Falling Backwards: Reflections on a Fundraising Campaign

Teach the Future completed its first fundraising campaign in May.  We raised about $15,000. But I was surprised to experience the oddest sensations the day we made our goal ($10,000), and were assured that we would get some money.

The first sensation was a variation of the ‘trust fall,’ when you stand on something and fall back into people’s arms.  I felt as though I had fallen backwards (or stepped off a cliff to make it even more dramatic), and the 60 or so campaign donors caught me.  The experience, however, was not typical trust fall since there was no camp counselor lining people up and telling them to catch me.  I just stepped off the cliff all on my own, and the community responded. Wow!  I was prepared for the campaign to fail, for me to fall flat on my face (or back as the case may be).  So it is difficult to express the gratitude and almost amazement 1) that I did that and 2) that people responded.  I’ve never felt that way before.

The second sensation was how I responded to the many people who congratulated me on the successful campaign.  My reaction was that I didn’t do that; the donors did.  They were the ones to be congratulated.  I realized that for almost the first time in my life, my success depended utterly on other people.  I’ve never been much of a team player.  I didn’t play organized sports or any other organized team activity, like theatre or orchestra.  I usually cut my own path where success (or failure) was mostly up to me.  

That isn’t true, of course.  Whatever success I have enjoyed was due to many people—my parents, my teachers, my colleagues and friends.  Running the futures UH program was definitely a team effort involving faculty, students, graduates and external organizations coming together to build something special.  But never before had I realized how completely dependent I was on the generosity and good will of other people.  

In our seminars, I teach that leaders “enroll others in a campaign to accomplish something of significance.”  I show a picture of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California.  He was a leader, and he began every speech with, “My name is Harvey Milk, and I am here to recruit you.”

But I also show a short YouTube video which says, “Leadership is overrated.”  It is followers that make successful leaders and, parenthetically, they are the reason that anything gets accomplished at all.  I am trying to be a leader, and frankly, for the first time in my life.  I knew there would be much to learn, such as social media and fundraising.  But I didn’t realize that I would be learning life lessons as well.

So a TMI thank-you to all those who caught me by enrolling in our social movement.  We will be calling on you again, early and often, to help us reach our goal of 1,000 teachers teaching the future by 2020.  Stay in touch!