Gaiman and Goats: Gifts that Keep on Giving

Those of you who have been following Worldbuilders for a couple years will probably recognize this book.

It’s a book with a story behind it. And the story goes like this.

2008: A gift from Gaiman.

On a whim in 2008, I decided to try raising money for Heifer International. Things quickly spiraled out of control (in a good way) and soon all sorts of authors were mentioning the fundraiser on their blogs and donating books to help out.

The pinnacle of the coolness/madness came when Neil Gaiman mentioned us to his vast legion of readers. He also donated a rare ARC of Stardust to the cause.

Unfortunately, the mail was slow around the holidays, and we didn’t get hold of the book until after that year’s fundraiser was over. That meant we couldn’t use it until….

2009: Stardust for the people.

The second year of the fundraiser was going well, but I was having a hard time deciding how best to use Gaiman’s beautiful donation. I knew I could auction it off and raise at least a thousand dollars…. but that didn’t seem right somehow.

So in the end, I decided to put it into the lottery, that way anyone who donated to Heifer on our team page would have a chance at winning it. That seemed fair to me, more egalitarian.

At the end of the fundraiser someone wins it, and in a surprise turn of generosity, they donate it straight back to Worldbuilders. Their one stipulation is that I auction it off next year, so it can bring in more money for Heifer next year.

2010: Stardust on the auction block.

During year three of Worldbuilders, we auctioned off all manner of things. And as the previous winner requested, we put Gaiman’s copy of the Stardust ARC up on e-bay too.

After some fierce bidding it sold for over $2500 to a lovely guy named Dan. There were many high-fives in Worldbuilders central. We were sad to see the book go, but $2500 bucks buys a lot of goats.

But when I e-mailed Dan to arrange shipping, he said he wanted to donate the book back to Worldbuilders.

I asked Dan if he was sure. He said he was sure. I asked Dan how he got to be so cool, and he said he was inspired by the story of how last year’s winner re-donated the book.

But most of the credit, he said, should go to his mom. She always made a point of donating to charity even though she never had a lot of money. Not only that, but she was a died-in-the-wool geek like the rest of us: she read fantasy and sci-fi, she played Infocom games…

From everything I’ve heard, she sounds like my kind of lady.

Dan told me she had passed away recently, and that most of the money he inherited from her went into buying this book. He thinks she would be proud and happy to know that the money will go to helping as many people as possible through Heifer.

Dan also said that he was a big Gaiman fan, and that he hoped that this whole exchange didn’t give Gaiman a complex because nobody would keep his book….

Dan’s only stipulation was that we put the book back into the general lottery next year, so anyone would be able to win it….

2011: Full circle.

As per Dan’s request, we’re not including the ARC in the Worldbuilders auctions this year. (Though we do have some other stuff in there from Gaiman and some other big-name authors, if you want to go look.)

Instead, we’re putting the book back into the general lottery, where anyone can win it:

  • A rare, numbered ARC of Stardust. Signed by Neil Gaiman.

Not much remains to be said here. It’s a beautiful book with its own slipcase. Numbered 28 out of 250. Signed by Gaiman.

You have a chance of winning it if you donate on our Team Heifer page before Feb 7th.

How much of a chance do you have of winning this book or one of the other thousands of books that have been donated to the fundraiser?

Well, funny you should ask, because today I’ve been doing a little math….

A brief discussion of odds.

Last year, I tried to calculate what the odds of winning a book from Worldbuilders would be. After careful calculation, I shamed myself by declaring that if someone donated 170 dollars to the fundraiser, they would have a better than 100% chance of winning a prize.

Specifically, they’d have a  106.25 % chance of winning something.

It was bold math, considering the fact that conventional wisdom tells us you can’t have more than 100% likelihood of anything happening.

Luckily some of my clever readers clued me in to the fact that while my math was strong, my understanding of binomial distributions was somewhat flawed.

I’d like to suggest that my carefully calculated 106.25% actually reflected the likelihood of winning a prize in any number of alternate realities, combined with the chance of having two prizes delivered to your house due to a shipping mistake at the post office.

