Archive for the ‘fundraising’ Category


I did something last weekend that I’d never done before. I played music in a bar as part of a fundraising event. I’ve played music around campfires, I’ve played music in houses, I’ve performed solo at Bytown Ukulele Group meetings, I’ve jammed with people, I’ve participated in songwriters’ circles, even on an open-mic on a boat as part of a conference. But never in front of a crowd of strangers.

Thankfully, my performance went pretty well, I think. I was pleased. But one thing that I wasn’t prepared for, even though I’ve seen it a million times from the other side of the stage, was not being listened to.

I’ve done a lot of teaching. I’ve done lots of presentations. And I’ve had these musical performance experiences. The commonality among all of those things? I as the “performer” have the expectation of being listened to. When I stand in front of a classroom, or conduct a webinar, I assume that people are gong to be listening to me, watching the slides, etc.

So to have a bar full of people happily chatting while a PA system blared my voice and instrument out into the room was disconcerting. It was a painful reminder of what professional musicians face all the time — they’re being paid to perform, but there’s no obligation for the spectators to attend to them.

My set wasn’t long enough, and my courage (confidence? arrogance?) not strong enough for me to DEMAND their attention. So I played through my songs, took the applause, and left the stage. The good news was that no matter whether a person listened to me or not, they paid to come to the show, which meant the cause benefited from them. Further good news (for me, at least) was that I wasn’t so beset by stage fright caused by their inattention that I froze up (something that’s happened before, to my chagrin — but at least it gave Chris Brogan something to write about!)

But since Saturday, I’ve been thinking about it. My conclusions?

  1. There are circumstances and ways you can bring people back to you. But there are also circumstances when you can’t. I once saw Josh Ritter silence a noisy bar by playing his first song unplugged and wandering through the audience. People were intrigued enough by this unusual behaviour that they fell silent, and by the end of that song, the room was silent. I wasn’t going to try that one.
  2. There are times when you ought to accept the circumstances as they are. Sometimes people just aren’t interested in hearing from you, and it doesn’t matter how loudly you’re singing, or even if you’re singing (or teaching) incredibly well. I once taught a class where one of the students fell asleep every time she came to class. There would have been a time in my life where I focused on that as a sign I was failing the student. But I now believe that the process of “performing” requires both the performer and the audience to be present. Whatever the reason, sometimes your “audience” can’t be there for you.
  3. You still have to bring your best. Even if your audience is not listening, you owe it to yourself to deliver just as passionately and as well as if you had people in the palm of your hand. Yes, it’s harder (just as doing webinars is often harder than presenting to live audiences because you lack any feedback); but you still have to.

The final thing that I’ve thought in the wake of my experience? I want to try it again. I want to figure out some of those musician’s techniques of getting an audience’s attention for myself. Who knows: maybe becoming a more accomplished musical performer will make me a better communicator.

And if you want to see the performance? A quick trip to my Tumblr will let you get a sense of what the show was like.

Crowdfunding ≠ wishful thinking

Because a lot of my brain and my non-working life is focused on music, I see a lot of crowdfunding pitches. I mean, A LOT. When you become friends with a lot of musicians, sometimes it seems as if every week I get multiple requests to help make a CD, fund a tour, a theatre project, or some other worthwhile venture.

Crowdfunding is a crowded marketplace. A new infographic from CraigConnects and Rad Campaign tells us that more than FIVE BILLION DOLLARS was raised this way in 2013. But while the crowdfunding field is complicated and numbers vary widely (see this article from the Canadian Media Fund for an example of just how many ways you can define ‘success’), it’s fair to say that a large number of projects, if not a majority, do not end up meeting their financial goals.


