Like most Houstonians, Steven Kaufman was intensely moved by the widespread devastation that Hurricane Ike sprayed across Houston in 2008. Beyond marveling at the destruction, he felt compelled to reach out to people in his community. “There were a lot of families that, by no fault of theirs, were in really desperate situations,” Kaufman says. I never lost electricity and, along with many others, was in a position to do something. I felt like at that point in my life it was time for me to really ‘get over myself’ and start worrying about the world and other people. I thought of the name Fanatical Change early on in the process. Incidentally, around the same time I enrolled in a course at Landmark Education, which included a community project assignment. Kaufman and friend Juan Cuevas set out to come up with a way to raise money, give ALL OF IT to families who suffered a tragedy, give it to them right away, and show the donors a video of the gift delivery so they could see how their money made a difference. The determined duo struggled to come up with a new charity concept. “If you give your money to an international non-profit, then your donation gets diluted, and if you give your money to the windshield washer on the corner, then your donation likely gets misdirected,” Kaufman says.
“We have no overhead. If we can’t get it donated or in-kind then we don’t use it. When you come to our events, we give absolutely every dollar you give directly to the families that we identified that week. It’s just like you are giving it yourself right out of your car window.”
With little fundraising or event-planning experience, the puzzled pair consulted with a non-profit expert. “This woman had something like 15 years of experience in non-profits and was the executive director for some national non-profits,” Kaufman says. “We spent three hours with her over coffee and she continued to tell us why this wouldn’t work. She had every objection and reason why this would have too many obstacles.” Discouraged and contemplating giving up on his Fanatical Change idea, Kaufman took a break from the meeting and headed to the restroom. “I went into the bathroom of the Starbucks, and written on the urinal in graffiti was the phrase ‘keep the change,’” Kaufman recalls. “To me, this was a personal message to keep the ‘Fanatical Change,’ so we ended the meeting and started planning our first event.”
Impressed by the charity’s success, Mayor Bill White proclaimed April 2009 as “Fanatical Change Month” in the City of Houston.