Fundraising and 3 Ted Talks

When I was promoted to a full professor, I felt that being a professor was not enough. I was always intrigued by the leadership. I started to watch Ted Talks 10 years ago. Among them, 3 talks related to leaderships caught my attention. When I started the sick leave, I thought that those talks would no longer be useful for me. Surprisingly, they helped me in Fundraising during the Lung Cancer Awareness Month in November. I raised over $16,500. To help my friends fundraising later, I am summarising my experience here. Note that the analysis is purely for future fundraising purpose.

Three Ted Talks Related to Leadership

Three Ted Talks deeply effected me. One was given by Itay Talgam, “Lead like the Great Conductor”, the 2nd one by Simon Singh “How Great Leaders Inspired Action” and the 3rd one by Derek Sivers “How to Start a Movement”.

Itay is a musician/conductor from Israel. I got to know him due to the above talk, in which he looked at several famous conductors’ conducting styles, and did an interesting comparison to point out how to become a good conductor, actually a good leader at large. I learned a lot of conducting, but what I was most impressed was the relationship between “process and conditions” and “meaning”. Through the music, Itay explained how important it was to have a good “process and condition”, but it was crucial to have a good “meaning” for a conductor/leader.

Simon talked about being a business leader. I was impressed by the Law of Diffusion of Renovation he talked. The Law is that the people can be divided into several groups in any of the “movement”. Among them, 2.5% of population are innovators, 13.5% are early adopters, 34% are the early majority, 34% are the late majority and 16% are the lagers. We are always somewhere at the above stage and at certain time of our life. If we want “mass market” to succeed, ie, to have the “tipping point”, we must have 15-18% “market penetrations”. Normally we always have 10% people on board, the important thing is how to get another 5-8% people? That’s what makes a good leader.

Derek only gave a 3 minutes Ted Talk. It was funny and right to the point. He used a video clip to show the importance of 2nd and 3rd followers in starting a “movement”. The 1st guy who was the leader, was a lonely shirtless “nut” who danced alone in a crowded picnic hill, till the 2nd guy danced with the 1st guy and the 1st guy embraced the 2nd guy. Then the 3rd guy joined in and the 2nd guy danced with the 1st and 3rd guys, and now 3 was a crowd. Following that, 4th, 5th …and thousand started to dance, because people wouldn’t want to be ridiculed not to join dancing- the movement was formed. So Derek concluded that the leader sometime is over-glorified; the 2nd or 3rd guys are under-appreciated. Actually, we should, at the proper time, try to be the 2nd and 3rd guys to start a “movement”.

Analysis of Fundraising:

I have motivation (good meaning) for fundraising for lung cancer research. This is really a life and death situation. Not many healthy people can feel it, although they claim to understand it. Anyway, nobody knows who will be the next person to get lung cancer. If you have a lung, you can get lung cancer.

In my fundraising effort, I had to find 18% “market penetrators”. I used some strategies. The 1st group of people were my relatives. They were my “innovators”, like it or not. Next, I have to confess that I’m not a “people” person. I stopped the contact with my university friends for 30 years. Actually there were some of them in North America. So I gambled with this group of friends as my “early adopters”. The 3rd group of people were my graduate students, who studied under my supervision and graduated. At my peak time, I had more than 15 M.Sc. and Ph.D. students in 1 year. I got along with my students well and cared about their academic growth. Within the University, we were like a family, but outside university I didn’t have much contact with them. I thought that these 3 groups of people could be approached as my “innovators and early adapters/majority”.

So I started from my relatives. I contacted 12 relatives. They didn’t disappoint me. All of them donated $2,625, among them 2 was anonymous amount. I purposely asked them to donate before or at earlier stage of fundraising. So they became the leaders to donate. Then I started with my former university friends at the beginning of November. To my surprise, they were unbelievably warm hearted and opened their arms to welcome me back even before they knew I got cancer. They donated within 3 days, many of them within the same day I asked. I contacted 11 friends, 10 of them (91%) responded and donated $1,300, and 2 were anonymous. Many of them donated $250-$500, and set up the level of the donation. My relatives and friends made the 1st movement. Truly they were my “innovators and early adopters”.

