Archive - 2011

1
Embracing Free Agents
2
Giving Epic Thanks
3
Move for Hunger
4
Tactical Philanthropy Takes a Sabbatical
5
Staying Close to Home for Hunger
6
Picking Up the Crap in Romania
7
Second Mile Board Culpability
8
Followership

Embracing Free Agents

I was in Atlanta last week with the HandsOn Network gang. It was a fascinating immersion into creative process led by Michelle James (what she calls Creative Emersion.) The goal of the week was to introduce the futures thinking (with the amazing thinker/facilitator Rick Smyres) and social media to ten HandsOn affiliates to help them begin to craft an innovative approach or project of their own.

I had the pleasure of working in partnership with Debra Askanase, who is a bright and generous a partner as one could ask for. Here were the takeaways for me from the week:

Breaking the patterns of our every day thinking takes deliberate planning and space. Michelle is really a master at this craft. We were all struck, though, by how little real creativity we build into our work because of how we tightly pack agendas for meetings, sprint from task to task, focus so much on being “professional”, buttoned up, on task, impersonal. All of these activities work against creativity and leave assumptions unchallenged.  .

Rick is an amazing presenter. His personal story of beginning his professional life running his family’s textile company, until selling it in the early 1980s resonates so strongly with me. We have both been on a journey these past years of evolving from running fortress organizations ourselves to network thinking and action. His presentation focused on ways that organizations need to think different about the future in order to prepare for it. Continuing to use the same set of assumptions – that the same problems and opportunities will exist in the future – rather than search for clues as to how communities will work (e.g. in networked and connected ways) will ensure that organizations solve today’s problems not tomorrow’s. An analogy is when political campaigns are organized to run the last campaign not the next one (think Hillary in the early going in 2008).

Finally, it was gratifying and exciting to see the group really embrace and use the metaphor of Fortresses and Free Agents. One participant, Andy Morris of Hands On Greater Portland, had a fantastic idea, the development of a “Fortress Assessment.” Sounds like a fun crowd-sourced project for next year.

My favorite moment came from Tara Smith of Seattle Works. Tara had an AHA moment in the middle of the week. She shared an email invitation she received that day for a monthly meetup she attends called Faces Behind the Tweets:

Tara admitted that before our session she would have been a little uncomfortable that a free agent like Nita was organizing that month’s events. These are just amateurs, she might have thought, while she has a whole organization built to be a local convener. Instead, after our talk, Tara wrote in an email, “The minute I saw it I thought – FREE AGENT!!!” And she reached out to Nita and offered to help her.

And that just made my week!

Post Note: Another AHA moment during the week came from a participant who said, “Who have fortresses within our fortress!”

 

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Giving Epic Thanks

This month’s Social Good podcast is a conversation about Epic Thanks, a program of Epic Change. Epic Change is a small organization started three years ago by Stacey Monk and her partner, Sanjay Patel, to support a community in Tanzania. Their signature fundraising effort takes place around Thanksgiving every year for the past three years. It used to be called Tweetsgiving, now it’s Epic Thanks. Stacey is joined by Debra Askanase, the fantastic blogger at Community Organizer 2.0 and tweeter at @askdebra, on the podcast.

If you’ve ever heard anyone talk about Epic Change or Epic Thanks, the first thing you hear is: boy, they’ve just got the values right. As Stacey explains on the podcast, everything they do comes from creating communities of people who want to share their gratitude and thanks – and to support Mama Lucy’s community in Tanzania. Beginning from the premise that connecting and sharing leads to interest and donations works so well in a networked environment. They’ve also worked hard to keep the campaign fresh and interesting year-to-year. This effort reflects the understand that there is no more inside and outside for organizations, there is, as Stacey says, “just one big community.” Debra describes the side-to-side planning process as a reflection of that value. Epic Change listens more than it speaks, follows more than it leads, gives more than it asks – what more can you want in an Networked Nonprofit?

