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Crowdfunding for Activists: 5 Tips for Creating Successful Online Fundraising Campaigns

I prepared this short presentation as part of the “Feminist Cyborgs: Actvism, Online Fundraising, and Security” webinar, hosted by African Feminist Forum and Association for Progressive Communications.

My 10-minute presentation includes a brief introduction to crowdfunding and some popular crowdfunding tools. Additionally, using my Africans for African new media project as a case study, I share 5 quick tips for running a successful fundraising campaign. The main points from my presentation are outlined as follows, with the actual presentation embedded at the bottom of this post.

Feminist Cyborgs: 5 Tips for Creating Successful Online Fundraising Campaigns

Overview of Crowdfunding

  • Sometimes referred to as Crowdfunding
  • “Funding via a networked group”
  • Using social media networks to raise money for projects
  • Collective effort of individuals who network and pool their resources
  • Connects people who have needs to the people who can meet those needs

A Few of My Favorite Crowdfunding Platforms

  • IndieGoGo: Flexible fundraising rules i.e. you can keep funds you raise even if you don’t meet your goal; permits multiple types of projects (creative, small business etc) to raise funds via the platform
  • Kickstarter: Strictly creative projects; if you don’t raise target funds by deadline, you don’t get any of the money; features include powerful social media marketing tools
  • Africans in the Diaspora (AiD): Raises funds for projects based in Africa; includes community philanthropy tools e.g. blogs and resources about fundraising, development, etc, targeting the diaspora.
  • 234Give: Nigeria’s first online fundraising platform for charities based in Nigeria (Note: I have not used this platform personally, so this is not an endorsement. Just think it’s cool that African countries are tapping into crowdfunding.)
  • GlobalGiving: International fundraising platform; NGOs across the world can register and raise money from top donor countries on this platform, including US, UK, Singapore, India.
  • PubSlush: A crowdfunding platform for authors, agents, and publishers. (Note: I have not used this platform personally, but plan to in early 2013).
  • ProBueno: My MIT classmate’s startup, crowdsourcing volunteers who donate the cost/value of their services to charities. Neat setup, actually e.g. rather than donate money, I offer (via the platform) my new media consulting services to someone who will pay for them, I donate money earned (e.g. $100/hr for 2 hours) to charity of my choice on the platform. #watchthisspace #itmaychangethegame
There are many other easily accessible and efficient fundraising platforms available all over the world; but as with all social media innovations, you must choose the platform that makes the most sense for you — for your project and for your target audience.

Introduction to Online Fundraising

  • A little money goes a long way
  • By pooling smaller amounts of money from a groups with common interest, larger financial goals are achievable
  • Social media makes it easier for people with similar interests to connect; great potential for raising capital for projects
  • Large capital is reduced as a barrier to doing good due to growing popularity of online fundraising in philanthopy sector
  • In 2011, online giving grew in double-digit percentages across ALL sectors (so, not just NGOs working with orphans who could show cute photos — everyone is benefiting)

Things to Remember

  • Social media = media that is social, period.
  • Don’t confuse the tools (social media, which is technical) with the task (asking for money, which is human)
  • Having a Facebook Page does not guarantee you money.
  • You (a person) must raise funds from your network (people)
  • The quality of your network = The quality of your relationships with individuals in that network
  • Offline fundraising principles apply online.

Africans for Africa Project: A Case Study

  • Independent project training African-women led NGOs to use new media
  • Raised ~$15,000 in 30 days via online fundraising campaign
  • Focus on Women, Youth, Gender & Sexuality Issues
  • South Africa, Namibia, Botswana
  • One-on-One Consulting and Team Sessions for Organizations
  • Online Fundraising Workshops (Open to the Public)
  • Over 400 workshop participants, 60 organizations

5 Tips for Online Fundraising

Tip 1: Learn to “Ask”
The most important element of any campaign is the “ask.”

  • You must ask before you can receive. (Note: The most popular reason cited by people as to why they didn’t give is “No one asked me.”)
  • For Africans for Africa: In addition to bulk emails, I sent personal emails, FB messages, text messages, and phone calls to individuals. In world 2.0, going the extra mile to personalize communications to individuals will achieve better results than “mass”/public calls to action.
  • Lesson: Practice and test your with different (trusted) audiences; don’t play with live money.