So when I contributed to two recent campaigns that were very successful, I started to think about why they made it when so many others don’t. The first was “The Kneeraiser.” In a nutshell, some civic-minded folks decided to buy someone a knee. The someone in question was singer-songwriter Christa Couture. While I had met her several times, I was shocked to read on the Kneeraiser site that Christa was an amputee. Turns out that after a diagnosis of cancer at 11, she became an amputee at 13 and has been a monopod for the last 22 years. While Canada’s public health-care system covers basic prostheses, there are remarkable high-tech prosthetics out there which cost extra. While many employees would have part of those costs covered by benefit plans, a full-time musician doesn’t have benefits. And so, the knee-raiser was born, with a goal of $15,000 to get a basic microprocessor knee. That goal was reached in 3 days, and the campaign is now closing in on a $25,000 goal.


The second was a campaign launched by my friend Jill Zmud to help produce her second album, “Small matters of life and death.” The Ottawa singer-songwriter’s record was inspired by a family member she will only ever know second-hand. Jill’s uncle had been a touring musician, but was killed in a car crash before she was born. Decades later, Jill found a box of reel-to-reel tapes that became half of her uncle’s musical bequests to her. The other was his Fender Telecaster guitar, which is her main instrument. Jill’s fundraising goal was met, and then some, and she got media coverage including  The Globe and Mail, a major coup for any indie artist.


So why did these two campaigns succeed, and why do so many other campaigns struggle? I think there are two things that set Jill and Christa’s campaigns apart: the story, and the perks.


Both Jill and Christa had something beyond a “help me make a record” pitch. In one case, it was to support a musician to attain a necessary medical device that she simply would not afford otherwise. In the other, the story of Jill’s uncle’s untimely death and her discovery of his music made for compelling reading and captivated the listener / reader. That Jill was completing the CD and doing the crowdfunding and perparing for a CD-release show while also getting ready to give birth in April made her story even more interesting. Christa’s love for Fluevog shoes, and a well-placed picture, ended up in the company sharing her story with its 93,000 Facebook fans.


And both campaigns offered creative and quirky perks for contributions that were fun and engaging all on their own. Because Christa is a well-loved member of a supportive artistic community, she was able to offer donors music perks from seven different performers, as well as art, signed poetry chapbooks, tote bags, and all sorts of other things. Jill offered everything from a credit line in the CD to writing a song for the donor’s wedding to a painting by her artist brother to a one-act play written by her husband to a evening of game-playing with she and her husband. Both Jill and Christa’s campaigns also did  many of the basics right: they maintained momentum, they regularly posted updates via various social media channels, they included video as a part of the campaign, and they gave themselves enough time to meet their goal.


So if you’re thinking about trying crowdfunding as a way of completing a project, don’t go in blind. Do the background research necessary to do your project right, and spend time planning it so that you do what Jill and Christa have done:

  • tell a compelling story in multiple ways to engage your audience
  • establish and maintain momentum
  • offer perks that maximize creativity and attract attention on their own
  • use your networks and social media channels to keep the flame burning

And if you’ve read this far, please consider helping to get Christa’s Kneeraiser to its stretch goal of $25,000 and make her the first Canadian bionic folk singer.

SMACing the hell out of cancer

Jennifer Stauss Windrum and her mom, Leslie Lehrman

Jennifer Stauss Windrum and her mom, Leslie Lehrman

I’ve had the privilege of getting to know Jennifer Stauss Windrum over the last couple of years. While we are separated geographically, the joys of social media have given us a chance to meet each other virtually.

Jennifer is a communicator, first and foremost. And she’s someone who I’ve grown to admire for her passion and her ability to take a personal tragedy and turn it into a positive movement.

Jennifer’s mother Leslie, like far too many people in this world, has cancer. And right now, her journey is coming towards its end. Leslie was diagnosed with lung cancer. Now when you hear lung cancer, you might say to yourself, “did she smoke?” Which is what many people think of when lung cancer enters the picture.

She didn’t. My dad had lung cancer, and when he was diagnosed, he hadn’t smoked for more than 20 years.

