- Sony HandyCam with NightShot – $385
- AC Tri-Field Meter – $139
- Natural EM Tri-Field Meter – $229
- TIF Digital Thermometer – $149
- 35mm and Digital Cameras – $99+
- Actually catching a ghost on film – Priceless!
The list above is composed of some of the most sought-after devices used for “ghost hunting.” This list uses the average price for each item with a little leeway for shipping and taxes. Just five pieces of equipment and you will be paying over one grand. Ka-ching!
Now, for the beginner ghost hunter there are alternative techniques that are both inexpensive and worthwhile. A compass (a nice camping compass for around $10) is a great alternative for an EMF meter. A digital thermometer from Wal-Mart, although slow to react, will get you through your investigation with very accurate readings. Finally, as long as your flash is more than 2 inches away (or more) from the lens of your cameras, you will be Okay! Spend wisely. A new ghost hunter on the scene once asked me at a conference what types of equipment I used on investigations and where did I get them from. I gave him a list and a week later he bought over $400 worth of equipment that he didn’t even know how to use. I understand he still calls a trifield meter a “tricorder.” I may be the author of a book called Ghost Tech, but even I know that fancy gadgets do not an expert make. C’est la vie! I’d hate to think that his wife and kids had to eat microwave dinners because Dad needed ghost-hunting gizmos so quickly.
In case you haven’t figured out yet, this article is about money. Specifically raising money for your ghost hunting team. Equipment, gasoline, and film — it adds up. Where does all that money come from? Usually — you! Now what we’re going to discuss is different ways to raise money for your group honestly and legally. But first…
Giving Ghost Hunting A Bad Rap
In an article for Ghost Hunting 101 that I plan on writing very soon, we will be talking about sharing information with other investigators and teams. What good is having all that acquired data if you cannot share it with other investigators? If we are going to solve the mystery of what ghosts and hauntings are, then we need to have some better standards. For example at the official Ghost Tech website (www.ghosttech.net) you can download forms that will help you document nearly all aspects of an investigation. Developed by the Maryland Paranormal Investigators Coalition these forms are believed to be some of the most comprehensive in the country. The best part is they’re free!
There is a group or two out there who are charging new investigators for accessing data from their Web site. For a yearly fee you can download their videos and pictures. How is the field of ghost hunting going to move forward if there are people like that? Although it is important to receive recognition for hard-earned research, it is never acceptable to charge for data that should be available to the public and peer scrutiny. Call me self-righteous if you’d like.
I did an article once for Ain’t It Cool News (www.aintitcoolnews.com) for the movie White Noise. It wasn’t favorable. Regardless, the moderator for the site was a little excited about getting an honest-to-goodness ghost hunter to do the review. The sites message boards were a little less “excited.” Some of the comments were about how all paranormal investigators were rip-off artists that preyed on troubled people who thought they had ghosts in their houses. They sounded like Walter Peck from Ghostbusters! Who can blame them though? There are people out there like that. In California there is a group that charges as much as $7500 to investigate your home. Scoundrels! That’s what they are. It is an honor to be invited into someone’s home and to charge to do investigation is deplorable. You can say that you will accept a donation for gas and film development, but that’s all. Most of the time the homeowner will insist on feeding us or at least making us coffee. Usually bad coffee, but it is the thought that counts. If it were a long distance to travel though, it would be okay to ask for lodging of some kind.
When we tried to create a local Baltimore group here in Maryland I would talk to other, more experienced ghost hunters around the country for advice. This is when I found out that Maryland had an appalling reputation for serious research. Evidently there are groups that are claiming to train investigators for a “price.” They would have investigations with up to fifty people then charge each person for attendance! How can you control fifty investigators? All running around at the same time with their EMF meters and digital cameras and not a minute of good training. So much for real research!
Don’t Burn Yourself
Williamsburg, Virginia — 2005. The Queen Mary — 2005. Two examples of ghost hunting conferences gone wrong — Really wrong…
Have you ever been to a ghost conference before? Some are very good and have been around (such as the American Ghost Society Conference in Illinois) for a long time now. Some are new and have yet to prove themselves, but have proven talent behind them (such as the Ghost World Conference [www.ghostworldconference.com] in 2007 [Please excuse the shameless self promotion]). On the other hand though, there are conferences that are simply awful or simply not well planned. Let us talk about the ones that are not well planned, shall we?
