The First Tree Ring

Now that we have the basic foundation for POCA Tech — incorporation, a Board of Directors, a website, a business plan, and 501c3 status in the works — it’s time to see if we can build the institution that we need on top of that foundation.

As you all know, the fact that we are currently dependent on the existing acupuncture programs to provide us with new punks bothers the hell out of me. For all sorts of different reasons: past, current and future. In terms of the past, my own acupuncture school experience was mostly unhappy. When I found out a few years ago that my alma mater was talking glowingly about WCA in its marketing to prospective students, I called them up in a rage and told them to stop. “You know how I did what I did? By taking everything you taught me and doing THE OPPOSITE! So don’t you dare ever use me as advertising!”  Etc. You can imagine, I’m sure. I still feel kind of bad for the school PR person I was seething at. As for our current situation, it’s insane that we are trying to employ people who have $100K in student loan debt in modest living-wage jobs. The math simply doesn’t work, and if it weren’t for the government’s intervention via Income Based Repayment, we’d be in even more trouble than we already are. Thank you, US taxpayers, for subsidizing our educations. I hate relying on the government that way — good old working-class conditioning there. Not to mention the headache of deprogramming people who graduate from the existing acupuncture schools; it adds an extra painful step for employees, employers, and self-employed clinic owners, as if we didn’t have enough challenges already. And as for the future, the student loan bubble is going to pop at some point; the writing is on the wall.  As bad as it is with the schools we’ve got now, it would be worse if there were no schools at all. I don’t think we can import enough punks from Canada for all of POCA.

Basically, as far as I can tell, our future as a cooperative depends on having a stable, sustainable, appropriate source for punks.  And nobody is going to give that to us, we are going to have to build it. We  spent a couple of years looking for an alternative to making our own accredited school from scratch, and none of the possible, seemingly easier, alternatives worked out in reality. I’ve been plugging away at this project one way or another since about 2009, and I’m pretty sure now that what it’s going to come down to is not luck or opportunities but sheer stubborn determination on our part. There’s no magic here, unless we make it.

And I think that applies to fundraising for POCA Tech, which is what this blog post is about.

I should say that I am no expert at all on fundraising. (I could write a whole separate post about how little faith I have in experts anymore after the past 10 years, but I won’t get into that here except to say that experts have had very little to do with whatever successes the community acupuncture movement can claim. As far as I can tell, it’s all about ordinary, determined people just plugging away.) It sounds like we might be able to access some volunteers with fundraising knowledge and experience, which would be great. And various POCA members have lots of creative ideas about how to do fundraising. There are a lot of potential directions we can go in, and I promise that the POCA Tech Board of Directors is going to look at them all.

But I think there’s a step that comes first, and it’s very important, and I don’t want to miss it. We are a smart bunch of people here at POCA, but it’s possible to be too clever for one’s own good, and I don’t want to see us do that.

I don’t have lots of experience with fundraising, but I do have experience with How Things Start — which is how I ended up in charge of getting POCA Tech off the ground.  It’s kind of like tree growth: it happens in concentric circles. At the beginning when something is new and small, there is a small circle of people who believe in it and feed it so that it can grow. Because of those people, it’s easier for more people to gather around it and believe it and feed it, and then still more.

Awhile back, when the Supreme Court was considering the challenge to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), I read an article which actually talked about this phenomenon. (I wish I could remember and link to it.) The journalist who wrote it was interviewing people about how the court case came about. At the beginning, no Democrat thought the idea that  Obamacare was unconstitutional was ever going to go anywhere; they didn’t take it seriously. Academics, even conservative academics, didn’t think it was going to go anywhere, certainly not so far as the Supreme Court. What happened was that a small group of people believed so strongly, and insisted on it so determinedly, that more people began to find the idea credible. Because after all, if people keep talking about something, there must be something to it, right? Eventually some of those people included judges and lawyers — and finally, Supreme Court justices. But at the beginning, it was simply the power of commitment to the idea that made it believable. A good lesson for us, I thought.

WCA’s growth was like that, and I suspect a lot of other clinics’ growth was too. The reason we exist is not that we were able to make the case for what we do to a large group of people, and convince them to come see us. The reason we exist is that at the beginning, we attracted a small, passionate, determined group of regulars. Their belief in us made it possible for other people to believe in us — and progressively more and more, like tree rings expanding outward. At the beginning of anything, when it’s new and small and barely there, it’s risky for people to believe in it. Most people are afraid of looking stupid, so they don’t want to count on something or invest in something that is barely there. It’s only that small core group that can make something real, at the beginning.

OK, what does this have to do with fundraising for POCA Tech? If POCA Tech is going to be viable over what we hope is its long, long life, it is going to have to attract money from a lot of different sources. Foundations would be good; philanthropists would be good. We’re going to go looking for both. Ultimately, we want to build an endowment so we can provide scholarships, and I think we have a good chance at that. The thing is, though, nobody — not foundations, not philanthropists, not ordinary people — are eager to be the first to give money to something that is barely there. Nobody out there with lots of money wants to be part of that first tree ring. This isn’t their baby, after all; they have plenty of good causes to choose from.

So what this post is, really, is a very blunt call for you who are reading this to be part of the first tree ring. I don’t like asking people to give money; I’d prefer that they just went ahead and did it because they felt like it. Actually though, I'm asking you to give money to POCA Tech even if you DON'T feel like it.  Because if anyone else, like a foundation or a philanthropist, is ever going to fund us, they need to first see a strong show of support from the POCA Cooperative itself.