Tip 2: Know Your Audience
You wouldn’t ask your best friend for money in the same way you would ask a professional colleague, would you?

  • Different audiences require different messages.
  • Don’t speak to everyone in the same way — you don’t know all of these people in the same way.
  • Africans for Africa: “MIT Classmates” received different messaging from “Activists”, who received different messaging from “Feminists” and “Fellow Social Media Gurus”. Also, I bombarded my brother with requests to donate (cause I can do that) but only sent an email per week to more professional contacts so as not to “annoy” people.
  • Lesson: Segment your list, create messages and themes for each before you begin sending communications. Make sure frequency reflects the relationship.

Tip 3: Trust Your Inner Circle Power
People give money because they trust you.

  • People will give to organizations and individuals with credibility, that they trust will use their donation towards the states goals.
  • Study shows that number one factor influencing trust is actually recommendations from friends and family.
  • Africans for Africa: Bulk of my donations came from close friends, who encouraged others to contribute as well. I found that I didn’t have to ‘sell’ my project to friends of friends. Here’s what happened, a lot: “You’re __’ friend, which means you must be awesome. Here’s _ dollars.”
  • Lesson: Don’t ignore your family and friends. They’re you’re biggest advocates and can help you raise even more money (if you “ask” them to).

Tip 4: Set (Realistic) Goals
Fundraising isn’t about luck. You must set goals to meet.

  • People (yourself included) are more driven to give by public benchmarks.
  • Africans for Africa: I asked 15 people to contribute, every day, to increase chance of meeting goal of 10 donors per day. I also declared my goals publicly every day, to make sure I was also putting pressure upon myself to deliver “success” stories and momentum.
  • Lesson: Set daily, weekly, and monthly goals. Make them public. People want to help. And if they see mini-goals as possible, they’re more likely to give. Also, if you set daily goals for yourself, you’re more likely to brainstorm creatively when you see you’re at risk of not meeting them! (e.g. 4 pm, I said I’d have 10 donors by 5, I only have 8 — eeek! *Proceeds to call everyone and their mama*)

Tip 5: Recognition and Gratitude
There’s a reason you always see “Thank You” on a sales receipt.

  • People need to feel appreciated in order to stay engaged.
  • Africans for Africa: Different perqs came with encouraging titles and levels of recognition, such as “Ally”, “Champion” etc. I also always sent immediate Thank Yous and social media shout-out to new donors. I didn’t wait till the end of the campaign to thank them, and it worked; a few of them, now that they had already donated, helped me raise more money from their networks because they felt included, and appreciated.
  • Lesson: Come up with creative ways to recognition, before and after the “ask” in order to nurture repeat-givers and advocates.

Most Important Tip: Be Human
Connect with people’s hearts. Facebook doesn’t make campaigns successful; people do.

  • Your story matters; why you care about this project matters
  • “People connect with people, not campaigns.” – ZerobyZawadi
  • Africans for Africa: My campaign story was about “me” i.e. why I wanted this project to succeed, its impact on me, personally, and the lives of people I deeply care about.
  • Lesson: Reflect on why this project really matters; avoid some regurgitated version of your organization’s mission statement — toss that immediately. Reflect and communicate why this project really matters — to you, and to the people you care about. Be honest. Be vulnerable, even, and people will rise to the occasion to help you succeed.

The End!

Interested in New Media Consulting? If you’d like to schedule a full or half-day workshop on online fundraising for your organization or individual campaign, please don’t hesitate to contact me via the “Contact Me” button on the sidebar.

Alternatively, if you’re thinking of launching an online fundraising campaign and would like some feedback on your current online fundraising efforts (including social media audit, list preparation, messaging, and engagement strategy), mention this blog post to receive an online fundraising consultation via Phone or Skype at $75/hr for the first hour, and $100/hr thereafter. If you’re seeking a social media campaign manager for a longer, fixed period, we can chat about that, too! Use the “Contact Me” button to send me an email. Please allow at least 48 hours for me to respond to you.

