Is Wiki’s B. Harris Pulling Our Legs?

I ended up on Wikipedia’s site from a Google search, and clicked a giant blue link leading to Brandon Harris’s open letter to the public and damn, it’s pretty good, so good that I’m re-posting it here on my blog as an example of how to write a damn good fundraising letter (see at the end of this post).

Brandon Harris’s letter wailed on my heart strings, and so  I’ve emptied my already empty pockets to support Wikipedia. Does this make me a sucker? Is Brandon pulling my leg? Our legs? Well, my head isn’t totally in the clouds, and I can sense the contemptuous and weary or downright bitter folks cringing at the computer screen, offended by the nerve or the cojones of this global force we know as Wikipedia, asking for donations from the public – the same public who has been economically bulldozed to an oblivion, including the arguably wealthy (dare I mention).

Global force or not, why shouldn’t  Wikipedia ask  the public for support when its the public that it serves? Did you ever use it?  Many will not contribute to Wikipedia’s fundraiser simply due to the sentiment that somebody else will do it or the general thought that Wikipedia will be just fine because they are already a force, huge and influential.  (The idea that someone else will donate because there are millions who use it reminds me of a point made in Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tippoing Point regarding The Power of Context to which I won’t go into details here – we could go off on a tangent later.)

So why do I care?

Brandon’s letter appeals to me NOT because of a gullibility factor (which some may feel inclined to assert), but because I am a budding writer amidst a growing, grassroots fundraiser campaign called 500NAMES to which I recently donated and hope to see reach its fundraising goals. Like Wikipedia’s own  Brandon Harris (a Programmer) lending his voice to raise awareness and funds for his cause and place of work, there is New York City’s own, Rock WILK who is fundraising too, but without global appeal, 113 names into his 500NAMES campaign with $3,740 raised in a little over a week. Rock WILK is working not only as a Playwright, Composer and Performer but also as a business man, engaging his audience and followers, and gaining the support  needed to fund a commercial run of a fully produced show, his life’s work, BROKE WIDE OPEN, a musical, the true life story of his adoption and search for identity and home.

Two fundraisers, two totally different worlds, one shared purpose; to raise funds that will help sustain and make accessible something very valuable and meaningful to the public –  I support both (Wikipedia for obvious reasons and 500NAMES because I support theater arts and the sharing of incredible true life stories). Whether grassroots or global, in the media or under a rock, if I use it, enjoy it, learn or grow from it why wouldn’t I consider supporting it? Why wouldn’t you?

More —->Wikipedia’s Fundraiser

More —–> 500NAMES Fundraiser

Here’s Brandon’s letter that I thought was pretty damn good:

From Wikipedia programmer Brandon Harris

I feel like I’m living the first line of my obituary. I don’t think there will be anything else that I do in my life as important as what I do now for Wikipedia. We’re not just building an encyclopedia, we’re working to make people free. When we have access to free knowledge, we are better people. We understand the world is bigger than us, and we become infected with tolerance and understanding. Wikipedia is the 5th largest website in the world. I work at the small non-profit that keeps it on the web. We don’t run ads because doing so would sacrifice our independence. The site is not and should never be a propaganda tool.Our work is possible because of donations from our readers. Will you help protect Wikipedia by donating $5, $20, $50 or whatever you can afford?I work at the Wikimedia Foundation because everything in my soul tells me it’s the right thing to do. I’ve worked at huge tech companies, doing some job to build some crappy thing that’s designed to steal money from some kid who doesn’t know it. I would come home from work crushed.You might not know this, but the Wikimedia Foundation operates with a very small staff. Most other top-ten sites have tens of thousands of people and massive budgets. But they produce a fraction of what we pull off with sticks and wire. When you give to Wikipedia, you’re supporting free knowledge around the world. You’re not only leaving a legacy for your children and for their children, you’re elevating people around the world who have access to this treasure. You’re assuring that one day everyone else will too.
Thank you,
Brandon Harris
Programmer, Wikimedia Foundation
# # #
By the way, after writing this post, I noticed that there are several Wikipedia letters  out there for public consumption that are all really great and so, Brandon’s letter just happen to be the first one that I saw. As of today, I’ve only seen ONE letter, and its from the founder of Wikipedia himself, Jimmy Wales, and still, its all good!

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  1. Hello, again Ebony. Superb blog as usually. I use the site all the time. So, I will donate to the site. Thanks for making me aware of the need. However, one correction, you are not a budding writer, you have arrived.

  2. Brandon Harris (@jorm) December 29, 2011 — 8:59 PM

    Thanks for this! We work very hard to try to make the World’s knowledge free, and we can only do it because of the help we get from the World at large.

    FYI: I’m not pulling your leg. What we’re doing – all of us, especially those that donate – is a good thing.

    • You’re welcome! [Insert screaming here] Excited, humbled, and reassured, I’m grateful for the response to my post, Brandon Harris YOUuuu! Its my sincere hope that Wikipedia’s fundraising goal is met. Steve (who commented above – one of my blog readers) said that he’ll donate too, and hopefully more will do the same. I don’t know a single human who hasn’t used Wikipedia unless they’re an infant or incapacitated, so I feel confident that all will work out. For now, I am studying your letter and those of your colleagues as a point of reference to improve upon ways to effectively appeal to the public and those who might want to support a fundraiser to which I’m devoted (such as the 500NAMES Campaign). So thanks again for the insight and Happy Holidays!

      • Brandon Harris (@jorm) December 30, 2011 — 7:33 PM

        Hey, no problem. I like to think that everyone is on the same side in this great Work called “making life better for everyone.”

        One thing I noticed from your link to 500NAMES is this: it’s pretty long. Our research has shown that appeals work best when they’re only 3-6 paragraphs long. And while it’s tempting to add links to “more information” in there, you don’t want people leaving the page.

  3. @Brandon: Thank you. Yes, what you’ve suggested makes a lot of sense. I’ll share that bit of info with the artist as well, when he’s in better spirits; someone very close to him passed away on New Years day. A reference that you made in your letter is now his reality, you mentioned, “obituary”, but thankfully its not his own. As for the tip you’ve given, I think the notion of shaving away any number of words or sentences from the fundraiser page would probably be like asking him to tear off a limb, literally, but we’ll see how it goes! [Fingers Crossed – perhaps he’ll oblige – 500NAMES are needed] Thanks again!


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