I even think it’s important to do this part before we launch into any fundraising campaigns that reach out to our patients. Because co-op members are the core, and it has to be solid. We could conceivably fund POCA Tech in $10 increments, if we could get 12,500 people to give $10. God knows, we have that many patients going to the co-op clinics — WCA alone has almost that many in our POCA Point database. But I don’t think it’s going to work like that, because that’s not how our community acupuncture clinics work when they are new and small.

People are floating lots of cool ideas about incentives — t-shirts, coffee mugs, and I think that’s great. We’ll have a lot of fun with those things. But if all of you reading this need incentives to give to POCA Tech, frankly, we are screwed and the acu-establishment has won. The core that makes the tree grow is not made up of people who need incentives to invest in it; those people come later. There is a lot of strategic planning that we should do around fundraising, but before we do any of it, I want to give all of our attention to growing that first tree ring at the center of it all. I want the relatively small group of people who have the power to make POCA Tech real to show up. For the next 6 weeks, that’s all I want to do.

Let me be brutally honest — because that’s what I do! — about the state of our little sapling. The first funding POCA Tech needed was $1100 to pay our lawyer to do our articles of incorporation and carefully peruse ACAOM’s manual to make sure everything conformed to their rules. This was back in January, when POCA itself didn’t have any extra money. So Skip and I contributed $1100. No, we don’t have that lying around; I scavenged it. I didn’t feel like it, particularly. The next thing POCA Tech needed was a website. POCA member Joe Smith of Artdude Graphics donated the site, which would normally cost about $3,000. I’m pretty sure he would much prefer to be paid for it, but there’s no way to raise money for POCA Tech to pay for site design without having a website in the first place. Since we’ve put up the website 2 weeks ago, we’ve had 45 donors and raised $8, 225. The people who feel like giving money are showing up, and we love them for it.

But we also need the people who don’t feel like giving money to do it anyway. We need people to give any amount — because foundations and philanthropists look at the sheer number of donations a project has attracted, when they are deciding whether to give their support. Donations of $15 totally count in growing that first ring in the tree and every single one is appreciated. We also need people to consider stretching the amount that they give past what they normally would, as I did and Joe did, because they think in the long run POCA Tech is worth a little discomfort.

Wade Phillips, our brilliant POCA web guy, came up with a mechanism to make this easier: personal fundraising pages.  He set one up for himself here: The idea is that anyone who wants to can set up their own page and a fund raising goal.  Then they can try and raise enough money to meet that goal.  Page set up is super easy, and it will give us a way to make this fundraising effort personal and relate-able for our friends and family.  That way, folks who can't afford to donate a bunch of money can help raise a bunch. All those people who tell you how great they think you are for doing what you’re doing? At least some of them have $15 to donate, or maybe more, and we need you to talk to them about POCA Tech.

OK? For the next 6 weeks, it’s all about us.  And since we put up the website, the world is watching. Let’s make it clear how much we want POCA Tech to happen. If we do that, the rest of the world can’t help but respond. It would be great if we could get 100% participation from ALL members of POCA; that would really send a message to other potential funders.

We have just under 6 weeks until AOM Day. We promise to come up with something really fun to launch the next phase on that very special acupuncturist holiday. What we're looking for right now, though, is 500 donations of ANY AMOUNT from current POCA members.  45 have given already — that leaves just 455 more!  We're new and small, and only you can make us real.

Donate here!

Author: lisafer

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  1. I know this wasn’t the point of this blog (and I will be donating as well, once I can find a way to do it without a credit card), but I’d just like to say that we here north of the border are also straining under unmanageable student loans.

    When I graduated in ’98, I had over $45k in loans. Someone I talked to recently had $75k in loans to pay down once they graduated. So, we are right behind our American counterparts in terms of stupidly high student debt-load, and WE NEED POCATech TOO! So hooray for POCATech and everyone who is donating!

  2. Tried to donate twice but credit card system didn’t work – I know your having some issues with that…don’t have a cheque book either! How else can I donate? I’d like to send a small contribution each month…

  3. Just donated on behalf on my clinic! Whee!

    Gazilla, the issue may be with your browser? Mine went through fine; and POCATech’s system takes you to Paypal, so we’re already set up through that. Maybe try again with a different browser.

  4. Hey folks we did have some issues with the Credit Card system last week. Our credit card processor just quit on us. So we have been scrambling to get a new one and set up pay pal last night. Every thing should be working now. Gazilla- thanks for sticking with us and giving it another try, please let me know if you continue to have issues with the credit card.
    Stillpoint – if you would like to make a donation by check we would be happy to take it. If you go to the donate page there is a “pay later” check box. Checking it will record your donation and give you instructions on how to mail in a check.

    Thanks for all the donations folks!

  5. You guys! You’re wonderful! Thank you so much! We have 65 donors through the website, a bunch more who are sending checks, and it will probably take until early next week to sort out all of the pledges. If I did my math right, though, there’s another $1600 coming in checks over the next week and another $12,000 pledged by the end of December.

    I think we might be able to do this thing. I love my co-op.

  6. Totally awesome! Step by step we’ll make it so! I’m thrilled about the opportunity of PocaTech coming into play….makes my hopes of becoming a punk MUCH more feasible!

    Cheers and onward we go!