Have you heard of musician Amanda Palmer? I hadn’t until I saw an amazing talk she gave posted on the TED site. Here’s the quick and dirty: she’s a singer-songwriter-blogger-provocateur. She was the frontwoman for the Dresden Dolls, and now has a solo career playing what she calls “cabaret punk” music with the Grand Theft Orchestra. She might be most broadly known for an incredible crowdfunding campaign she launched on kickstarter, that to date is the most successful (economically-speaking) crowdsourced music campaign. She asked for $100,000 to support her next independently-produced album; her fans gave her 1.2 million. When asked “1.2 million, say what?!?,” she responds, I simply asked. Check out her philosophy:
I co-founded and help run a non-profit called Hub Oaxaca that I’ve written about on this blog. As a non-profit, we’re in the business of asking for help. So perhaps it’ll be a surprise that I’m going to confess that we’re not that good at it. Or maybe I should say: we are constantly working at how to improve the way we ask for help, and how people can make an offer. Our space is built as a community, a community of social actors, activists, artists, business people and freelancers–people using their time and energy to transform the world for the better. We have people that come and work from the Hub, those that take or give classes there, those that live around the globe, but have a special connection to Oaxaca or what we do and want to be involved in some way. They have a diverse set of talents and experiences. So how to harness all that energy and potential? How to make it easy to ask and offer?
Sometimes the ask/offer is simple. I’ll share a story. A member of the Hub had brought some brownies to a Christmas party, and someone walked off with her baking dishes. Maybe this would make you lose faith in people, but consider what happened next. Another member of the community wrote an email on our brownie-maker’s behalf to the 89 members saying “I’m putting a bucket in the kitchen. I think as a community, when we see that something has gone missing, we should demonstrate solidarity and take collective responsibility to respond. Whoever wants to give, the bucket’s there.” We had an overwhelming response from our members. So many donated so that new baking dishes could be bought, that there was extra left over. And in turn, the Hub member used the extra to make two more rounds of lovely desserts in thanks to her community. An ask and offer success!
Things like this happen on a larger scale, too. We recently partnered with another organization (NextPlays México) to design and pilot a class we think could have tremendous impact for social entrepreneurs here. In the planning process, I did the numbers and realized, we didn’t have the money to make the class a reality. To make the price for the class accessible locally, the price would have to be low–and thus, would not cover costs. So I asked our partner: can you share the risk with us? And they generously responded by covering major costs of salaries and travel for our teachers. In turn, our community responded by opening up their spare bedrooms to the teachers, to help reduce the cost for our partner. It’s been an incredible circle of ask/offer that made the class possible.
But as I said, it’s a learning process. We don’t always get it right. We have a crowdfunding campaign coming up in August where we need to reach far beyond our local community and again, ask for help to support the work of amazing changemakers here in Oaxaca. But how to ask? And who will want to offer? It can feel quite vulnerable to ask for help–especially from a wider audience. But I’d like to take a page from Amanda Palmer’s songbook and re-think our campaign. Perhaps it’s not just about asking, but about letting people give. Maybe we are offering them a space to believe in something, to support something, and be involved. I wonder if we can see it as more of an exchange, an exchange that works for both sides.
I would love to hear your stories of asks and offers. How has giving felt as good for you as for the recipient? Or how has asking opened a window into something you could never have expected? Share with us here. We’re want to know!