I have the product, the original and compelling prototype built and ready to be put in a package and sold. Now I need to develop skill and confidence in the packaging and selling. Today I have a meeting with a man who runs a well-funded nonprofit that uses the discipline of 3-D animation as a therapeutic tool for “at risk” and court-involved teenagers. His organization has an office, where I will meet him, and a staff, including a Director of Programming, the job I had been mainly focused on for the first couple of years of my adventure in becoming the change I want to see in the world. Maybe I will be introduced to his Director of Development, which is what fundraising is called in the corporate world. I need to start meeting these money people and asking a lot of questions of them.
His organization is supported by grants from foundations and sponsored by several corporations. It seems to have been remembered by wealthy people in their estate plans. By all appearances it looks like it’s thriving.
What do I want from today’s meeting? Mostly to get insight into how to raise money, and get the name of a grant-writer to talk to. I plan to ask directly, at the proper moment, and for the rest of the meeting, actively listen. It is the minimum I’d like to take from today’s meeting and I must be sure to get it. Repeat: get contact info for his Director of Development and any grant-writers he knows.
Here are things I will keep in mind.
To speak little of my own program, answering only as much as asked for about it. To draw him out on how he went about building his unique inspiration into a working expression of his idea that is helping many and allowing them to express themselves, learn skills, work as teammates and better their lives. How he got it up and running– how he was inspired to turn his dream into reality and what steps he took. What advice he might have for someone in the beginning of a similar project.
I know the short answer is that it’s possible to build charitable organizations, even those driven by vague or ass backwards missions (as with several I’ve seen), with sufficient funding. If you start with enough money you can hire the people you need to take the organization pro in short order. How to get funding is the million dollar question.
The point of today’s meeting is to listen to this guy, draw him out, hear his ideas. Ideally end with him sympathetic enough to my goals to offer to be a mentor, talk on the phone, bounce ideas off of. That he seems to be a man of few words indicates to me that I should not ramble on either. I should pay attention to what he’s saying, be thoughtful, find areas of shared interest, ask engaging follow-ups.
He e-mailed back quickly to invite me to meet, and though he didn’t mention having clicked on my website, he’s no different from several of my friends in that regard. Even if I were inclined to hold that against him, it would blunt the point of today’s meeting if I had it anywhere in mind. It is, truly, meaningless whether he finds my program cool or not, although hopefully he does.
Today I’d like to take the tour of his facility, if possible, hear the full explanation, see more work by his students. The sale at this meeting is as subtle as the abuse many experience as kids and tricky to put into words. But it is a sale. The point of today’s meeting is to sell.
The person who made the introduction wrote “don’t let him get you to volunteer for him.” I am forewarned. The only other thing I know about the guy, really, is that he chooses to run a program to help “inner city” youth in trouble.
That he chose to do this with his life and creative energy speaks very well of him. I will applaud his mission and ask him how he got the drive to help these kids, tell him, if he asks, about going into that tenement in West Harlem that was right out of Bigger Thomas-world, the brutality and lowered expectations I witnessed there and at the Hugo Newman College Preparatory School there in Morningside Depths, the tremendous creativity I saw in the kids whenever they were given the chance to express it.
And remind myself to stay away from politics. Keep my end upbeat and open. I’m there to listen and drink in advice and wisdom. He’s the customer, and he’s by definition always right. Going there today to exercise the patience I’ve developed in other areas, see what, if anything, this fine man has to offer that could help my organization.
One thing I need to remember, this man was driven to be an artist before he started this organization, which. like mine, is based on creativity. He is among that small slice of people who are excited by creation, know the thrill of timelessness that comes upon a person when he or she is painting, drawing, layering parts on top of musical parts, composing, editing. I need to go there and see where he’s at. That connection to creativity could be the key to the whole meeting.
“Who’s in charge here?” the moments-before-angry faced teacher’s aid asked me in the workshop the day she filled in there for my absent assistant. It was a rhetorical question, I could see by her smile that she got it. The process was in charge, the organized chaos of creativity. She was amazed that no adult seemed to be directing it. There is no point to mention that to this fellow, he is a director in his program and imparting discipline is as important to his stated mission as freedom is to mine, maybe more so. But the impulse to create, this is a key.
Got to trim my beard, get in some of my least shabby clothes, and head down there, with these thoughts in mind:
identifying with kids in trouble
turning ideals to action
grant-writer and Director of Development
how did you find good people?