In 2005 a few colleagues and I were invited to a ghost conference in Williamsburg, Virginia. Williamsburg is well known for its colonial era hauntings and all involved were genuinely excited about going. So the conference got closer and closer and closer. And the updates from the conference planners became fewer and fewer and fewer. Then, just three weeks before the date of the big Williamsburg Ghost Conference we got an email. The planners were not very good planners as it turns out and had driven themselves into bankruptcy. We would later find out that these people had invested so much money into the conference that they lost their house having not made enough money from projected reservation sales. Many who have bought reservations still have not gotten their money back. Yes… Ouch.
That same year a huge and exciting conference was planned on the famously haunted RMS Queen Mary in California. They were going to have hundreds of people attend, dozens of famous ghost hunters and special events like investigations of the ship’s more infamous ghost stories. They planned on using money from a documentary of the ship’s ghosts to help pay for the conference. Their contract stipulated that they had to rent the entire ship. Too bad the Queen Mary said they couldn’t film there. The proceeds might have saved them from going into debt and having to cancel their conference.
In 2004 the Maryland Paranormal Investigators Coalition headed by yours truly decided they would have their own conference in Baltimore. We had some truly great speakers like Troy Taylor, Rosemary Ellen Guiley and Mark Nesbitt among others. Only 75 out of a planned two hundred-person conference bought reservations. I personally lost about one thousand dollars that year. We thought we were doing it right. We researched and planned and asked for advice from other conference planners. Perhaps we should have listened. Most conference planners said don’t do it!
Since 2004 we have done two additional significantly more successful conferences for the Maryland Paranormal Investigators Coalition. Each one was called the Eastern Regional Paranormal Conference and each one about doubled the previous year’s attendance. Not all planners are so lucky. Even if you have a great conference your first year doesn’t mean you will be so lucky the next year. We had other issues as well, of course. We couldn’t help but notice that we were so busy planning conferences three months out of the year we were neglecting our duties as paranormal investigators and subsequently creating a backlog of investigations that needed to be done. Also the stress of the conference caused all sorts of conflicts among our inner circle. Suffice it to say, 2006 was the last of the Eastern Regional Paranormal Conferences. Life goes on for us as we focus on our goals to advance research into ghosts and hauntings.
In the past few years the country has become saturated with ghost conferences. Just Google “ghost conference” and you’ll see what I mean. Are you willing to take the risk we did and those poor (now literally!) souls from California and Williamsburg? You may find your conference lost in a teeming sea of conferences or worse you my find yourself in bankruptcy court. Author and ghost hunter Troy Taylor had this to say about ghost conferences, “It’s kind of like a Little Rascals mentality. Remember the old ‘Our Gang’ serials? ‘Let’s put on a show,’ they’d say. That’s what a lot of these groups are doing. They’re saying, ‘let’s put on show and everyone will come and spend lots of money! It’ll be easy!’ Well, it’s not east and you can get yourself in a lot of trouble.” Trust me fellow ghost hunters, there are better, safer ways…
The Better, Safer Ways…
So the questions at hand is, “how do I raise money for my ghost hunting group honestly and without putting my family out on the street?” There are several ways actually.
This is the simplest, easiest way to earn money for your ghost hunting gear, film development, and gas for the Mystery Machine. However, careful consideration should be made as to how dues are collected and how often. Your team should have regular, monthly meetings. These meetings can take place in a home, park, library, restaurant, etc. Your group, preferably, should have some kind of regular traditions and/or practices. Reciting your team’s mission statement at the beginning of each monthly meeting creates a strong sense of purpose and dedication amongst the team members. For example, the Maryland Paranormal Investigators Coalition has the following mission statement:
Our mission statement:
- To provide leadership in Maryland through the application of scientific research of the paranormal.
- To provide education, assistance, and resources to new and existing paranormal organizations, the public and the media.
- To foster and create new paranormal organizations throughout Maryland.
An independent Treasurer should be assigned who will make monthly reports on the amount of funds in the team account. This person will also be responsible for collecting the dues. As far as how much dues are? This is up to the budgets of your average team member. I recommend no more than $10 per member per month. Dues can also and should also be collected on a per investigation basis. Try to calculate how much it will cost for gasoline per vehicle (carpool if possible!), how much film development will be, how much new audio tapes will cost, etc. Then, at the end of the investigation collect divided total from each investigator (Example: Film, gas, tapes = $30. Six Investigators = $5 per person).
