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The Hurston/Wright Foundation Indiegogo Campaign

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Marita Golden, Co-Founder & Interim Executive Director of the Hurston/Wright Foundation, and Tope Folarin, Hurston/Wright Foundation Board Member and Winner, 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing introduce the foundation's 25th year of service, and a new $25,000 Indiegogo campaign.

This crowdfunding effort will raise $25,000 toward's Hurston/Wright's operating expenses, and the creation a literary and cultural center for accomplished and aspiring Black writers of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/hurston-wright-25-years-of-serving-black-writers

 

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Today we get so many more solicitations for contributions than just a few years ago.  I wonder if we are, collectively, any better off?  

 

I'm sure I get a dozen or more solicitations for contributions each month.  They range from helping established filmmakers fund a movie to helping people pay their rent.  Of course many are worthy causes and other seem a bit sketchy.

 

In the meantime, the solicitations for contributions from traditional sources (mail and phone) has not let up.  Indeed, they may have redoubled their efforts given the competition from new online solicitors. Shoot, two years ago I even started requesting contributions for my eNewsletter.

 

Often I'm left just feeling bad that I can't help a friend pay their rent, as I fight to pay my own, or am unable to support a foundation I believe in.

 

Cultural organization and charities need our support as funding from grants, and government support, dries up.  Meanwhile the buying power of Americans has failed to increase and, for most of us, has declined over the last several years.

 

These platforms, like indiegogo, that make it easy for people to ask for donations seem to be the only entities truly and consistently benefiting.

 

It is like the book industry; technology has made it easier to make a book, but are readers collectively better off with an order of magnitude more books available to buy?  Are the individual authors better off, with so many products in the market place to compete against?

 

There are some benefits to the existence of barriers to entry. The cost of production and gate keepers helped ensure that bad books never got published.

 

I think the same is true for asking for contributions.  If it is so much easier to make the ask, and collect the funds, more people will do it -- what do you have to lose?

 

The problem is that donors don't have unlimited resources; it is a zero sum game.  So we end up in an environment, we have today, where established institutions are struggling to get a smaller piece of a shrinking pie.

 

Some would argue that maybe those old organization deserve to die.  

 

I don't know, but I doubt it.

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The more troubling issue is the misappropriation of the funds collected by the people using these platforms. There is no check and balance for those who donate their money and often what was to be given as a reward is not given or not as promised.

You also have a new group of people who are passing off their success in running a campaign as proof that they should be paid to help individuals with their campaigns.

I think the fundraising and donation sites are fine. The problem is that as you said, our earning power hasn't improved so there just aren't enough dollars to go around to some really worthy causes.

However, a lot of causes are of there own creation. I know that once the holidays slow down I am going to work with AALBC. If other authors did something similar we would see the growth of sites that would benefit all parties. If Hurston Wright partnered with AALBC (more than they already have) to deliver content on a daily basis, used affiliate programs and ads to earn an additional stream of revenue then you would both benefit. A lot of places have failed to modernize their approach to fundraising and creating interest.

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Chris you are absolutely right about the lack of transparency about what happens to the funds after you give you money away.  There is no accountability, you have to trust the people you are giving the money to.

 

Over the years I have donated to several film campaigns and I have NEVER been given the gift I was promised.  About a year ago, while contributing to yet another film project, I noticed the contribution website told who I gave to previously, then it dawned on my I'd never received a single gift, so I decided to follow up with everyone I made a contribution to.

 

One Brother got back to me right away, apologized and promised to send my thank you gift.  I never heard from him again or any of the other people I gave money to.  I stopped giving money away to filmmakers; I should have at least 10 DVDs by now.

 

Chris, I'm telling you if we could all get together and really work together there would be nothing we could not do, least of all get paid.  

 

Honestly I wish I could say that I was working with Hurston-Wright.  Don't assume my unbridled support for them is reciprocated, for it is not.  Indeed a search on their website for AALBC.com versus a search on my site for Hurston/Wright will tell you the story.

 

i don't mean to pick on that organization, but the time it takes me to promote their organization takes away from opportunities to promote others, generate revenue to just rest rest.  Again, if they did anything obvious to uplift AALBC.com I would grow and that would enable me to better help them. But I know you know this Chris.  I'm really writing it for others who may not appreciate this concept.

 

Again I survived this long not because I got pissed of every time someone failed to reciprocate or even tried to do me harm.  I succeed because there are still, despite it all, people who support.  Chris you link to AALBC.com and so do many others. Thank you.  If it were not for people like you I'm not sure what we would have left...