Jennifer’s mom’s diagnosis was bad news. No denying that. But the difference between Jennifer and other people is that she wasn’t willing to shake her head and tut-tut about the injustice of someone getting lung cancer and being stigmatized, or the fact that while lung cancer is the US’s #1 cause of cancer deaths, it receives the smallest amount of research funding.

She started WTF Lung Cancer. You get that, right? And in a cheeky, tireless, sometimes angry, sometimes despairing multi-year project, she’s been advocating for better funding for this disease (remember, 4 out of 5 lung cancer diagnoses are being made in NONSMOKERS now).

My dad was lucky. He was operated on for the lung cancer and lived on for nearly two decades. His impairment was minimal. Jennifer’s mom is not that lucky. To be blunt: she’s dying.

And in one of life’s odd juxtapositions, her mom’s health began to decline VERY quickly  just as Jennifer has launched a giant new campaign. And as she’s managed being a caring daughter WHILE managing a major initiative, I’ve been touched, humbled, and inspired by her honesty, her love, and her dedication.

SMAC Monkey NoMoI’ve donated to a fund and social business that Jennifer started called SMAC! or Sock Monkeys Against Cancer. She wants to provide funky sock monkeys to cancer patients young and old as a symbol of comfort, care and concern. And she wants to bring attention to the plight of people like her mom. And she’d like to see this shitty disease cancer CURED.

If you’re here for a PR lesson, take this as your lesson: if you have a cause, if you have passion, you need to look at how Jennifer has channeled raw emotion into a strategic campaign to achieve a goal. She’s consulted others, she’s asked for help, she’s offered help when she can, and she’s put in the thinking and the work to make one of her dreams become a reality.

And if you learn something from this post or her websites, and you have a few bucks, why not make a donation, the way I did? She’s so close to achieving a major goal. Help her out. You won’t regret it.


Can social media’s good side go too far?

The world was abuzz this week with the story of Karen Klein, a woman from upstate New York who was taunted mercilessly while working as a school bus monitor. As is so often the case, the taunters were not only mean and vile, but stupid enough to record their actions. If you haven’t seen this, you may or may not want to expose yourself to the 10 minutes of evil vapidity.

The video, as is the cliché, went viral. Millions of views. Then a guy in Toronto named Max Sidorov was touched by the video. He set up a campaign on Indiegogo to give her a vacation. He set a goal of $5,000, saying “There’s even a point in the video where one of the kids touches Karen’s arm in an attempt to make fun of her. I’m not sure why these kids would want to bully a senior citizen to tears, but I feel we should do something, or at least try. She doesn’t earn nearly enough ($15,506) to deal with some of the trash she is surrounded by. Lets give her something she will never forget, a vacation of a lifetime!” 

Then Sidorov’s campaign went viral too — in spades. In a matter of days, the campaign raised more than $545,000.

All of this is heartwarming. This is a 68-year-old woman who was treated more than shabbily, and it’s lovely to think that she’s going to be helped by this.

But let’s be honest here. Does Karen Klein need a half-million nest egg? Does the pain or embarrassment she suffered warrant a half-million payday?

Let’s take another example — Caine’s Arcade. The release of a short film about Caine’s Arcade led to a college fund of more than $200,000 and a matching fund to help other kids as creative and deserving as Caine.

Caine of Caine's arcade

After the short film “Caine’s Arcade” was released, more than $208,000 was raised to help Caine Monroy’s education and a foundation pledged to match donations to help others. 

There’s no doubt that these stories are inspiring. But I have this feeling that even the desire to good using the tools of social media can go too far. In themselves, the 25,000 donors to the Klein campaign each did an undeniably good thing. But is the best use of the $545,000 and counting that has been raised to simply go to Ms. Klein?

The other side of this is the response by viewers to reach out to the school or the school district.

The school district website has a message which reads in part:

“The behaviors displayed on this video are not representative of all Greece Central students and this is certainly not what we would like our students to be known for. We have worked very hard to educate students on the damaging impact of bullying and will continue to do so.

