High Strangeness: UFO Fund-Raising

Sunday, September 27, 2015

UFO Fund-Raising

The other day I wrote about some of the more interesting UFO conversations I've had lately, and the one that I keep thinking about is this one:
 Call #3: Another gentleman... wanted to tell me about his experiences working for Dr. Hynek at the Hynek Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) in the early 1980s. Perhaps because he was only associated with CUFOS for a short time and left in frustration, he was able to give me a slightly less flowery picture of CUFOS' operations than I have heard thus far in my research... As he told it, he was a young whippersnapper brought in to help CUFOS bring in more members and, thus, more operating revenue, only to discover that the CUFOS elders were tragically resistant to any and all efforts to save the organization...
Not a whole lot was happening in UFO world in the early 1980s, and CUFOS was struggling to keep the lights on. Funding was hard to come by, and Hynek was frustrated that his employers at Northwestern University refused to support his UFO work in any way (although the University loved that the Chair of its astronomy department was such a popular speaker and celebrity and brought so much attention to the school).

It was around this time that the gentleman I spoke to came into contact with CUFOS. He had seen a strange object and visited CUFOS's offices to see if they could help him understand what he had seen. Turned out that he had a background in event planning and PR and before you know it he was informally advising CUFOS on ways to build its membership and revenues.

This would seem to have been a golden opportunity for CUFOS to strengthen its foundations and expand its reach, and at first it seemed that way... The new CUFOS marketing chief suggested a gala fund-raising event that would garner all sorts of media attention, public goodwill, and more important, cash.

The CUFOS board gave him the go-ahead and he started to plan the event. The first thing he did was to go through the CUFOS membership rolled to see if there were any celebrities or public figures (besides Hynek) in the organization. He came up with two immediately: comedians Stan Freberg and Jackie Gleason, and put them at the head of the guest list (he knew there were more celebrities, but these were the only two he remembered by name after all these years).
One of the funniest humans ever... and he belonged to CUFOS!

I thought this was pretty awesome. I knew there were stories about Jackie Gleason having been shown a dead alien, but I was shocked that Stan Freberg, who is one of my biggest heroes, was involved with CUFOS. Sadly, Freberg passed away earlier this year, and did leave some evidence that he was invloved in a UFO cover-up with science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury.

I don't know that Freberg ever spoke about UFOs publicly before he died but the mere fact that he was a CUFOS member makes me believe more than ever that we must solve the mystery of the UFO... I also think it was pretty brilliant of this guy to treat CUFOS as though it were any other non-profit, just as worthy of financial support as the Lions Club or the Red Cross.

Anyway, the key to getting the celebrities to attend, and to give speeches, depended on CUFOS paying their way and giving them small honoraria for their time. Because, any other non-profit would do the same, without question... But other non-profits were not directed by scientists and scholars who hated to spend money and didn't understand that sometimes you have to spend money to make money... To them, tapping into what little money CUFOS had on account to pay to wealthy celebrities was a ridiculous idea. How does that further CUFOS' research agenda? How does that get the organization any closer to understanding the UFO phenomenon?

So the answer was no. No money, no celebrities, no gala. And my friend the PR man resigned in disgust, and a few years later CUFOS closed its offices and downsized to a skeleton crew and files stored in members' basements throughout Chicago.

Can you imagine how sublime it would have been like to have Jackie Gleason and Stan Freberg talking about UFOs at a gala fund-raiser?? I sometimes think of UFOlogy as a catalog of missed opportunities, and I have to include this fiasco on the list of the biggest misses...


Tom said...

Jackie Gleason speaking at a CUFOS Conference about the time (supposedly) Nixon showed him a dead alien body.

Gives new meaning to his catch-line, "To the moon, Alice!".

Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz said...

All things considered, I wonder if the erstwhile PR guy's idea really made much sense to CUFOS.

The potential problems of staging a "gala fund-raising event" with celebrities like Jackie Gleason and Stan Freberg might not have only been what form such an event might actually take (what, a dinner? one-day conference?), but more importantly, if such celebs had to have their air transport, hotels, and meals comp'ed, plus an honorarium, who's to say that the expenses concerned (which would have also involved renting a good public space, the cost of catering, promo advertising, etc.) might not have been more than what CUFOS could afford or had available for any such event?

I assume the costs would have been at least a few thousand dollars, and what might the financial state of CUFOS have been if the event turned out to be a bust, and not cover the up-front expenses?

How much money has CUFOS ever had in the bank, anyway? I doubt a whole lot. So, not only was this concept probably viewed by CUFOS as inherently a fairly risky, costly venture, but it also seems to be a somewhat odd and inappropriate thing for a non-profit like CUFOS to consider to increase their funding in the first place. It could have backfired, and been a PR disaster.

I mean, what relevance do famous comedians on the dais in any such presentation have to do with ostensibly serious UFO research, anyway? (I know there's a joke in there somewhere, but I'll leave that to others)

Your contact sounds like he's just voicing sour grapes that his idea wasn't accepted, and so he split. CUFOS was probably wise to reject trying to use any such "gala event" as a vehicle for funding.

Actually sounds kind of silly, to me. And I'm not even a scientist!

Mark OC said...

You make some good points, but I think the idea had merits. And since we all know that CUFOS played it safe and ran out of money anyway, it's worth considering what they might have accomplished by taking some risks...

Anonymous said...

UFO conferences/events have been historically money losers. It sounds good on paper to bring in a celebrity to help put fannies in the seats but CUFOS was probably wise to pass on that idea.