The perfect fundstorm
An idea that went Cat 5 real quick
On the night of Tuesday, October 9, the cat 2 Hurricane Michael spun out of the straights of Cuba into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico heading due North on a beeline path toward the Florida Panhandle. At first, we heard the weather pundits say that Michael would probably hit land as a cat 2, so, no major alarm bells went off. But, the storm moved rapidly from a 2 to a near cat 5 by the time it landed on Mexico Beach with Hiroshima-like devastation.
When a storm like that is not heading for you, you might think, “Oh man, that’s gonna suck for a lot of people.” But when it’s eyeballing your town, especially if you are on the water, your innards liquefy. I grew up in Florida, and now live in Charleston, SC, I know what that feels like.
The difference between the effects of this storm and the one that had just hammered North Carolina with 60 inches of non-stop rain is that this one was personal. I knew the affected areas well having participated in 5 of the 15 annual Forgotten Coast plein air events and a few of the Plein Air South conventions produced by the same people. The funny thing about being a plein air painter is that there becomes an almost familial bond with the subject, the area, the people. I knew that every other artist who had participated in similar events experienced the same thing.
After seeing the damage in the news my reaction went beyond the usual, “Bummer dude.” But what to do? What could I do? I’m 8 long-ass hours from the storm ravaged coast.
I had just been thinking about what I should do with the cartload of older paintings lining the walls along the floors of my home and the idea of putting a few up for auction, converting them to cash and donating the money came to the fore. The Forgotten Coast had given me much over the years in the form of experiences and paintings sold, why not give some back?
It’s not exactly a new idea, it’s been done. A lot. Artists are constantly barraged with requests to give up the fruits of their labors to raise funds for all sorts of charities. And, speaking for myself, after years of that I have learned to just say no. We (artists) are not typically blessed with fiscal abundance most of the time and the thought of giving something up again and again when the next check is still floating out there in the distant future becomes rather objectionable.
In spite of this, I posted the notion on Facebook as a passive request, “I’m thinking about putting some of my paintings up for auction to help with recovery for the Forgotten Coast, anybody else wanna come with?” It may have been the fact that I didn’t single anyone out, that it was completely a voluntary effort but, before I knew it there were about 100 offers to contribute, then 200, then 250. The bonds forged by the painting events in that area reached far and wide. And outdoor painters are notoriously unselfish, yes, they can be whiney and bitchy at times, but they will give you the shirts off their backs.
Next up came the offers for help. Denise Rose was first, I knew her well as a get-it-done kinda person, so hell yes. And then two more I did not know, Lisa Camilla Hale and Cathleen Windham. In the end this team could not have been more perfect. Here’s what happened next to make this thing go from a notion to a hugely successful live auction in one week’s time:
•Located an active boots-on-the-ground charity, Franklin’s Promise Coalition (Denise’s suggestion), already helping to get provisions and tackle immediate needs.
•We set up a private FB page (Cathleen) so we could communicate quickly, email threads weren’t cutting it.
•I picked an auction site that was affordable and easy to use, www.32auctions.com out of several options. About $200 to set up an event with up to 300 item posts. They took only 40¢ per transaction plus the usual credit card processing fees.
•Came up with a catchy name, Operation Fundstorm
•Developed an email list from the rapidly growing list of volunteers. Which I should have created in Excel so that the file could be uploaded straight to Contacts… but didn’t.
•Set up a public FB page (Cathleen/Lisa) to create a news hub and a place to lead folks to view some of the appetizer paintings going up on the auction page. She posted several times a day and those were shared a lot on FB. The enthusiasm was contagious.
•Set up a separate email account for artist submissions (Denise) so that we all as admins had access to what was coming in with separate folders for the emails that were handled.
•Set up a sales tracking and buyer/artist liaison team (Lisa, Cathleen, Denise) to make sure the art got to where it was supposed to go and the transactions all went through before the art was shipped.
•I knew from experience that most artists don’t like to read a lot of info, so I tried to keep the emails minimal and the entry form short n sweet with a touch of humor to keep them reading.
•I made it clear from the get-go that 100% of the proceeds went to the charity and also that each artist and buyer were responsible for figuring out shipping. It was as streamlined as it could get.
Within 5 days we had an auction site and Denise had already loaded up about 90% of the entries, more and more kept coming. I eventually had to turn people away.
•We set up a time window to preview the art, about 2 hours, before it went live. Set beginning and end dates and published the hell out of it on FB. I can’t say a longer preview period would have been better, there was just the right amount of group hype going to create a buzz.
Honestly, when we first got the auction site up I figured we’d get in about 10K on the outside but I put up 20K as a goal just for the sake of optimism. Not 15 minutes into the auction we blew past that goal, at the end of the first hour we were at 45K. The next day we hit 75K, then 85 then 95…Something magical had happened.
I had not counted on the positive power of social media in the form of sharing nor had I considered what I believe was a backlash to all of the bad news of late and the vitriolic Uncivil War raging through the pages of FB and mainstream news. People were sick of it. The good news factor had kicked in, perhaps in the same way as one of those cheesy wartime Christmas movies where opposing sides start singing Silent Night in the dark.
I realize that in the grand scheme of things 117K is not that much (I’ve added the donation of 5K which came through OF to the total), the big charities get 10 times that but with those come huge admin fees. With us, 100% of the proceeds, less only credit card and auction fees, 7% cumulative, went right to work, going from the Buy it now sale into the account of the charity within minutes. A techno miracle for sure.
This is all to say, YOU can do this, YOU can make something happen. There will be plenty more emergencies, hell, the monies we raised for the Forgotten Coast fund will be gone through in a month or two. And now we have the devastation of the California wildfires… There is always a need. Thoughts and prayers are nice but if they don’t manifest into action, nothing happens. Nothing. God doesn’t come down to fix our messes, he delegates to people like you and me.
A huge thank you to Denise, Cathleen, Lisa, the artists who selflessly donated, the buyers who gobbled up the work like kitten’s first bowl of food, the amazing folks at Franklins Promise Coalition for their hard work and to humanity in general for showing up.
It may be that at the end of my life I’ll look back on this and consider it to be my favorite thing, unless I do another one.
Here are a coupla pics of what all that goodness manifested into…