We met Alex Sheen, the young founder of because I said I would, at his office in Rocky River, Ohio on a Sunday afternoon. The office area, spacious and relaxed, was generously offered to him for free by a local philanthropist, who reached out to Alex, after hearing about his initiative.
Alex was not the only one working on a Sunday. He was joined by Christine, the organization’s first paid employee who works part-time three times a week and helps manage volunteers, fulfill promise card requests and process website orders. Apart from them, the because I said I would team also includes Amanda, who has been volunteering with the organization since its creation in September 2012.
Alex described because I said I would as a social movement and nonprofit organization dedicated to the betterment of humanity by helping people keep their commitments through promise cards. The concept is very simple. The cards only say “(…)because I said I would,” encouraging those receiving them to make a full sentence by writing a promise to themselves or to someone else. When fulfilling the promise, they get the card back, as a reminder of the promise that they managed to fulfill.
Alex first passed out promise cards at his dad’s funeral in 2012. His dad passed away from small cell lung cancer. As most people do at the passing of a loved one, Alex wanted to honor his father’s memory in a meaningful way. He started thinking about the positive character traits that set his father apart. One of the first things that came to mind was the fact that his father had always been a man of his word. Alex believed that was a key virtue that everyone should have, so he decided that encouraging other people to keep their promises was the best way to commemorate his father.
He immediately set up a Facebook page and invited people to request promise cards. He sends 10 cards free of charge wherever in the world they might be solicited. So far, Alex has sent promise cards to 82 different countries and to all 50 U.S. states. While the initiative was slow at first, because I said I would quickly picked up media attention and was featured in local papers in both Columbus and Cleveland.
The promises and stories got increasingly more powerful. They ranged from people promising not to commit suicide to stories such as Matthew Cordle’s confession about killing a man while driving under the influence. Cordle’s video confession, called ‘I killed a man,’ acceptance of responsibility and encouragement for others not to drink and drive became a viral Youtube video, which further propelled because I said I would into the spotlight. Having assumed his responsibility, Cordle was sentenced to 6.5 years in prison with no chance of being released and a lifetime suspension of his driver’s license.
Alex likes to lead by example. He makes executable charitable projects. When Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, Alex managed to raise over $7,500 in seven days, spoke to several relief organizations in New York about the types of supplies that were needed, packed a van and drove down to the City to distribute them to various affected communities. Alex also raised funds to support 20 children diagnosed with cancers and involved with the Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation of Nevada visit Disneyland for the first time in their lives. After the Cordle video was released, because I said I would donated $5,000 to Mothers against Drunk Drivers.
Alex wants to continue partnering with and supporting the work of other nonprofits. He hopes to in the near future be able to provide job training and employ disadvantaged individuals, such as homeless people, veterans, people with physical and mental disabilities, in order to help out with sending the promise cards. Creating powerful videos, such as the Matthew Cordle one, will remain a priority for Alex, as a crucial way for a small organization with limited human resources such his to reach out and impact the lives of as many people as possible. On the long term, Alex hopes to fund some of the community-oriented individual projects proposed to because I said I would, to help them go to the next level. The key rule will be that the projects have to be fully attainable by the person who commits to achieving them in the first place, even without the support of because I said I would.
Although his organization has only been around for little over a year, it has already attracted significant attention from key media outlets, such as CNN, Good Morning America and HLN and posted on social media platforms such as Reddit.
Despite its expanding visibility, because I said I would is still small and in its beginnings. While Alex has stopped using his personal savings to help run the organization earlier in 2013, because I said I would has a way to go before becoming fully sustainable. As a former business consultant, Alex is well aware of his organization’s financial flaws, ranging from the costs of sending cards around the world to not having the clear focus and results, often the key to attracting donors. Nevertheless, he is convinced that once his organization will react a critical mass of people, these problems that he is well aware of will be solved. For now, he and Amanda are not paid. He confessed he continues to live off of the savings made while working at Hyland Software and that he will not take a wage until knowing that his organization is fully financially sustainable.
Nevertheless, Alex believes he is close to reaching the critical mass point toward sustainability, which will allow first for Amanda to become a full time employ and eventually himself as well. For now, he has aptly managed to resolve some of the issues mentioned above. The cost of sending the cards is covered through donations, the funds raised through speaking engagements and the purchase of the organization’s existing merchandise, which includes wristbands and T-shirts.
Alex has many achievements this past year that range from the projects that he has been able to support to the increasing number of people he has been able to reach due to the media attention. He believes that every step along the way has been important and brought joy.
Alex beautifully explained that his work at because I said I would is not only a duty, but a privilege, because it allow him to be someone that can provide people in need with something to hold on to as they fight the challenges in their lives. Alex confessed it is humbling for him to be associated with people who have faced great suffering in their live, yet have found the strength to overcome it, while also keeping their smile and optimism. He says that, although the memory of his father is ever present in his life, it is the thousands of people that reach out to him daily that now motivate his work.
In giving advice to other young entrepreneurs, Alex stressed: “You need to ask yourself one question: ‘Why? Why am I doing this?’ If you have a strong answer, you can be strong and carry on with your work.”
To find out more about Alex’s work and because I said I would click here: http://becauseisaidiwould.com/Subscribe
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