The Fundraising Conceptual Error: You are not We
Most fundraising campaigns do not make a whole lot of sense to me. They import an error in conception into their very structure and then seek to overcome this error by means of defensive pleas, subtle force, and the offering or reminder of benefits. The conceptual error lies with the initial and persistent estrangement of the You and the We. It usually concludes with a call to a kind of pseudo-social contract.
Let’s consider a few examples. In each case, pay special attention to the use of You and We.
The New York Public Library urges us to “Support your roots. Support your branches.” It goes on, “The Library has always relied on the support of individuals like you. Now, as we face our largest public funding cut in history, we’re depending on you even more.”
The claim is that NYPL is dependent for its existence on “individuals like You.” It does not follow that the Library is worth supporting. We stand before You and We are beggars.
In order to stave off the begging objection, one might make explicit or implicit mention of benefits. We have something to offer You. Here is NPR:
Local stations are the lifeblood of NPR. We wouldn’t exist without them, and we take every opportunity to sing their praises. If you’re looking for a way to fuel NPR’s future, become a contributor to your favorite station or stations. NPR stations are in every community, reporting on news that affects your life, and bringing you a mix of local and NPR programming you’ve grown to love. We believe so strongly in having individuals support their local stations that we don’t solicit donations from the general public for NPR support.
So, we NPR are dependent on you the listener. We are not beggars. Indeed, you benefit from the content we deliver to you daily, so you should support us (and indirectly, as it were, achieve your own self-interest).
The claim about benefits is most hey-hey-in-your-face in Central Park’s pitch:
Central Park is your big backyard. It’s the city’s greatest outdoor gym. It’s a place to play with your pooch. It’s a cultural mecca for music and dance. While the Park is a diverse and democratic free space, it’s expensive to protect and maintain.
What is open to question, though, is whether these benefits are good enough or necessary. Could one do without them? It seems so.
In all these cases, the terms come very close to a social contract. You and We are estranged from the outset. The estrangement is both codified in and partially neutralized by the contract. We supply You with something of value. You benefit in some fashion. So, even though the divide between You and We cannot be overcome, it can be narrowed but only if You support Us.
Typically, however, the social contract makes a much stronger case. It claims that both parties are mutually dependent upon each other for their continued existence: the citizen relies on the state (rights), and the state relies on the citizen (national service). Yet this is not true in the case of funding non-profits and non-profit-like ventures. One can do without them, surely, and fear of their loss will not provide sufficient motivating force. They needn’t exist or perdure. There is no true mutual dependency.
If this is right, then the pseudo-social contract argument does not stand up to philosophical examination. In what follows, I argue for a Hegelian conception of funding.
Hegel on ‘Objective Spirit’
Hegel’s claim is that an individual is free to the extent that he can see himself in Objective Spirit. He writes of ‘an I that is a We, and the We that is an I.’ For Hegel, I and You do not stand over against a separate We. Instead, the I is actualized in and through the We. Let’s say: before I was lost, but now I have found my home in the We.
Let’s look at a simple example. Two people fall in love. When they fall in love, they start to think of themselves in terms of the We. What would We like for dinner? If the love is flowing nicely, then the I realizes itself fully in the We. The I is not obliterated by the We. (One will start to hear I/You language at the moment love ends.)
The same is true, though more softly felt, in any good organization. I ‘find myself’ in this entity, seeing myself in this We. I am at home in this company, this institution, this We.
Now if Hegel were a fundraiser, he would resort to the mixed genre of an exhortation-cum-encomium. He would say of Central Park, “Let’s explore our woods, our fields, our gardens! Let’s stroll around our Jackie O.! Let’s watch our roving raccoons! And–yes, yes, yes!–let’s support our beloved Park!” So easy my lover Hegel: “an I that is a We, and the We that is an I.”
The Case of Dark Mountain Book 3
I received an email yesterday concerning the funding situation of Dark Mountain Book 3. As of yesterday, it was only 1/4 funded. On Indiegogo, we read about “What We Need & What You Get.” So, it’s the We/You alienation problem, and the offering of wares is supposed to overcome this division in part.
In the letter, the revised approach is to overcome the divide by means of a certain proxemics (appeals to contributors like me to reach out to my friends and acquaintances). In the end I’m sure the book will be fully funded, but I’m not sure that the alienated plus proxemics approach is an especially fruitful one.
Here’s the letter I received in full. In the last section, I offer an alternative.
Firstly, thank you again for your piece “Following Nature’s Course” due to be published in Issue 3 of Dark Mountain. A long list of submissions gave us tough decisions to make along the way but we are delighted with the final book and hope you will be too. It’s being sent to the designer this week, and it’s all coming together as we’d hoped.
The way that we have chosen to publish Dark Mountain presents us with a new challenge each year. In order to maintain our independence – to avoid being under the wing of a bigger publisher, or having to take any adverts or do commercial deals – we try to ‘crowd-fund’ the production of each book. In essence, we ask people to pre-order their copies to pay for the costs of the book’s production.
This worked very well for our first two books, and is working for this one too. We are now over a quarter of the way to our funding goal. But we have less than a month to get over the finishing line, so we are asking for your help, as a contributor, in getting the word out to people who might want to help us reach our goal.
Right now, if every contributor persuaded five friends to pre-order the book, we would reach our funding goal! Could you help by letting people know about the book? Mentions on blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media – and by good old-fashioned word of mouth – can have a dramatic impact on our pre-sales and help us to reach our target. We also have some great perks for those wishing to give a little more including limited edition prints and inclusion in the book’s ‘roll of honour’.
More about this here.
A blog covering the book’s contents is here.
Thanks again for offering your work to us. We’re very pleased to be publishing it, and we hope you can help get it to a wider audience.
All the best,
for The Dark Mountain Team
Dark Mountain Pitch, Redux
If I were doing the fundraising for DMP, I would stress the We: the yearly festivals, the meetings and meet-ups, the informal gatherings, the DMP-inspired artistic projects, and so on. I would probably write a short ‘manifesto’ that was perhaps a poem of praise, of togetherness, of communal bonds, of light and hope. As I understand it, Dark Mountain is the name for the home many misfits have found. If this is the home of the We, why would the We not want to be generous? For it is now a question of looking after our own.