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Jim Hopper had already been an expert in fundraising and running non-profits for years when he became involved in network marketing. It didn't take him long to recognize that he could use the power of relationships and networks to link networking and fund raising--a combination that eventually helped him realize his dream of connecting soldiers around the world with their families at home.

Marrying Networking and Fund-Raising

In his practice as a CPA, Jim Hopper did a lot of work for non-profit organizations, and always enjoyed the ability this gave him to make a difference in the community. For Jim, simply earning a living wasn't enough. About nine years ago, over the protests of his wife and family members, he left public practice to start his own business, which included helping charitable organizations raise money.

In the process, he happened to encounter the concept of network marketing, and immediately realized that the model is all about leveraging a diversity of contacts to achieve a focused goal. He saw a great deal of synergy between the network marketing profession and what he was doing in the fund-raising community. And he intuitively knew there was a way he could combine both.

Jim started out with a program for high schools and school districts, and that program taught him a lot about how to work with organizations and help them raise money.

"I had the feeling there was a strong way to raise money through telecom," he comments. "Everybody pays a phone bill every month. Why not turn that into a fund-raising model?"

He described his idea to people at a number of phone companies, but couldn't get a favorable reception anywhere--at least, not at first. Finally, about five years ago, he found one company who listened, understood and embraced what he was trying to do. As he and the company carried on a lengthy dialogue about his fund-raising ideas, he also learned a lot about both the telecom industry and the network marketing model.

"I saw what a powerful profession network marketing is. It just made so much good sense. We go about our everyday activities through referrals and networking. That's how we find out about the opportunities in our lives."

In the meantime, the company Jim was working with was about to launch a video product, and they were strongly promoting the idea of using the product to connect people world-wide. One day, one of Jim's networking colleagues asked, "What about giving videophones to the military?"

Jim thought, "That's a great idea!" and the concept of the See Your Troops Foundation was born.

Helping Soldiers Stay Connected

As Jim researched the idea, he soon learned that American soldiers serving abroad were spending as much as half their monthly earnings just to buy phone cards to call home, because the military wasn't providing them with any avenues for staying in touch.

"In the past, before the war in Iraq," notes Jim, "that wasn't a big deal. But people often forget that more than half the American soldiers over in Iraq right now are from the National Guard. That's quite different from being on active duty. These are people from ordinary walks of life who've been training on the weekends to stay in shape and be prepared for an opportunity to serve. Now they have been called to duty and leave their families behind, many of them with multiple children as well as a spouse. For them, being able to see and communicate with their families is crucial."

As Jim talked to more and more soldiers, the idea of the See Your Troops foundation evolved. He launched the foundation on July 6, 2005. A number of his fellow representatives immediately joined him and purchased videophones for the military through their company.

The company also played an instrumental role in the project. They matched significant dollar amounts to help keep the foundation going, took care of shipping, gave Jim an office to use and provided all the resources they needed.

From Concept to Execution

Jim built a web site for the project and started talking to members of the military. He soon discovered that while a videophone can operate through any broadband connection in the world, things were not going to be as simple as he might have expected.

"For security reasons," he explains, "the military network doesn't allow any type of streaming video. We had to figure out how we could put these phones into operation for the soldiers without impeding on our national security."

For months this was a major stumbling block, until October of 2005, when Jim met with a Lieutenant Colonel in the Pennsylvania National Guard. She commanded a company of 2400 soldiers stationed in Iraq, all from the National Guard and with families at home. The videophone was the perfect product for them.

As Jim recalls, "She told me that if I got her fifteen video phones, she would get them hooked up in the middle of the desert via satellite transmission." The Lieutenant Colonel promised Jim that if he did his part, she would do hers.

Through his network of relationships, Jim found a number of companies in Pennsylvania who were willing to help. One company donated T1 lines to all the armories in Pennsylvania, thus providing them with free Internet service. Another company hooked up all the circuitry and routers they needed.

By the middle of February 2006 they had their phones hooked up and ready to go, and from February 15 through the end of June they provided American troops abroad with about 940,000 minutes worth of free phone calls to the U.S.

Says Jim, "We have only ten phones in operation right now, which means one phone is averaging over 20,000 minutes a month, or about twelve hours a day. Each soldier signs up for a time slot of twenty minutes. If there is no one else waiting, he or she can use the phone for another twenty-minute block. It's an amazing way to provide a service and build a network throughout the globe for our members of the military."

Future Goals: A World Wide Network

The See Your Troops foundation has a goal of providing one million minutes a month by November 2006, so that when the holiday season comes around, the soldiers and their families can be in close contact.

"The beauty of this story is that the original funding and support has all come from network marketers, who helped spearhead the program," says Jim. "I established the foundation, and now my job is to take it to the next level by bringing in contributions from the public to help fund those million minutes a month.

"My company has remained committed to helping me in every way they can. Obviously, what's in it for them is getting the name of the product out there, but there is no guaranteed return on their investment. All we know for sure is that we have provided our troops with 940,000 free minutes of time with their families. We are really proud of that and believe that what goes around comes around."

Along with serving as Executive Director of the See Your Troops foundation and running his fund-raising company, Jim also remains an active network marketer.

"I juggle a lot of different balls," he says. "We just launched a more compact and transportable version of the videophone that operates on a new platform. We are going to put a major emphasis on building the network throughout the world for the military. As in network marketing, it's all about building relationships."

Multilevel Fund-Raising

When it comes to linking projects to create synergies, Jim is a wizard. In the past year, he started a recycling program called Operation Recycle. Now this program helps fund the See Your Troops foundation.

"We simply ask wireless companies to collect all their old cell phones and inkjet cartridges, then turn them in for recycling--and that's how we raise money to defray the ongoing expenses of expanding our military network. A lot of representatives from our company also contribute to our recycling efforts.

"They don't directly benefit from this in their businesses," Jim adds. "They do it out of the kindness of their hearts, to help the foundation and because it's a good thing in the community. It's a natural for them because of the relationships they've built through their networking businesses. That's how the whole program works: it's all about reaching out to your network of relationships."

In addition to participating in the recycling program, representatives in Jim's company can create their own "Friends of See Your Troops" accounts by enrolling the charities of their choice into the program. They are then able to go out and help raise money for See Your Troops in their own communities.

"Our company has developed a unique new business model," says Jim, "which is to build its business through a non-profit program. This program allows socially responsible organizations to be in a ‘free' position--they don't have to invest or buy anything--and earn 5 to 8 percent of the phone bill of each customer they bring in. The non-profits aren't in the business of recruiting like business builders, but they can refer the program to their members and other organizations."

Jim and his company encourage organizations to use their networks, and the company internally compensates them for that because they recognize the value of every referral.

"We have really utilized the whole networking concept," says Jim. "We don't need to advertise, while our competitors spend millions on national advertising. Those advertising dollars go back to our representatives! If we can give 10 percent of that to a church or a youth baseball program, we take a lot of pride in that. In the process, we help the See Your Troops foundation raise money to support the military program. It doesn't get any better than this!"