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If you want to see how legitimate a Kickstarter or Indiegogo is go to the comments on the campaign and read them. You will be blown away at what happens. 

 

I think what happens with us is we don't actually run our own sites. We have someone else running them and we don't even know how to link or add things to the sites. I honestly think this is a real issue. I wouldn't hesitate to think that the Hurston folks probably don't run their own site either. So our problem in creating a network is twofold:

1. Get people to understand the benefit of link building and adding links

2. Getting people to the point where they can run their own sites.

 

There is a lot of work to do, but I guess we just have to keep pushing and possibly look at how we can really begin to change things. I know for me it would start with devoting more time to CBP and promotion. You are already working on it.

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Chris, yes you are correct.  My tone in the last post was somewhat negative, and may have implied that the Hurston/Wright folks were just taking advantage of my largess, which may not be true.

 

I do know, for a fact, that managing a website is a challenge for many institutions and the failure to link is often a lack of control rather than spite, as I may have implied with H/W.

 

A lack of technical skill is also one of the reasons we have so wholeheartedly embraced social media.  Increasingly I see many using a Facebook Page as their primary platform.  This is not only bad for that organization, but it actually makes our collective situation worse. This point is even more difficult to get a across to folks particularly when the trade off is a presence on Facebook or no presence at all.

 

That said, I also know there are institutions that have complete control over their websites that don't return my support either. Generally these are the larger commercial driven (versus mission driven) websites that are solely interested in generating traffic (read: revenue), so uplifting a 17 year old site that is supportive, but covers books is not likely to attract much attention, so their resources are invested elsewhere.

 

I could no on all day about the lack of support from entities like Essence (even before they were completely bought out by Time) or Black Enterprise.  I can't tell you how many subscriptions I've sold for those magazines or how much of their content I've promoted. But again, the queries speak for themselves.  Black Enterprise on AALBC.com, Essence on AALBC.com versus AALBC.com on Essence, AALBC.com on Black Enterprise.

 

When I found out how Essence ditched the Black Bookseller during their music festival (an event I actually attended), I was basically done with going out of my way to support Essence.  I even dropped my own subscription, but again they are owned by Time so no at that organization could give less...

 

I agree we have a lot of work to do.  We have to;

  1. Develop the capability to support each other and;
  2. Once we achieve a level of success we have to actually support our own--even if a sacrifice is required.

Both are very tall orders at this time.

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As much as I try to keep up it's ashamed how much I miss. BUT I've been writing for a long time about how many Black media items fail to really support the people. Do you know I'm one of the only black owned shoe companies in the country? Until this year I couldn't get a word written about ARCH. That is until a young white journalist wrote an article after kickstarter. I still haven't to this day had an article in the black newspaper here...although I'm absolutely positive it was my commentary and suggestions that generated their redeveloped brand and site. I wrote them at least 20 times and eventually let it go.

The larger entities could care more but never will. They have distribution so they are where they need to be to make it. We don't have an infrastructure. So the question becomes how does aalbc become an examiner styled platform? More than just music, film and literature?

I've taken on these blog qualities on cbpublish so my blog could be a part of the network. How do we combine under aalbc like complex? Is this even something you want do?

Let's go solutioned based now. How would and could we combine a number of sites to form a media conglomerate? I made a call for writers but I don't have an adsense account. I would be willing to add your adsense skyscraper codes to my site and remove one of my amazon ads. I am also open to adding you as a writer for you to share content on cbpublish.

I think maybe though this might be a time for a new website that isn't connected to social media and has a ready made crew ready to deliver content. Maybe we build a new site that covers food, movies, books, business, art, entertainment, interviews, etc. Trust someone who can generate ad revenue and see if we can deliver content that grows without selling out. We also tie small local seminars on empowerment with a literary arm that recreates the old format of publishing.

I don't know, something has to be done because we are running out of time.

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Chris these are all excellent ideas.

 

Several of the ideas you've mentioned are a couple I've worked pretty hard on.  

 

Everyday authors send me links to Amazon without an affiliate code.  Below is a typical email I used to send to those authors:

 

I noticed you use not using an Amazon affiliate code in the Amazon link you sent me.  Here is a short URL you may use as an alternative to send people to Amazon: [sample URL not shown] Besides being shorter and easier to remember, any sales generated count toward AALBC.com’s bestsellers list.  If your book makes the list it will result in a lot of additional, free promotion for you book.  The benefit to AALBC.com is that it generates commissions for us without costing you or your customers and additional cent – win-win J

 

This seems like a no-brainer to me, but the majority of authors don't take me up on the offer. Some do, but an alarming number don't.  I'm not so much a fan of sending everybody to Amazon, but all authors do it.  If you are going to send people to Amazon you have to stop leaving money on the table.

