Author - Allison Fine

The Bots are Here: Nonprofit Friends or Foes?
A New Form of Justice
Time to Pivot: From Resistance to Renaissance
Voting Assumptions Gone Awry
Citizen Disengagement
Revised Matterness Chapter (Free Download)
New Chapter: A New Democracy!
How Students Can Prepare for a Nonprofit Career

The Bots are Here: Nonprofit Friends or Foes?

That long awaited moment is here: robots have become a regular part of our daily lives. But are they here to help or hurt us? Beth Kanter and I explore this question in a post called: The Robots Are Here: How Nonprofits Can Make Sure They Save Rather Than Kill Us.

 As Beth mentions in her personal post, last year was a struggle for people like us who invested so much time and energy on ways to use social media for social good over the last decade. Our assumption was that the good parts of being connected and in conversation with other people online and on land outweighed the bad parts of filter bubbles and trolls. But last year didn’t feel that way. Last year made me want to abandon online life.

In December, Beth and I began to talk about what’s next and how it might, or at least could, feel better. And that’s how this first article about the Age of Automation. We are cautiously optimistic about the power of robots to help people. But we also recognize the real possibility that we may make the same mistakes again; leaving too much unchecked power in the hands of private corporations to own public spaces and our lives.

So, give a read and let us know if you have any thoughts on where we go from here.

I remain cautiously optimistic than when our backs are against the wall – as they are now – we will fight our way to a more just world.


A New Form of Justice

The New York City Council has just passed a law to make all algorithms used by the city government transparent. It is a new kind of justice, algorithmic justice. to ensure that the wheels of government and AI are being used for good and not evil. It is just the beginning of push back on the opaque and too often insidious ways that algorithms and other codes are being used to manipulate our attention, data and privacy. It iwll be interesting to watch how efforts like this take hold over the next few years.

Here‘s a good article on the new law from the ACLUL


Time to Pivot: From Resistance to Renaissance

My new friend, Kiersten Marek, the founder of Philanthropy Women invited me to write a post about where we as women activists and philanthropists go a year since the Resistance began.

So, here is my take: From Resistance to Renaissance: Women Must Embrace their Power for Funding Social Change

We need to own funding the Renaissance as much as we owned protesting, marching, calling and voting this past year.

I’d love to know what you think about this pivot!


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…



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.



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.


New Matterness Introduction




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 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!



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}




Copyright © 2019 Allison Fine