Yeah. Not my proudest math moment. You can see the whole shameful thing over here if you’re interested.

Anyway, this year I looked up what the hell a binomial was and brought in some helpful facebook friends to check my math.

For those of you who don’t care about the numbers, here’s the non-math version:

We have so many books.

(Click to Embiggen and you can actually read the titles….)

This isn’t even all of them. This is just the books on one wall that we’ve put up on the blog. We’ve got another 100-150 books that we’ll be adding before the fundraiser is over on Feb 7th.

So let’s say you donate 20 bucks, enough to give a family a flock ducklings.

Your odds of winning something are really good. They’re like, a hajillion times better than winning the lottery. Roughly two-point-five hajillion times better.

For those of you who do like numbers, here’s the mathy version:

As of now, we’ve raised $185,000 for Heifer, and there are almost exactly 800 prizes in the fundraiser. Not just 800 books. (We’ve got way more than that.) There’s 800 prizes you can win, a lot of those prizes are sets of books, trilogies or longer series. Other prizes are limited editions, signed by the authors, or otherwise rare.

So let’s say you donate $30. That’s enough to give a family a hive of bees that will provide honey and pollinate plants, increasing the productivity of farms and gardens throughout the community.

With that $30 donation, your odds of winning at least one prize are better than 12%.

You could donate $120. That’s enough to buy a family a goat. The milk the goat produces means children have more protein and calcium in their diets, and the family can sell the extra milk as a source of income.

With that $120 donation, your odds of winning at least one prize are over 40%. Your odds of winning more than one prize are about 10%.

Let’s say you go all the way and donate $500, enough to buy a Heifer.

There’s a reason the project’s called Heifer International, you know. As their website says:

A good dairy cow can produce four gallons of milk a day – enough for a family to drink and share with neighbors. Milk protein transforms sick, malnourished children into healthy boys and girls. The sale of surplus milk earns money for school fees, medicine, clothing and home improvements.

Better still, every gift multiplies. The animal’s first offspring is passed to another family. That family also agrees to pass on an animal, and so on. Because a healthy cow can produce a calf every year, a single heifer will eventually help an entire community move from poverty to self-reliance.

If that isn’t enough for you, you should know that a $500 dollar donation gives you a 90% chance of winning some swag.

Lastly, keep in mind that if you donate on our team page before Feb 7th, Worldbuilders will match 50% of your donation. So in addition to getting good odds, and doing good work, you’re getting a good deal with a matching donation, too.

Will these odds change over time? Yeah. A little. As people donate more money, the odds will go down a bit. But we’re going to be adding new books to the fundraiser almost every day for the next week, and that will bring the odds back up.

*     *     *

Y’know, I didn’t plan on this being a long blog. My plan was to talk about Gaiman’s book, throw some odds at you, and call it an early evening.

The truth is, the Worldbuilders is a lot of work on this end, and I’ve been close to burning out. But looking at these pictures and talking about the good work that Heifer does… it’s actually made me excited about the fundraiser again.

Here are some kids in Romania that are growing up happier and healthier because of Heifer. You and me, we’re actually helping make this happen.

How cool is that?

We’ve got a little more than a week left, and I still have books to show you. We have a few more auctions to run, too.

Right now, if you really want to help, the best thing you can do is help spread the word. Talk to your friends. Drop your parents an e-mail. Point people toward the main Worldbuilders blog so they can see all the books that authors and publishers have donated.

Facebook it. Tweet it. Tell that cute hippy boy/girl in the coffee shop about it. You’ve been looking for an excuse to talk to them anyway, and this will make a great conversation starter….

We’ve got a week left, let’s go out with a bang.


P.S. Some of our auctions will be ending soon. You might want to check them out before they’re finished.

This entry was posted in fan coolness, Neil Gaiman, Stardust ARC, Worldbuilders 2011. By Pat36 Responses


  1. Posted January 30, 2012 at 1:14 AM | Permalink

    Woohoo! I think I’ll go donate. Probably enough to buy bees, which is appropriate since I live in the beehive state.

  2. crs717
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 1:30 AM | Permalink

    Aww…I thought it was bee-autiful. :)

    • LordZod
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 6:41 PM | Permalink

      I would say that giving is Bee-atific.

