Sometimes all you need to do is ask.
It’s a simple statement, but often very difficult to carry forward. I, like many others, find it tough to ask for help. It’s difficult to ask for friends or family members to step away from their own busy daily lives in order to help me in mine. In fact, one of the most difficult things to ask of someone is for financial help.
No, I don’t need any money. And, no, I’m not asking you for any financial help for myself.
Let me continue.
Recently I attended my yearly conference for mosaic artists around the world. Mine. Why do I refer to it as my own? Because, it is mine: I am a member of the institution, the non-profit membership, which re-ignites and sustains me and my mosaic passions. Thus, I believe, each of our members can lay claim that it is their own, our own, as a group and as individuals within a group.
A membership is a unique thing. It can imply ownership and involvement, when truly there is none expected or given. Or, more appropriately, it can be absolute in its aspirations to be member supported and operated. It can describe a group like my SAMA, the Society of American Mosaic Artists (an international group, despite the title) where there are supporters, affiliates, sponsors – those who identify with the group, assist in sustaining their objectives, and fiscally lend power to the group to support them. Then there are volunteers – and volunteers are always needed – members who donate their time and expertise in order to assist their association and their conference to not only survive, but to thrive.
At the conferences where I can attend, my creativity is fluid for many moons after saying my final farewell to fellow artists. Early in the group’s inception, American Mosaic Summit was chosen as the description for the annual conference. Summit seems inappropriate to me as it refers to something high, out of reach, elite; something that must be climbed, endured, defeated in order to claim your right at the top: The Summit.
Instead, I ever-so-predictably rebel against this notion and lean toward the idea of calling it simply a conference: A meeting of similar-minded humans directed toward goals within the same field of study, a forum for discussion, a seminar for learning from each other, and a family of friends and colleagues.
That cumulative equation of these elements is a beautiful and fragile thing: Which leads me back to my original statement about asking for something you need.
SAMA maintains one employee, the untiring Executive Director, Dawnmarie Zimmerman. And, there is one very part-time employee, the ever-so-patient Chris Forillo. That’s it. Everything else is accomplished by volunteers at all levels within the organization from the President of SAMA (currently Shug Jones) to the organizers of every part of the conference, creators and upkeep on the website, and writing, editing, and finding funding for the newsletters.
While attending the general meeting at this year’s conference, I realized SAMA continues to struggle to stay above water in finances while providing amazing resources and an annual conference that is a lifeline to creativity and rejuvenation each year for our members. I’ve been following the general meetings for many years and know that there have been setbacks (an unscrupulous gallery owner during one MAI – our big Mosaic Arts International juried show of artwork), as well as simply not garnering enough monetary donations and membership fees each year to cover everything involved in the annual operations of SAMA and our conferences.
I decided I might be able to do something to help our organization, even if it was something very small. I asked myself, who better to help our organization than our own members? I asked Dawnmarie if I could take a moment before a presentation that afternoon and address our attending members. She agreed.
My objective was to make a plea for a small donation from those who I was well aware had already paid membership fees and conference fees, and hotel costs, but who might be willing – like me – to support our organization by donating another $5 at that moment.
My intention was to set a short term goal of raising a thousand dollars in just a few hours, which would hopefully spur members on to continue to donate $5 (or more) each month to our organization’s general fund. However, because we are a non-profit, SAMA has not been able to set up a program for automatic-continuous donations for those willing to do so. So, currently it’s up to individual members to go to the site each month, hit the “donate” button, and send $5 or more via the website.
Anyone who knows me is aware that I’m no wall flower. I don’t mind public speaking and certainly not in front of the members I affectionately refer to as my mosaic family. But, asking for money is a difficult endeavor regardless of who you are addressing. I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I made my plea for funds.
What I got was amazing! I felt pure elation that those who I respect, those who I call my mosaic family, those who have given so much already would step up and not only answer my call for a $5 bill from their wallets, but would do so in droves, with smiles on their faces, and many gave much more than the $5. I stood at the front of the room, with tears flowing down my face at these amazing people who didn’t hesitate to give more out of their pockets to support an organization to which we obviously all believe in. I stood before a group of perhaps 150 people and we – WE – garnered $650 for our general fund. Six hundred and fifty dollars my friends, my family, my fellow members! I’ve never been so proud to be a member of a group before.
Then, something remarkable happened. It didn’t stop there.
I had members who were not at the presentation who continued to approach me over the next few hours and express their desire to participate. Members who had heard what my request had been and who also wanted to give their own donation. I was asked to make another announcement, another plea, at the next presentation for those who may have missed the first one. Nervous, I agreed, but asked my friend Veronica to hold my hand while I stood in front once again. I knew from the first time I stood there that I was going to feel very emotional about what I was trying to accomplish. So, with Veronica’s hand aptly being crushed in mine, I stood up and I asked once again.
My members, my friends, my mosaic family stepped up once more and filled Veronica’s hand with a stack of money and checks – I don’t know about everyone else in the room – but I was simultaneously laughing and crying and celebrating the joy at being a part of this amazing group of artists.
At the end of the day, I had handed over to the Executive Director my goal: A thousand dollars. A thousand dollars!! She sat down with me, tears running down her cheeks as well, and said, “People are always saying all you need to do is ask, but…” She didn’t need to continue. I understood all too well.
It’s difficult to ask for what you need. Some of us have a harder time than others. But, in that last minute decision of mine to go ahead and “just ask” our members for even more support to help pull us out of the red and start a reserve for our organization’s general fund; I knew I had done the right thing for our membership, our general fund, and for allowing each and every member to see how powerful and amazing we all are when we stand together for a cause.
Thank you, my fellow members. I cannot thank you enough for your incredibly generous and loving display of support during the SAMA Lexington 2012 conference.
I want to leave each member, whether you attended SAMA 2012 this year or not, with this last request:
Give what you can and know that every single dollar goes toward sustaining an organization that exists solely for each and every member as individuals and as a united group of amazing artists.
With a smile and some seriously sincere gratitude,
Amber J. Pierce
FYI: It’s easy to give $5 or $500 dollars: Just hit the “Donate” button on the www.americanmosaics.org website.