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From the Heart: a Pay it Forward Program for Massage

August 21, 2017 Author: Allissa Haines

We're excited to bring you this post from our Premium Member, Stacey L. Schultz. Many of you have asked about her Pay it Forward program for people in need, and we are grateful she is sharing her process with us here.

My draw to massage therapy was to work with cancer (oncology) patients. In 2009 a friend of mine was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer. No one would give her a massage. (Thankfully such scenarios are changing with proper training and information). Shortly after her diagnosis I enrolled in massage school.

My massage office is located in Rochester, MN where we have a large medical institution. People travel here for second chances in medical treatment.

Hotels cater to ‘medical tourists’, one entire street is lined with assorted guest houses including the Ronald McDonald house, Hope Lodge - sponsored by the American Cancer Society, Gift of Life Transplant house - for those who received an organ or bone marrow transplant. It’s an interesting town to have a massage practice. There are locals, and there are ‘out of towners’.

In 2011 I found myself here with a gamut of training in medical, oncology, end of life and hospital massage - training all obtained on the east coast, before relocating back to the midwest.

I hung out my shingle and two things happened: I learned the large medical institution did not refer patients outside of their facility. And those who did call were in the middle of cancer treatment, could not afford my prices and either wanted a discounted rate or me  to volunteer my services. I was perplexed, and also needed to make ends meet.

In January 2016 I launched a new program at my office called Pay It Forward, an account where a person in medical treatment can use funds to receive a massage. Through an inspiring massage therapist in Massachusetts, Megan Belanger, I learned about a pizza place in Philadelphia, where you can buy a slice of pizza for someone in need in the community.

It’s anonymous, it’s on the honor system, and anyone can come in at anytime and receive a slice of pizza which was already paid for by someone else – no questions asked. I wanted something similar in my office to offer massage to persons in cancer treatment.

I sent out a letter to my clients explaining Pay It Forward, and another policy change, no tips. That letter included

In 2016 I will no longer be accepting tips. If people want to ‘tip’ that money will go into a ‘Pay it Forward’ account - Anyone can donate any amount and anyone receiving medical treatment can ask to use money from the fund toward a session with me, A person can use whatever amount they need toward the cost of a session, it’s not all or nothing, and I will apply it to my professional fee - no questions asked. My office wall will have post-it notes on it with the amounts of money available in the fund, and as a reminder of the impact of generosity.

I also created a donation button on my website through donorbox.org, to allow friends, family and compassionate strangers to donate.

It seemed straightforward enough, and IT WORKED. But while the money came in, no one was using it.

I created a targeted marketing campaign on Facebook, and handing out brochures to the guest houses for ‘medical tourists’ encouraging people to come for a massage, and having them tell their friends, support group colleagues etc. And again, word got out and it worked. However, it’s a constant continuum to keep people informed that the Pay It Forward account is available, as people journey in and out of treatment.

Tracking Pay It Forward money is also important and necessary for tax purposes. As a for-profit business, money given to Pay It Forward is not tax-deductible. You’ll need to check with your tax preparer on how you handle this income. You may need to claim this as income and apply appropriate taxes right away. In some places you may delay that until it’s redeemed.

Lessons

There have been many lessons and revisions over the last 18 months.

I changed the name from Pay It Forward to From the Heart. It was more authentic wording to what my massage business offers, and it resonates more with both those giving money and those using funds.

I consider one person a week using the account ‘successful’. Also, I’ve set a clear boundary of one massage a month for people who use the account, with exception, as some are incredibly sick, and a once a week massage, twice a month massage is perhaps a retreat from treatment, and a chance to rest. I am also very mindful of my own self care in working with this population. Some days, no matter how hard I try, are tough!

Earlier this year I returned to accepting tips. I see it as more of a sliding scale than ‘accepting tips’. I have a sign in my office with a Post-It note stuck to it with the question “What’s with the Post-It notes?” And the following explanation.

Tips? Tips are appreciated but not expected. Money can also go into my From the Heart account represented by the Post-It notes on the wall. It’s a fund for those in cancer treatment to receive a massage.”  

It’s provided a clear message to clients, which has provided many appreciative compliments, and both generous tips and contributions to From the Heart.

Tracking the money is sometimes a pain, but necessary.

Finally, I’ve met incredible clients, heard amazing stories, and given massages to people who’ve never received a massage in their life and wanted a massage ‘before cancer killed them’.

My From the Heart account has allowed me to serve people who typically would not get a massage, while allowing me an income to continue offering my talents as a massage therapist. It’s been a deeply rewarding experience.

Stacey L. Schultz is a massage therapist and yoga teacher in Rochester, MN who is passionate about working with clients to bring ease back into their lives.