Author - Allison Fine

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Voting Assumptions Gone Awry
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Citizen Disengagement
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Revised Matterness Chapter (Free Download)
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New Chapter: A New Democracy!
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How Students Can Prepare for a Nonprofit Career
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Date Your Donors
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Flint as a Network Problem
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More Thoughts on Matterness for Associations

Voting Assumptions Gone Awry

I have been advocating for making voting easier and more convenient for a long time. Give us more options of when and how to vote and, presumably, more people will vote. Two mechanisms for doing this have been the vote-by-mail (not male!) and early voting.

And yet, both of these mechanisms have just proven to have enormous drawbacks. Here is how:

Vote by Mail

The Barbara Lee Family Foundation in Boston has been doing fantastic research on gender and politics. Their findings from the 2016 election included the fact that husbands/partners influence the voting of wives/partners. Of all of the things women have to wrestle with to make their households work, the one they often don’t want to fight about is politics. Traditionally, this left open the option for women to vote their conscience in the privacy of the voting booth. However, vote by mail generally happens around the kitchen table as a family, which cancels out the option of voting differently from men for many women.

Early Voting

Well, we recently witnessed the worst case scenario for early voting – Montana. Over 250,000 people had already voted by the time Greg Gianforte was charged with assault for throwing a reporter to the ground. Of course, it’s impossible to know how many voters would have changed their minds and votes had they voted in person, but it seems reasonable to assume that at least some people regretted their vote.

Our mechanisms and practices for voting are a mess right now. Where new technology is being used it has been outsourced to private companies with proprietary technology, rather than open, public systems. And, of course, voter registration and participation is under assault by Republicans.

I remain in firmly in favor of online voting (the advent of bloc chain technology since I wrote this essay in 2008 makes online voting even more possible as both secure and distributed.) Someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, we will have the political and public will to build the best, more secure, private and efficient voting system int he world. Someday…

 

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Citizen Disengagement

Governments have lots of choices about when and how to engage with the public. They can open the doors wide and be in conversations with citizens about what they do and why, or they can keep the doors tightly shut and engage only when absolutely necessary. I just received an example of keeping the door tightly shut that also represents a huge, missed opportunity.

Here is a report from a local government on water quality.

 

I don’t understand a word of this document and clearly I’m not supposed to. It is entirely off putting in design and language and the only purpose I can glean from it is that the water department was able to check off it’s to-do list that they sent out the water quality update.

Most people believe that their water is better than that of Flint, MI. At least we hope that it is, although we don’t have evidence to back up our hope and hunch. This report could have been a great opportunity to prove to residents that the local water is safe and healthy.  Instead, this government agency chose to hide behind bureaucratic, scientific gobbledygook and hope that we are so dazzled by the nonsense that we don’t storm the fortress demanding any more information. They’re going to numb us with technical detail and hope no one complains.

Let’s imagine a different kind of effort. Imagine if the local government asked on a social media platform where they were having regular discussions and conversations with citizens if anyone with graphic design and writing skills would volunteer to help turn the technical report they received from the water testers into an easy-to-read and understand primer on where our water comes from, how we know that it’s safe and how the government intends to continue to keep it safe. I believe that people want to help and are waiting to be asked to contribute in meaningful ways. And they’re still waiting to be asked.

The Resistance will be won by remaking the relationship between government and citizens will begin by changing the conversation one, little step at a time.

 

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Revised Matterness Chapter (Free Download)

It is remarkable to me how often I hear talk of “invisible” people. I first heard the term from Mark Horvath, and his efforts to make homeless people visible became the opening story for my book, Matterness: Fearless Leadership for a Social World.

However, people without a voice, without status or standing or access, were also a significant voting reason expressed by angry voters last fall.

And, of course, I continue to hear from people about how demoralizing or enraging or frustrating it is when institutions routinely ignore them – the original rationale for writing Matterness and have learned how to crystalize the idea better.

However, when I recently reread the opening chapter of the book, I realized that it was too complicated to convey what is, in essence, a very simple concept. So, I rewrote the opening chapter to more succinctly explain the concept. Here is the gist of the new chapter:

“Focusing on Matterness creates an organizational culture that embraces smart risks, engages in constructive conversations with people inside and outside, and considers time spent listening and learning to other people more important than time spent churning the wheels of transactions. Working this way creates a common purpose that trumps private interests and becomes the cornerstone for building strong, successful and sustainable organizations.”