Note: I offer lower rates to grassroots groups whose primary targets include either of the following groups — Women, LGBTI, Africans/POC. 

African Feminist Cyborg

I am An African Feminist Cyborg: Activism, Fundraising and Security Online

I’m participating in a webinar hosted by The African Feminist Forum and Association for Progressive Communications: ‘Feminist Cyborgs: Activism, Fundraising and Security Online’

Who is a feminist cyborg?

“The feminist cyborg is at home both online and offline, and her activism is reflected in her online life (whether it is through blogs, tweets and general online presence) as well as in what she does offline (working for a feminist organization, working with women’s rights organizations and social justice movements, or in progressive media).”

I’d go further to add that the African feminist cyborg’s super powers can be online and offline simultaneously, as her world exists beyond the fragmented and finite conceptions of “online vs. offline” to the fluid, whole, and layered landscape of world 2.0.  Interesting in hearing more?

Join this amazing panel for an exploration of cyber activism, fundraising, and online security, featuring yours truly:

Yara Sallam (Egypt) will speak about her experiences of activism in Egypt, and concerns around online activism.

Spectra Asala (US/Nigeria) will share her experiences of fundraising online to raise money to deliver training to LGBTIQ and women’s rights organizations in South Africa.

Jan Moolman (South Africa) will speak on online security and violence against women in online spaces. Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah (Ghana) will facilitate the webinar.

Register for the Webinar in English or French

Monday December 3rd, 2012 at 1:00 pm GMT (English), sign up below: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/5124936193595694592

This webinar will be repeated on 5th December at 1:00 pm GMT with French translation. Francoise Mukuku (DRC) will replace Jan Moolman and speak on online security and violence against women in online spaces. Note: After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

I hope you’re able to join. Do ask questions. I LOVE questions. They make for really vibrant discussions. Much love to you all.

UPDATE: Despite technical difficulties, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing from other African women’s activists about their work using social media for advocacy. A “Live Blog” of the event can be found here. Also, thoughts and ideas from my presentation can be found, in full, here

Making It In Media 101

Social Media for Social Change: 10 Tips from a Queer African Media Activist

I recently spoke at a panel at NYU’s “Making It In Media” lunch panel and discussion series, which prompted a personal reflection of my non-conventional, non-linear career trajectory as a writer and a media activist.

Read “Making It In Media, Accidentally: One Queer African Writer’s Journey to Paradise” if you’d like some background.

In that post, I talked about the importance of leading from within, knowing yourself enough to carve a career path for yourself that’s beautifully unconventional. However, in addition to sharing my personal story and philosophy, I wanted to share a few tangible new media tips, tricks, and strategies that have been helpful to me in  my career so far. (Note: Join my mailing list if you’re interested in more of these.)

These tips don’t hold all the answers to “Making It In Media”, not by a stretch. But I do believe they will be helpful to anyone who’s just getting started with social media, would like to learn how to be use it more strategically, or even serve as a good refresher for someone who’s been tweeting and blogging for years.

At the core of my message is, of course, my mantra: “Love Is My Revolution”; my work serves to support and uplift others, and so I write and share from this place, always. But, also intrinsic in my message about using media for change is another simple idea: no matter how much technology we use, people are still people.

Thus, in order to achieve real influence, you’re going to have to apply the normal rules of effective communication, whether or not you’re tweeting from a smartphone, updating Facebook  via iPad, or publishing an op-ed for the HuffingtonPost. Because in order to achieve real influence, truly connect with others online, you’re going to have to dare to be human.

So, here are 10 Tips for Making it In Media, from a passionate, introverted writer who strongly believes in the power of using social media for social change, including being human enough to intermittently tweet about your cats, courageous enough to stand for what you do know, and brave enough to admit when you don’t know nearly enough about a whole lot of things:

1. Take a Position: So, you wanna be a thought leader… Well, the good news is that the digital space is filled with followers, spectators, and consumers, all passively experiencing the web. Consider this: A few studies have shown that in most online communities, 90% of the users are lurkers (i.e. they never contribute/just read and consume), 9% contribute a little, and 1% account for nearly all the action. This is VERY good news for anyone who has something important to say– the odds are already in your favor. Tap into the power of being in the 1%. The 90% are eagerly waiting for you to say something.

