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One rainy day, we shut down the World Economic Forum.

an interview with John Croft from the Gaia Foundation, Western Australia (over the phone to John in Tufingen, Germany)

A: Why is fundraising important?

J: For me, fundraising is highly important for community projects. In the modern world in which we live, and in which money is the measure of all value, many, many projects fail to achieve their potential due to lack of funds. With the proper fundraising approach, then there need be no project ever that gets not done because of lack of money. But the question then becomes is what is the correct fundraising approach? What is the right way of raising money? And that in part depends on the nature of the project. But there’s a number of ways in which not only raising funds can be fun, (so it’s FUN raising as well as fundraising) but in fact the actual process by which you raise the funds is empowering for everyone who is involved in the project– and makes the project that much more effective as well, just being out there and talking to people about it.


A: What do people most often overlook when they fundraise- what are some limitations of the conventional fundraising model?

J: I think there are a couple of things about conventional fundraising. Conventional fundraising is a little bit like the cake stall, the cookie stand or the raffle approach to fundraising. One of the major problems is, if you’re going to try to fundraise for an important project using the conventional approach, the message you are actually giving to your community is “look, this project is not really important, and for that reason, we have to give you something in order for you to give us some money”. If it were a really important project you would just give us the money anyway, and we wouldn’t need to go to all the effort of trying to run a cake stall. If you’re passionate about cake stalls, and your project is all about cake stalls, then fine, run a cake stall. But a much more empowering approach is to communicate your enthusiasm for the project, your commitment to the project, and the best way to do that is YOU need to put money in, because in conventional fundraising efforts, what happens is that you’re out there collecting money for a cause that you’re not prepared to give money to yourself.

The first thing in the alternative approach that I talk about and I teach, is that you get the people who are involved in the project together as a group- step one. And step two is each person in the group then makes an assessment. In fundraising in a group, there are two opposites. One is that you reach into your pocket and you donate your loose change. That’s tokenism. If your project only needs a few cents, then that’s fine. But most projects take a bit more. The second pole is that you give so much to the project that you sacrifice yourself and go without food for two weeks, and that’s just as silly as the first. Between tokenism and the sacrifice- somewhere in the middle between the two is the balance point. Now the balance point differs from one person to another- yours is different to mine. Now the only person who can know where the balance point lies is the person who’s giving the money. So for instance, for your group, the first step is for everyone to identify where their balance point lies. Then you make a small stretch just a small one- out of the balance point towards the sacrifice end. The reason for that is, that the balance point lies somewhere within your comfort zone. If you want your project to be transforming- it should not just transform the world, but also transform you in some way, and so you write an IOU to the project, stating how much money you are going to give the project and by when. And you’ll be surprised- If you get a group of 10-15 people together, each of whom identifies where their balance point lies and where their step out of their comfort zone lies, and then donate that money by a certain date, you’ll be surprised at how much money the project will have raised straight away – it can be up in the tens of thousands of dollars.

The next thing you do is you identify people who you are going to ask, personally, who have a similar commitment to the project that you have- now these will be friends, they can be acquaintances, they can be work colleagues, they can be family- you identify anyone that you’d like to speak to about the project. Now there may be people who you would NOT like to speak to about the project. Ask them too. The thing is that all of us are connected to an invisible network on this planet, and on this network, there’s only six degrees of separation – from us sitting here having this conversation here, to Mikhael Gorbachev, in fact there’s only a limited number of links in the chain and bingo! You’re able to ask Gorbachev for money for the project- If you use your networks- and using your networks in that way is what keeps your networks alive- every activist needs to be part of a huge network of individuals who share your commitments- and the way in which you share your commitments is by you communicating your commitments to them. So make a list- and you can start with a group of ten people or so- and these are people you are going to ask for money in the next week or so- don’t let it drag on for longer than two weeks- so you’re going to ask ten people in two weeks to make the same kind of commitment to your project that you have yourself. That’s the first and second things.

The third thing is that most of us (and I speak about myself too) are more wounded about the issue of money than anything else- the way in which new money gets created in our community is by loans. It’s not by the government saying “We’re going to create a thousand new dollars” – no it doesn’t work that way- the bank makes a loan to someone. Now 83% of that loan or more is money that the bank does not have- but they just make the money out of nothing, and basically transfer an entry into your account, stating that you’ve got the loan. But the thing is that the bank has created that money out of nothing.

When that loan gets repaid –that money is repaid and the account is cancelled, the bank when it gives you the loan doesn’t just give you the loan, but asks you for interest as well. But the bank does not create the interest- the interest comes from the wider community. So the problem is that the money that you or I have is that that money is created by a loan- and the bank wants that money back, thankyou very much, with interest-because the bank creates the money- but the money is a measure of the values of the bank, not your own values – you know, I was in a case where I was paying off a home mortgage. Now I’m an anti-uranium campaigner. But the bank that I was paying to was actually supporting uranium mining in Jabiluka- so here was my money that I was paying back to the bank being used against me- and that happens with a lot of environmental campaigns, a lot of social campaigns, in fact the things that people with money very often value are antithetical to the things we as environmentalists and community activists think are important. And as a result of that, we feel that money is not a source of empowerment, it’s actually a source of disempowerment. To be an effective fundraiser, we need to change that attitude to money.