Here is the revised opening chapter to download for free. The rest of the book, I think, provides a good and comprehensive explanation of why organizations struggle to treat people inside and outside well and what they can differently to unleash the latent social, intellectual and financial capital of people who want to help.

Enjoy!

New Matterness Introduction

 

 

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New Chapter: A New Democracy!

This post announces a new chapter in my work: developing a new democracy to match this new century!

I am working with my friends at Civic Hall Labs to create a new Democracy Lab. We have a 19th century democracy smashing into a 21st century society. This disconnect is causing democracy to fail around the world at it’s most basic job, to represent the best interests of the greatest number of people.

The Democracy Lab will remodel government for the Networked Age. The Networked Age is chiefly defined as social networks powered by digital technology. Every area of our lives is being remade for this new era, except, so far, government. But we don’t begin from a blank slate. There are excellent models from around the country and the world upon which to build. They include:

  • Citizen University in Seattle teaches people how government works through in-person trainings and conferences and online videos.
  • ioby (meaning “in my backyard”) mobilizing neighbors with good ideas to plan, fund and change their neighborhoods often in partnership with local government.
  • vTaiwan started as an online organizing platform for students to protest trade with China. It has since become a platform for citizens to suggest and research new laws, discuss them in open online forums and watch the final legislative deliberations.
  • Living Room Conversations is an effort created by Joan Blades, the founder of Moveon.org and Moms Rising. The program guides ordinary people to invite neighbors with different political views into their homes to discuss important issues and learn from one another.
  • NASA taps the expertise and ingenuity of ordinary people to solve problems and create new technologies.
  • Online platforms like Loomio, mVote, and, of course, Facebook and Reddit bring together large numbers of people to discuss and vote on issues.

And yet, significant gaps and deficits exist. Technology efforts too often focus on making government more efficient rather than remaking the relationship between government and citizens. Online platforms engage large numbers of people in conversations about issues, but do not necessarily connect these people to one another or engage government actors directly in conversations. On land organizing efforts are time-intensive but generally don’t scale to tackle big social change efforts. Citizens are taught how to engage with government, but government leaders aren’t taught how to engage with citizens. In other words, there are points of light but not a constellation of stars for a new democracy.

The Democracy Lab will begin its efforts by:

  1. Mapping the existing ecosystem of players and tools to determine what exists and works, what the gaps are, what needs to be woven together and what needs to be created.

Based on these findings, we will then

  1. Identify and pilot specific local experiments for future scaling and replication. And,
  2. Develop new models for network leadership within public institutions.

 

In the end, our aim is to revive and recreate the notions of common good and citizenship in a country that embraces diversity and opportunity. We are confident that together we can reinvent ourselves with the same optimism and confidence as generations of Americans have done in previous centuries.

 

Happy to talk to you about this if you have any ideas to help resuscitate our democracy – we need all the help we can get!

 

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How Students Can Prepare for a Nonprofit Career

Here is my latest “On Becoming A Leader” column for the Chronicle of Philanthropy:

Q. I work with college-age students interested in careers with social impact. Do you have any advice about how students can best prepare for working in nonprofits right out of college? Thank you.
— Michelle in Massachusetts

A. Thanks for this important question, Michelle. My very first On Becoming a Leader column (“My Boss Doesn’t Listen to Me”) answered a young woman’s call for help navigating her way within a very traditional nonprofit organization. She thought that having passion and idealism were the only ingredients she needed for organizational success. And then she experienced the turf wars, risk aversion, and bureaucracy of her organization.

Her story leads to your question: How can we best prepare young people to succeed in nonprofits? Here are a few suggestions:

{Read More Here}

 

 

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Date Your Donors

My friend, Jonah Halper, has a great new book out called, Date Your Donors: How to Attract and Engage a New Generation of Philanthropists. It is a great read that is really helpful in understanding fundraising as relationship building. I asked Jonah a few questions about the book and here my questions and his answers:

What compelled you to write this book?
I wrote this book because as I began honing my fundraising training presentations, a lot of my talks had dating analogies. I felt it was easy for my audience to relate to a metaphor that was more universally experienced. Especially because you can’t possibly know the background and expertise of 300 people in an audience. Dating was something most, if not all, people would have first hand experience. Most importantly, I wanted the book to make fundraising accessible to everyone. You don’t need a Masters degree to get people excited and support your cause. This book also reminds the seasoned professional to build in some new best practices to recognize the need for fostering real relationships with their existing and potential donors.

