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9 Fundraising Lessons From the World’s Weirdest Charity Stunts

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Most people’s fundraising experience ends at running a race for charity or selling candy for a good cause—but if you really want to go big with your efforts, you need to think outside the box. Here are a few of the weirdest charity stunts ever performed, and a few lessons any aspiring fundraiser can learn from them.

1. Be Willing to Suffer for What You Believe In

And recognize that sometimes you don’t know how much you’ll suffer until your fundraising campaign gets started. That was certainly the case when 24-year-old Joe Cooper decided he would help raise some money for his local hospital, the Leicester Royal Infirmary, by agreeing to get his pubic hair waxed. The stunt took place at the Trees Pub, where bidders competed for the chance to rip a wax strip from one of ten men. Many of the other men backed down, but Joe stood by his word. Unfortunately, waxing is something that really should be left to a professional, and Joe probably should have backed down as well.

“I lay down and closed my eyes and the next thing I know I'm in horrendous pain and bleeding,” Joe said.

The friend who ripped off the strip of wax from his groin pulled a little too hard and ripped off six layers of skin. Joe was soon rushed to the hospital where doctors told him that if any more skin came off, his testicle would have come out.

But hey, at least the stunt raised around $4500 for the hospital.

2. Allow Yourself to be Shocked by Other’s Generosity

This concept was quite literal in the case of Sheriff Leon Lott, who auctioned off the opportunity for someone to tase him in order to raise money for the Richland County Sheriff’s Foundation. For every $1000 bid, he would let the tasing go on one more second. The winning bid was $2000, and the sheriff was shocked for two seconds. 

3. Put A Part of Yourself Into Your Fundraising Efforts

But please don’t literally put something that was once a part of your body up for auction like William Shatner did. In late 2005, Shatner went to the hospital where he was diagnosed with a kidney stone. After passing the stone, the star tried to put it up for auction on eBay, promising to donate all the money to Habitat For Humanity, but eBay wouldn't let him sell it because it's against policy. Even so, The Golden Palace called up Shatner and ponied up $25,000 to add the kidney stone to their bizarre collection of eBay oddities, including the grilled cheese Virgin Mary, Jerry Garcia’s toilet, and a potato that resembles Pete Townshend. And the company kicked in an extra $50,000 to the charity, just because.

4. Expect to Take a Few Hits For Your Cause

And not just in the form of non-supporters. Matt Jones, the managing director of Poverty Resolutions, wanted to help illustrate what a large number 21,000 is in numbers people could actually understand. Why 21,000? Because that’s how many children die due to poverty every day.

To help people better visualize the number, Matt and four friends agreed to get hit by 21,000 paintballs to raise attention to their cause.

5. Keep It Classy

Bear Grylls is known for doing some pretty crazy things as part of his job, so when it comes to stunts for charity, he’s willing to go an extra mile. To help raise funds for the Prince's Trust, Bear agreed to eat a formal dinner in a suit and tie—25,000 feet in the air underneath a hot air balloon. Grylls had to wear an oxygen mask to breathe! That kind of raises the stakes. After dinner, Bear and his dining companian parachuted to safety. In the process, the two set a new world record for the highest open-air formal dinner party.

6. Sometimes All You Need is the Right Incentive

Is it right to torture someone to raise money for charity? Before you answer that, recognize that the “torture” in question was the repeated playing of Justin Bieber’s song “Baby.” Evanston Township High School Student Council President Charlotte Runzel and a student rep to the Board of Education, Jesse Chat, came up with the idea of asking students to pay to stop the music in order to raise money for BooCoo, a non-profit cultural centre and café near the school. They planned to play the song every day between every class period for a week (eight times a day), promising students they would stop when their $1000 fundraising goal was met. By Wednesday, the student body met the fundraising goal, getting the music to stop once and for all.

7. Find Something People Are Passionate About

For 72-year-old Si Burgher, that was his eyebrows. When he offered up a chance for people to shave his bushy brows at a cost of $100 per trim, people around the town of Bloomfield, Indiana jumped at the chance. In fact, his eyebrows managed to raise $1600 for Rotary International's PolioPlus campaign, which has raised over $500 million towards polio eradication since 1985. Lawyers, bankers, and other townspeople each took a turn trimming Burgher's 3-inch-long eyebrow hairs.

The money raised wasn't the only benefit: Burgher got a lesson about self-grooming in the process. "I don't care if they ever grow back," he said, "My wife says I look 20 years younger."

8. Strip Off All Pretense

There are a lot of people who claim they care about a cause, but when it comes to doing something about it, that’s another story. If you want to get people to take action, you might need to offer them a little more incentive than the simple pleasure of doing a good deed. That’s why The Admiral Theater in Chicago holds an annual "Lap Dances for the Needy" event promising one lap dance to anyone who brings in a new, unwrapped toy to be given to local churches and donated to needy children.

9. Give the People What They Want

If you run a restaurant, offer discounts or free food to customers if you donate. If you own a TV porn channel, the same concept applies. For Japanese channel Paradise TV, that means offering a breast squeezing event wherein participants can squeeze an adult film star’s breast twice for every donation made to STOP!AIDS, an AIDS prevention, treatment, and awareness program.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.