Monday, January 4, 2010

Get Yours!


This post was contributed by guest blogger of the week, Jeffrey Keenan.

True story: My great grandmother on my father’s side was a dime-a-dance girl in Akron, Ohio in the first blooming seasons of the industrial 20th Century. The family spoke of it in hushed tones years and years later with discern because Grammy, as she was then called, was not going gently into that dark night and seemed to be getting more and more out of hand as each successive year was ripped from the calendar.

Grammy, from my five-year-old perspective, possessed an indomitable spirit and an irrepressible personality. She could make all the family adults blush with embarrassment and concern announcing to the assembled grand kids that it was time for Penny Grab! Penny Grab was a game where Grammy would produce a HUGE mason jar of pennies which she would dump into her lap and we grandkids would nearly kill each other trying to claim as much coinage as we individually could. We would all hover on our knees like salivating hyenas mere feet away from Grammy as she would eye each of us with a knowing, anticipating grin. Finally, she yelled “Go!”

We lunged at her lap and grabbed and scooped and hoarded as many of the coins as our little pointy, diggy hands could get. I don’t really remember Grammy’s specific reaction to this game—thankfully, I was too busy grabbing at the bounty of her booty to recall any raised-chin, closed-eye, languid smiles—but I remember my parents and grandparents suddenly drawn to other pressing pursuits whenever Grammy pulled out one of her jingling jars.

Both of those pieces of information about my long-dead paternal Great Grandmother I share to illustrate a pretty simple point: Get yours. Grammy did her part for the war effort in 1919, and she made good money as an uneducated, second generation Irish immigrant with lots of hungry mouths to feed. Sure the neighbors talked: It was unseemly! How unladylike to sell one’s favors and personal attentions to strangers! In the night, no less?! And how close they stood!

It taught both Grammy and me (though my epiphany happened much later) to not give two hoots about what those neighbors and the church ladies thought about how one conducts one’s personal affairs, be they actual affairs or something else entirely. Grammy eventually married a man who drank too much and occasionally beat her, but they had three strong boys, all of whom got good jobs in Akron’s flourishing early-century rubber industry. One of those boys, George, married a plain and sturdy strong-willed Catholic girl called Lillian (my grandmother) who he also would occasionally beat, but they managed three boys (and a girl) of their own, one of whom was called Richard, my father, who never told me any of this but luckily told my Aunt (the aforementioned girl) who had great fun filling me in at Dad’s funeral. He’s been dead for nearly 30 years now—the Keenan men are not known for their longevity—but I’m glad to have this little snippet of family history to keep in my sentimental back pocket.

None of this, I know, has anything to do with End of Year funding issues. To that topic I resoundingly announce I have nearly no earthly idea how to help anyone. Why are you so broke at the end of the year? Did you not plan well enough? Did you overspend? Did you financially over commit? Were your revenues substantially smaller than anticipated? Did your entire Board resign, empty your checking account and treat themselves to brunch at Five Points in the Village?

Take a tip from my irrepressible Great Grandmother who didn’t have problem-one inviting her grandchildren to feel her up even as she was entering her 100th decade of life: Be ashamed of nothing. Once you truly come to understand and embody that mantra, there’s not a single thing you can’t do or dollar you can’t earn. And please don’t automatically assume I’m suggesting every red-blooded Off-Off-Broadway artistic director in New York start posting Craigslist ads for discrete, affordable hummers in various bar bathrooms around the city (though that’s not necessarily a bad idea), I am suggesting that you re-examine your ideals and your goals and your commitment to the same. How badly do you want this? Your answer to that question will determine your next steps.

Question of the Blog: How badly do you want this?

Coming Soon: Ideas to Raise Money Not Involving Oral Sex



  1. Jeffrey,

    Your Grammy sounds amazing, a woman I would have enjoyed meeting. My Grammy was sort of the opposite. An artist who came to art late in life, whose voice started soft and became stronger in private, and, perhaps due to inflation, collected dimes in a jar for me, her only grand child, instead of pennies.

    A wonderful story, penny grab. It is a perfect metaphor for what many of us do for our fundraising. I know ours feels like "nickel and diming" every year. I haven't resorted to bathroom trysts yet, but if the economy doesn't turn soon... who knows!

    Congrats on a great first guest blog!

  2. I work with 3 New York theatre not-for-profits. (Yes, I am crazy and obviously don’t care to support myself or my family). All three not-for-profits are always in need of funds and each sees their staff/board/company members as the primary way to reach audience and donors for money. I used to be embarrassed to be always asking my friends for money and for a time – to avoid playing “favorites” with one company over another I simply stopped asking anyone for any money – which, of course, was a pretty dead-end kind of attitude. I now sort of “assign” my various friends and contacts which of the three not-for-profits on who’s behalf I’m going to hit them up for money. This seems to work better. I try out one of the organizations on them and see if it “sticks” – that is if they give…if they do…I will continue to send them ask letters, etc. for that particular organization. For those that don’t give to one, I’ll try them out on the other. But I have given up any shame I used to feel about asking for the dough. There is too much need!!

  3. If indie theatre companies gave out hummers in bar bathrooms I would increase my level of support!!