We have received thousands of phone calls and emails from people across the country wanting to convey their thoughts. People are outraged by what has happened and they feel the students should be punished. While we agree that discipline is warranted, we cannot condone the kind of vigilante justice some people are calling for. This is just another form of bullying and cannot be tolerated. 

We all need to take a step back and look at how we treat each other. It is our job as educators and parents to teach children and lead by example. We encourage parents to use this as a springboard to begin a dialogue with their children about bullying, respect and consequences. As a school community, we will continue to take the lead in bullying education and we encourage all students and employees subjected to bullying and harassment to report it as soon as it occurs and to take a stand if they are witness to bullying in their lives.” 

I can only imagine the sheer volume of contacts. How could a small upstate New York school or district reasonably handle this level of outrage and demand for response? And what would my angry e-mail add to the situtation?

I don’t really have any answers here; I’m just trying to think through how a bad thing can, through social media, lead to a good thing and then, again through social media, perhaps the good thing becomes too much of a good thing.

What do you think?

Social media, “third parties”, and not-for-profits

I tend to end up volunteering for a lot of stuff. Part of it is because I have a hard time saying no to good causes, part of it because I enjoy doing the work, part of it because it makes me feel good to help, part of it because often it’s friends asking, and part of it because I might learn something or hang out with cool people.

Fred and Barney in their Lodge hats

For many of us, the old models of service clubs and voluntarism seem... prehistoric.

One of the things I think has been changed most fundamentally by social media is the relationship between not-for-profit organizations and people wishing to do good things for them.

Back in the day, charities and not-for-profits relied on long-term relationships with volunteers and donors. Every year, Jane Bloggs would “collect” for the Heart Foundation, the March of Dimes, or the Cancer Society (Of course, this still happens.) Every year, people would write cheques (as my parents still do, in memory of my brother) to the local children’s hospital. Memorial donations.

And not-for-profits would have committees which would provide muscle and brainpower to organize events and fundraisers. Need a fashion show? A charity tea? Casino night? Strike a committee, likely with one or more of the same people who canvassed and knitted and hosted the dinner etc… and the event comes together.

I suspect that in many ways, there was even a parallel thing happening with genders. Men would join “service clubs” like Rotary, Kinsmen, and the like, and women would have parallel clubs (in Canada, the IODE or the Catholic Women’s League).

But things are changing. Traditional service clubs are declining in popularity, as noted both by media and by club believers. But at the same time, there are good things happening too. And that’s where social media comes in.

The ability for people to self-organize and act via social media is awe-inspiring. Let me give you a bunch of examples:

So what makes all this different? A few things:

  • People don’t have the same sort of connection to the organization they’re working on behalf of. 

I didn’t know Cornerstone from a hole in the ground beforehand. I’m not a woman. I’ve never had to live in a shelter. I didn’t know any of the staff or volunteers. I just got riled up by the fire. I don’t think Hélène Campbell was involved in organ donation before she got sick. This sort of spontaneous engagement has good and bad implications. First, it can be an unexpected and serendipitous boon. Yay. Second, it can create unexpected work for charity staff or established volunteers. Not exactly Boo, but uh-oh.

  • Not-for-profits can sometimes do best by staying out of the way 

Organizations that aren’t familiar with the ad-hoc, high-energy, short-term nature of these movements might stifle them with excessive bureaucracy, caution, or general wet-blanketing. That in no way means you let people run with a valuable brand. But you don’t want to oversee and second-guess every decision.

  • Trying to court these folks into becoming longtime donors or volunteers may not work, or even backfire. 

The irony of these “flash-givers” is that while they may well believe in your cause, be willing to use social media, traditional media, public relations, and the like to  boost it, and make a big difference… it may be a one-night stand. They may feel little to no long-term interest in the organization, and may well be too busy or lack the long-term interest to come back to the organization, volunteer, join a board, etc.

  • Use this new energy to leverage your organization. 