2. Engage in (Dis)agreement: I once dated a woman who would make outlandish statements, and then, when I would counter or challenge, would say to me, “I don’t need to defend my ideas to you.” I found that alarming, and then (with my activist hat on) really scary. To think that there are so many people moving through the world carrying the same ideas in their heads they’ve had since they were four! Why? Because they don’t enjoy confrontation. But (respectful) disagreement, though uncomfortable for some, is actually very healthy; it forces us to re-think our initial ideas, and–through debate with othersstrengthen our arguments, or can them altogether. If you’re going to take a position (as in step one), be prepared to see it through. Find people who disagree (and agree) with you, too. You can change the world, one debate at a time.

3. Choose Your Battles: So, I know I just said that debate and dialogue are good, but unfortunately–and just as in real life–they’re all not worthwhile. Use your airtime wisely. Before you engage, especially in disagreement, consider the level of influence or visibility of the person you’re debating, and the number of people watching. Don’t waste your airtime, for instance, on a Twitter troll (no pic, virtually no followers, but lots of venom/animosity) who’s just looking for a fight, someone to bully. Avoid back and forths with hecklers who have little to no influence (this is subjective, so you can assess for yourself). The way I see it, if I’m going to spend time investing in an online conversation, a whole lot of people better be watching, and possibly being swayed… ’cause again I write for influence, for change. That is always worth it.

4. Participate in Pertinent Conversations: Now, the first three tips assume you got on a soapbox one day and people started listening to you, asking you questions, agreeing or disagreeing. This assumes you already have a base network. But what if you’re just getting started? It doesn’t matter how brilliant you are. If you’re not sharing your ideas with others, you’re basically talking to yourself. Ever seen someone standing in the middle of a networking event spouting off every other minute about how much they know? Weird (and obnoxious); you’ll most likely be ignored. If that happens, how will anyone know that you could possibly hold the key to curing cancer? How can you get people to listen to you? Well, for starters, get off the soapbox and find a conversation that’s already happening; introduce yourself, chime in, contribute intelligently, let your brilliance speak for itself. You’ll find that people are more likely to engage in conversation than voluntarily sign up for (your) lecture. Use that to your advantage. And remember to always leave people with a way to get in touch with you if they want!

5. Niche Your Knowledge: Be consistent. I’m not saying you should sound like a robot, just focus. If you can, choose a niche. It’ll make it easier for people to remember why they need to stay connected with you, and when they should recommend you to someone else (e.g. “You’re writing a paper about feminism in Atlanta, I know an amazing blogger who writes about that stuff!”).  Additionally, niche-ing yourself will also help you in determining how, where, and with whom to spend your time. Some experts call this platform-building. Check it out. Dan is awesome. And his newsletter got me to stop intermittently tweeting about my cats amidst political calls to action (well, mostly).

6. Specialize, But Stand Out: So you’ve been smart about engaging in conversations related to your field of expertise, nurturing a larger, yet more focused platform to showcase your brilliance. Bravo! But now, you have a different task to conquer — distinguishing yourself from the hundreds of other self-proclaimed gurus in your field. Now that people know you’re the go-to person, say for cute cat photos feminism in Liberia, now what? What separates you from that other feminist who write about Liberia? Why would an audience choose to stay connected to you? What’s in it for them? This line of questioning may sound cynical, but the truth is that everyone wants something. You want followers, fans, and influence. What do you think your followers want from you? If you can find a way to convey nuance to your audience, you’ll get more attention. Better yet, if you can find a way to offer something of value to them, say *cough* a list of tips for Making It In Media, you’re more likely to earn their loyalty (and prove that you may actually know what you’re talking about). For example, there are hundreds of progressive/feminist blogs on the internet that tend to all say the same exact thing; I’ve managed to create a niche for myself that allows me to write about a range of issues because my brand isn’t tied to what I write about, but how I write about them. Ask, Melissa Hill Perry — she digs my principles of afrofeminism (win!).  So find out what makes you unique, even within your niche. Create value, and earn loyalty.

