Archive - October 2014

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Why the NFL Needs to Be Different Not Just Do Different
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ALS’ Happy Problem

Why the NFL Needs to Be Different Not Just Do Different

Here is an op-ed I wrote for the Chronicle of Philanthropy as part of their Rethink Pink series.

Against the NFL’s ‘Limousine Philanthropy’

On September 27, Roger Goodell stepped from his limousine to spend three hours visiting the offices of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The stories he heard from victims of emotional and physical abuse moved him to tears.

The NFL, safely ensconced in its Park Avenue headquarters, has a history of limousine philanthropy. Heartwarming commercials highlighting the donations the NFL makes to United Ways so they can give to local social-service groups. The breast-cancer-awareness campaign every October symbolized by players wearing neon pink cleats and sweatbands has become a signature effort of the NFL.

These are painless and impersonal ways to do good for an organization that spent years dismissing the debilitating mental and physical affects of playing football and ignoring the almost routine violence against women perpetrated by players. It is easy to know that domestic violence exists—to even see the toll of its aftermath as a woman is dragged unconscious from an elevator—while still staying at a safe distance from its awful reality.

The NFL faces an existential crisis about its outsize role in American culture and whether it is going to be boxing circa 1975 or a new kind of organization that operates on a set of core principles that begins with taking care of its own players.

The NFL, its executives, team owners, and personnel should spend the next year answering the phones at domestic-violence hotlines, visiting former players suffering from dementia and poverty. They should sit with a single mom the night before her chemotherapy appointment and help her figure out how her kids are going to get to and from school the next day and who is going to feed them dinner. They should spend the next year getting out from the behind the fortress walls of the NFL and truly experience what it means to be poor and sick, the victim of an abusive partner with very few choices, the victim of a national system of demonizing the working poor by offering no paid sick leave.

After a year of experiencing life of people with few choices and resources, the NFL will have ideas of ways to truly help people and communities that they, and their phalanx of consultants, could never imagine today.

The NFL’s charge right now isn’t to do something different, but to be something different.

 

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ALS’ Happy Problem

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 1.51.20 PMWhat would you do with an extra $100 million? That’s the happy problem facing the ALS Association after this summer’s mega-viral ice bucket challenge. According to the ALS, the Challenge raised over $100 million from over 3 million people. Compared to $2.3 million last summer.

One of the first thing the organization did was let it’s command and control default setting get the best of it by trying to trademark the Challenge. As I’ve written before, the Challenge was powered friend to friend until the media picked it up. It is unlikely to be replicated at this scale again, nor should it be “owned” by an organization. ALS was the lucky recipient of a lucky and very generous event.

Back to the original question. The organization recently announced a three-fold increase in funding research from $7 million to $21 million. Eighty-five million to go.

Rather than doing more of the same, ALS has an opportunity to experiment with a different way of working. Unlike almost every other organization churning as fast they can for the next donation, the organization can take a deep breath and a step back and think about how to engage all of those new donors. Most of their 3 million new people are one-time donors, having participated in the Challenge because it was fun and social. But a small percentage of them can become regular supporters.

Here are a three ways ALS could begin to infuse their efforts with Matterness, the willingness of the organization to work different and demonstrate that everyone in their network can be important and heard, that will help it sustain it’s momentum over time.

1. Get Conversational. ALS has a nice presence on Facebook with nearly 340,000 Likes, presumably most of them new friends. The organization, though, continues to use the site as a billboard. The first thing to do with all of these new friends is to prove to them that they are part of the crafting of the organization’s new agenda, made possible by their donations. This is going to be very difficult for an organization that largely funds scientific research. They can put the parameters out there that a certain amount of their budget needs to be dedicated to research selected through, say, peer review panels. But there is still a significant amount of money to play with. How about dedicated 10% of whatever the organization has as discretionary funds now to whatever the community chooses to do with it. Start the conversation and see where it goes from there.

2. Find Some Little Bites. Not the snack food, the opportunity for all of ALS’ new friends to do something to help. Since the organization has the luxury, right now, of not asking for money, quite a difference again for the traditional nonprofit experience, it can instead find some interesting ways for people to help. Maybe there is some research on facilities treating people with ALS these new folks could help catalog. Or perhaps there are some new medical data sets being created through Obama care that the network could help crunch. Or collect information about ways that governments overseas are helping ALS patients. Anything that required too much manpower before is now on the table for the new ALS network to tackle. But, please, please, please, ALS, don’t do this work by hiring professionals to do it alone, inside the organization. You have a huge network of people who want to help, find some ways to put them to work.

3. Tell Stories. Make the funding of ALS personal. Invite people with ALS and their families to tell their stories of ways that the increased funding could help them. Just as the donors need to be properly thanked, the people battling the disease need to be recognized and given a voice.

 

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