by Parnell Diggs
From the Editor: Parnell Diggs is president of the NFB of South Carolina, a member of the NFB board of directors, and chairman of the Imagination Fund. This is what he says about this year’s Race for Independence:
On a Tuesday afternoon I stepped off the bus (long white cane in hand) at the end of another workday and began to make my way along the familiar path to my home. A man who might have been in his early twenties passed me on a bicycle heading in the opposite direction.
"Praise God," he exclaimed over his shoulder. "You'll see soon." Realizing that he had gotten my attention, he turned around and headed back toward me, stopping at a respectful distance. "Just praise God." I could hear the smile in his voice, and I surmised that he was sincere.
I smiled back. "What if God wants me to be blind? It's not such a bad thing."
"Oh no,” he countered. “He doesn't want you to be blind."
"How do you know?" I asked.
Rather than answering, he simply turned the bike around and headed off, assuring me that everything would be all right if I would "just praise God.” "Actually, I would rather have a million dollars," I called after him as he peddled away. But I don't think he believed me.
With my blue suit and briefcase, I looked like a typical businessman who might have been heading home from the office; however, the young man on the bicycle observed my white cane and made an assessment of my life's ambition. His repeated assurances that I would "see soon" suggested that he thought I wanted sight more than anything in the world.
Of course, those of us who know better realize that blindness is no big deal. But how do we communicate this message to those who don't know? Our programs of Braille literacy, technological development, quality education for blind children, and employment opportunities for blind adults are creating a new reality of blindness every day. In 2011 we are continuing what has been perhaps the biggest research initiative in the seventy-one-year history of the organized blind movement: the development of a technological interface that will capture the imagination and inspire innovative methods of approaching the issue of access to technology for the blind of today and of generations to come.
Since its inception the Blind Driver Challenge™ has garnered one billion audience impressions, saturating the world with the positive philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. Our efforts to encourage blind youth to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math have replaced feelings of hopelessness and futility with dreams of opportunity and achievement.
The Imagination Fund is the point of origin for all programs of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute and many of the initiatives launched among the affiliates across the nation. It is the mechanism by which we ask Federationists to generate financial support from beyond the organization for programming that is shifting the focus of rehabilitation of the blind from basketry to rocketry.
Let me draw a distinction, at this point, between the Imagination Fund and the PAC Plan. It may seem obvious to some, but in reality it seems that some Federationists participate in one program or the other, but not both. Our participation in the PAC Plan gives us the chance to make monthly contributions to the National Federation of the Blind out of our own financial resources. In my case I have participated in the PAC Plan continuously since 1990. I was twenty-one, in college, and on SSI and had a limited income. I started at $10 per month, and I have increased my PAC pledge steadily through the years as my income has risen. But I also participate in the annual Imagination Fund campaign.
By registering to be an Imaginator, I am making a commitment to ask others, outside the movement, to help me reach my fundraising goal. I have a friend who happens to be a multimillionaire. On more than one occasion he has said that "There is a lot more money out there than there is in here."
The meaning of his advice is clear. Simply put, we can raise more money by seeking support from others than we can raise by drawing only upon our own resources. Most of us would agree with this logic. Nevertheless, more Federationists are on the PAC Plan than are registered for the Race for Independence. Why?
I would hazard a guess that, generally speaking, we are more comfortable just making a donation ourselves than we are asking others to do so. Moreover, I would suggest that some of us register for the Race for Independence, or choose not to do so, because we figure on simply writing a check before the end of the campaign. But this is not the purpose of the Imagination Fund. The Imagination Fund is intended to build the Federation using resources from outside the movement. "There is more money out there than there is in here."
A fellow Federationist registered for the Race for Independence about two weeks before this writing. A few days ago he called me to say that he has already raised $410 without donating a penny of his own money. How did he do it? He registered and made the ask. You can do the same thing. Now is the time to register for the 2011 Race for Independence. But don't plan simply to make a donation to the Imagination Fund. Instead, make the ask, and be quick about it!
Because the Imagination Fund is designed to raise money outside the movement, we have created tools to aid you in soliciting donations from others. There are online tools at <www.raceforindependence.org>. Brochures, solicitation cards, and Text2Give cards are available upon request. Use them, and you will raise more than you could ever donate yourself.
Each year 50 percent of the amount we raise is used to fund programs at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. Twenty-five percent is divided equally among the fifty-two affiliates, and 24 percent is awarded in the form of grants to affiliates and national divisions. Over sixty thousand dollars in grants was awarded in 2010.
We can award more in 2011 if we register and make the ask. If you take nothing else from this article, I want you to realize just how easy it is to ask someone for a donation. Not everyone will say "yes," but you will be surprised at the amount of money you can raise if you ask ten people outside the movement using email or simply by distributing ten brochures.
But let me show you in a more practical way how easy it is to ask people outside the movement for donations. Here is a text that I have used:
I am participating in the 2011 National Federation of the Blind Race for Independence, and I need your help. Did you ever think a blind person could drive a car without sighted assistance? During 2011 we are debuting a car that I will be able to drive. Don't worry, you won't see me on the road just yet. But I do want to emphasize the urgent need to make technology accessible to the average blind user and prove how easy it is to do it if we try.
While our progress through the decades has been tremendous, I have been thinking about what life will be like for blind people in the future. Will blind people live in a world of opportunity? If I do nothing, less than half of all of the blind children attending school in the United States today will earn a diploma. Fewer than three in ten will get a job, and only one in ten blind children will even be able to read when they grow up.
This is why I am writing to you. I too am making a donation, because I would not ask you to do what I am not willing to do myself.
Feel free to borrow from my letter, create one that is entirely your own, or any combination thereof. But whatever you do, please do something. The only wrong way to make the ask is not to make it at all. Some fabulous incentives are being planned for Imaginators who reach the $250, $500, and $1,000 levels. We will talk more about these incentives between now and the time we arrive in Orlando for the 2011 convention. But it all starts with registering and making the ask.
To register for the Race for Independence, please visit <www.raceforindependence.org>, or simply call the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2371. The suggested goal is $250 for each Imaginator. There is plenty of time to reach and even surpass your fundraising goal, but you need to start now.
If I can help you in any way to reach your full potential as an Imaginator, please do not hesitate to contact me directly in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, at (843) 492-7411, or drop me an email at <[email protected]>. Please join me in building the Imagination Fund and supporting Braille literacy, quality education, access to technology, employment opportunities for blind adults, programs for seniors, and more. Come on: sign up today, and let's race!