team members and volunteers who were in our milestone locations to store and move around physical inventory. Below were some notable challenges:
- Finding spaces to store inventory in the city: Since rent in the Bay Area is expensive, we stored our masks in our teammates’ apartments. It was important for us to be respectful of our roommates and neighbors and to make sure that all parties involved came to an agreement about the storage space.
- Keep a clean, updated inventory tracker: As we had to store masks across our different teammates’ apartments and houses in the Bay Area, we used a centralized Google Sheets document to track how many masks we had and where they were located. Keeping this updated was crucial in allowing us to have an up-to-date view of our inventory.
- Counting masks and updating inventory: When counting out our inventory, we made sure to use pen and paper to track our counting to minimize the risk that we would lose count and have to start over.
- Masks were heavy: Moving twenty or thirty boxes of masks up and down stairs in a day was physically demanding. We were reminded of the importance of going to the gym often!
Planning & execution: Using the email or phone contact we obtained from partners, we coordinated the following factors to prepare for mask delivery:
Printing sanitation handouts: We compiled the list of sanitation stations into a US letter-sized, double-paged handout. Depending on the availability of printers, either we printed the flyers for our distribution partners or asked them to print themselves. On our end, we reached out to volunteers who had access to industrial printers and were willing to print for free, or asked our friends and made Free and For Sale posts to crowdsource printing and minimize costs. When necessary, we paid to print the handouts at print shops — shoutout to Krishna Copy, which provided us with cheap printing in Berkeley!
Supplying ziplock bags: If our distribution partners were not able to supply ziplock bags, we ordered them online and provided them with the masks donations.
Packaging the masks: If our distribution partners did not have the capacity to package the masks, our teammates or volunteers packaged two masks and a sanitation handout in a ziplock bag before distribution.
Scheduling delivery with partners: Before the actual delivery day, we always checked in with our distribution partners and clarified answers to the questions below. To help consolidate and organize this information, especially for our delivery drivers, who may not have been involved in setting up the delivery correspondence, we created a document for each delivery round mapping out the most efficient route and including answers to the questions below for each distribution partner:
- What address are we delivering to
- In what time frame are they expecting us to deliver?
- Who should the driver call when they arrive?
- How many cloth masks and how many disposable masks are being delivered?
- For any cloth masks: If Masks2All is doing the mask packing, are all masks packed in ziploc bags with handouts? If the distribution partner is doing the mask packing, do they have all the necessary supplies (handouts and ziploc bags), as well as volunteers available to pack the masks?
Prepping for delivery day: On the night before each delivery, we made sure to have all the masks and any additional supplies (handouts and ziploc bags) counted out into bags or boxes that were labeled with the distribution partner they would be delivered to.
Delivery day: On each delivery day, we made sure to take pictures of each delivery to share on our social media, and to confirm with our distribution partner staff members who were in the photos that they were okay with us sharing the photos on social media.
Post-delivery: After the delivery, we would exchange the photos from the deliveries with our distribution partners. We uploaded them onto a photos folder on our Google Drive to use them for social media and other purposes. We also updated our mask inventory tracker and our distribution log.
Below are some additional tips to help schedule and execute successful deliveries.
- Anticipate unexpected delays when scheduling deliveries: When planning for the delivery, give yourself a generous time window to deliver in case you run into unexpected delays.
- Effectively incorporate volunteers: Mobilize your community to help with the distribution so you can reach more distribution partners in a shorter time frame.
- Ask distribution partners to pick up: If delivering is inconvenient, give the option of picking up.
If delivering in a city — get creative (and stay legal) with parking: The last thing you want is to receive a parking ticket while delivering! If you bring a partner along, they can help you out by staying in the car with their hazard lights on while you jump out to make the delivery.
With the ambitious goal to cover four major Bay Area cities, we supplemented our GoFundMe campaign with a website to communicate our mission and build our donors’ trust in our capabilities. While splitting our time with other tasks, it took us around two weeks to build and launch our website. Below details the steps and evolving stages of our base.