In the media relations game,  ”earned media” implies a third-party endorsement of an organization. Well, someone coming out of the blue to support your organization financially or with an event is an EXPLICIT endorsement of what you do. Use them (with their permission and support) to solidify or expand your organization’s brand in the media, to increase your website’s Google juice, or to further promote your own social media initiatives. All parties will benefit.

  • Smart charities and NFPs will figure out ways of encouraging and supporting these flash-gives. 

Just as you could stifle an initiative with too much “management”, you can fan the flames with some judicious support. Ask how you can help. Have resources ready for them — logos, sound bites, etc. Be ready to include news about them in your organization’s online presence. Work your existing networks to help the new folks achieve their goals, or at least offer to.

As the old ways of cultivating and managing volunteers become less effective, the NFP sector needs to find ways to harness this somewhat anarchic force. Those who do can reap great benefits.


Some great resources for not-for-profits:

  • Zoetica media and Kami Watson Huyse’s “Communication Overtones” blog
  • Socialfish, a consulting company for the NFP sector
  • Jamie Notter, an association constultant
  • Humanize, the book by Socialfish’s Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter.

A (somewhat) selfish request for your aid

Most people here know I’m a music lover. And this time of year, I start thinking of one of my favorite seasonal songs, a fairly obscure tune called “Winter Song” by a British folk-rock group called Lindisfarne.

I love Christmas music, but as an atheist, I always feel like just a bit uncomfortable singing about the Lord and Christ being born and the like.

But “Winter Song?” I can totally get behind it. The lyrics (hope you don’t mind, Lindisfarne):

When winter’s shadowy fingers First pursue you down the street
And your boots no longer lie About the cold around your feet
Do you spare a thought for summer whose passage is complete?
Whose memories lie in ruins And whose ruins lie in heat ?
When winter comes howling in

When the wind is singing strangely Blowing music through your head
And your rain splattered windows Make you decide to stay in bed
Do you spare a thought for the homeless tramp who wishes he was dead?
Or do you pull the bed-clothes higher Dream of summertime instead?
When winter comes howling in

The creeping cold has fingers That caress without permission
And mystic crystal snowdrops Only aggravate the condition
Do you spare one thought for the gypsy with no secure position?
Who’s turned and spurned by village and town At the magistrate’s decision?
When winter comes howling in

When the turkey’s in the oven And the Christmas presents are bought
And Santa’s in his module He’s an American astronaut
Do you spare one thought for Jesus, who had nothing but his thoughts?
Who got busted just for talking And befriending the wrong sorts?

When winter comes howling in (twice)

Here’s how they performed it in 1984 in Newcastle:

So here’s the selfish (somewhat) part. “All in a Day,” our local CBC Radio afternoon show is soliciting donations for an organization called the Causeway Work Centre. Causeway does great work, giving people with mental health issues or other difficulties opportunities to do work that’s tailored to their ability. That gives them everything that work gives us all — skills, money, fulfilment, dignity… They change lives, for the better. Every day.

And the person who donates the most gets to get the amazing Sarah Harmer or Rolf Klausener do a cover song of their choice. Now, some people will try to get them to do something out of character — Black Sabbath, or Mel Tormé, or something. But I really want to hear their take on this song. And I’m willing to ask for your help to do it — and risk humiliation.

If I get this, I promise to record my own cover video version of the song and put it up on the site. But ONLY if I get this.

If you click on this link and donate, then tell All in a Day that you’ve done it, I have a chance of hearing this song covered. And most importantly, you help a worthy organization. Help a brother out, willya?

New podcast is LIVE!

I’m really excited to announce that the new podcast PR and Other Deadly Sins is LIVE.

Mark Blevis is someone that I have a tremendous amount of respect for, as well as someone I like a lot. So it’s a kick to think that we’ll be doing this as often as we can. How often that is, we’ll figure out as we go. But for now, it’s just a thrill to get the first one out there.

