This is the third part of a four-part interview with the organizers of Fandom Rocks, a fan organized grassroots initiative within the Supernatural fan community which sponsors a variety of charities. This interview is conducted with three organizers for the group, Dana Stodgel, Brande Ruiz, and Rebecca Mawhinney.
Sam: What activities have you all engaged with so far?
Dana: We just completed our first campaign. Just over $2,000 was raised via fan donations and Cafe Press purchases. I traveled to Lawrence to visit the community shelter and give them our donation in person. While there, I also visited the soup kitchen across the street where shelter guests often receive their meals if the shelter is not serving. I also visited the humane society anticipating they would be one of the charities fans chose for the next campaign.
Brande: Right now, it's about building the network among fans, fan sites, and various affiliations to get our name out there. We were very excited that Dana was able to travel to Lawrence to hand over the funds in person to the Community Shelter. Now that our initial campaign has ended with such success, we're gearing up into our second campaign, which will end right around sweeps in February/March, I believe.
We'd really like to involve the fans more and bring their ideas into the campaign. I know personally, I see this campaign as belonging TO the fandom as a group project, so I definitely want them to feel a part of what we doing, and not just an "open wallet."
Rebecca: Which is why we try to include everyone in the decisions made within the campaign: which charities to sponsor, ideas for future fund-raisers, etc. There have been a few fans that have created pieces of art and jewelry to auction off, giving a percentage of the proceeds to FR. So we know that the fans want to be involved, it's simply a matter of promoting the campaign so the fans know it exists. That's where the various fan sites and "real life" affiliations come in.
Sam: How were the charities you work with selected?
Dana: We ask that fans to research charities and make sure they are registered as a non-profit organization. We try to find charities with a connection to the show if possible. Charities are placed in a poll on our Web site, and the top two charities are selected for the next campaign. We also contact them to make sure they are interested in our support.
Brande: So far, we haven't had a charity we've contacted say they didn't want our support. In fact, I think we were extremely fortunate that one of our first charities, the Lawrence Community Shelter, actively assisted us in promoting our efforts in their local press and on their website. Without that boost, I don't think the campaign would have succeeded at the level it did.
Rebecca: That's true. Having the support from the charity was very important in the campaign. At this point, we're still relatively unknown in the fandom and real world, so having the support of the charity in question increases trust in the campaign itself. It will be exciting in the next campaign to see what new ideas and initiatives fans will come up with.
Sam: What do you think these pro-social activities mean for the fan community? How does this relate back to the show? Or does it? Do you consider a fan community to be about much more than the text that you are gathered around?
Dana: I think the activities make the fan community more solidly connected. Initially, you come together because of a common interest in the show, but often fans can drift back out of a community for a variety of reasons. Creating Fandom Rocks establishes concrete relationships and friendships beyond the latest episode discussion. You learn about someone's talents, their job, their history, and the fan community becomes richer for it. In a broad sense, this does relate back to the show. A line used in the opening sequence of, I believe, every episode is "saving people, hunting things, the family business," and fans felt this was a major theme we could be inspired by. That is where the Fandom Rock's tagline of "Helping People, Changing Things: The Fandom Business" came from.
Brande: Exactly. A fandom becomes, in a way, a community in itself. My first convention experience I was told by one of the actors (who was signing autographs) that being in the fandom would be life-changing, because the longer I stayed, the more really cool people I'd meet. By the end of that weekend, I knew no truer words had been spoken. I felt like I was attending a huge family reunion, in every sense of the word.
And by the same token, I've seen online communities (including some fan communities) completely self-destruct over internal struggles.
The idea of Fandom Rocks, one of the basic goals I had when I initially presented the idea was to show that our fandom could unite itself, despite barriers presented by geography, political ideals, race, creed, gender, age, etc.