Hmmm, “dating” your donors sounds a little bit squishy, can you help us understand the essence of it?
It does! Because we humans are squishy! Our attraction to products and people are largely based on our emotions. We like to believe that we are intellectually guided, but that intellect is largely used to take a closer look at things that have already captured our interest. We largely make decisions based on our emotional investment in things, and we use data to reinforce positions we are already likely forming.

Why are so many people afraid of fundraising?
Because most people perceive fundraising as “dialing for dollars”, a sterile solicitation between two people. Just like sex, if there is no substance in the relationship, the act is reduced to only one’s selfish gains. If there is no partnership in fundraising, then your solicitation is commensurate with an ATM withdrawal. Fundraising – and sex – is much more powerful if it’s built on a real connection between two people. To carry this analogy even further, it is much easier to initiate intimacy with someone if there is an existing relationship. Questions like, “when is the right time to ask for money?” is akin to “how do I get this woman to come home with me?” These questions become less relevant when there is a real relationship behind them.

What are the 3 things you wish organizations would stop doing in regards to fundraising?

ONE NIGHT STANDS
My biggest pet peeve is the one-night stand of fundraising. When you land the gift, say thank you, and then the next time they hear from you is one year later when it’s time to ask for more money. If this is a partnership, then the relationship STARTS when the gift is made. We need to have a robust plan for investor relations much like any brokerage that keeps their clients in the loop on their investments.

AWKWARD OR UGLY BRANDING
Another peeve of mine is when organizations don’t prioritize the brand and marketing of their cause. Online and offline, if your mission and vision isn’t compelling and beautiful, why would anyone want to advocate on your behalf? Our social lives are so much more tethered online, which means we care very much how we are perceived by friends and colleagues and therefore we will only champion and promote causes that fit the narrative we are making for ourselves. I don’t want to hang out with the socially awkward kids at the party. If your cause isn’t attractive, you aren’t creating the opportunity for people to see the wonderful “personality” behind it.

SPAMMY MARKETING
Seth Godin’s book, Permission Marketing, is marketing canon for anyone selling something. I learned that if you want to build a relationship with a customer, you have to “earn the permission bit by bit” to get their attention, and ultimately make the sale. Just because you are excited about your litany of programs, services and events, doesn’t mean I share that interest. It is the equivalent of walking up to a random man or woman on the street and ask them out on a date without any context. You may get lucky, but it definitely isn’t a reliable way to convert these people into dates…or donors. We need to think about our potential or existing donors and see what kind of interactions we are already having with them, and see how we can increase the dialogue level within that frame of reference. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the like, are all designed to help you create a two-way channel of dialogue, much like you do face-to-face. If you use it as simply another way to broadcast your “newsworthy” items, your intended audience will feel indifferent at best, or at worst, harassed!

I highly recommend this book for anyone aiming to be successful at fundraising. Buy it, read it, share it!

 

 

 

 

 

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Flint as a Network Problem

The residents of Flint, MI have been the victims of a state government that chose to save money rather than provide safe drinking water. (here is a good recap.) Certainly, in the moment of decision for the state caretakers of Flint, the choice wasn’t so stark between saving money and providing water tainted with lead, but that, of course, was the result.

But that is just the presenting problem, in the lingo of social workers. Poisoning the residents of Flint wasn’t the intended outcome of the state’s effort to drag the city out of bankruptcy, it was a consequence of decades of policies that left the residents of Flint isolated and disempowered.

Desegregating schools and neighborhoods lost favor over the past forty years. As the idea of moving people around to give them access to safer neighborhoods and better schools fell out of fashion, the resulting resegregation of housing and schools left residents of low-income communities like Flint isolated.

