Monday, October 16, 2006

How to sell one's self to a charity (without committing to actually cooking, sewing, dancing...)

It was only a couple of days before the Fall Harvest Dinner, the fundraising auction and banquet that raises money for a great cause: the Ag in the Classroom program here in Oregon.

As a board member, I felt the pressure.

Fellow board members and their spouses were graciously, kindly, unselfishly and creatively giving their time, talents and resources to offer great auction items.

Baking, cooking, sewing, flying, serving. They offered meals, tea parties, flying trips. I felt so sadly out of my league.

Okay, I admit it. (Take a deep breath) … In high school (pause for effect) I almost (hold breath — wait to exhale) … failed home economics because of the cooking and sewing lessons (let out shocked gasp at this point).

Yes, this miserable experience hurt my whole high school average and impacted those eagerly sought university scholarships. This situation also didn’t seem to help my social life at the time. Teenaged guys for some reason preferred gals who could cook, instead of set fires.

I had begged and pleaded for my school principal to allow girls such as me to take the class with photography, woodworking and metalworking, but instead … he declared all girls take home ec, and all the boys take the fun stuff. When the school was so small that there were only 15 in the class, and only four of us in the class were female, unfortunately the principal got his way.

I tried not to be bitter when I saw this principal at the high school reunion decades later. But I noticed he was checking whether I was sharing recipes with my ex-classmates. Instead, I was talking about photography, woodwork and welding with the guys.

I admit it. I could sew by hand, but use a sewing machine and I was sadly reduced to being the least nimble teenaged girl on the planet. The needle would fly out of the machine, the cloth would crumple into a wild pile, and thread spools went flying.

Cooking usually involved first making sure the smoke alarm was disconnected, and we assured other students not to panic when smoke billowed down the hallway. Fire extinguishers were kept near.

While other women turned out superbly baked products to rival the images in glossy cooking magazines, I produced items that we considered using for hockey pucks if we weren’t afraid they’d break our hockey sticks. The poor teacher was reduced to tears and shaking her head. Well, actually, the smoke reduced her to tears and I think shaking the head was her way of attempting to regain consciousness. Who knew mixing a few baking ingredients incorrectly and at such temperatures could have such an effect in a closed space?

I knew at that time that I would never survive as a chef.

As for working in the restaurant industry serving people, while my friends sought these jobs after we graduated, I knew better about my talents in this area. I knew even the Drive Thru area of McDonald’s was a danger zone.

Too often at church or community events I had scalded people with coffee, frozen people with ice cubes slopping out of containers of Kool-Aid, and occasionally tripped over people, tablecloths, aprons and I think a band once. (Add drum roll here). Luckily, no cool Band-Aids were needed. (End drum roll punch line sound).

So there I was, decades later, pondering what to give back to an organization I respect so much. I can’t juggle, twirl batons, tapdance or do magic tricks. My pets can do more tricks than I can.

And then it hit me. What can I do well or at least with enough expertise to perhaps raise a nickel?

My favorite hobby is photography. So I offered a choice: a weekend photo trip in the Northwest where I would show some of her favorite photography spots. People could bring their cameras, pick their destination — ranging from Columbia Gorge, to Oregon Coast, to Mount St Helens and Mount Ranier in Washington, State, and I would provide the transportation, accommodation and meals.

I’d also offer photo tips. Valuable ones I have learned like: make sure the lens cap is off, there’s film/memory card in the camera, the battery isn’t dead, and my lens strap isn’t in the way of the lens. And don’t forget the camera at home. With such valuable tips, I knew this package would be a valuable one.

I ended up eventually offering two of these trips, as people bid up to a total of $300 towards the organization. I was delighted.

The second thing offered was a bit more scary on my part. I typed the following on the certificate: “Need a speaker for a fundraising event in your community? Or simply because your friends and you need a laugh? Capital Press Executive Editor Elaine Shein lightheartedly shares an evening of travel stories and photos from more than 20 years of travel and work internationally as a journalist.

“Learn valuable things like: how do you get rid of a giant spider off your shoulder; what’s it like to hitchhike with surfing ex-Hare Krishnas; how not to speak Spanish or golf in a foreign country; and why you should always reconsider climbing on top of a grain silo on a windy day … or running up the Eiffel Tower.

“She’ll also share stories of what it’s like to grow up in a farm near a small town (so small, it had one street that wrapped around town) and then live in or visit big cities: like when this formerly shy farm girl saw for the first time in her life a subway train, graffiti, a roller-skating gang, and a flasher — all within her first day in one city. Sorry, no pictures of that day will be shown. Elaine was too (culture) shocked to capture the moments on film.

“Arrange the event, invite Elaine to your community at an equally agreeable time, and she’ll bring the pictures and the stories.”

This is really a leap of faith for anyone bidding for a speaker. What if … what if I wasn’t funny? Or got stage-fright? Would the audience be allowed to bring rotten vegetables to critique my speech? What if all the photos were out of focus? What if no one showed up to the event unless they were paid to attend? What if my speech was as bad as my cooking?

I am pleased to say that at least $100 was offered by the unsuspecting victims … I mean, the wonderful organization who I will be delighted to entertain early next year at their annual meeting.

I’m glad I have some time. Maybe I can practice baking some cookies or sewing some nice cloth thingy gifts to present to people in case the speech doesn’t work out. Or use the rock-hard cookies to deflect rotten vegetables.

And if the baking really does turn out, I might even send some crumbs of my success to my former teacher, if the shock doesn’t overwhelm her. It will be hard to tell if she gets choked with emotion, or choked by my cooking.

Thanks to everyone who supported the Ag in the Classroom program here in Oregon, but also those who support Ag in the Classroom in their home states. It really is a great thing to do for the future of agriculture and the next generation.

Anyone who wants more information on how they can help support AITC can contact their local organizations.


threecollie said...

If you speak HALF as good as you write you will have them rolling in the aisles.

Elaine Shein said...

If I don't have them rolling in the aisles, at the very least I will have them snickering at my Canadian accent and how I pronounce "out" and "about" ...
I better add a few of those words into the speech just to be on the safe side.

threecollie said...

Geepers, that would be the best part. We recently changed feed companies to one that charges MORE for grain and I think the salesman's Alberta accent is half the reason.

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