Tag Archives: real food movement

Fear and Loathing in Fundraising

I am a very social person. I am also somewhat shy. Okay, don’t believe me. But it’s true.

Yesterday, I spent 12 hours meeting people and learning about amazing ventures including: the impressive leadership programs new client Oasis for Girls provides for young women of color and Ashoka’s Youth Venture’s work supporting entrepreneurs leading food justice initiatives.

I love building connections and collaborations to make good ideas a reality, but frankly, making new friends is scary. Before you build trust with someone you can’t guess the outcome of your interaction. We feel insecure: what if they hate that idea? What if I don’t have anything to offer this relationship?

Or, you can be like me: struggling in vain to swallow a mouthful of spanakopita in order to respond to a group of people paying compliments to my necklace. FYI, grace under pressure does not often walk hand-in-hand with a raid on the buffet table.

Luckily, we’re all human. They were sympathetic to my plight. Well, at least I proceeded to have very nice conversations with all of them. I could easily have fled. And if I’d been in a different situation – like a cotillion – I might have.

But I knew we were all at that table with a common goal: to figure out ways to work together to make sure everyone has access to healthy food. So actually, I felt safe. I got over my fear of looking ridiculous and had a great evening sharing ideas and resources.

But what happens when your fears of social interaction are justified, when you try to establish relationships and end up hurting your cause?

A Board member recently told me that when she was newly appointed, she was asked to call the organization’s supporters and ask them to give. But the donors hadn’t been prepared to receive these calls. Instead of being engaged by the new leadership, they felt defensive. The volunteer had pushed past her fear and instead of being rewarded was punished. Why? Because she wasn’t just afraid: she wasn’t safe.

Feeling safe – aka, establishing trust – means you can tackle something scary in a relationship knowing both parties have already agreed to the rules of engagement and want the same goal.

I will tell you this right now: some people can roll with the punches when the rules of engagement are changed suddenly. But some people cannot. If you try to force new terms on them suddenly, then they don’t feel safe. And when thinking about your donors are you really ready to ask for forgiveness instead of permission?

These donors had a relationship with the organization where 1) they received letters asking for support and 2) they responded with a gift. All of a sudden, someone they didn’t know changed the relationship to the level of a phone call AND asked them to recommit in the same moment.

We’re all so pressed for time and resources, it’s easy to forget to check-in with each other. We know we’re ready to jump into the unknown and assume our supporters will follow us. It’s a false assumption.

You can’t skip steps in building relationships. And you can’t have a relationship with someone who doesn’t trust you. While your supporters might feel scared to follow you as you jump, make sure they trust you enough to feel safe going skydiving with you in the first place. They’ll be more willing to take the risk and your mission will reap the rewards.

ABC’s of Food: Starting with Our Kids

Today the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity released its recommendations for Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within One Generation.

No matter your politics or geography, it’s become impossible to ignore the truth about food and kids. The statistic that 1 in 3 children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime is actually inconceivable, as big numbers like that usually are. We’re all reduced to numbers by statisticians but we think the scary number in the equation isn’t referring to us.

In the 3rd grade I had one diabetic friend. I was horrified when Xenia had to prick her finger and give herself shots. She said it was no big deal. The day she began to shake and turned white, then ate the apple she always carried was the first inkling I had of the ominous force controlling her life, more frightening than any of her rituals.

Xenia had Type 1 diabetes. My mother explained that children with this disease had horrible things happen to them as they aged. Blindness, kidney failure, early death. In the 80s, only older adults got Type 2 diabetes, when they began to wear out and their bodies couldn’t tolerate sugar.

Nicholas Christakis’ new TED talk on the Influence of Social Networks begins with an explanation of how obesity spreads across networks of friends and families. He calls it a “multi-centric epidemic” and notes it’s not just behaviors that spread across social networks, it’s actually social norms.

I can’t comprehend that Xenia’s experience has become the norm – and therefore must seem normal – to millions of children who are sick, or whose parents, friends, and siblings are diabetic.

The happy news is that Christakis says while networks spread bad stuff, there must be an evolutionary reason they developed and persist. He believes benefits outweigh the costs and “social networks are required for the spread of good and valuable things” like ideas. Now our social networks are rapidly expanding online, spreading good stuff that will hopefully outweigh the proliferation of keyboard cat videos or pics of Beyonce in unflattering swimwear.

A great example of good things spreading was given today in a live chat on Grist.org, by author of Diet for a Hot Planet, Anne Lappé. She talked about what she’s seeing happening at the government level:

“I think…solutions have to be multifaceted: from education to media literacy to policy change. It can feel overwhelming, but from my vantage point, I’ve seen such incredible action on the ground that I’m really encouraged…from the Manhattan Borough President (who just legalized beekeeping to promote urban agriculture) to the City of Santa Monica (which banned non recycled take out packages) to the City of San Francisco (which just released a local-emphasized food procurement policy) to the City of Seattle (which declared this year the Year or Urban Agriculture) to the City of Portland (which just rededicated its edible garden, that replaced its lawn, in front of city hall). It’s happening.”

Sorting through all the the good information out there is a different challenge and it’s hard to find a place to begin personally, let alone the right checklists for how to make change in our own lives and throughout our local social networks. I’ve added another box on the left with what I think are the best basic resources for getting started. Go forth and garden.

Photos: Blast from the past: a “normal” pantry of yesteryear, Sierra gets saucy in the garden.