The people of Flint lack the “bridging” power of social networks. This means that they literally can’t be heard outside of their own neighborhoods. Rich neighborhoods get better services than low-income ones because of their social networks. When rich people shout, government officials jump. When poor people shout, it is easy to ignore them because there are generally no ramifications for not listening (unless, of course, you are literally killing them with rusted water, then, eventually, someone will listen.)  Isolated, low-income people have no regular social contact with powerful people. So, instead of bumping into Bill at the club and telling him that the water is brown, a person in Flint sends an email to info@stategovernment.gov. It is as effective as opening their window and shouting into the wind.

I don’t believe that the policies of elected officials were intentionally created to harm the people of Flint. This doesn’t excuse the inaction after officials learned of the lead poisoning, but I consider that reflective ass-covering and fear for their jobs rather than intentional policy.

Social isolation is a huge barrier for low-income people to overcome. It results in communities being isolated and disempowered. Power means being heard, but you can only be heard if you have access to the right people to listen. Social media help the unheard have a voice, eventually, but as Eli Pariser outlined in his fantastic book, The Filter Bubble, commercialized online networks like Facebook and Twitter, are also isolating people by reinforcing their existing social networks rather than helping them bridge to new ones.   (Here is a link to Eli’s Ted Talk.)

Income inequality is a bad, and historically bad in the United States right now, but social isolation is even worse for the well-being of people. Out of sight, out of mind, so the rich and powerful.

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More Thoughts on Matterness for Associations

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 7.38.26 PMEarlier this year, I had a terrific opportunity to share my thoughts about Matterness with associations on a webinar hosted by Wild Apricot. (You can watch the full recording of the webinar here. Go ahead, it was great fun!)

We had lots of participants in the webinar really digging in deep exploring ways to strengthen their relationships with their members. I was delighted to work closely with Wild Apricot (they’re terrific!) and to get to know their members better.

I have been reflecting a bit on what I shared in the webinar and what I have learned since in my new consultancy, Matterness Consulting (naturally!) in partnership with Debra Askanase.

On the webinar, I shared the basic outlines of Matterness with the hundreds of attendees. We talked about how it can be challenging to look at their efforts through the eyes of their members, why it’s critically important to work with their members through back-and-forth conversations not broadcasting at them, and, finally, the opportunity to find places to experiment with a new approach in the new year.

In just a few months of our practice we have already learned an amazing amount.

Here are the three key things that we are learning in our deep engagements with organizations:

  1. Matterness is at the heart of donor and member retention. We all know that it is far less expensive to retain current supporters than find new ones, and yet organizations routinely lose customers/donors/members at an alarming rate. Matterness is about remaking the relationship between people and institutions, and our consulting work is beginning to demonstrate that by doing so, organizations increase their retention rates.
  2. A little Matterness goes a long way. Everyone is frantically busy, but it is that very busyness, the intense focus on process and to-dos, that too often pushes stakeholders away. When you ask people when have they felt like they matter, like we did on the Wild Apricot webinar, are very small, fundamentally human recognition. A thank you call. A quick and personal response to a question or problem. A connection made to other people and resources. And this is where the board can come in. There are wonderful opportunities to engage board members as your Matterness ambassadors. Ask them to call members and thank them for their participation. Have them host lunches at their offices for local members. Encourage them to participate in efforts online to highlight the work of individual members. Whether you are a tiny organization or one with thousands of members,   you can reach more people by recognizing that the responsibility for making people feel like they matter rests with the board as well as the staff.
  3. Need to shift the leadership lens. Even though acts of Matterness can be small, even these efforts require a culture shift for a lot of organizations because it requires a shift in focus away from what the organization does and towards how members feel. Everything the organization does has to be focused on whether and how we are making members known, heard and empowered. The only way to ensure that organization maintain this focus is to measure it on a regular basis. We measure what we value, and there we have to measure how effective we are in making our members feel known, heard and empowered.

We are just beginning to understand the causality between making people feel known and retention rates. We are in the process of developing a Matterness assessment tool to start to develop measures for understanding and improving Matterness over time. (And would love any thoughts any of you have about that.) I look forward to again sharing what we are learning in a few months!

In the meantime, you know, just in case you missed the plug above, feel free to watch Wild Apricot webinar and learn the key principles of Matterness!

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