Choosing a website platform: There were many free website builders but we chose to use Weebly for its simplicity and ease of use.
Researching and benchmarking to decide on the base structure: In order to understand effective campaign launches and key information/metrics, we researched and analyzed 20+ nonprofit websites. Nonprofit benchmarking started with standard Google searches (e.g. Nonprofit metrics, designs, visuals, best nonprofit websites). An example included: 200 Best Nonprofit Websites. We also learned from how other Covid-response nonprofits (e.g. Off Their Plate, Denver Mask Task Force) crafted their story through targeted design. In the end, we decided to include the following content:
- Home: Our mission and progress.
- About us: Introduction to our team.
- Our partners: List of our distribution partners to add credibility. We made sure to ask for each distribution partner’s permission to feature their logo.
- Health tips: Downloadable PDFs of our sanitation flyers, also made available in English, Russian, and Chinese.
- Donate: Link to our GoFundMe page, form to fill out for donation via our fiscal sponsor, and a form to fill out for direct mask donations.
- Contact: Fill in contact form to reach us.
- Progress: Update on our deliveries and media coverage. Note these provided strong reference and legitimacy points when we reached out to different nonprofit, fiscal, and mask organizations. Many individuals/companies were willing to support us after seeing our story and progress via our website.
Drafting: We drafted a mock design to visualize our story and iterated on feedback received from close friends before website purchase.
Designing a logo: Logos should include a relevant visual of your cause (e.g. mask donation organization with masks, food security with food). If you are not well-versed with designing logos, you can ask any design-savvy friends to develop your logo concept and remember to credit them on your website. In our case, our friend, Haruna Komatsu, a Tokyo-based artist, mocked up several sample logos on illustrator (e.g. different font, number of masks, color) and worked with us to achieve the final version on our website.
Social media (e.g. Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn)
Social media set-up
- Given the nacency of our nonprofit initiative, it was important to build an online presence and build credibility. The main avenues we utilized were Instagram, Facebook, and even LinkedIn. Facebook was our initial pilot platform, however, Instagram proved to be the most useful marketing tool in helping us achieve our goals (e.g. fundraising, mask sourcing, finding potential media platforms). Our methodology to build a general and decent following for legitimacy was to first follow our immediate network and invite others to follow us back. This created a following heavily composed of our personal network, however, once our collaborations with distribution partners and school clubs started, our reach and following increased at a natural rate. Outside networks, such as organizations in Los Angeles, began to follow us if they shared similar goals and values.
Social media content
Our posts: During our early development, we posted at least two or three times a week to actively engage our followers and to again, showcase progress and legitimacy. Example posts included: city milestones, volunteer/intern engagement work, mask and monetary donations appreciations, fundraising needs, call for help. It was key to rotate between content to maintain interest and a sense of novelty. Once our organization gained traction, we posted less frequently and focused on highlighting partnerships and bigger milestones.
- We found Canva to be a convenient and effective tool to create impactful graphics when building content.
Partner posts: To reach broader and more relevant audiences, we asked our distribution partners to share a post about us. Generally, this request was after our second round of deliveries and after building a strong relationship with the nonprofit organization.
Using our network
Leveraging our team’s personal, academic, and professional networks was crucial to successfully marketing Masks2All. Below are some of the ways that we used our network to spread the word about our work and encourage donations.
To gain traction for our first round of fundraising, we leveraged our personal networks (e.g.. friends and family). Additionally, personal connections were also useful for corporate matching programs. For example, when we had friends looking to donate and create more social impact with their money, we would connect them with other friends who worked at companies that supported corporate matching.
Given that the majority of the team graduated from UC Berkeley, we were able to leverage connections and resources from the university.
- Daily Californian: Through connections with UC Berkeley students, we were able to get connected with a reporter at Daily Cal, the university’s student-run newspaper, who helped write an article about our work after our organization and story pitch.
- ABC Localish: Through our connection with professor Alan Ross at UC Berkeley, we were connected with Terri Chytrowski, a PR expert who pitched our story to ABC Localish, who ended up interviewing us for a feature.
