12th & Broad

Dec. 20, 2013 4:59 PM

Tiny But Mighty: Puppy love goes viral

chico Tiny But Mighty Submitted

Santa will be visiting all the pups in Nashville this holiday season — even the homeless ones at the Nashville Humane Society.

Nashville's own Marcia Masulla, the 33-year-old Community Manager of Yelp and co-founder of Nashville Fashion Week, launched a Crowdrise campaign called "Tiny But Mighty" just seven days after her beloved 5-pound chihuahua, Chico, passed away after nearly 13 years of being Masulla's sidekick.

In her Crowdrise campaign, Masulla says, "He was and for eternity will be Tiny But Mighty... On that fateful day when we met at the animal shelter a decade ago, you rescued me. I now believe in love, have compassion and am the individual that I am today because of you."

She continues, "I selected "Tiny But Mighty" as the name of the fund because this was a phrase that I frequently used to describe Chico's larger-than-life personality, especially during his valiant battle with congestive heart failure. Universally, "Tiny But Mighty" reflects how even the tiniest acts of kindness can make a mighty big difference."

Masulla told 12th & Broad: "When I decided to launch this fund, it was really scary for me because I knew how raw emotionally I felt. When we threw the number out there: 'Let's raise $10,000!' I thought, 'I'm already sad, so if this doesn't work out…I'm just not in a good place.' "

The Tiny But Mighty fund far exceeded its original goal of $10,000 in 30 days, reaching that number in a mere seven days. And on Wednesday night (Dec. 18), the fund was less than $500 away from $20,000 with a few hours remaining on the campaign clock. The social media surge picked up again and the final total was $20,507 — 205 percent more than Masulla's original goal — with all the funds going to the Nashville Humane Association.

"Last night was surreal," Masulla said. "It was emotionally charged with happiness and a flood of emotions on why we are doing what we are doing." She had a countdown committee at her home, watching the total rise at a fast pace as social media attention to the cause went viral once again.

  • Giving goes viral

Social media gets the most credit for the campaign's success. "It's why this is so cool... It's not 'Marcia did this,' " said Masulla. "A girl at a party charged at me and says 'Hey, are you Tiny But Mighty?' And I answered, 'Well, I've had a couple of vodkas, so I am feeling pretty mighty...' (laughs) But she had heard about it online. She let me know all about her dog dying of cancer... and then she started apologizing for crying. It's just so much deeper than this campaign and I'm just thankful."

Masulla approached marketing her fundraising campaign as a grassroots movement, spreading the word mainly through social media: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Lightning 100 stepped up and offered to give her a PSA as well.

The campaign was not simply asking for money; it was Masulla's overall message of celebrating furry friends that she thinks inspired such an overwhelming response.

"At the end of the day, when you think of your dog, you think of happiness. I just feel like 'Let's celebrate pups and their people,' and I think that's why so many people responded to this."

  • Inspired giving

Wendi Mahoney, 53, was one of the many people who stepped up to the plate in the last few hours of the campaign, showing the kind of stuff this "Volunteer State" is made of. A new Lyft driver (as well as an oil-painter artist and therapist in East Nashville), Mahoney was so inspired by the project that she gave her entire week's worth of Lyft fares to the project, with several more hundred out of pocket. She had given some in the beginning of the campaign, but when she saw the surge on social media trying to get over the 20-grand mark, she felt compelled to give again.

"I do want to help animals," said Mahoney. "I think it's very sad that animals are abandoned, that people take them in and then change their mind. The animals, they don't deserve that."

chico2 Tiny But Mighty's Chico Submitted

Giving to charity is not an uncommon thing for Mahoney, who kindly took in a homeless man after a Lyft drive earlier this week.

"I really do try to fairly consistently try to donate, even if it's someone I don't know. It's just how the spirit moves me. There's a lot of projects to give to in the world, and I just go with my heart. I didn't plan to do it... it's just a good thing to do."

Mahoney, who has five children, added, "Kids don't learn what you say, they learn what you do. To raise model citizens, you must do these little things every day — it's in the consistency."

  • What's next: Puppy party

Tiny But Mighty is now a 501c3 nonprofit in partnership with the Community Foundation. It is planning a launch party on Jan. 16 at Spot's Pet Supply in East Nashville. The large warehouse pet supply store (with DIY dog wash) on Gallatin Avenue just opened on Nov. 30, and has been one of Tiny But Mighty's biggest supporters, Masulla said.

The launch party invite list will include everyone who donated to the fund — and their pups are all invited, too! Masulla said she is toying with making the will call for tickets under the dogs' names, with their owners as their plus-ones. That's right — your pooch will be on the VIP list!

For those who donated $50 or more, there will be a professional photographer on hand to do portraits. The portraits may end up as a book and/or an online campaign that will include letters written by the owners to their dogs, Masulla said. Of course, mingling, eating, drinking and great music will complete the party.

As for the nonprofit, it will be year-round and will be a resource for the community. Masulla gave an example of someone who may desperately need cat food — Tiny But Mighty will aim to have the marketing and resources to provide such a person with what they need.

Each fall, the nonprofit will do a fundraising campaign for the Nashville Humane Association, similar to what was just accomplished.

The nonprofit will soon be launching a website, aiming for it to coincide with the Jan. 16 launch party. Upcoming projects include a partnership with Nashville Humane Association and yet another tribute to Masulla's Chico: They will honor someone in the Nashville community (nominated from within the community) who makes a difference in animals' lives each year with a Tiny But Mighty Chico Award.

"There's nothing currently in the community that honors people who make a difference in amimals' lives," Masulla said. "Those people that continue to do the good work."

The founding board for Tiny But Mighty includes Samantha Oaks, Brannon Morton, Renae Morton and Kristin Milner. (Kristin Milner is also Masulla's co-chair for the Nashville Humane Association's "Unleashed: Dinner with your Dog & Fashion Show" on Feb. 1 at Hutton Hotel.)

  • You can still help... and come to the party

If you are just now hearing about this fund, the Crowdrise campaign is still live and you can still give using the original link.

You can also give via the Community Foundation or by sending a check to Tiny But Mighty. When the website launches in mid-January, you can give via the nonprofit's site. If you donate now, the party invitation still stands.

Giving to the Tiny But Mighty Fund directly helps the pups at Nashville Humane Association by providing help such as: warm baths, nail trimming, flea and tick preventative, microchips, spay/neuter services, follow-up appointments, life-saving medical care and a comfortable place to call home with food and love until a "forever home" is found. The fund will also help the Humane Society save entire litters of puppies and offer them medical care, food and love as well.