21 March 2011

The Fund-Raising Letter

The Mandala Center for change (Port Townsend, WA) is offering a week-long training in Theater of the Oppressed techniques in June. From the moment I read the announcement, there wasn't a doubt in my mind -- I need to be there. I will be there.

To raise funds for registration and transportation costs, I sent a group letter to people who either know me or know my work enough to agree with me as to the perfection and value of this opportunity presenting at this point in my career.

Voices yammered in my head as I composed the letter -- "You don't know how to write a fund-raising letter.....people will hate you....this isn't how real artists make money...this is going to hurt when nobody contributes....." I kept writing and the yammering kept me humble.

Here's some of what I wrote:

Dear Friends

In two weeks, I will have been away from New Orleans for one year... I left New Orleans with tears in my eyes; I hated leaving but had reached the end of the line after struggling mightily for almost a year to support myself. My plan was to live rent-free in CA, take any job I could find, save up my money and return to New Orleans to give it another try.

The Big Hand had a different itinerary in mind. The unexpected theme this year became Artistic Growth. In the last 12 months I have received introductory training in Non-Violent Communication, completed three Landmark Education courses, written and performed a debut draft of a one-woman show, composed six new songs, studied Interplay techniques, and designed and directed a Theater-of-the-Oppressed experience,

As for finding work: I facilitated five improv/body-based workshops and presented as "artist in the pulpit" at three Unitarian Universalist churches. Besides those one-shot gigs, I play piano two mornings a week for ballet classes at Cabrillo College. If not for food stamps, occasional monetary donations from dear friends, the use of my host's beater car and a rent-free living space, I might have gone under this year.

I'm writing now because I am raising funds to attend this year's Theater of the Oppressed/Playback Theater training in Port Townsend, WA. From the moment I learned of this training, I knew I had to attend. I just got off the phone with Marc Weinblatt, the Director of the Mandala Center for Change. Our conversation ...strengthened my resolve to do whatever it takes to be there.

Some of you may know that I am dreaming and scheming to bring Non Violent Communication to New Orleans when I return. The training in Port Townsend feels to me like the perfect kick-start for making this dream real.

... the fee for this training is $475 ($425 if paid by 30 April). The Center handles registration on an honor system: pay what you can. It's operated under this policy for 20 years.

On my current $200/month salary, I cannot easily pay anything at all toward this fee. In addition, there are transportation costs associated. Airfare (based on a search one hour ago) is about $250+ taxes. I have no idea whether it's less expensive to drive (890 miles) but I am willing to drive if it is. My estimate of how much I need is $700 -- $300 for transportation and $400 for the Mandala Center for Change.

You can help in one of two ways:
  1. Host/produce a performance opportunity for me, i.e., a living-room concert, a special event at your church or club, a "special guest" for something already scheduled. My preference would be that you do not charge admission but let people know we will pass the hat at the end of the show. ...
  2. Make a donation of any amount. If you choose this option, please know that the amount of your contribution (but not your name) will be reported to all the other recipients of this message (if you have another idea on how to make this process as transparent and honorable as possible, I'm open to suggestions). ...
Thank you very much for reading this long-ish letter. Thank you for making a donation, hosting an event or holding me in light in your heart.

It's been four days since I sent the letter. Of the 66 recipients, an astounding 28 (42%) have already responded. Nine people (13%) have pledged a specific monetary contribution and five others (8%) say they will send "something". I have nothing to compare these statistics to but they far outstrip my expectations.

The average contribution is $99.

The most surprising aspects of this project:
  1. Six of the people making contributions didn't even know me a year ago.
  2. I did not include a mailing address or instructions on how to contribute in the letter.
  3. A handful of people (including two family members) expressed barely-masked disdain in their reply emails, hoping that this will be the last time I have to "ask for help".
  4. Seven people have commended my innovative approach to fund-raising, saying they wish they had the courage or had thought of it themselves.

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