7. Quality over Quantity: When I first started publishing my writing online, I couldn’t imagine how bloggers could find the time or energy to crank out post after post after post, while I would slave away for days, sometimes weeks over a single piece. So, at first, I tried to “keep up” by publishing more frequently, which only resulted in my publishing more crap; I actually lost readership. See, in an effort to emulate other bloggers,  I’d begun writing about whatever I thought was “the thing” to write about; my pieces lacked focus, passion, depth, and didn’t help build my reputation. In fact, they distorted it. The minute I returned to writing the longer, personal, insightful commentary I was known for, my readership began to grow again. Moreover, publishing less frequently (but more regularly) meant that I could spend more time in between deadlines promoting each piece. I came to deeply appreciate my work as critical, thorough, and creative; eventually, the loyalty of my readers affirmed that my words are worth the wait. The lesson here: People may visit your site once for a blog post, but it’s the quality that will keep the same readers coming back, repeatedly.

8. Collaborate with Others: It’s no secret: self-absorption is quite prevalent in media spaces. So many people are trying so hard to “make it” they’ve forgotten that we’re all part of a larger ecosystem. Now, before you dismiss this as a “feel good” tip, remember tip #4; if you think engaging with other people in your space could be beneficial, consider the power of collaborating with them. Incidentally, Tyler Perry and Oprah — two highly successful and influential black media mavens — just decided to work together. What do they stand to gain? Combined clout, for one.It can’t hurt to pool their resources either; the entertainment industry is still systemically racist after all.

9: Connect and Support Others: But what about this idea of linking people to resources? Highlighting other people’s work just because? According to Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, being a “Connector” has its rewards as well; if you’re genuinely helpful to others i.e. connect people to resources they need, people will appreciate you, perhaps come to rely on you, trust you, like you, and as a direct result, stay highly engaged and be eager to give you support when you need it. I saw this first-hand when my online fundraising campaign for Africans for Africa raised ~$15K; so many people donated money, connected me to resources I needed because they were eager to return the favor (some I couldn’t even remember doing!). I make it a point to list other blogs I read in my sidebar, mention other activists and organizations doing work similar to mine whenever I’m interviewed, and actively mentor young people. There’s value in connecting and supporting others. So don’t become just another self-serving loudspeaker. Give and you shall receive.

10. Be Purposeful: I haven’t necessarily put these tips in order, but if I had to think of the top three, this would certainly be one of them. Before I publish anything, speak anywhere, respond to any criticism, I ask myself three questions: “Who am I talking to?” “What is the most effective way I can deliver this message to them?” “What do I want to happen as a result of their listening?” Now, if you wanna write  or speak or be on TV etc just for the sake of being famous, then perhaps this won’t matter. If you run your blog like your personal diary, that too won’t matter. But, if you’re a bit like me, and you want to write for change i.e. you want to engage in transformational conversations with groups of people, then you must always consider these questions before you produce anything. I wouldn’t write about homophobia to a group of US college soccer players the way I would to an audience of religious African women, nor would I begin a conversation with harsh criticisms of views I don’t agree with if I really wanted them to see where I was coming from. Be purposeful in your use of media; know who you are and what you want to get out of it. And it’ll be a lot easier to navigate through the noise from feedback later.

A Word to the Wise: Practice Principled Apathy (aka Don’t Take It Personally)

This is an extra point, I know. But I simply couldn’t end without stressing this. The thing about taking a position is that you submit yourself (plus your ideas, and sometimes, even your character) to feedback and scrutiny by the 90%, spectators whose job it is in this system to validate or invalidate your position (See point #1). Simply put, you must be ready to deal with criticism, both good and bad.

Ghandi said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

I have found that spending time reflecting on point #10 — leaves me better prepared to engage with comments and feedback, whether positive or negative, afterwards. When I know why I’m writing, and who I’m writing to, it’s a lot easier for me to choose who to engage with (and how) in the event of backlash. When I think about all the people I look up to, it’s easy to see that they all stood for something, and paid for it in mass criticism. That’s why it’s important to remember the why behind your use of media. If you keep your purpose — which is to help people — at the back of your mind, there’s no storm you won’t be able to weather.

And so I close with some wisdom from Spiderman, with a twist: With great influence comes a greater need for principled apathy.