 

You also know I tried to rally support for an advertising network of book sites but it did no go very well.  Indeed two of the more popular sites, that were part of the network, Mosaicbooks.com and The Book Look, shut down their websites.  Cushcity and their event website The National Black Book Festival are my only remaining partners.  The other sites like The Power List, Edit First are sites I run.

 

I hoped to scale this type of relationship, but this is very hard too.  We just don't have the platforms.

 

Chris I would be very willing to place my vertical ad code on your website and I appreciate the offer.

 

After 30 days we can review traffic and see how much I can offer you for placement.  You can then compare that to what you could get from Google or by selling the space yourself.  When I sell ads that also appears on Cushcity's website -- they get paid.  The same happens when they sell an advertisement that appears on my website.  

 

Also, I don't sell a lot of the vertical, skyscraper of 160x600 ads.  The ad below (which is just $79 for 32 days, and appears on most of my content pages) just rolled off yesterday when ads I sell directly roll off I replace them with Google ads to continue to monetize the space. 

 

Kevin-wayne-williams.jpg

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My plan in redeveloping CBP was to create content that I hoped would lead to more interest in me as a writer. I'm only a month and a half into the redesign, but it is actually working and the increase in traffic has been consistent with and without creating new content. I installed a plugin that is actually reposting blogs from over 2 years ago, which makes it look like new content is being provided every two days whether I post or not. In regard to the Google Ad skyscraper, I don't have Adsense anymore and was given the boot over 4 years ago, although I wasn't really using the program, so if you'd like that space on the sidebar, it's yours indefinitely. All I would do at this time is use it for another Amazon Associates ad.

 

When I made the call for writers I did it under the premise that every writer had to have their own site to link back to and they all had to have both an Amazon Associates account and Google Adsense. This limited the amount of writers I could actually agree to work with severely. My goal was for every time the writer created content they would connect the article to something that could be further analyzed by picking up something from Amazon. So at the bottom of their article they would have more research and a link that was all theirs in their content. They could also insert an adsense code in their articles. My goal was to allow them to promote their content and they could analyze whether they were getting traffic to the page. Needless to say only one person made the cut and I had to teach him how to sign up for his own blogger and for Amazon Associates. Once again this is the problem we face is that the people who want to work the most simply don't know how to do it, which means there is definitely a space for workshops, but that's another issue.

 

I still have the Power List link on another theme and I switch back and forth between themes. I have to integrate it into the current theme which doesn't take time, but I'm trying to streamline the look of the site so if you had a skyscraper code (not a tall vertical one though) for the Powerlist with a white background then I would add it to the current theme. I'm trying to make the site not be so intrusive and unfortunately this theme I'm using makes my Disqus words too light to be read. Which is why I changed themes.

 

While I don't get a ton of traffic, it doesn't make sense to now allow you to utilize the space for your adsense account on the sidebar since I don't have adsense and I'm not at the point that I'm selling ads. I won't attempt to do that until I'm consistently above 5000 unique visits per month and I'm a long way from that.

 

I think we also need to create a hashtag for when we share articles to twitter. The only way to create a Complex styled chain is to build connections where people know that AALBC the brand that is 18 years strong is about to become a bigger content generator through it's hashtags and writers. I still think that a website that is kind of a new foundation with a series of writers, enough writers, can keep people engaged. I had hoped to get 10 writers. Each person created content on a schedule. With 10 writers people would only have to generate content every 2 weeks. All articles would include a link to their own Amazon Associates or Google Adsense. The toughest part is making people understand that until adspace is being sold based on overall visits to the site being consistently high, that there wouldn't be any ad revenue distribution. People automatically think because they have a blog they will make money. They don't realize that no one is getting paid. Eventually they give up or try to start their own thing because they think they are getting the shaft. I know the reality and if you can find likeminded people, you can create a network that provides content and has the writers. I'm still trying this with CBP, but like you've said it's hard. You already have an account on CBP so I am going to activate it as a writer's account so you can post stories if you want. If you forward me the html by e-mail I will add the skyscraper as well. This is what I like, solution building.

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