Ruminating on Fund Raising

I will admit it, I’ve been burned on the whole fund raising thing. When I started Wadadli Pen, the model applied to fundraising was that no cheques or cash came to me as an individual…when we knew who the winners would be, the cheques would be made out to them, individually. That’s the model I use to this day, 10 years on. Admittedly, this could be an inconvenience to donors who instead of writing a single cheque are being asked to write multiple cheques to individual winners. It means also that since no money comes directly to Wadadli Pen, there’s no money to do other things – workshops, publications and productions, a stipend for judges, cover administrative expenses, nada. Also, it requires some trust on our part as, rather than collecting a contribution we are ‘collecting’ a pledge to give said cheque at a later date – once the judging process has run its course and we know who the recipient will be, weeks, sometimes months later…and thank God most of the businesses we’ve worked with have proved more than honourable. Some may not give quite what we anticipated but I can’t think of any business not honouring the pledge to give…something. On the rare occasion that a cheque had to be made out for a service to Wadadli Pen – for a plaque maybe – as much as possible we’ve had that cheque written to the company providing the service. Point being, to date, no cheques go to Wadadli Pen, which, yes, still does not exist as a legal entity, nor to any of the individuals involved with Wadadli Pen including me.

Wadadli Pen is a non-profit project.

The Jhohadli Summer Youth Writing project was not. The model there was to offer young Antiguans and Barbudans the opportunity to participate in the writing programme irrespective of their financial ability to do so. I, therefore, made a pitch to several businesses to sponsor a young person to participate in the programme on the merits of the programme’s potential benefits to the participating youngster. The cheques in this instance would come to me to cover my facilitator fee and expenses related to putting on the weeklong camp; this was clearly articulated and the response was very positive. An experience with one of the donors though still lingers with a bitter after taste. In retrospect, it had the effect of putting me in my place. It’s one reason, though not the only one, why I didn’t jump gung ho into doing a second summer of the camp, but rather after some contemplation activated the Jhohadli Writing project as an ongoing workshop series for people of all ages, that those who wanted to participate would have to buy into. I would not be seeking sponsorship for individual participants…and that hasn’t even been particularly hard and fast.

This burn – and some other experiences over the years – have also affected the language I use when approaching businesses about Wadadli Pen; patronage and partnership as opposed to sponsorship – a small thing perhaps but in my mind affecting how I see the relationship and hopefully how they do too, that this is a contribution we are both making, me and others through our volunteerism, and businesses and others with cash and kind gifts, to the development of youth and the arts in Antigua and Barbuda.

A year on from the JSYWP, though this wasn’t my first bad fundraising experience, it was the first experience of its type and I felt blindsided and confused then, and I still feel humiliated by the experience now; more humiliated because I did take the money in spite of that humiliation, reminding myself not to make business personal, and that one more person could participate because I didn’t let my pride, or, it seems, my bad manners, get in the way. A year on I still feel chastened, cautious, and bitter in the manner of a child who knows they’re blameless but has to apologize anyway because the other person has the power. But of course I’m not a child and I did have the power to walk away and didn’t, so maybe it’s shame I feel.

I know with certainty that I don’t want to do this type of fundraising anymore. There’s a ways to go between what I want and what is, but one way to move past that is to have people pay to participate in the JWP and in the case of Wadadli Pen to take the steps to make it a legal entity able to set up its own accounting and try fund raising models that don’t involve going cap in hand to businesses, and that don’t have to get personal. After all, none of this is about me – which is what I tried/try to say in my pitch to businesses re supporting either project. And my parents did teach me to say thank you and please, which I do as automatically as breathing – sometimes to an annoying degree, though, as I learned, there are other ways to annoy even when bending over backwards to be polite and professional.

I do know that I don’t want this or other bad experiences to steer me away from doing the things that give me purpose and pleasure, and seeing the young writers shine every Wadadli Pen season, seeing the youngsters come into their own and have fun on the journey during the JSYWP did give me a great sense of purpose and pleasure. And, as a writer trying to make a living, certainly in the case of the JSYWP and its successor JWP, I, of course, want to continue to find ways to monetize what I do. I do want to do more of that kind of thing…just a different way.

To wit, in addition to pressing on with the JWP irrespective of the low response, I took a leap and applied for something that could ease Wadadli Pen’s funding woes; it’s not my first time applying for grant or donor funding (in spite of their daunting and impossible applications process) but I’m hopeful. So, fingers crossed.

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