If we don’t do that, then we’re going to have real problems with fundraising, because what you’re doing is you’re communicating your project to a person out of a lack – you’re saying “we need money- please can you give?” What you’re doing- really- is you’re not asking for money- what you’re doing is you’re offering an opportunity to that person to get involved in an exciting project- you’re not begging for anything- you’re giving them an opportunity to act to make a difference in the world- and that’s what we all want anyway.


A: I was in the US six months ago and I did a fundraising workshop, where the student group encouraged everyone in the group to write letters to their relatives and everyone who cares about them, asking for money, and they saw that as an important thing, that you draw upon your immediate networks of support for monetary support- is that the kind of thing you are talking about?

J: The best way to do this is not by writing letters. The best way to do this is face to face. You can write a letter to set up an appointment; you can write a letter to say “look, there is something very important I want to discuss with you- can we meet?”- yada yada ya. A phone call- you can phone them up and say “Hello -can I do this?” but the thing is that letters are a very weak way of doing this. Where this is really empowering is that when you’re sitting face to face with someone you care about, and you offer them the chance to contribute to your project.

Now, the second thing to remember is, first of all, everyone’s balance point is in a different place- A woman who’s on a pension, and gives $10 is in fact contributing more to the project than a multi-millionaire who gives you $10 000. You know- we think it’s the big donors who are the really important people- and we should therefore target them. No, not at all. Not at all. What is really happening here is that you are relationship- building with the person you are asking for money. There is nothing more influential than asking a person for money for a cause that you believe in. What you need to do is to consider the relationship as the thing that is important- not the getting the money. So that even if the person says NO it is just as important as if the person says YES. And the secret is to treat a NO answer the same way as you’d treat a YES answer- because then it becomes empowering. If on the other hand You feel that the NO is a rejection of you in some way or has some other meaning than just “no I can’t afford it”- If you make it mean something- e.g. that they don’t believe the cause…- then that’s using the fundraising to disempower yourself and make judgements about other people- and that should be avoided at all costs. The secret is to treat the people equally in that way, and to communicate of yourself authentically.

Invite those people who you know, once they have given, or even if they haven’t given, ask them “Do you know of anyone else who might be interested in this cause?” And then say “look- if I was to approach that person, could I use your name?” Or, “Could you introduce me to Joe Bloggs or Mary Smith so that I could ask them, or would you like to ask them?”- and explain how you went about asking, and say they could ask their friends in the same way. The town of Cattanning, using this method, raised a million and a half dollars in ten weeks, a third of the cost of their project. It can be done- and in Cattanning, just about everyone in the community finished up giving money to the project. This was to build a recreation centre in the community.


A: What about projects that are more abstract? Student activists are often doing projects that are more abstract than hands-on projects. Like raising awareness about a particular idea.

J: Turn all your abstract projects into things that people can do, and see, and feel. Now if you’re just saying “its an awareness raising campaign”- okay- this is an awareness raising campaign –For whom? By what time frame?

We, for instance, through the Gaia foundation, at one stage, we started a campaign to stop uranium mining- an awareness raising campaign- okay? That was the task that we set off to do- basically the mining was going ahead with a mine being opened inside Kakadu National Park -Jabiluka, and we wanted to stop it- so there was a group, first of all of five people, that grew to a group of twelve people, that grew to a group of thirty people- and the way in which we decided to raise awareness was to bring two people from Chernobyl to Western Australia, and we took journalists and a cameraman on a bus for fifty five days visiting all the uranium mine sites and all the major cities in Australia, to raise awareness about ending uranium mining in Australia.

Okay, that’s pretty abstract in a way- but we had an event- we had a bus tour that was taking people around Australia. It was a hundred thousand dollar project- and we finished up raising that money in fifteen weeks. Now, the way in which we did that was straight out asking people- “First of all, would you like to come on the bus with us?” If they couldn’t come on the bus, it was like “Okay, there’s another way you can get involved – we’re going to need a hundred thousand dollars. Would you like to give a donation of five hundred dollars?

With all fundraising, it’s a question of the context. What are you raising the money for? How much money are you needing? How much communication are you going to have with the people you are raising the money from, because one of the things is to let people know how it’s going- you know- even with people who say no- you say “are you interested in this campaign, and can I keep you informed? Would you like to know how the project is going from time to time?” And if the person says “yes”, phone them up or get in touch with them, and let them know. And you’ll very often find that people who initially are not interested, or “no I can’t give money”, they’ll say a few months down the track “you know the project you were working on? How is that going? Are you still asking for money? –My circumstances have now changed, and I can now afford to give the money, how about $200 or $300?”.


