I’m Done Selling Sweaters. Instead I’m Selling a Vision I Believe In.

Jenica Jessen, Email Campaign Specialist at the the Internet Archive
Jenica Jessen, Email Campaign Specialist at the the Internet Archive

Eight months ago, I was miserable.

On paper, it seemed like everything should be going right. I was working long hours at a promising startup in a rapidly growing industry. My job was to use cutting-edge digital marketing technology to optimize email content; I worked to find the most compelling language possible, to tap into the phrasing and rhetoric that would inspire people and drive them to action. I was learning the craft of perfect subject lines and clickable links, honing my skill set, polishing my resume.

And I hated it.

My emails went to tens of millions of people, but I wasn’t really communicating with any of them. My carefully-tested copy drove thousands upon thousands of purchases, but I wanted to care about something more than some corporation’s bottom line. I was working with some of the most advanced communications tools in the world—and I was using them to sell sweaters.

That wasn’t me.

Let’s go back a decade or so. The high school I attended wasn’t especially distinguished. Our football team was mediocre; our debate team didn’t win championships. The one thing that Riverton High was good at—the thing that made us unique—was Silver Rush.

Riverton High School students caroling in 2010 (courtesy of Jenica’s yearbook).

Silver Rush was our annual holiday fundraiser. (The name was a play on “gold rush;” our mascot was the silverwolf.) Every year, we would pick a charity that helped underserved members of our community: newly-arrived refugees, homeless teens, domestic violence victims. The whole month of December was dedicated to raising money for them. And at that, we excelled.

The great thing about Silver Rush was that it brought the whole school together, and everyone found ways to help out. The choir had a benefit concert. The food science class sold baked goods. The track team did a “fun” run in 20-degree weather. I shoveled snow in exchange for donations, and sang holiday songs outside the local grocery store, and gathered spare change. There were so many events and volunteer opportunities that most nights, I didn’t get home until 8 or 9 PM (and that was before homework). For me and my classmates, the whole month of December dissolved into a cocoa-fueled haze of sleep deprivation, caroling, and the camaraderie that comes from advancing a good cause.

A lot of other schools in the area tried to emulate Silver Rush. Our biggest rival, Bingham High, had a perennial goal of raising more money than we did. But the attempts to create a rivalry missed the point entirely, because the thing that made Silver Rush great was that we weren’t competing with anybody.

Our slogan was “It’s not about the dollars, it’s about the change.” Everyone took it to heart—and the first proof was that nobody knew how much we’d raised until after the fundraiser was over. We weren’t trying to show off; we weren’t trying to prove anything; we were trying to make the world a better place. My senior year we set a new record, raising over $129,000 for children who needed wheelchairs.

A Riverton High School student seeing the final amount Silver Rush raised in 2012.

But it wasn’t the numbers that made Silver Rush the highlight of my high school years. It was the feeling of making a difference.

So by the time 2019 rolled around, as I was working for that digital marketing firm, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d lost my way somehow. I was creating campaigns that earned millions of dollars at a time, but each big win felt a little empty. I couldn’t shake the sense that there was more that I could—should—be doing to give back to society. And I was so sick of writing subject lines about sweaters.

So seven months ago, I applied for a job at the Internet Archive.

What I found at the Archive was something radically different from the world of marketing startups. It was a team with a vision—not of venture capital funding and IPOs, but of a great library for all. It was work with a purpose—not synergy or hypergrowth, but preservation, education, accurate information. And it was an organization that survived not on e-commerce but on people’s goodwill—the dedication of countless volunteers, archivists, librarians, and programmers, as well as thousands of donors big and small.

December at the Internet Archive is a busy time. We launch our end-of-year fundraising drive right around Thanksgiving, and chaos ensues. Everyone is scrambling to make sure that our donation systems work and our banners are up to date, that the letters are sent and the events are organized, that the checks are counted and the newsletter goes out on time. The days are a haze of coding, camaraderie, and—yes—sleep deprivation. This month, I’ve been working long hours; I’ve been trying to craft perfect subject lines; I’ve been looking for ways to inspire people and drive them to action. And I couldn’t be happier.