- UC Berkeley School of Public Health (SPH): Yoko reached out to her department at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and had our project featured on its social media, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We were able to garner some donations through our GoFundMe through these posts.
- UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Office: We also emailed the Chancellor’s Office to have our project posted on its media platforms. The office featured us on the Government and Community Relations Newsletter and introduced us to the Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP) to distribute reusable masks in Richmond.
- Berkeley Light the Way video: We were featured in a promotional video developed by the UC Berkeley.
- Berkeley Haas Instagram post: We reached out to UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business asking to be featured in an Instagram post. They were more than happy to post about us, with the post highlighting our teammate Juliana, who is a Haas graduate.
Beyond the team’s personal and academic connections, professional networks were also important to Masks2All’s fundraising and distribution growth. We engaged with and received support from two firms — ZS Associates and Cornerstone.
- Cornerstone: We emailed Cornerstone to get the word out about our organization.
- ZS Associates project: With proper preparation and timing, we secured a six week pro bono project with a three-person ZS Cares team. The team helped us with fundraising and distribution efforts in San Francisco. If you have a connection to a company that could help with pro bono support, you can find some tips on how to best engage with your firm below:
- Organization progress: Ensure that your organization has a sufficient foundation/traction to highlight credibility. Do not only pitch a raw idea given these company arms are limited on resources and time and want to best invest their time on high impact projects.
- Idea socialization: Socialize your organization with close coworkers before pitching to the pro bono/CSR team. This will allow you to properly iterate on your idea and presentation so you can capture the most interest.
- Pitch: Design a pitch that highlights three key items: (1) organization metrics, (2) goals and missions, (3) potential impact with pro bono partnership. The first two items build credibility and need, whereas the third helps solidify the pitch and creates a valued partnership. It is very important to quantify the value of their efforts to encourage the pro bono team to select your project over other competing ones.
- Statement of work (SOW): Once initial interest is captured, draft a SOW — a contract delineating expected deliverables, timeline, and overall expectations. From our experience, we found that socializing and processing the SOW generally takes a month, so your pitched project needs to have flexibility to start later than you may have originally planned for it to.
- ZS Associates further engagement: Beyond the formalized project, we further engaged with the firm through an office-wide email and Brown Bag lunch to share our journey. As a result of our consistent engagement and highlighting of our impact, Masks2All was selected as a core local nonprofit to receive donations from ZS Associates’ community service “give back” campaign.
We developed various other marketing resources to help with our outreach to various partners and donors:
- Delivery Photos
- Presentation/Pitch Decks
- Impact Statement
Our one-pager served as a critical piece of marketing collateral to introduce our organization to distribution partners and mask suppliers. This concise pdf document provided an overview of our mission, goal, methodology, partners and most importantly, actionable steps for the readers to help us achieve our goal. In order to communicate key information in a succinct manner and to make it easier for partners to share them with other key stakeholders, we recommend including the following core elements to showcase your organization:
- Who you are
- What you do
- What impact you have
- Why your impact is important
- How an individual can help
Note, this is a very iterative process with your teammates to ensure you are all aligned on the same mission. Without a cohesive mission, convincing others to believe in yours will be difficult.
Tracking progress is vital to maintain credibility with all of your partners (e.g. distribution partners, mask suppliers, donors). We documented each mask delivery and always captured one of the following core elements: a Masks2All member/volunteer, a volunteer from the recipient distribution partner, masks donations, and anything else relevant to our mission. There are always additional benefits and rationale to document your progress as noted below:
- Provides assurance and progress photos for donors. For example, this allowed us to legitimize our work through showcasing the direct translation of funds (both monetary and in-kind).
- Gain credibility and additional social media traction across various platforms. For example, we not only were able to showcase our drop offs and progress, but it also helped us engage our audience while also providing shout outs/social media coverage to the nonprofits.