A: Another question, (that I probably should have asked at the start), is what are the main principles that your approach to fundraising is based on?

J: Good question. The single most important principle of them all is respect for people. And that includes respecting yourself as well as respecting the other person.

The second thing is that you are not begging as you are asking people for money. You’re not asking people from a relationship of lack, from a relationship of insufficiency. What you’re doing is coming to them out of a relationship of offering them something- what you’re offering them is the possibility of making a difference in the world; of making a difference in their lives- that’s a HUGE thing. Everyone wants to know that the life they’re living is worthwhile, and so if you give a person a chance to make a difference in life, as a result of their living- then that’s a huge gift. If you ask a person not out of a sense of offering a gift, but out of a sense of asking them for something you are not prepared to give yourself, then what you communicate is dishonesty and inauthenticity.

So the next principle on which this process is based, is really about being honest and authentic.

The third thing, which is really important, and we haven’t covered is that because most people are so embarrassed about fundraising is that when you ask someone for money, let them sit with it in silence for a little while- don’t try to fill the silence with words. We Europeans have a great belief that, you know ‘words are golden, but silence is worth nothing’-but it’s the other way around. Now Aboriginal people know, that a lot of communication happens most effectively when people aren’t talking at all. So when you ask a person for money, don’t keep talking about it. By talking about it, what you’re again communicating is “Hey look, um ah, I don’t really think that I’m offering you something that’s important- what I’m really saying is…” and again you are communicating your own insecurity about the project. So a lot of it is about being clear, and trying to find for yourself exactly what your relationship is- Where are you coming from in this project? Are you coming from a position of desperation; a situation of lack; of not enough; of insufficiency? Or are you involved in this project because it is important, it is exciting, it needs to be done and everyone needs to be involved in it because it will transform everyone’s life and ensure that the world is a better place for us all- and if that’s the place you’re communicating from, then that’s the way to do it.


A: Do you have anything else to add?

J: One thing to do: when you’ve got your list of people who you’re going to ask for money, who you’re going to approach for a donation to the cause, or ‘an investment in the future’ as some people talk about it- get together with a friend before you ask them- if you feel a bit nervous and a bit upset by this- get together with a friend, and role play the approach you’re going to make- say you’re going to ask your great-aunt Ethel- I don’t have a great aunt Ethel but imagine that I did- I get together with a friend and say “Look, I’m going to be raising money for a project (I’ve already asked them for money, by the way) and say, “Look, I’m going to be approaching my great-aunt Ethel in the next two weeks, mind if I role play with you now, just to get at ease with the approach I’m going to make?” And then what you do is you start by saying what kind of relationship you have with your great-aunt Ethel- you know, what she thinks of you, and you tell that other person, and so that other person for the role play becomes your great aunt Ethel. You describe how often you see her, how you’re going to phone her up and make an appointment, take her out for coffee or whatever- whatever it is, you set the scene. And then you imagine that you’re asking aunt Ethel: “Aunt Ethel, it’s good to see you- how are you? The real reason why I came around today is that I’m involved in the most amazing project, and we have got a target that we’ve set, and we need $15 000 in the next three months, and I’d like to ask you whether you’ll give us $300 towards this project”. And then you wait for her to respond- and she’ll probably say “Sounds interesting, tell me more.” This way, at the end of the conversation, you de-role your friend, and you ask them “How was it? Did I communicating authentically- did I build a relationship? Or was I communicating inauthentically and I was nervous and scared witless, and was that what was communicating? And if you are nervous and scared witless to ask this person for a donation, tell them that! Don’t try to cover it up and pretend you’re Mr. Cool or Mr. Smooth- cos that’s inauthentic too- say “Look, I’ve never done anything like this before, and I’m really quite scared about this, but, the reason why I’m here is that I’d like to ask you for $500. Doing it by role-playing beforehand, you’ll overcome a lot of fears and insecurities, and you might be surprised- the person might say “Yes! I’d like to give you money for that!”

What I’m working on at the moment, is through the Gaia Foundation we are running workshops for student groups, for community groups. And it can transform someone’s life, because it can give them a completely new relationship with money. One of the things I’m doing at the moment- the reason why I’m overseas is that I’ve been running workshops in the United States and Western Europe on these sorts of techniques, and I’m writing a book about it at the moment, so there’s a book coming out on fundraising as an empowering tool- but it’s part of a whole approach to how to run outrageously successful projects.


A: Do you have any other resources you can point to that students can find –on the internet or in books?

J: There’s an Australian Philanthropic Association, that’s in Melbourne- they have a lot of information about fundraising, a lot of good ideas about fundraising- so that’s one thing.

Another one too- another one that people haven’t thought through is, do you know about LETS systems? Ask people would they be prepared to donate LETS currency, if they can’t afford Australian currency.....


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