    Posted January 30, 2012 at 1:31 AM | Permalink

    I kind of hope I don’t win the Gaiman book, because, as much as I love his writing, I’ll feel so obligated to keep the chain going :P

  4. nico elayne
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 1:53 AM | Permalink

    I keep steering people over to the World Builders page and lowering my odds. I guess I’ll have to donate again. Bless you Pat for your good heart and epic beardy-ness

  5. Celtland
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:45 AM | Permalink

    I’m with NAMDORG. If I win the ARC, please don’t ship it to me. Keep it safe and put it up for auction again next year. I’d like to bee, err… see it bring 6 or 7 heifers.

  6. tajordan
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:24 AM | Permalink

    Truly awesome, this thing that you do. I’ve donated one flock of ducks this morning – sorry it couldn’t be more.

  7. Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:28 AM | Permalink

    I love this story. (& Neil tweeted that this was the coolest part of the coolest day, so it doesn’t seem as though he is developing a complex about it just yet!)

    I’ve just donated another hive-of-bees worth, which seems appropriate, somehow )

  8. penguinbloke
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 5:02 AM | Permalink

    Any time I get disillusioned with people I see this kind of thing and realize while people can be rubbish that a person can be brilliant.

    You are an amazing group of persons.

  9. Oatmeal
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 5:37 AM | Permalink

    I have pimped on in addition to my FB :o) I hope that at least a few people see and donate to your cause. Wordbuilders has now joined the ranks of Make a Wish and Candlelighters as the only charities that I’ll donate to.
    <3 you for this Pat, I really do.

  10. Widow Of Sirius
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 7:31 AM | Permalink

    I hope someone someday keeps the Gaiman book… but I know if I won it I’d feel like I had to put it back in as well. It’s too cool for the likes of me anyway ;)

    I’m glad you’ve gotten jazzed up about the fundraiser again. I’m sure it’s exhausting, but you deserve to bask in the glow of all the awesome you’ve brought together.

    • Oatmeal
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 7:47 AM | Permalink

      I would probably take it, read it, put a little note in it (on paper in an envelope, not just written in the book) and then send it back. But I don’t think I could resist reading it at least once. :o)

      • Constance
        Posted January 30, 2012 at 10:21 AM | Permalink

        Oh. I didn’t even see your suggestion. I was thinking much the same.

      • QWOPtain Crunch
        Posted January 30, 2012 at 4:33 PM | Permalink

        I really like the idea of this. I don’t know who it would go to in the end, but it would be cool that every year, it’s auctioned off to the next person, who then signs it an returns it. Soon it becomes a massive compilation of the fans of Gaiman, and someone in the world will be all the richer with that book.

    • QWOPtain Crunch
      Posted January 30, 2012 at 7:48 AM | Permalink

      It will be an artifact of the ages, bouncing through time. It will join collector’s hands, and it will leave collector’s hands, never staying in one place for too much time.

      The years will pass… Dust will gather on its cover as it sits in a locked chest in an ancient ruin… A traveler will pass by, searching for secrets of the past, and discover it. And a legacy will be told.

  11. Constance
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 10:20 AM | Permalink

    The ONE thing I would suggest about the ARC of Stardust is to have the temporary owner write a little passage about who they are, and why they gave it back, and sign and date it. Slip the page into the book and then pass it on. I think it could make a beautiful addition to the collection without marring the pristine beauty of the book.

  12. gardinmj20
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 10:58 AM | Permalink

    Question: How are the dollars raised from the auctions being posted to our total? Does the $185K include all of the auction money, or is that being tallied separately? Just curious :)

    PS – We can coin a new phrase for karma – “Winning the Gaiman.”
    It’s an event that makes you ask yourself: why did I really donate? Was it to get cool stuff, or provide baby ducks to the world?

    The answer, as it always should be, is Baby Ducks.

  13. Posted January 30, 2012 at 11:58 AM | Permalink

    Just donated my $10 to the cause. And been letting everyone that I know know about Worldbuilders and Heifer.