You must learn to weed through the rubble for the nuggets that will either help you strengthen your message or nudge you further along the right track towards justice.

Well, there you have it! 10 Tips for Using Social Media for Social Change, after a Making It In Media, Accidentally.

Reminder: I wrote most of these tips from my experience as a writer who blogs, and uses her online social media channels for social justice, so the tips here may not be applicable to other media platforms. Hence, I encourage you to add to or adapt this list for your own purposes. You may also view what others have offered via the #howtomakeitinmedia Twitter chat archive on Storify. (Link coming soon).

Thanks for reading. I hope these get you started off in the right direction.

It would be great to hear from you, especially if you found it helpful, to encourage me to keep on sharing :) Which tips above do you often apply to your work? What other tips would you recommend to others — new and experienced — who are interested in more strategic use of media platforms for social justice? I often write these things and am never quite sure who’s reading them. 

One Love.

Love is My Revolution

Making It In Media, Accidentally: One Queer African Writer’s Journey to Paradise

I recently spent some time reflecting on my work as a media activist and advocate.

This reflection came partly in preparation for my feature at New York University’s “Making it in Media” panel, a lunchtime panel series that provides an opportunity for students interested in careers in media to connect with media professionals of diverse backgrounds.

I had been looking forward to sharing my experience as a media activist with students, and hopefully, making a case for the importance of alternative media as a tool for advocacy as well as a worthwhile career path. But as the event approached, and I tried to think about what I’d say to students who were just starting out, I realized I wasn’t quite clear on what I would say exactly.

My career path in media hasn’t been linear or conventional by any means.

I went to MIT to study Mathematics, which I thoroughly enjoyed before realizing that I really enjoyed writing and had to “come out” to my parents as an artist hoping to end up with a liberal arts degree from a science school. (It went well, considering…)

In an effort to earn my stripes as a certified nerd (and rid myself of immigrant parent guilt — “you mean we sacrificed so much for you to attend the best science school just for you to be a “writer”?), I worked in the software industry for about five years. I hated it. Yes, hated it. So I channeled all the frustration that came with working 60-70 hr work weeks into my passion for new media and social justice, which culminated in my founding and growing a social networking organization for Queer Women of Color in Boston, then later on, QWOC Media Wire, a media hub for LBTQ women of color and the Diaspora.

When the recession hit and I lost my job, I realized I still had a reason to get up every day and ‘go to work.’ My organization had grown, and was receiving national exposure due to our social media campaigning efforts. So, even though I wasn’t getting paid for my work (whether as a writer or activist) the show had to go on.

With new media as my focus, I continued down the path of social justice, and very quickly, the successes in my community work earned me a reputation for “applying” what I knew about media and diversity. People started inviting me to come speak, train, coach on how to use social media for thought leadership, community outreach,  and online fundraising. I couldn’t work with everyone that asked, so I relaunched this blog, and began writing about the issues I was working on, sharing my ideas.

What Does Success in Alternative Media Look Like?

Flash forward a few years, and here I am with an international blog readership, a few more accolades, and the privilege of making a decent living through various writing, consulting, and media projects for good.

I raised over $15,000 in less than 30 days for my Africans for Africa project this year; I was just offered a contract position to advise a prominent foundation on how to re-write their site’s content to make it snappier, more engaging, and reflective of their brand; and I’m constantly invited to sit on panels that indicate people think I know a thing or two about “How to Make It In Media.”

I know my parents are proud of me, but I’m also pretty sure that this isn’t quite what they had in mind when they dropped me off at college. They hadn’t banked on my tendency to strive to be the best at nearly everything I did to manifest as my becoming the “gayest Nigerian ever” (seriously, my site stats report that this is what someone searched for one day and found my blog). And, to be honest, this isn’t what I’d imagined my life would be like either. Thus, when people ask me, “How does one make it in media, exactly?” I’m not quite sure how to answer.

I get emails all the time from younger people who want to know how it is that I get to do what I do. What did I study? What courses would I recommend? How do they get started in their own media careers?