On a personal note, this month’s Social Good podcast marks the end of an era for our podcast. Starting next month we’re going to broaden our lens a bit beyond social media to help nonprofits cope with the fast pace of change in general. You may recall, I started a conversation a few months ago asking for input from folks on what a next iteration of the podcast could look like. We’ve taken that feedback and have a new format starting in January.

Please begin thinking of your questions about how your organization can keep pace with the fast pace of change!

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Tactical Philanthropy Takes a Sabbatical

Graceful exists are had to come by, but Sean Stannard-Stockton has done just that on his blog, Tactical Philanthropy. His message was a simple one: I’m going to take a break from blogging for an indeterminate amount of time to focus on other things in my life, “my family, my community, my other personal passions and the building of my investment management business which gave rise to all of this half a decade ago.”

What I like most about Sean’s statement is his understanding that social media channels are elastic, meaning they don’t disappear if you need a break, they just lie fallow, there with conversations that can be picked up when you return. Too often, I see folks struggle maintaining social media channels just because they started them and feel obliged to keep feeding them. There’s nothing wrong with taking a sabbatical, or even shutting a channel down. Networks don’t go out of business, they just may lose a little steam for a while. But when you’re ready to resume the conversation, or start a new one, there they are, just waiting to be powered.

We all need to recharge our batteries and I’m glad to see Sean has made a public stand to recharge his with his family.

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Staying Close to Home for Hunger

I heard a beautiful sermon last night by Reverend Susan Copely of Christ Church in Tarrytown, NY. It was an interfaith service for all the congregations of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, the home of my congregation, Temple Beth Abraham. Reverand Copely was following up on the theme of hunger that we began two weeks ago when we were honored to host Ruth Messinger, Preisdent of American Jewish World Service, for a weekend service. Ruth gave an inspiring talk of the current broken system of food distribution that leaves people in war-torn and drought-stricken countries starving to death, in a world that has enough food to feed every single person. The distribution system is broken, she said,  and AJWS has geared up with a terrific advocacy campaign to change the Farm Bill, up for renewal this year. The goal is to have the US respond the way every other country does to food crises by sending money and technical assistance, not surplus food that either rots or undercuts local sellers. You can sign the petition to support AJWS’ efforts on their home page, I have.

Reverend Copely attended Ruth’s talk and built on it. There are one billion hungry people worldwide. She said if every hungry person in America alone was lined up starting in New York, the line would reach to Los Angeles — and back. . But, what affected me most was what she said next. There are about 15,000 people and according to the latest Census figures, about 5% of them live below the poverty line, that’s 750 people. I don’t know how much I can affect the one billion worldwide, but I know I can do something to help the 750 living right here. Reverend also added a challenge for herself during her sermon that made me think about the possibilities that social media provide to change the dynamics of social change efforts. She said she wanted to get out of the habit of thinking about her church as the giver and hungry people as the receivers – of food, of comfort, of community. Rather, she wants to thinking of everyone as giving and receiving So, I’m dedicating myself to supporting our local food pantry to ensure that no one here goes hungry for one day.

Wishing everyone a wonderful, filling and fulfilling Thanksgiving.

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Picking Up the Crap in Romania

There is a fantastic case study from Daniel Ben-Horin at TechSoup about the use of Facebook to build civil society in Romania. As Daniel writes, since the fall of the Iron Curtain, Eastern Bloc countries have been beset by, “… a combination of disillusion with the results of overthrowing the Communist regime, pervasive corruption, and the lack of a tradition of either effective citizen activism or of a dynamic NGO sector.”

Corruption and apathy are corrosive elements in any country.  But rather than continue to talk about, or lament, it, TechSoup’s in country partner Chris Woman of the community foundation, Odorheiu Secuiesc Community Foundation, found a way to just do something. This has always been part of the magic of social media, people can stop talking about something and just start doing something themselves.  The resulting campaign was actually called Let’s Do It Romania.

Organized largely through Facebook, the core of the campaign was: “We love our country. Our country has crap lying around everywhere. Our government institutions are too corrupt and/or inefficient to pick up the crap… Let’s Do It ourselves, Romania.”

[Note to self: I wonder if any of this sounds more elegant in Romanian?]

