On Fundraising

Last weekend, I took part in CrossFit for Hope, a fundraising event by CrossFit to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The goal across all participants was $1.7 million, one day’s operating costs for St. Jude. As with most things CrossFit, it revolved around a workout aptly named CrossFit for Hope (we’re nothing if not consistent). The fundraising efforts could be done on a flat donation rate or a per repetition basis. The workout was like Fight Gone Bad in format but with different, harder exercises. The event had been announced and planned for quite awhile but it took me until Thursday night to work it into my consciousness enough to consider participating.

Once it did, the idea of raising money in 24 hours appealed to me. My initial brainstorming set a personal goal of $1000 which didn’t seem like that much when I considered my network of possible donees. I have 125 odd Facebook friends and 120 or so Twitter followers. I also have a reasonably extensive network of people I know in general. I thought if I could get a decent number of them to chip in $5-10, $1000 was completely doable. Luckily, I rethought that plan by the time I woke up Friday and scaled back to a goal of $500. I didn’t do this out of any concern as much as sometimes it’s nice to surpass lower goals than it is to fail at loftier ones.

First thing Friday, I signed up for the site and then sent out an email to everyone at work. Except that I didn’t have permission to do that. My initial dreaming involved people with lots of disposable income in the corner offices chipping in a lot and that dream came rapidly crashing down. So I sent a request out to two internal lists that I had access to. Immediately, I got a generous donation of $50 from a coworker. “Hey, 10% there already, this is going to be easy” I thought. And then things got a lot harder. I sent out notices to Facebook, Twitter and via email. I got a couple of immediate donations, also very generous, immediately but then things basically stopped.

Throughout the day, I checked in on my profile to check my progress. Donations came in at a trickle but given the fact that I had asked upwards of 300 people, I got a little downhearted. Even late Friday, when I got a few retweets on Twitter to more and more people, the totals didn’t change. This is what makes fundraising so hard. My initial expectations were that lots and lots of people would chip in $5 when I asked them. Initially I focused on the money but the real issue is that if a cause isn’t meaningful to someone they aren’t going to donate. Plus in our attention deprived world, pleas for cash come across feeds all day long. There is both a recency effect and familiarity effect that have to work in tandem for fundraising success and even then, people may ignore the pleas because they all just start to run together.

In the real world, outside my narcissistic viewpoint where everyone contributes if I ask them to, the effort of fundraising must be immense. It was hard enough for me. I followed up, cajoled, pleaded and bothered the hell out of people for the waking hours between 9 AM Friday and 9 AM Saturday. In the end, I’m absolutely thrilled with results. Fifteen people responded to my request with generous donations. I raised over $650 in 24 hours which is a phenomenal response. On a personal level, it looks like once all my donations have been attributed, I’ll be in the top 250 of all participants and I only worked for one day. That is truly exciting.

From a more theoretical level, my experience illustrates the fundamental difficulty of grassroots fundraising. The Friday night retweets resulted in 800-1000 more people seeing my request. Of those people, exactly zero contributed. Once the familiarity effect fell outside one level of my network, the impact was essentially zero. People who don’t know you really aren’t that interested in your problems. Shocking news, I know but it’s highlighted by my nascent efforts at fundraising. The power from grassroots fundraising is in the number of people motivated to ask for money from their immediate circle. With a large base, that familiarity effect can be focused on a large number of immediate potential donors without having to worry about branching out to second and third levels.

Several people have asked if I thought more time would have resulted in more money. I think I would have been able to find more people but I don’t think it would have changed the final total appreciably. Having that artificial deadline enabled people to act quickly without having to put it off and wait for the weekend or the next pay day. I would have had to work harder for less return with a longer time period. If I participate in something like this again, I think I’ll impose the artificial deadline again.

Overall, I’m certainly thrilled with the end result and actually learned something in the process. It was fun to participate in such a large scale, grassroots fundraising effort. It’s incredibly fulfilling to actually feel like you’ve made a difference as a part of something important.

Linked Out

I am completely unhip. This comes as no surprise to the two dear readers I have. I have never been what one might call an early adopter. I am an only child and thus, typically averse to change and disorder. Therefore, when I recently received multiple invitations to LinkedIn, I politely declined, partially out of habit but partially out of some sense of distaste with the whole idea of “This is what networking should be.”

Something about the concept of being linked not only to my closest friends and/or colleagues but also former colleagues from a completely different life struck me as odd. The extent of that oddness didn’t really hit home until I began rereading The Best Software Writing I tonight in an attempt to get my groove back. Like much in life that seems coincidental but turns out to be serendipity, I picked danah boyd’s article entitled Autistic Social Software. As is my custom, I found someone else much smarter and more eloquent that helped me put the oddness to words.

LinkedIn is the epitome of danah’s autistic social software, a technology that simplifies relationships to the point of silliness in an attempt to make it useful to people. The irony in LinkedIn’s vision, “Relationships Matter”, is not that they don’t but that LinkedIn is such a poor representation of relationships at a personal level. Relationships DO matter and that’s why they are hard work, work that must be invested in people in order to make the relationship worthwhile. LinkedIn is an extension of the technological phenomenon where we expect hard things to be easy through the use of technological breakthroughs. The problem is, I would no more likely ask 98% of the people I would be linked to for a job than I would walk on the moon. It’s just not how our social psychology works.

LinkedIn makes “relationships” easy by linking you to your friends and all their relationships as well so that by signing up and associating yourself on LinkedIn, you immediately become “related” to people you may very well have made a conscious decision to become unrelated to in the past. I choose not to network with lots of people for a variety of very good reasons. I want my network to be small, not large because we as humans can’t keep up with very many true relationships at one time and I, as a closet introvert, can keep up with fewer than most people.

Of course, LinkedIn is useful for something, otherwise why would 15 million people be using it? As it turns out, if we return to danah’s paper, I think LinkedIn is being co-opted in the same way Friendster was being used back in 2004. Friendster was originally planned as a dating site but people started using it more just as a way to keep in touch with friends, rarely using the features as a dating service. People used the technology for their own purposes, whether or not those were necessarily inline with the site’s creators. In the same manner, I think people use LinkedIn to almost voyeuristically see the ways they are linked to people in a pretend network online. It’s interesting in the way MySpace is interesting and it’s just as real.

I prefer to keep things as real as possible. I like to actually get emails from people I like telling me what they have been doing versus seeing it on a Facebook page or blog. I prefer to network with people I actually would be willing to work with, not the first boss of 11 I had at the Evil Empire. My network is small, intentionally so, ironically because relationships really do matter. If they didn’t, LinkedIn would be the place to be.

God Missed a Commandment

11.  Thou shalt not do jumping jacks in your tightie-whities in the dressing area at the gym.

I appreciate the complete disdain for societal norms but seriously, Mr. Weirdo, for the love of God please do not ever do that again lest I have to throw you down and beat the jumping jacks right out of you.

It truly amazes me that people seem to mis-understand how they should act in the locker room at the gym.  Walking around with no towel, sitting butt-ass naked on the benches (whether you’ve just taken a shower or not, your ass still disgusts me) and doing tightie-whitie jumping jacks are all against the rules.  Idiots.