12.16 Redefining Wealth – Part 2

On Sunday Nov 21 we experimented with a new fundraiser, “Redefining Wealth, Giving Thanks” and it raised $8,500…from a crowd of only 30 people!

When I first mentioned the theme to a close colleague who was slated to do the “ask,” she replied directly to me (via email): I’ll speak on the theme. But to be honest, for this particular occasion, I’m less motivated in “redefining wealth” than encouraging folks to give some of it, ASAP!” Now this is a very wise friend, but I stuck to my gut. I felt strongly that in this economy – and quite honestly, in all economies for grassroots organizations – redefining wealth is at the heart of our ability to sustain our work over time. And for many, it’s part of the reason we exist in the first place.

A host committee of 10 folks each invited people to the event. One of our amazing cooks made veggie spring rolls and sweet potato chips and some great desserts. Cider was on the stove. A steadfast supporter, Meredith Emmett, began by asking people to speak about where their own wealth has come from and how they want to grow it in the future. Folks talked about everything from the riches of family legacy and teachings to the ability to both share and give resources away.

The four allies who spoke built on this, providing new ways to think about wealth. Gary Philips, naturalist and land conservation real estate agent rooted us in place and time. “We are coming to an autumnal dance on the earth. Changes are vast in front of us. Everything is slowing down. We must move away from growth to sustaining community. That is the base of wealth…This place – and series of ideas and wishes that it brings to life – that’s what it does and really well. The Stone House is a house built strong enough to withstand any storm.

Next came Vivette Jeffries-Logan, dismantling racism trainer and member of the tribal council of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nationa, our local tribe. About wealth she said very clearly, “If we don’t share our gifts, we as a people cease to exist. We are at a critical place. We must be a living example of how we need to be in the world.”

Activist and author Mab Segrest followed with a reminder of capitalism’s historical impact in the South and this plea, “We have to build our own infrastructures and be sure they survive. stone circles and this land and house is one of those institutions. That is a profound resource. I personally think this place is too big to fail.”

The final speaker was organizer Cynthia Brown with Resourceful Communities Program who ran a U.S. Senate campaign funded completely by thousands of “small” donors. “Life experience has taught me everyone makes choices about where to invest and everyone who believes in something will invest in something. There is wealth in relationships but those relationships can translate into not just spiritual and emotional wealth, but also into dollars.”

The event ended with the best “ask” I’ve ever heard from a couple who have been a large part of our work and our world. They each spoke about their connection on a very personal level as well as how they had partnered with us to enhance their own work. The upshot of it all? We got very close to the $10,000 goal we had when we were hoping for a crowd twice the size, and we did it by engaging both new and old friends in ways that were enriching for them.

By all measures, the event was a resounding success. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned from it:

1. Harness your greatest assets. Ours are the space we’ve created for people here at The Stone House and the incredible community we have. What are yours? The stories of your constituents? A model or framework you’ve developed?

2. Don’t be afraid to talk about money. At this event, we went right into it, so to speak. No sense dancing around. Instead of hiding the topic until the very end, why not make the case up front?

3. Set an audacious goal and keep on working to meet it. Our original goal of $10,000 seemed unrealistic once we saw the attendance numbers. But the universe responds to specifics!

4. Follow up. After the event, we sent a summary of the speakers’ thoughts and a draft request letter to all of the hosts, asking them to send the mailing to folks they’d invited but couldn’t come. Another $600 has come in from that so far.

5. Be fanatical with your thanks. We have worked to be timely, genuine and creative in expressing our gratitude. We take 10-15 minutes at the end of weekly staff meetings to write notes and our latest offering to donors is 3 recipe cards from our cooks.