In case you don’t know her work, this is Amanda when she’s being a rock star
‘Six years of doing street performance gives you asking balls of steel…’
This is one of many observations that Amanda Palmer shared in her fantastic plenary session at IFC this year.
Amanda is an artist and a musician rather than a professional fundraiser, but she is well-placed to advise fundraisers about asking for things. When she wanted to create an album independently, she decided to fund it by asking her fans online. In 24 hours, she received over a million dollars.
In this talk she shared several helpful distinctions gleaned in a long career of asking. As a touring musician, Amanda had repeatedly asked her fans for favours as she travelled the world, needing somewhere to stay, or something to eat, or a piano to practice on… She discovered that the more you ask, the more friends you get. Of course, it is important to thank and acknowledge the givers, and she has found that social media is a useful tool to help do this.
When Forbes magazine interviewed Amanda to find out the clever trick behind her crowd-funding success, they were baffled to hear there wasn’t one. Instead, her fans chose to fund her album because she spent years and years developing real relationships with them.
Two all-too-common pitfalls to avoid
Amanda also suggested there are three ways of asking.
Firstly, there is DEMANDING. When we demand, we position ourselves as more important than the other person. We are not leaving room for a ‘no’.
A more common challenge for many fundraisers – and chief executives who are sometimes the reluctant face of fundraising – is to ask as if we are BEGGING.
When we request with shame / guilt, we are begging. Here, deep down, we feel we have no right to ask. One reason Amanda’s advice is so essential for our profession is that this discomfort is usually painfully clear to all present and affects any chance of a successful outcome for both parties.
In between these two extremes is ASKING in a way that we believe the asker and the potential donor are equals. The fundraiser has the right to ask and the potential donor has the right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. There must be room for the possibility of ‘no’. Interestingly, Amanda advised, when you leave room for a ‘no’, people can feel this respect, and are more likely to say ‘yes’.
Can shamelessness be a good thing?
She also explored the word ‘shameless’. It’s unfortunate that though the word ‘fearless’ has positive connotations, this is usually not true of the word ‘shameless’. But when you think about it, surely the absence of shame can be a really good thing.
She cited Henry David Thoreau, ‘one of the gods of self-reliance’, who wrote the classic Walden while getting back to nature, living in a hut by Walden Pond. Yet many people are surprised to hear that this hero of simplicity was nevertheless brought a bag of home-made donuts by his mother once a week.
Amanda says that though some have expressed their disappointment that the hero of self-reliance accepted the donuts, she instead thinks he’s all the smarter for his ability to ask / accept. He was able to give us a great work of literature, and he was also able to receive the donuts. Do we think that Einstein or Florence Nightingale or any other ‘great contributor’, refused to accept kindness? Perhaps it is their ability to ask as well as give that enable our heroes to make such a difference.
I particularly liked Amanda’s slides showing Thoreau, Einstein and Florence Nightingale receiving donuts. She advised us, the next time we are tempted to feel guilt about asking, we should think of people we admire and picture them ‘taking the donut’. By breaking the all-too-common pattern of guilt in this way, we have a greater chance of asking ‘shamelessly’.
Anyone who finishes an already wise and quirky presentation by also telling me to eat donuts is bound to leave me impressed, and this is what happened. Here’s Amanda’s final line:
‘How dare we not ask for the things we need to get our jobs done? Take the donut.’