What to tell them when my own “career path” (it feels so weird to even think of it that way!) hasn’t been straight-forward? I don’t have the answers. I’m not even sure I can say that I’ve actually “made it”. I posed the question of #howtomakeitinmedia on Twitter followers and got a few great responses. I’ll share my favorite one from Soli Philander:

“I think what’s most important is to define what “Making It In Media” means for you.”

Because I’ve felt like an outsider most of my life, “Making It In Media”, for me, has meant using media to connect with “my people”, whether African women, Nigerian feminists, LGBTI Diaspora, queer bois, and more, for the purpose of affirming each other’s experiences, growing and healing together.

“Making It In Media” has meant being able to build for myself and others, a support network, so we all can feel less alone, using my voice to advocate for people who don’t have as much access to resources as I do, filling the spaces between the black and white of political agendas with the personal stories that are often missing from policy implementation, a result which when botched, impacts marginalized communities the most.

“Making It In Media” for me means nurturing a younger generation of women (and other marginalized people) to claim their right to their own histories, by writing it; equipping them with one of the most powerful ideas I’ve ever received — that we do not need to sit around waiting to be written about; we can write our own histories, influence policy, and change the world from where we are.

And yes, “Making It In Media” means, also, one day, being interviewed by Ellen. Maybe for winning a Pulitzer.  That’s obviously nowhere near happening yet, but I’m working on it. ;)

So You Want to Make It In Media: Now What?

I don’t know what “Making It In Media” means to you — you who are still reading this, and I might guess, are interested in doing the same. I don’t know where you should begin or where you are. But, I do know this: regardless of who you are, or what your parents wanted you to be, irrespective of what you studied or didn’t study in college, whether or not you event went to college, if you can’t find your ideal job description at your school’s career fair or on Craigslist, you absolutely possess the power, more now than ever, to transform what you love into what you do for a living.

I’m more fulfilled in my work as a writer and media activist than I ever would have been as just another ivy league consultant on wall street. I’ve met smart, passionate, inspiring people from all walks of life who have taught and given me so much. The passion and drive I have for helping others has been so rewarding, and I know it will continue to be as long as I remain true to myself, and lead from within. Maya Angelou puts it best: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

So I offer this to you: Don’t drive your career with someone else’s rear view mirror. Don’t tailgate an externally constructed ambition or let someone else’s version of success distract you from the most important driver on the road… you. 

This is especially true for people you look up to. It’s easy to compare yourself–especially in media–to others who may seem more visible (more press mentions), more influential (more followers), more “successful” than you. Resist the urge to veer off your path chasing someone else, whose destination you do not know.

Be the center that guides your trajectory. Shine brightly enough from within and your path will become clearly illuminated ahead of you. And when that happens, follow it.

Follow it even though it feels endless and like you’re headed nowhere. Follow it when you’re the only one on that road and you see no other cars next to you. Follow it when the voices in your head tell you that it’s time to give up, admit that you’re wrong and turn around. Don’t turn around. Follow it, and one day you will arrive at your very own version of paradise.

I have spent years navigating awkward relationships with my parents, who couldn’t understand why I would invest so much time and energy into something that wasn’t helping me pay my bills. There were times when I went weeks with just eating ramen noodles because I couldn’t afford to go grocery shopping. I worked jobs I hated, took gigs that paid me a fraction of what I was worth. I doubted myself whenever a classmate, or a close friend got a promotion, bought a new car, or took an expensive vacation; whenever my straight friends would ask me why I write so much about LGBT issues all the time, “Isn’t it pigeon-holing you?”

I would ask myself over and over again each morning, “What are you doing?” But what’s most important is that I could always answer, “I’m doing what I love. And I’m doing it as me.” When you are down in the trenches of your own epic movie, and there’s no one to look to for inspiration (for fear of jealousy, envy, or that they’ll see that you’re not quite so sure of yourself), all you have is your own voice. Make sure it’s always honest. Make sure it’s always true to you. Listen to it. Lead with it. And you’ll make it, not the right way, but your way, and find all the love, fulfillment, and pride you were denied in your journey, waiting for you at your destination.

I haven’t “made it”. But I’m proud to say that the gains I have made came with authenticity and integrity; all of me. I’m relieved to know that I will never have to fragment myself to fit into anyone else’s narrow lane, because from the very beginning, I promised to find my own way. I wish for so many of you, the same exact thrill.