The results on the first clean up day September 25, 2010 was over 200,000 volunteers cleaning up garbage around the country. That’s a lot of people picking up a lot of crap!

What I like most about Daniel’s post is the notion that civil society can be built using social media and that the toolset can have different civic outcomes for different purposes. I think this is a key concept when we talk about the replicability or applicability of the Arab Spring to other countries and other campaigns. Just because the tools are the same doesn’t mean the outcomes should be. Citizen action, political reform (e.g. throwing out the bums in an election) and outright revolution are all outcomes we have seen this year. But it does raise a question for me: is there a correlation between explicit front-end goals and back end success?

I know that fellow techtopians, like Micah Sifry and Jeff Jarvis, admire the unfolding conversations of Occupy Wall Street and the side-to-side process that enables many people to participate in the development of the movement. I just wonder if social media efforts, in general, are more successful when a goal is clearly stated up front. Of course, it closes down other options, the Romanians joined the effort to clean up garbage not to thrown the bums out (although it may lead there) but would they have been as successful if the effort opened with a general discussion of their national lack of get-up-and-go? Just a question….

 

 

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Second Mile Board Culpability

The awful implosion  at Penn State has a lot of bad guys, one of the most culpable, in my opinion, is the board of Second Mile.

The Second Mile is the organization Jerry Sandusky founded that served as the kindly, charitable front for his pedophilia. Yesterday, the executive director of Second Mile, Jack Raykovitz, resigned. Let’s deconstruct this a bit:

The organization’s public statement about the case center on the fact that 2008 he informed the board that he was under investigation for child molestation. Their response was to bar him from activities involving children. Not to disassociate from him entirely, just to say, take your pedophilia elsewhere, please.  Oh, but, wait, what about the fact that the organization was informed in 1998 and again in 2002 by Penn State officials and the district attorney that Sandusky was being investigated for improper relations with boys? The organization doesn’t mention that much. With all the hooha about what Paterno knew, when and what he didn’t do enough of, the fact is that The Second Mile protected him and allowed Sandusky to continue being with boys (to say the least) for ten years before doing anything about it. Who knew that whole time – the entire board knew since 1998.

It all comes back to the board – it almost always does in these circumstances with a powerful founder packs the board with his friends. This organization shouldn’t get away with scapegoating the CEO, and I wouldn’t even settle for the board resigning en mass, this organization should close, today, right now. There are other organizations that can work with these children, Boys and Girls Clubs, for instance. This organization has done the public, and particularly the boys they were charged with safeguarding, an egregious, shameful injustice and there is no reason for it to continue.

Here is a great test for how seriously we all take the responsibility of a nonprofit to its public and the public in general. They need to close now, anything less is abhorrent.

 

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Followership

Screenshot from We Are the 99% Blog

We hear so much about individual and organizational leadership and so little about the importance of good followership. I’ve been thinking about this, in particular, in regards to the Occupy Wall Street movement, which is led by individuals and fueled by social media, organizations like MoveOn don’t know what to do.

Organizations need to learn the value of good followership for efforts that are built on broad-based networks powered by free agents. Chris and Priscilla Grim. the creators of We Are The 99% blog , didn’t need an organization to do it for them – they just did it. And the Occupy Wall Street Journal is raising money on Kickstarter to fund its operation, not waiting for a start-up grant from a foundation.

What should organizations do in these circumstances of fast growing movements that have clearly tapped into the passion of individuals?

We need them to follow the lead of free agents, to provide resources like their own networks, their connections to mainstream media, their funds, their expertise to support the cause. This is so hard for organizations accustomed to, desirous of, owning and operating every campaign, every effort. How are they going to report to their donors and boards that they didn’t start this thing, can’t count the participants as their “members”, don’t really own any part of it. Well, it depends on whether they actually want change to happen out there, on the ground. It’s going to take some practice, to listen more than speak, to give more credit than they take, follow where someone else is going rather than devise the strategy and tell everyone else what to do.

But, really, it’s the only thing they can do; follow or become irrelevant.

 

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