This one is not so easy. If you already have a full-time job you’re probably not going to like this one. Fundraising requires real hard work. You are pretty much limited to bake sales, car washes, candy bar sales, etc. You will have to go to your co-workers to hock your stuff.
“So… What are you selling the Christmas wrapping paper for? Your kid’s school? Band?”
“Uh… Actually it’s for our ghost hunting team. Do you like peanut brittle? It comes in a decorative can…”
The other negative of course is you usually have to sell a lot to get a little.
The best ghost tours in Gettysburg are Mark Nesbitt’s Ghosts of Gettysburg based on his best selling award-winning Ghosts of Gettysburg book series. Many of the most famous (or at least very well known) ghost hunters in the country do ghost tours. There’s Troy Taylor in Illinois, Dale Kaczmarek and even myself from time-to-time. Starting your own ghost tour has many advantages besides making money from something that you enjoy doing.
There are many ghost tours out there that are not exactly accurate in either history of ghost tales. In my own hometown of Baltimore there is a ghost tour in Fells Point that is horribly inaccurate in its telling of Edgar Allan Poe legend and lore. Know your history first before planning your ghost tour! Years, names, and dates always impress your customers. Look for the bloody, gory and grisly murder stories too. They’re always popular!
Only report eyewitness accounts of ghosts if you can. Documented cases are even better. There is a famous B&B in Gettysburg that rhymes with “barn’s girth” that has many exaggerated stories associated with. Exaggerated is a nice way of saying made up. People (especially ghost hunters) will try to prove you wrong. Best to keep honest. For more information on starting your own ghost walk/tour read Troy Taylor’s Ghost Hunter’s Guidebook for a whole chapter on the subject.
This is where we separate the kids from the adults. Well-planned workshops can serve your group well in many ways besides earning spending money. They can also help you find only the most dedicated investigators to work with your team.
First of all, you want to make sure your core group is well on its way to being established. I recommend that you don’t try doing workshops until you are at least a year old having done multiple investigations. Also, it would be good if you are well read in the latest techniques and perhaps have attended some other workshops or a well-established conference.
Although they can be done practically anywhere, an indoor location is best for your workshop. Scope out the your town for a place that is willing to host a group of ghost hunters. The best possible place of course is somewhere known to be haunted. Look at libraries, dance halls, theatres, bookstores, and restaurants. Restaurants with private rooms work well. Tell them that if they let you have your workshop there for a few hours you will encourage your team of would-be investigators to eat there as well.
Privacy is a factor to consider as well. If you are conducting mock investigations and/or hosting a course on the proper use of EMF meters snickering patrons who don’t appreciate your line of work can be very distracting.
Although establishing a regular place to have workshops is important, sometimes a change of pace is nice too. Every once in awhile have your workshop at a haunted fort or cemetery (with the permission of management of course).
Once you have established a location you should try to have one on a regular basis. At least once a month is perfect. It is essential to establish regularity if you are going to have the public ascertain your team as professional and reliable. Each month should focus on a different aspect of ghost hunting. Topics can include “Ghost Hunting Technology,” “Spirit Photography How-to’s,” etc.
Now it’s time to establish price. A well-run workshop should be no more than $10. This is a fair amount to charge individuals. If the location you are having the workshop has a mandatory entrance fee than you can talk about upping the price.
A good way of getting better attendance would be to have local authors and well known ghost hunters. I myself will gladly help out as long you are within four hours of Baltimore and don’t mind me bringing along some copies of Ghost Tech and Ghost Science (hint, hint). At any of the workshops I do in and around Baltimore (including Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, Virginia, Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, etc.) you may see Jeff Belanger, Mark Nesbitt or any number of popular authors and ghost hunters in the Mid-Atlantic area.
Whatever combinations of fund raising you decide to, I really hope you do it honestly. You will definitely get my respect for it.
If you have any other, honorable, ways to raise funds for ghost hunting groups other than what I have mentioned in this article, please tell me about it in an email. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Great Article Vince!! And I agree, dues and workshops are about the only way to raise moneu for your group.
As far as dues go, new members need to realize that there is cost involved in running a group (paper cost, digital media, etc.). As long as they are reasonable and explained, this shouldn’t be an issue. Bottom line, you pay to play.
Workshops are a great idea. One word of advice. Stick with what you know. I have attended more than one workshop run by “experts” that not only did not know the science behind their presentations, but presented their advice as gospel. Even novice hunters pointed out flaws in their presentations. Not a great way to make a name for you or your group. Keep it simple, keep it honest, and keep it entertaining.