Note, it’s important to ask for the organization and individuals’ consent and highlight what the pictures will be used for. For each delivery and documentation, we made sure to ask for the person’s consent to have their photo taken and be used on our social media and/or in our marketing materials.
As we wanted to reach out to more formal institutions, we created a pitch deck for our meetings with corporations and other potential major donors. This helped navigate the conversation effectively with a clear ask at the end of the meeting. Depending on your target audience, this step may not be as necessary. Many of our team members are consultants, which was part of why it felt natural to develop this type of collateral.
The pitch deck provided a detailed description of our organization and clear ask of the audience. It was structured as follows:
- Introduction: General overview of organization and teammate introductions to kick-off with warm welcomes and outline the agenda for the meeting. A structured meeting with expectations is critical to get buy-in from the pitched organization.
- Mission & value proposition: Highlighting our mission and importance of our work to encourage agency and buy-in. A well crafted and differentiated mission is critical as individuals will pressure test your organization, trying to pinpoint how it differs/is better than others existing organizations.
- Current status & next steps: Providing our current status (e.g. nonprofit partners, costs, and coverage) across different cities as well as the strategy for upcoming cities was critical in highlighting our credentials. Before pitching to any organization, it is useful and helps develop credibility if you have gained some traction in your work. Additionally, if you are early in your work as a new organization, then detail your strategy on how you will execute the rest of your organization’s mission.
- Asks: After outlining our fundraising, distribution, and media plans across different cities, we shared the call to action for the audience. This was typically a request for donations, partnerships and/or leads. Note, different audiences will require different requests, so nuanced changes will need to be made for each pitch.
An impact statement is a piece of document highlighting the impact that our donors’ contributions had on our work (ie. $xx contributed helped us purchase xx number of masks to serve xx number of people). We made a personalizable template that we could distribute to potential corporate donors as many corporations nowadays are held to high standards to provide a positive impact on society. Giving them an impact statement to which they could distribute and use to demonstrate where they are donating to and providing impacting would not only be beneficial for them, but also beneficial for us in terms of spreading the word about our organization.
Ultimately, due to the mask donations we received, we ended up not having to use the example impact statement as extensively as we thought we would. However, we found that it was helpful to have that impact statement on hand to measure and present our progress to our donors.
These meetings started off in a free-form format, where we would go around and have each person give updates on their personal progress with the tasks we had assigned each other, and we went into more detailed discussions as needed. We’ve kept detailed meeting minutes since our first meeting in the same expanding master document, but the structure of the notes has been refined over time. Learning how to run productive and efficient meetings was a key part of our development as an organization. Below are some takeaways on how to do so:
- Have a clear meeting agenda: We prepared a meeting agenda on the master document and followed it through the meeting via Zoom’s screen share feature.
- Set a time limit: Our standard meetings ran for 1.5 hours and rarely extended over time.
- Divide the meetings: We started Masks2All with a weekly planning meeting on Sunday mornings, and soon after we decided on a vision for the organization, we added in an additional Wednesday evening meeting. The Wednesday meeting included the full team, including ZS Cares members, advisors, and interns, and had a more rigid agenda to ensure we stayed on track while getting valuable input from all our team members. The Sunday meetings included only our core team members, and had a more flexible agenda to allow for more creative brainstorming.
- Meet in small groups before the main meetings to sort through the details: Since discussions involving many people will take up more time, we found it useful to meet in smaller groups outside of our main meetings to discuss project details to make our main meetings more efficient.
- Have roles: As a flat organization, our meetings naturally started in a format where we all answered to each other, and no one was in charge of leading the meeting. While we maintained this flat structure throughout the project, as our work increased in complexity, we realized that a more structured approach would be needed to keep us on track in our meetings. We had team members naturally fall into the three roles of taking meeting minutes, keeping track of assigned tasks, and leading the meeting verbally.
- Create a meeting format: At first, we used a city-by-city approach where each team member would give updates on the work that they did to roll out distribution in each of the key cities we were targeting: Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond, then San Francisco. As we further developed our meeting structure, we found that a module-by-module approach was more effective. The modules we divided up our work into were: (1) fundraising + finances, (2) sourcing masks (both purchases and donations), (3) distribution, and (4) marketing. This made more sense than the city-by-city approach because other than distribution, the other modules we worked on applied across cities.