Safe journey.

Now, because I do feel strongly about giving out practical advice, I’d also like to share some grounding principles I’ve acquired and tweaked during my “career” that have helped me gain the visibility and influence I do have in my own lane. Check them out via the post “Social Media for Social Change: 10 Tips from a Queer African Media Activist“. I hope you find them useful.

But hey, before you go, leave a comment so I know you’re listening, or relate. It’s always good to know that I’m not the only crazy driver trying to find my way off the main road. :) 

GlobalGiving South Africa

Africans for Africa: Press Coverage of GlobalGiving Social Media and Online Fundraising Workshop in Johannesburg

I just received a scanned image of an article that was printed in a local Johannesburg paper about my Social Media and Online Fundraising training for African NGOs!

In case you didn’t know, GlobalGiving is an online fundraising platform that brings donors and non-profits together in an online marketplace i.e. they connect the people who are leading innovative social impact projects to the people who would like to donate money to support them.

They have partner non-profits all over the world, including about over a hundred in Southern Africa, who have been helping me reach out to other NGOs who were interested in learning more about social media and online fundraising. It’s been a great opportunity to volunteer for an amazing foundation in an area I’m so passionate about (new media for social impact) — and get encouraging feedback in return.

Since I myself raised over $15,000 in 30 days to fund this project, I’ve been able to use myself as a case study, which I feel has really resonated (and been helpful) for my participants; I have a whole bag of personal anecdotes, lessons, tips, tricks, and strategies inspired by a real life successful case study to pull from. Thank you all so much for that — your support of my campaign has really contributed to my success here.

Here’s what some attendees had to say about the Johannesburg Social Media & Online Fundraising workshop:

“The workshop was wonderfully presented, fresh, exciting and to the point! Well rounded presentation to give a kick-start to online funding and using social media.” — Keep the Dream

“I found the group discussions and advice from Spectra resulting from the discussion feedback most useful.” — Cresset House

“The workshop gave insight and opened our minds to the endless possibilities of on-line fundraising! I left excited and somewhat anxious to get moving on the Social networks!” — Joburg Child Welfare

The feedback I’ve received from workshop participants in three cities — Cape Town, Durban, and Johannesburg, has been overwhelmingly positive. I couldn’t have imagined being any more satisfied with the way things went in South Africa. This press coverage from a local community paper is more icing on the cake!

Here’s the full article, transcribed below:

Various charities in and around Johannesburg will add impetus to their fundraising drive if Spectra has anything to do with it. Representatives of different charities gathered at Craighall Park’s Reea Foundation for Global Giving’s online fundraising and social media workshop led by Asala.

“The most important hing to teach NGO’s about social media is that online work is not that different ofoffline relationship-building,” Asala told representatives from various organizations. These included Horses Helping People, Khulumani support Group, Cotlands, Keep the Dream, Leseding Community Development Projects, Youthworx Development Association, Cresset House, Cabsa, Dona’s Mates, and the Papillon Foundation.

“I point out tools available to the organizations, like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, and e explore different steps they can take to raise awareness, engage with people online, and solicit donations.”

According to Asala, charitable donations received through social media increased by 29% last year; an impressive figure considering the funding crisis currently experienced by charities around the world.

“While online giving is growing, it does not replace offline fundraising. It’s an alternative source of funding, and relationships must be established and maintained. It might be digital technology you’re working with, but your’e still speaking to people,” said Asala.

According to the media-savvy Asala, the foundatino of the workshops is getting people to understand the value of social media as a business tool.

“I find people often don’t realize how much they actually know about social media or just how easy it is to use. Workshops like this often make people say, “I can do this,” she said.

Dtetails: www.globalgiving.org or www.spectraspeaks.com

I’m so grateful to the REEA Foundation for hosting the Johannesburg workshop (even supplying cake for the attendees!) and being all-round accommodating of this crazy activist’s on-the-fly / last minute arrangements due to a constantly changing itinerary. It was a really fun day, a wonderful trip, and an encouraging kick-off to my trip.

Next up: Namibia and Bostwana!

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