Fundraising for the Dialogue: Reaching Out Broadly – With a Sharp Focus

October 6, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


A couple of us wanted to share the experience of going out to lots of people to raise funds for the Dialogue between Cornel West and Bob Avakian: Revolution and Religion: The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion, on November 15 at Riverside Church in NYC.

In building for the Dialogue we have met many people at all kinds of events from climate change forums and demonstrations, to speak-outs about Ferguson, to cultural events and more. We haven't limited ourselves to “political” events and have gone to things like meet-ups for online crowd-fundraising and we've been out broadly on campuses, at museums and at concerts.

This small team is telling people everywhere about the Dialogue, who both speakers are, why it matters that BA, this outstanding revolutionary communist leader is dialoguing with Cornel West, one of the foremost radical intellectuals and a self-described “revolutionary Christian”, on this topic that weighs so heavily on the lives of the great majority of people in the world today. That this Dialogue is about getting free and emancipation, and what religion has to do with that.

We ask people when we first meet them, to get together and talk about how they can support the Dialogue financially. So far, we have met or have meetings scheduled with professors, young tech entrepreneurs, an executive of a nonprofit working with Black youth and students, a marketing person at an important performing arts center, and other professionals in the arts. Most have known little or nothing about Bob Avakian and his new synthesis of communism and the real strategy and vision for revolution he has developed. Over the course of the conversation about donating, people have been intrigued and challenged by what they begin to learn about how the two speakers approach what religion has to do with the entire way human society is organized AND how it really could be different.

Initial Lessons

First of all, when you ask people (immediately and up front, when you first meet them) to sit down and talk about supporting this Dialogue financially and in other ways, you are right away proceeding from the great need to change everything and how their participation will contribute to this. Tens of thousands of dollars are needed for advertising and projecting this Dialogue society-wide, and to bring young people and others from across the country, including many locked out of the realm of ideas and the kinds of discussions about societal questions that may take place at campuses just a few blocks away but might as well be another planet. Bringing people together across great divides to get into the biggest questions confronting humanity and having that emanate back out into society – this is attractive and something many people want to know more about and be part of.

When we meet, we bring along a packet that includes the postcard for the Dialogue, a nicely produced and labeled CD of Cornel West's 2012 radio interview with Bob Avakian, the current Host Committee list, a copy of the article “Watching Fruitvale Station with Bob Avakian,” the Timeline of Bob Avakian's Political Activism and Revolutionary Leadership and an initial budget (soon to be posted).

We share the materials with people and we tell people the basics about what this Dialogue is and who both speakers are. After hearing and beginning to explore people's thoughts and questions, we ask for a donation in a specific amount or within a specific range. We do this very early in the meeting. We try to learn enough ahead of time about the person and the type of work they do to have a basic idea of what would represent a significant donation from them, in line with contributing to making the great potential of this event real. Asking for a significant donation has helped people understand the seriousness of the need and the fact that we are reaching for major impact in every corner of society. This is providing people with direction and a framework for how they can make a real difference.

After you ask, give the person some time to think about it and answer. Do not keep talking! If you have asked for an amount that represents a significant donation from the person, it is probably taking them out of their comfort zone. Let them consider that. If you just keep talking, you can distract them from the seriousness of the request and communicate that maybe it doesn't matter that much after all.

If the person is making any kind of significant donation, the first thing to say is “Thank you!” Whether they are donating a lot, a little or not at all, ask them what led them to their decision. We will learn a lot from this! If they want more time to think about a donation, we work to draw out further what they are weighing in making the decision. We want to work through with them why their donation will really matter. Arrange to get together again in a few days to hear their decision.

Sometimes people don't respond directly when we ask for a donation. One really critical lesson is to learn more about what people are thinking and let them learn more about what the Dialogue will accomplish and about BA – and then direct people back to their own contribution. The response may not be what you expect! I think one of the biggest obstacles to fundraising for the Dialogue – both asking for meetings and then winning donations in a meeting – is our own preconceptions about what a person may or may not be able to contribute.

We had the experience of meeting with a young professional who told us about their ongoing struggle to launch their own business and pay off huge college loans … and at the same time was increasingly moved and excited by the prospect of this Dialogue contributing to challenging the down-pressing role of religion which they feel acutely all around them. They started charting out ideas about how to spread it among important sections of people. Honestly, what was going through my head was, “well, this person doesn't have much money, we should proceed with their ideas about spreading this ...” (and these were very good ideas). But my partner jumped in, saying, “We really do want to come back to what you can donate at this time as well as hearing and working more on your ideas for taking this to others...” This led to a commitment that was larger than I expected and to a further and more real conversation about this person's ideas for raising funds among friends, the controversies to anticipate and how we will stay in touch and work together going forward.

The sharp focus in these exchanges on working with people to donate themselves has opened up their thinking about who they can reach out to for funds. It's important to follow through with involving people in putting this great need to others. How can they take this out among their friends? Are there people they will suggest we go to and use their names to introduce ourselves? Are there other ways they can spread the word and contribute to funding the event? Everyone we've met with has had ideas about this. 

So this is simple but we think represents important beginning lessons and breakthroughs in fundraising for the Dialogue – as involving people in changing the world! Many, many people right now have deep concerns and aspirations for something truly different and liberating. Most who feel this way have absolutely no idea of what that could be. But they can recognize, appreciate and learn more about this Dialogue, the revolution and its leader, BA – and Cornel West as part of this – as they begin to support it. These fundraising meetings are key to making the Dialogue a success – and they are opening people up to different possibilities that they may never have seriously considered before.

So let's see the mass movement around this event grow, blossom and contend! We should be reaching out to many kinds of people – in the religious community, in the arts, among young professionals of all kinds and all nationalities. Going to many people to raise funds in this way – right now! – is central to making the Dialogue reach the impact it can and must have.

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