Grab it at the new site PR and Other Deadly Sins. As always, thanks to Tom Hofstatter for holding my galumphing WordPress hands throughout the process.

Student politicians learn lesson, example 1.

I hope the student council takes a few moments before their next meeting to think about how they make decisions and how they manage their public image. I also think that they better ensure a record showing in Shinerama 2009. Good luck to them.

For more background, see my original post.

CBC Ottawa story, 6:05 pm November 25:

“Brittany Smyth, president of the Carleton University’s student council, said she is trying to get in touch with the cystic fibrosis foundation because she doesn’t want the group to think Carleton students are switching charities for the wrong reason. She said the clause about cystic fibrosis being a white man’s disease was not the determining factor in Monday night’s vote, but for now the council is sticking to the decision and looking for a different cause to support next fall.”

CUSA news release, from Canada Newswire, as of 11:50 am November 26:

Attention News Editors:

Carleton University Students’ Association moves to reverse decision on Shine-A-Rama

    OTTAWA, Nov. 26 /CNW Telbec/ - Carleton University Students' Association
President Brittany Smyth has indicated that CUSA council will revisit the
motion to change the orientation program charity from Shine-A-Rama.
"It has become clear that there is not an appetite at Carleton to change
from Shine-A-Rama" said Ms.Smyth "The responsible thing to do is to reverse
the decision."
While the motion merely stated the students' association would
investigate switching to another charity, students have made it clear that
they do not want the change.
"I both respect and admire the students' commitment to the cause of
raising funds for cystic fibrosis." stated Ms.Smyth "I believe this issue has
been blown out of proportion but the motion was never meant to imply that
raising funds for Cystic Fibrosis research was not a worthwhile cause. I do
apologize for the negative attention Carleton has received".

For further information: Brittany Smyth, CUSA President, cell: (613)

UPDATE: The CUSA release came after the publication of a message by Carleton President Roseann Runte. Her message said in part:

“The motion which was approved by the student association contained language which was not appropriate and which has raised considerable concern. I know that Carleton students are fine young scholars who wish to be responsible and considerate. I am sure that they did not intend to offend by the preamble to their motion, but I am also sure that they now understand the effects of that language. I understand that they will be revisiting this issue and that the president of the student association will be putting forward a motion to reconsider the matter. I am convinced that our students will do the right thing and take the appropriate course of action.”

Hat-tip for the Runte message to David Reevely.


Give us your money, blah blah blah….

Since I re-joined the post-secondary world, I’ve been keeping more of an eye on education stories. This one takes the cake.

Framingham State College
sent a letter to 6,000 of its alumni looking for a donation. They decided to try something different. This is different

Now they did get 40 or so donations, totally about $2,000. But they also had to apologize, saying:

“Our decision to send you a letter containing the words ‘blah, blah’ was a misguided and embarrassing attempt to connect with alumni in a different way. A few of you thought the letter amusing; others were offended, and for that I sincerely apologize. The last thing we want to be is disrespectful to you as a valued member of the Framingham State College alumni community. I hope you will forgive our error and continue to be proud of Framingham State College,” in a letter from CHristopher Hendry, the college’s VP of advancement.

So Framingham has apologized, and likely learned a lesson, and it would be easy to laugh at them. In fact, you have to chuckle. But where I refuse to be TOO mean is in that they tried SOMETHING DIFFERENT.

We’re just starting to get a handle on how to really activate our relationship with our alumni. And while I hope we never make a mistake, I have every confidence we will. But if we are so conservative to avoid mistakes that we don’t do anything innovative, we run the risk of just boring people.

While I don’t think we will steal the copy from their letter, and I hope we don’t have to write letters of apology, I do hope we have the chutzpah to shake things up, think outside the box, blah blah blah… er, let me rephrase. :-)

It’s easy to be boring. It’s hard to be innovative. I hope we can manage to be innovative without offending, and without ruffling feathers. But I doubt we can manage all of that all the time.