Ask and Offer: Making the Language of Generosity Familiar

Last week we discussed part of the outreach campaign we ran to convert our alma mater’s community to Switchboard. In that post, we named Instagram as an easy way to build a sense of community among a distant and disparate audience. But Instagram is just so boring. If you want to excite the people you’re trying to convert, you have to be creative.

Yes, we dressed up as Gumby. Or, one of us did. During the annual “Working Weekend” at Reed, Brent dressed up as Gumby and asked visiting alumni, and current students, to write down what they could teach each other and pin it to his costume. We got offers to teach everything from how to play Carmina Burana on guitar to how to understand Heidegger’s Being and Time. That offer came from the college’s president, who is pictured with Gumby below.

On top of having the obvious benefit of keeping “Reed Switchboard” on the minds of those who participated, the Gumby campaign also got people to adopt the Switchboard mindset. “What can I offer my community? What does my community need?” Each paper pinned to Gumby was an offer that the pinner could, potentially, post on Switchboard. And every person who read that offer, and all the others pinned to Gumby, saw what their community had to offer.

This wasn’t just a stunt to attract attention, it was about involving community members in the creation of a Switchboard, a Gumby Switchboard that stood in as a metaphor for the real thing.

Switchboard isn’t hard to understand. “Ask. Offer. Succeed.” is intuitive. But people don’t always realize right away what they can offer their community. “I’m not an expert in anything,” they might think. Or, “I don’t have a job to offer.” Gumby was an exercise in self-confidence, in a way. We wanted people to think, “I have something to offer.”

Because they do. Everyone has something to offer—it doesn’t have to be a spare bed or an internship. It might only be barrels of snack mix.

Changing what people think of when they hear the word “offer,” changing it from the uppercase ‘O’ “Offer” to the lowercase. If the language of generosity is everyday, generosity will be, too.