Archive - November 2011

Tactical Philanthropy Takes a Sabbatical
Staying Close to Home for Hunger
Picking Up the Crap in Romania
Second Mile Board Culpability
2% Giving Flat for Forty Years
Remembering Rob Stuart

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.


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.


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….




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.




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.



2% Giving Flat for Forty Years

Blackbaud released a report called Growing Philanthropy in the United States this week. Why do we need to grow philanthropy? Because:

In the U .S ., charitable giving is estimated to be only 2 percent of average household disposable (after tax) income (Giving USA Foundation 2011) . Regrettably, this is also the 40 year average for this figure, indicating that, despite an increasing marketing effort on the part of nonprofits (Sargeant and Jay 2010), individuals today are no more generous than their predecessors were over four decades ago . The picture is very similar in other countries (e .g . National Council for Voluntary Organizations 2010) .

I asked one of the authors, Jen Shang, to clarify how it is that we have so many nonprofits now than forty years ago but giving hasn’t increased. She said, “So the reason why total giving has been rising but not percentage of giving is because total household income has been rising.” In, addition, although Jen said it wasn’t the data they studied, we simply have more households than forty years ago, so giving would go up.

Nonetheless, the notion that after forty years of saturation by nonprofit marketers and the percentage of income we give hasn’t gone up. These data come from the annual report of Giving USA. Here is the total giving pie for 2010:

And now I’m confounded. After all of that running and cookie buying and dinners-gone-to there is no increase? Certainly the number of causes has increased exponentially, but so have the number of people, so maybe that’s a wash. I feel like I’m missing something big here. Are these data not including embedded giving where we feel like we’ve given a donation even if that gift is kept opaque by a corporation? Are we spending more time volunteering instead of writing checks? Are more of us giving the 2% than in previous generations?

Lucy, Katya, Amy, Tom…a little help, please?


Remembering Rob Stuart

My friend, Rob Stuart, the person who introduced me to social media and implanted in my head the notion that “it’s all about the network,” passed away suddenly and tragically last week. Jed Miller and I wrote a post for TechPresident about what Rob meant to us and the field of social media for social change. It’s inadequate to the task, Rob has left a huge hole for all of us in the network in which he was a huge hub, but we can at least remember and appreciate what he did in the short time he was here. If you knew Rob, I hope you’ll have a chance to share your memories of him on one of the pages listed below.

Here is the post:

Late last week, and far too soon, our friend Rob Stuart passed away in Philadelphia. Rob was the hub that connected dozens, hundreds, of us that work to build communities and create change through digital technologies. “It’s all about the network,” is a catch-phrase he was already using when, for most of us, “the network” was still ABC, CBS or NBC. He was right, it is all about the network, and his legacy as a network builder is especially clear as tributes to him spread across the virtual community he imagined before it was there.

To fully understand Rob’s importance to the evolution of the Internet as an organizing tool, you need to forget the names Twitter, Facebook, Howard Dean, Personal Democracy Forum and “blog” and imagine the moment when email was used mostly for one-to-one correspondence and it required technical expertise to post information online.

The interconnected community of techies, grassroots organizers, political operatives and non-profit groups that work for social change had fewer ways to stay connected then, so it was more difficult to see ourselves as a community, or to benefit from each other’s knowledge and encouragement. Rob changed that, partly by seeing it was missing, and partly by knowing the people, and the path, to make it happen.

The power of storytelling through technology, the potential of mobile phones for social change, the use of microtargeting based on zip codes, emails and voting records, these are just a few of the tools Rob was talking about before they became digital gospel for organizers.

Like any good evangelist, Rob had an infectious enthusiasm when he talked about what was possible and what you needed to know. He had enormous faith in what people were capable of, mingled with a simmering impatience with all the ways people didn’t get it yet. Frankly, you need both the impatience and the faith to succeed promoting new technology. It’s not always comfortable bucking institutions, or trying to drag them into a new century, but it’s demanding and exciting and that particular tension suited Rob.

