July 21, 2008 |
We’ve all seen the successes of Barack Obama’s campaign fundraising and the mainstream media coverage of microlending services like Kiva, but there are tons of other places on the Web where social media is being utilized for more grassroots efforts.
One of the most visible efforts in this regard has to be the Frozen Pea Fund . In less than six months, the idea begun by Susan Reynolds and Connie Reece after Reynolds’ cancer diagnosis has spread through Twitter, ooVoo, and now Second Life. I attended the BlogHer conference in Second Life this weekend, and was beyond shocked at the amount of non-profit efforts going on there. Coinciding with the conference was the fourth annual Relay for Life in Second Life, and by the time I attended the panel discussion on non-profits in Second Life, the relay had already raised over $165,000.
On a smaller scale, however, I’ve also seen efforts that are much more personal, from helping a family dealing with a medical crisis pay bills to contributing toward expenses that may seem out of reach for a typical family. One such effort I was happy to be just a tiny part of is Bags for Zaza. Jennie, the creator of Bags for Zaza, wanted to help her brother-in-law and sister-in-law with the huge expenses associated with their planned adoption. Modeling her efforts after yet another grassroots fundraising effort, the Darfur Project, Jennie began using her stash of fabric, much of it saved and recycled from other items, to make bags.
I was lucky enough to snag one of the Bags for Zaza before they got popular enough to be auctioned (the bags are now going for up to $150 last I checked!), and asked Jennie a few questions about her efforts and how they have been received:
How did you get started with Bags for Zaza?
Jennie: One day I started to get the idea that I, too, could make bags and that adopting Zaza was the perfect reason to do so. Before my Darfur Bag even arrived in the mail, I tentatively asked Joyce about a pattern for the bags and told her what I had in mind. She replied graciously and didn’t say anything nasty like, “Um, you’re a blog stalker and pirate; get lost.” I was encouraged. When my bag arrived in the mail I saw that I could, indeed, simply make my own pattern.
I then embarked on a journey into the dusty closets and corners of my home and started gathering all of my fabric into one handy location, my living room. I’m a terrible packrat and as I sorted through my finds, I projected that I could easily make 20 bags with the materials on hand (I realize now that I can make more than that). I made a pattern from my Darfur Bag with a few little modifications of my own. I sewed together 8 bags and built my blog site before I even mentioned the scheme to my in-laws. I told them what I was doing, then launched my site the next day. I sent out emails to friends and family and sold my first batch of bags within a couple days.
In less than 4 weeks I reached my initial goal of raising $500. However, if you know anything about adoption expenses, you’ll know that this is just a drop in the bucket. Gosh, I could go on forever, but I’ll wrap up this little history by saying that my sister-in-law (Zaza’s momma to be) is sewing up a storm now and other friends and family have also helped with the sewing. It looks like we’re going to keep going on this until Zaza comes home.
In a nutshell, inspiration for the scheme came from my desire to support Zaza’s adoption in a substantial, but feasible way. And the Darfur Project certainly provided a great model to build on. Another family was raising money for their adoption by selling t-shirts. The project was called “Saving Dowensky” and I’ve certainly thought of them a lot through this.
Of course, artistic inspiration also has come from the Darfur Project. However, I’ve discovered my own little inner artist and I enjoy sitting amongst my fabrics and just letting it come.
What reactions have you received, both from family as well as people online?
Reactions have been remarkable. As I said before, the family I’m doing this for had no idea what I was up to until I was pretty much on my way. They were surprised and have expressed their gratitude over and over again. Linda, Zaza’s mamma-to-be, is now sewing bags for the project and has blogged about how therapeutic this has been for her; she’s filling the time waiting for Zaza by doing something productive to bring her home (http://mysistersjar.wordpress.com/2008/06/23/new-auction-format-bfz/).
My own family have been terrific. We’re literally living amongst heaps of fabric, but my kids are always offering to help and everyone in the house has pitched in. Extended family members and friends have also been great – encouraging me, helping with sewing, and donating more fabric.
I’m a new contributor to the blogging community (although I’ve been a regular reader of a handful of blogs for a year or so). The fact that it is a real community is such an amazing thing to see. People are so genuine and forthcoming. Real friendships are being formed and real support systems are being built. Our culture has driven us apart and isolated us. Women who use to find friendships and support while doing laundry at the creek together are now finding their community through blogging. “Laundry at the creek” might be a good name for a blog!
Do you think that you have gotten a different reaction from the online community by offering something tangible in return for a donation rather than simply asking for money?
I really have a problem with how fund raising is conducted in our culture. Running a race isn’t going to cure cancer. I know it draws awareness, which in turn causes people to donate, but why can’t we just donate without all the overhead? I did not want to ask people for money. I just can’t imagine myself doing that in this situation; it’s such a personal cause. I can’t imagine people just handing me money so that someone they don’t even know can adopt a child. This is ultimately about me donating my labour. The fact that I already possessed a truck full of fabric has enabled me to donate 100% of the purchase price towards Zaza’s adoption — so satisfying. I am finally making some headway into reducing this ridiculous stash of fabric and really doing something I feel good about, something that has a tangible impact on the lives of people I love.
Have you received any negative reactions?
My mother has asked incredulously whether or not I’m spending any time with my family anymore. Which probably wasn’t negative, but she sounded a little concerned. I made her a bag and she warmed up . I sew in the middle of the chaos and hang out with my kids at the same time. They’re great little helpers.
So far, absolutely nothing negative. I keep wondering if I’m doing something wrong, if someone is going to accuse me of something terrible, if I’m not suppose to use the blogging community in this way. But so far it’s just positive positive positive.
I want to thank Jennie for her time with the interview, as well as for the bag, which goes with me everywhere. Not only do I get a lot of compliments on it, but it also starts a lot of conversations when I tell people where I got it and why. For those interested in getting their own bag, the side pocket fits an iPhone 3G perfectly, and I can fit my laptop in it easily as well for quick trips when I don’t want to lug two bags along.
Check back tomorrow for Part II, when I talk about the negative side of grassroots fundraising online.