From when I was still forced to attend, I remember our synagogue's annual fundraising appeal. It was a simple enough format, if I recall correctly. The rabbi and the treasurer talked about the shul's expenses and how vital this annual fundraise was, and then the synagogue's members called out their pledges from their seats.

Straightforward, yes?

Let me tell you about a different annual fundraising appeal. One that I ran, in fact; during the early years of a nonprofit organization that may not be named. One difference was that the appeal was conducted over the Internet. And another difference was that the audience was largely drawn from the atheist/libertarian/technophile/sf-fan/early-adopter/programmer/etc crowd. (To point in the rough direction of an empirical cluster in personspace. If you understood the phrase "empirical cluster in personspace" then you know who I'm talking about.)

I crafted the fundraising appeal with care. By my nature I'm too proud to ask other people for help; but I've gotten over around 60% of that reluctance over the years. The nonprofit needed money and was growing too slowly, so I put some force and poetry into that year's annual appeal. I sent it out to several mailing lists that covered most of our potential support base.

And almost immediately, people started posting to the mailing lists about why they weren't going to donate. Some of them raised basic questions about the nonprofit's philosophy and mission. Others talked about their brilliant ideas for all the other sources that the nonprofit could get funding from, instead of them. (They didn't volunteer to contact any of those sources themselves, they just had ideas for how we could do it.)

Now you might say, "Well, maybe your mission and philosophy did have basic problems—you wouldn't want to censor that discussion, would you?"

Hold on to that thought.

Because people were donating. We started getting donations right away, via Paypal. We even got congratulatory notes saying how the appeal had finally gotten them to start moving. A donation of $111.11 was accompanied by a message saying, "I decided to give a little bit more. One more hundred, one more ten, one more single, one more dime, and one more penny. All may not be for one, but this one is trying to be for all."

But none of those donors posted their agreement to the mailing list. Not one.

So far as any of those donors knew, they were alone. And when they tuned in the next day, they discovered not thanks, but arguments for why they shouldn't have donated. The criticisms, the justifications for not donating—only those were displayed proudly in the open.

As though the treasurer had finished his annual appeal, and everyone not making a pledge had proudly stood up to call out justifications for refusing; while those making pledges whispered them quietly, so that no one could hear. "


Two thoughts.

    In any relationship where I have influence, I expect to get more of what I model.

For example, in a community where I have influence, I expect demonstrating explicit support to push community norms towards explicit support, and demonstrating criticism to push norms towards criticism.

This creates the admittedly frustrating situation where, if a community is too critical and insufficiently supportive, it is counterproductive for me to criticize that. That just models criticism, which gets me more criticism; the more compelling and powerful my criticism, the more criticism I'll get in return.

If a community is too critical and insufficiently supportive, I do better to model agreement as visibly and as consistently as I can, and to avoid modeling criticism. For example, to criticize people privately and support them publicly.

    In any relationship where I have influence, I expect to get more of what I reward.

If a community is too critical and insufficiently supportive, I do well to be actively on the lookout for others' supportive contributions and to reward them (for example: by praising them, by calling other people's attention to them, and/or by paying attention to them myself). I similarly do well to withhold those rewards from critical contributions. "