Just a few of the Internet Archive team members who’ve pitched in to help with fundraising this year.

If you’ve seen an Internet Archive email in your inbox lately—a newsletter or an event announcement or a donation request—I’m the one who put it there. I’m done selling sweaters. I’m selling a vision instead.

It’s a vision of a world without disinformation, a world where verifiable facts are just a click away. It’s a vision of a great library for all, where the best that humanity has ever produced is freely available. It’s a vision of universal access to all knowledge.

So far this year, thousands of people have joined in supporting that vision, chipping in a few dollars to keep the servers running and the lights on. And it’s a privilege to read your comments, and hear your stories, and see the direct impact that your support has on the mission of the Archive.

My favorite moment, so far, came near at the beginning of our fundraising drive, when I happened to check the donations tally. The number is constantly changing, but for one brief moment, I saw it hit exactly $129,000. The same amount we raised for Silver Rush during my senior year of high school.

And for that moment, it felt like the entire world had lined up just right—like I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

If you’d like to contribute to the Internet Archive, please visit archive.org/donate. You can also show your support by getting the word out on social media or telling your friends and family about our work. We’re grateful for everyone in our community—we couldn’t do it without you.

19 thoughts on “I’m Done Selling Sweaters. Instead I’m Selling a Vision I Believe In.

  1. Herbert bechtel

    Thank you for a well written and heartwarming article. I too was fed up with the corporate world. GE, Rogers Communications and armed service.
    I then turned to help children who were so rewarding. Yep, my wife and I met on a blind date. I proposed marriage, she accepted and we promised we would adopt children, So, after eight weeks of marriage the first baby, who was eight months old, arrived. He was with us for 28 years. Two years later the second one arrived three days old and then we had a daughter and took in 16 more children.
    Some were just dropped off at our doorstep. We only adopted one and put the adoption money we saved into schooling them. We took no money from any agency and what really helped us was the company I worked for allowed us to take them on holidays and conferences. Yes, my wife after 55 years of marriage has passed on and I am able to assist some in other countries have an education.
    I use your program and enjoy reading the articles and donating to it. So, at 84 it is joyful to see children we are supporting going on with life. Herb

    1. Tracy Dickerson

      Wow good bless your precious heart I have suffered the loss of a 20 year marriage and had 6 children so again God bless you

  2. Dee

    I’m proud and thrilled with the vision you have as well as the work. Yes, I donate not as much as I wish I could but I know every bit counts besides small individual donations add up!!! So keeping it going your vision matters,

  3. Manas Patil

    It hasn’t been that long since I’ve started using Internet Archive. However, I have found tremendously useful and reliable over the time period. And yes, I do receive those newsletters. Pretty interesting side there too!
    Thanks a ton Internet Archive

  4. Charles Tolman

    Great post.
    I especially like your point: “Its not about the numbers”. I could not agree more. One day I will stop my programming day job and help out with a non-transactional vision of open source software funding. The modern world seems so hung up on expecting something back if they donate when that is not the point of gift funding.

    Its about the vision.

    I am glad you are finding more fulfillment.
    And yes, I have donated!
    All the best.

  5. Michael McGlasson

    When I was about eight years old, I discovered the power of the local library where I virtually taught myself the intricacies of many subjects that were outside of my elementary education, such as astronomy and paleontology. The first time I checked out a book from the adult section of the library (a treatise on invertebrate paleontology), the librarian must’ve thought I was insane or else some kind of child prodigy. So, most of what I know today is due to the library system. When I found the Internet Archives by accident one day about five years ago, a whole new world opened up. It was like having a million books in my own home that I could access whenever I wished. Since I’ve been a dedicated bibliophile and book collector for almost 50 years now, the Internet Archives is like opening up the Great Pyramid and finding something written by Imhotep. Please keep up the great work and I’ll continue to donate as long as possible. Michael G. McGlasson

  6. Constance Barton

    Thank you for telling us your story. Your high school may not have made A-list in some supposed venues to be lauded [yes, “sports” comes to mind], but it surely produced in its students the high mark of giving to help others. Appreciate so much how you came to apply that value in your life. Thank you. And that group picture pretty much shows the reward of giving in the sweet expressions on each face.

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