Through several decades as a tech guru, Rob’s wisdom about crowds was a touchstone. He also had a child-like affinity for new gadgets and the caffeinated tenacity of an expert political networker.

His formative advocacy experiences involved lobbying and grassroots organizing on environmental issues. Organizers have a head start in turning digital tools into movement tools, because they inherently understand how social networks can turn the hunger for change into action.

He followed up his early work lobbying at NJPIRG by joining the Rockefeller Family Fund, bringing evangelism for tech into the donor community years before it became a mainstream funding interest.

The group that is now NTEN, the non-profit sector’s largest community of tech professionals, began in the early 1990s as a small email list of “circuit riders,” consultants to under-resourced organizations looking to adapt to the emerging digital age. (With traditional “circuits” and preachers on horseback both receding into history, the pun of the name is itself an artifact.)

Veteran non-profit tech leader Gavin Clabaugh, now at the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, was instrumental in the creation of the first “circuit rider” meetings. He says the term itself was not Rob’s, “but everything else was. He took what was just a little idea, and turned it into a movement.”

The vision for a national organization for non-profit techies was born in 1997 at a remote ranch in Montana, during a retreat to engage more funders in the field—and, as Gavin tells it, after several rounds of homemade beer. It was Rob who took up the idea in earnest, using the platform and resources of the Rockefeller Family Fund to launch a national effort. “He did a series of meetings around the country,” said Gavin, “and pulled in advocacy people and evangelists and everybody from the technology community.”

Those meetings grew into a National Strategy for Non-Profit Technology, a program that in 2004 merged with existing circuit rider “round-up” events under the umbrella of the Non-Profit Technology Enterprise Network, NTEN. A decade later, the NTEN community could fill a stadium, as the current director Holly Ross points out in her remembrance of Rob.

From the inception of NTEN, through his founding of Evolve Strategies and up until his death last week, Rob was also a prominent community organizer in Philadelphia. He cared deeply about maintaining the lovely, close-knit place where his own children were growing up, and about connecting his community and organizing with them for social justice. On issues from equal rights for bike riders and preservation and public access to parks, to wider problems like the environmental dangers of cell phones and hydraulic fracking, he led, and created ways for others to lead.

Rob’s commitment to grassroots organizing defined not only his vision for the power of digital technologies, it also defined him. Whatever satisfaction he found in teaching people about the power of technology, bringing power to the people of Philly gave him even more. In Rob’s Philadelphia Inquirer obituary, one city council member called him “the 18th member” of the council.

The only thing that lit him up more was talking about his and Sarah’s daughters, Marina and Amelia. Rob’s love for his family and his city are inextricable from his intellectual leadership in the tech-for-good movement. It took us almost 10 years to understand, as a group, that personal passion and local outcomes are the renewable energy of online organizing. Rob knew all along because he never knew anything else.

If the measure of a man is what he leaves behind then, as Gavin said over the weekend, “Rob leaves us so much the richer.” To appreciate this, all you need to do is follow the reactions to Rob’s death over the networks he wove and nurtured so carefully, a large, far-flung web connected by and to him, reaching out on different social media platforms with quotes, photos, videos, and vivid accounts beginning “Remember when Rob said-” and “Let’s not forget what Rob did for. …”

We do remember, and we’re grateful for the time we had to learn from him, work with him, laugh at his latest gadgets or outrageous ideas, and marvel as so many of them took hold. We’ve watched the small cadre of circuit riders grow into a thriving community that continues building on Rob’s work and his vision. Hopefully we can bring the same enthusiasm and joy to it that he did every day.

Jed Miller is internet director of the Revenue Watch Institute. Allison Fine is co-author of The Networked Nonprofit.

The family plans a memorial service for 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, at Trinity Memorial Church, 22d and Spruce Streets, in Philadelphia. In lieu of flowers, donations can be sent to benefit a community garden that Rob helped found: Logan Square Garden Fund at Evolve Foundation, 1 S. Broad St., Suite 1840, Philadelphia 19107.


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