In June, after we decided that we wanted to continue distributing masks in San Francisco, we realized that we would need additional manpower to get all of our work done, so we reached out to a student clubs we were a part of in college to see if any of their members would be interested in interning for us (unpaid, 5–10 hrs/week). Around the same time, we had the opportunity to have a pro-bono team from ZS Associates, where our teammate Ruth works, help us with our work for 5–10 hours a week through their ZS Cares program.
In the end, we took on two UC Berkeley student interns to help with (1) fundraising and distribution and (2) sourcing mask donations and social media, as well as a three-person ZS Cares team to help us strategize our SF entry plan.
The main challenge we faced in managing interns and our ZS Cares team was shifting from ad-hoc task completion to planning out our weeks in advance so that we could effectively assign tasks. We found that scheduling a weekly intern check-in for our two interns and ZS Cares team helped keep our deliverables on track.
Interns provided added value to our team, allowing us to free up time for strategic thinking. In addition to having increased manpower for mask deliveries, the flexibility allowed us to explore a range of fundraising options, making options that were once tough to tackle with a smaller group more accessible.
Throughout the process of building out Masks2All, we made a conscious effort to develop a network of advisors to support our work. We found our advisors through our personal networks, reaching out to our college professors, family friends, and professional contacts.
We can’t offer a one-size-fits all recommendation for finding advisors, as this largely depends on your own personal network. But from our experience, we’ve found that most people are very happy to help out with a social impact project, so it can never hurt to ask for 20 minutes of someone’s time on the phone for advice. Their involvement may end there, or they could turn into an advisor, or connect you to other useful people — what’s important is to start reaching out and see what sticks.
We had a handful of volunteers help us in two crucial ways: delivering masks and packaging masks. A few volunteers were able to help us print handouts as well.
We found volunteers through personal connections, as well as people who messaged us directly on Instagram looking for ways to help. We found that the use of volunteers was more efficient for mask packing, rather than in mask deliveries. Ultimately, because we had the ongoing communication with the nonprofits and the logistics, it was easier to conduct the deliveries ourselves.
We are enormously grateful to everyone who volunteered for us! Even though the logistics of coordinating volunteers may seem challenging at times, we found that the effort was definitely worthwhile.
7. What’s next?
If you’ve made it this far, thank you! We hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about our journey, and what we’ve learned from launching a nonprofit initiative. Whether you want to learn how to start your own nonprofit, are planning to distribute face masks in your community, or are simply curious about our journey, we hope you have found this article and the adjacent resource hub (containing the various document templates we’ve linked throughout the article) to be useful resources.
Now that we have surpassed our initial distribution goal in the Bay Area, we have slowed down our operations, and are no longer actively sourcing and distributing masks in the Bay Area. Our operations now consist of the following two components:
- San Diego distribution: Our teammate Yoko will be based out of San Diego for the next few months, where she will be distributing our remaining face mask inventory, as well as using our remaining funds to purchase and distribute additional masks.
- Ad hoc check-ins: We will continue to connect individuals and organizations interested in donating masks with our nonprofit distribution partners on an ad hoc basis.
Finally, we would not be able to finish our story without acknowledging the incredible support we’ve received throughout our journey.
A special thank you to our invaluable advisors Rohit Rajkumar, Terri Chytrowski, Jeff Noven, Alan Ross, Maria Ku, and Jen Roy for their support over the past year. Thank you to our teammates Luna Zhang, Matt Kahan, Nimrit Hayer, Rohan Bhargava for making our expansion to SF possible.
We would like to thank ZS Associates and Birkenstock USA for their pro bono contributions and generous monetary support of our work.
Lastly, a massive thank you to all of our donors, distribution partners, and volunteers — without your support, we would never have been able to meet and surpass our distribution goals.