Asking A Lot: Diary of a Trust Fund

I remember the first time I ran for office. I was in junior high and I wanted to be vice president of the student council (Why vice and not outright president? Because while I will lead if I have to, I am a much happier right-hand woman to someone who shares my vision). That campaign highlighted the importance of being conservative with how often you ask people to support you.

THE BALLOON BOY INCIDENT

On October 15, 2009, news broke that six-year-old Falcon Heene had floated away in a balloon made by his father in Fort Collins, Colorado. The media and public were stirred into a panicked frenzy only to discover, when the balloon landed near Denver International Airport hours later, that there was no one aboard. A search for the body of the child found nothing. Heene was eventually reported to have been found hiding in a cardboard box over the garage of his family’s home. There is a criminal investigation of the Heenes underway and now many believe that the entire thing was staged to draw attention to the family’s aspirations for fame.

I don’t know what really happened in the Heene household, nor do I have any clever quips about what it all means about the state of modern society. What I do know is that the Heenes asked for our attention and support and broke our trust in them. We will never believe them again. It’s the 21st century boy who cried wolf.

THE EFFECTIVE CALL-TO-ACTION

In early January of 2009, David Armano asked the readers of his popular blog Logic+Emotion to help his family help a friend of theirs whose life had put her in a difficult position. He knew it’s not easy to ask people for donations and that that the crumbling economy made it less likely that people would contribute. His post was short and got right to the point:

I’ve been at this blog for nearly 3 years now and have never asked for something like this—I hope I’ve earned enough trust to be able to ask something back from you. Above is a picture of Daniela and her family. Brandon, age 6, Daniela, age 9 and little Evelyn age 4. Daniela is divorcing her spouse after years of abuse. In recent years her mortgage went unpaid and she’s lost her house.

As of this moment, Daniela’s family is staying at our house and we are trying to help her find a one bedroom apartment for her family to live in. With Evelyn, her youngest having Down’s Syndrome and Daniela herself being a Romanian immigrant with very little family support she literally has no one to turn to. Except us (all of us).

Daniela cleans houses when she can leave her family. I’m not even going to tell you what she gets paid—it’s obscene. Right now her options are pretty limited, aside from an apartment, there is only a group shelter. Not very pretty.

Here’s what we are asking. Right now, Belinda and I are opening our home, but it’s tight as we have no basement. We’ve committed to giving as much as we can spare, diverting funds from other places. I’m asking if you could think about doing the same. Or at the very least, helping get the word out about this. We are looking to raise 5k for Daniela and her family. Enough so that she doesn’t have to worry about a deposit or rent for a while.

I know this is the worst possible time to ask for anything…. I don’t have anything to offer back. Not an ego list or top donators directory. I can only hope that this thing we call “community” puts its money or heart where its mouth is. Please do whatever you can.

Respectfully, David and family

What happened? Donations poured in to a startling total of $16,880. David Griner summarized the forces that seemed to be at work in this unprecedented show of support. The first one is the most important, and the backbone of this post: rarity.

Armano has built himself a reputation as a brilliant commentator on business and the social web. His content is valuable to us–we tune in because we trust his judgment and insight. Secondly, he provides this information (quite often in beautifully minimalistic infographics) at no cost to us and gives us feedback on our own ideas, whether in his blog, comments section, Twitter, or Facebook. So when he asked his Twitter followers and readers to do something for him, we did it. At the time my now ex-husband was in a panic, we were liquidating all of our assets, and awaiting a financial Apocalypse that was hurtling toward us at light speed. I knew he’d have more than a word with me about throwing money at people I didn’t even know. But I didn’t hesitate.

And neither did 544 other people.

THE TRUST FUND

Every once in a while, we do need the support of our network. Maybe we need a ride to a conference in a nearby town. Maybe we’re launching a new product and we want to get buzz going. Maybe we want to see if anyone wants to buy a laptop bag we impulse bought that turned out to be too small or too big for our needs. It’s not as urgent, but the same rules apply–if your network feels your content has value, if they feel you have given them something, they’re going to do what they can to help.

My friend Damien Basile calls it The Trust Fund: “When you invest time and energy into someone you form a relationship. When this happens you create a ‘Trust Fund’ where both you and the other person either add or subtract trust from this mutual fund you have set up.” Asking for help requires trust. Do you have enough in your trust fund to make that request?

Not a single one of us is faultless, but how many of us know one person who just, oh, takes the cake Heene-style? How likely are you to stretch a helping hand the next time you see one of their tweets asking for support? Exactly.

VOTE FOR ME!

So there I was, standing in front of the school, about to give a speech about why they should vote for me. A closet introvert (surprised? Good, that means I’m doing something right), I didn’t want to address them myself, so I’d made a horse puppet out of a paper bag. My promises were simple — we’d be able to order lunch from more franchises, I’d address the ridiculous little song we were made to sing at assembly about having a positive attitude with the principal, and so on. I’m still convinced that those who voted for me did so because I was the girl who invited her whole class to her epic birthday parties (thanks, Mom) and because I’d never asked for anything from anyone until that moment.

I won by a landslide.

So here is my point: before you consider what you’re asking, think about what you’re giving. Your space online is yours to do what you will, but be consistent in your offerings. People who read what you put out there come back time and time again because they know what they can expect from you. Yes, even if 50 percent of your tweets are conversation tidbits without much context. Be gentle in your metamorphosis–remember it’s not just you in that bus.

Engage. David Armano didn’t just put out content for three years before he asked us to help him out. He put out content and he interacted with his readers across multiple platforms. He, like most power-users of social media, know that the blog post or tweet is not a closing argument but a springboard for discussion. This is a big part of the Trust Fund. Your readers take you seriously–do you show them that you take their feed back seriously?

If you say you’re going to do something, follow through. I know this is hard, God knows I’ve dropped the ball with as much aplomb as I’ve followed through. Learn to avoid failing to follow through (or worse, having a nervous breakdown because you’re so much of everything to everyone that you’re nothing to yourself) by being selective in your commitments. Saying no is not rude, just be transparent about your limitations. And at the very least, be fast to notify people when things aren’t going to turn out as you’d promised. Time is scarce, but consideration doesn’t cost a whole lot. Take those two minutes, even if it means shooting a short text in the middle of a stressful call with a client.

EPILOGUE

Having said all this, thank you all for voting for me for the Mashable Open Web Awards. Your submitting a vote says to me that you value my content and I am both humbled and honored by your gesture of appreciation. But you will not see me ask you to vote for me so lightly.

One day, I may call upon you, my dear friends. And that day, without a doubt, you will know that what I’m asking means a lot to me. But just to make sure that you know, I promise to take the time to explain to you exactly why I need your support.

Now I ask all of you to think of your trust funds the next time you’re about to pelt your friends and readers with “vote for me” DMs. And if you absolutely must call upon me, avoid the form letter feel of such a message and opt for e-mail. You don’t need a horse puppet and definitely not a UFO-shaped balloon, just a simple message that lets me know why this means so much.

10.19.09 • posted in: life in the cloud