Remember I needed at least 18% “market penetrators” to have the “market tilted”. So I approached my “early majorities”—my former graduate students. They were so surprised and excited that I emailed them. I guess without seeing me, they imagined that I was dying. Out of 46 students, 43 students (93.4%) responded with donation, total of $4,625 plus 8 anonymous amount. Many students responded within 2 days, and they wrote to me and thanked me for my mentorship. It was indeed very moving and overwhelming.

By now I had “moved” all my “market penetrators”. The last group I had in mind was not easy to convince—University Professors. The professors were extremely focused on their teaching and research. Donating money was not on their “to-do” list. I knew exactly about it because I was one of them. I divided this group into 2 sub-groups, one was the group of professors from other universities that I worked with. They were either I was their department visitor reviewing their programs or I was the grant reviewers, professional societies, external Ph.D. examiners, etc. Another group was my co-workers, the professors in the same university. I first contacted 18 professors from other universities, 10 responded (total 55.5%) and donated $1,970 with 1 anonymous amount. 8 didn’t reply, among this group of professors,1 refused to donate to a US foundation, and 3 said they would donate, but I had not received money after 2 reminders. More than half of them responded within 2 weeks, some needed reminders. I had good discussions with some of them, mainly those who themselves or their loved ones were suffering from cancer. Cancer touched so many people’s life.

Next, I worked with my fellow professors from the same university. I noticed that these group of professors were very different and could be divided into 3 sub-groups. The 1st sub-group was female professors. In the Faculty of Engineering, female professors are minority, but they are incredibly passionate. They donated very fast, only in a few days. More over, the messages they wrote to me were very emotional. They moved me beyond my imaginations. I contacted 7 female professors, I received 6 responses (85.7%) and totally $1,150 with 1 professor anonymous amount.

The next group was my Chinese male professors. I’m very comfortable with men since I was an undergraduate student because most of the professors and students at that time were men in engineering, everywhere in US, Canada and China. But as usual, it’s hard for me to develop any deep relationships -I’m not good with people. However, through this fundraising, I found my Chinese male colleagues were so special-something that I never noticed before. I contacted 8 Chinese male professors, all responded and raised $2,500 with 1 unknown amount. They donated a lot and many of them were fast to response. This group of professors were very different from women professors in that man professors are very formal or somewhat rigid on the surface, but these “early adopters” donated very a large amount, several of them donated $500-$1,000. From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate it, my Chinese male colleagues.

With the last group professors, I had to be patient and could not expect prompt response. These professors normally needed several days to “sleep over” it, and finally forgot it. You really had to have a “thick skin” to go after them. I first sent the invitation to the Dean, and secretly hoped that he would serve as a role model. My Dean didn’t disappoint me. He donated right away and a high amount. I certainly appreciate it. For the most remaining professors, however, I had to send another set of reminding messages. I contacted total 22 professors, 8 of them (36.3%) donated $1,350, among them 1 was anonymous amount. 13 didn’t answer, and 1 responded preferring to donate to a Canadian Cancer Society. Those people were so-called “lagers”, like in Simon’s talk: “no matter what you do, this group of people are not going to move….they buy the touch phones because they cannot buy the rotatory phones anymore”.

Thought After Fundraising

Now the fundraising is over, I feel that it is an unexpected experience. First, the majority of the fund raised is through my direct invitations. There are two types of people you should consider in fundraising: (1) persons who want to conquer the cancer, no matter what kind of cancer. This type of people is difficult to meet, but they do exist; (2) persons who care about me and hope I will get better. The latter is the majority. Another thing I learned is that when I decide to donate later, I’ll do it soon. This is what I learn “to be the 2nd or the 3rd follower” because everybody is waiting to see the 2nd and 3rd followers so that they won’t be “ridiculed” to follow. Last and most important point for fundraisers-you have to be strong, have “thick skin” and if needed, to “beg” for the donation (good causes). For me, if I can handle cancer, what else can I not handle?

I always wanted to try according to the 3 Ted Talks just mentioned above. It is an exhilarating experience. These guys, Itay, Simon and Derek, are genius. However, the most important part, that I never expected, is the emotional journey I have gone through and the compassion I felt from people-it is truly beyond my imagination.


My friend HaoPei (斐皓) is a Stage 4 lung cancer patient, 37 years old. This picture was taken by him when he traveled in rural China after his diagnosis.

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