Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thinking big about eczema philanthropy

Posting a bit early tonight. I'm off to a holiday party in a bit: the Northern California Science Writers' annual shindig. These events are always great for networking. Science writers love networking, because we're all freelancers and entrepreneurs at heart, and each new person you meet might give you a great story idea, or be a potential editor, or have a job lead, etc...

The new person can also be further ahead in his or her career than you are, or have just published a book, or signed a film contract-- but since, at these socials, I usually have a drink in hand, I tend to look at the bright side of someone else's success. It sets a new standard, something to aim for. It gets me excited about possibilities. That's how jealousy works for me, at least: it lights a fire under my ass.

I haven't met anyone yet who has started a blog like mine, though!

Something I keep asking myself is how exactly I plan to get to $1 million in my fundraising efforts. Is it reasonable to expect that I will inspire people I have never met to make donations to the NEA and write "research" on their checks? And for that to add up to $1 million?

I'd be surprised if that worked.

When I started this blog I had a grander vision, and I still do. My vision is not pie-in-the sky. Here it is: I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, as do a lot of successful, wealthy people. (I am not one.) Some of these people are at the stage in their lives when they are considering philanthropy. They want to donate to a worthy cause, and we are not talking about peanuts. Marc Benioff just gave $100 million to UCSF.

What if I could convince one or more of these people that a donation to eczema research would be better than charity? A donation could be an investment. Applied with precision to the right project at the right stage, an amount of $100k or more could enable a scientist to conduct proof-of-concept research that could lead to venture capital funding for a spinoff company. Or it could be used as convincing evidence of public support on an NIH grant application. The original donation would be multiplied many times over.

The way that these donations get made is through personal connections. A donor must be convinced in person; must LIKE the one who's doing the convincing, and believe in their sincerity. Often, one wealthy individual will host a dinner to which they invite their friends, and introduce the topic: say, a disease that affects a lot of people in the Third World; then get out his or her checkbook, write a check for a million dollars, and say "That's what I'm doing. What are you doing?" It's a social, human phenomenon.

So I need to connect with donors myself. I don't have to host a dinner (nobody would want to eat at my house, with the food splatters from the kids) but I need to meet someone who can. This blog is my way of making that initial connection. I'm casting my net across the world, but really just hoping to catch fish in the Bay Area.

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