Full transcript of writer and storyteller Brooke Linville’s TEDx Talk: What Raising 12 Million Dollars Taught Me at TEDxBoise conference. This event occurred on May 5, 2018.
Notable quote from this talk:
“I had spent so much energy managing everyone else’s chaos, fixing everyone else’s problems, that I had no time, no space for me. Perhaps I could learn a few things from Sweet Briar: save myself like I had helped save the school.”
Brooke Linville – Writer & storyteller
I have a confession: I love “A”s. Love their symmetry, their validation, their pronouncement to the world that I am good.
And I was almost always an “A” student, with the exception of a few years in high school, when I aced being in love with boys, at the expense of “C”s in Salinger and derivatives.
Once I graduated from college with honors, I set my sights on acing the curriculum of life: get married, have kids, buy a house, start a business. We all know that narrative.
And I thought I was getting “A”s. My life report card looked a little like this.
Managing Chaos: “A++”. I have two boys: one is on the spectrum, the other started to do frontflips off my headboard about the time he turned two. I had started one business, was helping my husband launch a virtual reality startup, while writing a novel and volunteering at my kids’ school. I had a master’s degree in chaos.
Surviving Trauma: “A+”. My father was diagnosed with stage four Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma when I was 18. My house burned down in a wildfire when I was nearly eight months pregnant. And half my face has been paralyzed, eventually leading to a diagnosis of Lyme disease.
Every time I felt my life was finally on track, something traumatic would happen to knock it off course.
Fixing Others: “A”. When my bachelor father was diagnosed with cancer, I moved in with him, became his primary caregiver, found and enrolled him in the clinical trial that would save his life. I sent my husband to college, tried to teach him algebra, and edited nearly every paper before he dropped out.
I wasn’t just trying to take the final exam in my own life, I was trying to take everyone else’s too.
Guilt, anxiety, suppressing feelings: “A,” “A,” “A”. And I undoubtedly would have continued on that path, lined with “A”s forever, unfulfilled, a life of chaos, knowing that something was missing but never quite sure what.
And then, March 3rd, 2015. That morning, I was scrolling through Facebook looking for a few minutes of distraction. Instead of pictures of friends on vacation and enviable eggs. Benedict though, my news feed was full of gasps and sorrows. The small women’s college I had attended my freshman and sophomore years had announced it was closing that summer. I stared at the screen, unable to believe the news.
Sweet Briar College sits on 3,000 acres at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Central Virginia. Its entrance is one of the most beautiful I have ever driven, full of oaks and lush green, opening to brick buildings that have educated women for more than 100 years.
Before women were a part of NASA, they were educated at Sweet Briar. Before women held office in Congress, they were educated at Sweet Briar. Before women could vote, they were educated at Sweet Briar.
And like my own life, Sweet Briar didn’t look like it was failing, not to the outside: land resources, $70 million plus endowment, reputation. Demand for single-sex education had been declining, but I thought that maybe one day it would go co-ed like so many others before it had.
Never did I imagine that this middle place between adolescence and adulthood would close, especially so abruptly. At first I thought I had to be out of the loop; others had to have known it was in such bad shape. But as the hours passed, it became increasingly clearer that everyone, everyone had been taken by surprise.
The college organized a call that afternoon for the alumnae, which I joined, listening to the then-president discuss the college’s financial troubles: “The school would need to raise $20 million in three months,” he said. “Impossible $2 million a year had been a stretch goal.”
I got off the call a little confused and joined a Facebook group that had been organized to help pool our collective talents to see if there was something, anything we could do to save the school.
I thought maybe there was something small I could contribute. I have an “A” in fixing, remember? After an hour or so of conversation, I announced I was going to build a website, which I did, launching later that night, with several hundred hits the next day and a mention in the Washington Post.
Over the next week, we discussed how to accept pledges, manage communications, and formed a Board of Directors for a non-profit that would handle the legal and fundraising efforts. We named the non-profit after the website, “Saving Sweet Briar”. Saving Sweet Briar became my full-time job.
Alumnae from around the country sent me and my family food so that I could focus on the tasks at hand. I majored in chaos; I was in my element. I can’t raise $25 for Jump Rope for Heart. It’s a true story. And yet, I found myself leading the charge to raise millions of dollars to save a school whose mission I still believed in.
Traumatic circumstances, fixing, even some anxiety. Saving Sweet Briar was an opportunity for me to get an “A” in some of my very best skills. The lawyers that we retained developed a brilliant strategy around trust law. And I asked for money, and more money, and even more than that.
As a web developer and digital strategist, I had studied crowdfunding over the previous few years, noting what seemed to work. I didn’t have PowerPoint or a case for support as I would eventually learn is typical in most fundraising asks.
But what I did have was passion, and Photoshop, and a healthy dose of humor. When the president stated that the reason why high school students didn’t want to come to Sweet Briar was because they were too far from a Starbucks, I asked our base to donate the cost of a latte.
We raised tens of thousands of dollars in small donations as a result. When the finance director told some students that they couldn’t use their class project to raise money to save their school, well, I added a line on the donation form to send him a notification for every donation made in his name.