    Is there anything else that I need to do besides donate to be considered for all of these amazing pieces of swag you’ve gathered from the four corners of the globe for us?

    …also, a globe is round, how can it have corners….

  14. D_
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 12:30 PM | Permalink

    This is what I did with my birthday money. :)

  15. damon
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:34 PM | Permalink

    In 2008 I donated a lot–for me at least; cow and a half maybe–in my wife’s name. I promptly forgot all about it, except for a brief interlude with lots of hugs and kisses when she found out, until months later when I got a *lot* of swag in the mail.

    In 2009 I donated a decent, but much smaller, amount: times were harder, worldbuilders was much more professional-looking and didn’t need my help, and other excuses were thrown about.

    In 2010 I skipped it entirely. Another fundraiser. Meh.

    This year I donated a bit, again in my wife’s name: ok, it’s still a great cause and besides: hugs and kisses.

    That’s where I left it until now. The sheer agglomerated glory that is the Stardust ARC saga has drawn me back in. I feel proud to be part of such a group of people.

    Thanks for this post. And for, you know, all the rest of the work.

  16. Robin the Acolyte
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:48 PM | Permalink

    Just wondering:
    Do you have any idea how you/your World Builders project ranks among donors to Heifer International? Like, for instance, How much of a difference are we making? How big of a Pat on our back shall we give ourselves?

    Inquiring minds are intensley curious.

    • ausra
      Posted January 31, 2012 at 12:06 AM | Permalink

      Hi Robin,
      If you want financial info go to the Heifer website and download 2011’s annual report (under Inside Heifer, then Financial Information). Corporate donors are listed (we beat many) but the majority of money comes from individual donors!
      I’m currently volunteering at Heifer Ranch in Arkansas and I do have a little inside information: donations are down across the board, any amount we give is going to make a HUGE difference!

      • Posted January 31, 2012 at 3:10 AM | Permalink

        Thanks for sharing. I didn’t have that info handy….

        • ausra
          Posted January 31, 2012 at 8:12 PM | Permalink

          You’re very welcome.

  17. Rick
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 5:39 PM | Permalink

    “To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
    – Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer and philosopher (1803-1882)

    Pat – for the good that Worldbuilders does; for the joy that your books bring to your readership and the insight, entertainment, amusement and so much more that your blogs provide; for the wonderful father you are as shown through the anecdotes you’re generous enough to share about your beloved little boy, and for being just a generally all-round great guy – you, sir, are a success. The world is undoubtedly a better place for you have been here.

  18. dancer7887
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 6:16 PM | Permalink

    As much as I really really really want the Gaiman book, I’d have to agree with some of the other comments….I don’t want it to end up being mine because I’d feel obligated to put it back in the cycle. And I sure wouldn’t want to be the a**hole who keeps it. (Though I would be very very tempted.)

  19. lordloki
    Posted January 30, 2012 at 9:24 PM | Permalink

    Good post, Pat.

    I don’t normally post on blogs, and I’m not always that great about remembering to donate to things. I kept meaning to. This post did it.

    Guess I gave a flock of ducks and a beehive! Hopefully the little ducklings don’t get stung… :)

  20. Posted January 30, 2012 at 10:54 PM | Permalink

    24 hours since this item was added to the pool. More than $10K added to the pot in that time, shooting past the $200K goal and leaving last year’s $190K in the dust.
    Behold the power of Gaiman.

  21. LaFleur
    Posted January 31, 2012 at 1:00 AM | Permalink

    Honestly, if I won the Stardust ARC, I’d keep it and put it under lock and key. I would never read that copy. I’d avoid touching it as much as possible. And it wouldn’t be coming back. I know that’s selfish but I really want that book.

  22. time_wounds
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 12:00 AM | Permalink

    Was sad to see that the books I donated weren’t under the reader donated section of the bookshelf. :(
    Oh well they will have a new home soon enough.

    • Posted February 7, 2012 at 4:43 AM | Permalink

      Yeah. We had to hold off on some of the reader-donated books. We’ll be using them next year….

  23. chat
    Posted February 25, 2012 at 1:13 PM | Permalink

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