Tag - Lisa Colton

Why Giving Matters More Than Receiving
Take Back the Pink Lessons Learned
Network Weaving Personalities
Defining Social Change
Change is Really, Really Hard

Why Giving Matters More Than Receiving

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 9.06.51 PMOn the heels of the wildly successful #GivingTuesday (first estimates put money raised at nearly $46 million just online, more than double last year’s total!) the idea of giving is in the air.

My friend Lisa Colton told me an interesting story today. She was facilitating a board retreat recently and asked the participants to pair up and talk about when they felt that they really mattered. The room was abuzz, she said, as the participants shared their stories with one another. When they reconvened she asked, “How many people heard stories about feeling like you matter when you receive something?” One person raised their hand. Then she asked the opposite question, “How many people heard a story about feeling like you mattered when you gave something?”  Forty-four hands went up. 44!

Of course, the old axiom, “It’s better to give than receive,” immediately comes to mind. But in an organizational context there is more to it than that. People want to be of service to organizations that they care about. However, as organizations became more professionalized over the last century, it seemed to be easier, faster, more efficient, less painstaking, for staff people to do more and more, for organizations to hire people to do jobs that volunteers used to do. Just because volunteers may not be available on Tuesday mornings anymore doesn’t mean that people don’t want to participate in meaningful and creative ways to help organizations. Instead, too many organizations have substituted fundraising for engagement.

Social media provide great opportunities for people to matter by contributing in lots of ways. People can help raise awareness of an issue, problem solve, gather people for discussions, do online research. The opportunities are almost endless for the ways that people can matter more to organizations. The challenge is for organizations, and their leaders, to see this as amazing opportunities to involve many more people in many more interesting ways! #GivingTuesday is a beginning, now we need a year round effort by organizations to make everyone matter more.


Take Back the Pink Lessons Learned

Two weeks ago, the Associated Press reported that the Susan G. Komen Foundation had decided to de-fund breast health screenings at Planned Parenthood affiliates. Unless you’ve been on a faraway island, you’re probably aware of this!

I jumped into the scrum by creating an online fundraising effort called Komen Kan Kiss My Mammogram. It was quickly apparent that there was a critical mass of  people who were equally galvanized to advocate on behalf of Planned Parenthood. Of course, we weren’t alone, the web exploded in anger towards Komen and soon it was a huge story in the mainstream media. The fury was aided by Komen ineptitude, which will surely become a Harvard Business School case study in arrogance and tone deafness.

In discussions on Facebook and Twitter, I was delighted to find a critical mass of friends who wanted to participate in advocating for funding for Planned Parenthood to take the place of the Komen dollars. In full transparency, I felt , and I haven’t confirmed this with the others, that this was a perfect opportunity not only to express our outrage but to practice working side-to-side in a very fast moving environment, using a variety of social media platforms (including Beth’s fun experiment with pinterest) and testing out an idea that was developed in real-time on Facebook we called hashtag jumping. That’s how we came to launch the hashtag #takebackthepink on Super Bowl Sunday to enable thousands of people to share their outrage about Komen (even after they capitulated and will allow Planned Parenthood affiliates to re-apply for funding) and co-opt the Komen tag #supercure.

Personal Note: My favorite moment of the last two weeks was when Tom Watson suggested a hashtag jump and everyone said GREAT! followed by, “So….what’s a hashtag jump?” Our willingness to literally jump in and create something new, test it, see what worked and what didn’t, is what made this effort so exciting and energizing for me and I think others.

Over time, a group of folks became key actors in this short-lived drama. They included Beth Kanter (of course!), Stephanie Rudat, Amy Sample Ward, Lucy Bernholz, Tom Watson, and Lisa Colton. Many, many others were involved, I hope I haven’t offended anyone but just mentioning these folks.

Again, in the spirit of practicing what we preach, we wrote a reflection report on the experience of developing the #takebackthepink Super Bowl Sunday hashtag jump. The full report has a description of the process, immediate results, and lessons learned. Feel free to read it here.

Here are our lessons learned to date (I think we’ll have some more as this effort marinates a bit):

  1. We could not plan for an event like this, however as individuals who are  unencumbered by organizational rules or policies, and that we have our own large networks of people to bring to an effort, and that we are comfortable working in a dynamic, flat, environment, we reacted very quickly and nimbly to events as they unfolded and provided avenues for action for other people angry at Komen. A core group of the organizers are fluent with a variety of social media platforms including Twitter, Pinterest (a fun opportunity to take it out for a social change spin, thought Beth!) and Facebook, plus Stephanie’s graphic design expertise. As one participant recalls, “There was an immediate sense of relatedness amongst the group conjoined by leaders.  We all saw something in the uproar and possibility for ourselves and those we care about.”
  2. #takebackthepink was a particularly resonant phrase with our group because it represented the opportunity to begin to separate Komen from the color pink. As Lucy would tweet later, “Pink is a color not an org.” A fundamental part of our effort was to reestablish the primacy of women’s health over the branding concerns of a single organization. We believe we created an opportunity for a large number of people to participate in this process, and the momentum to continue the discussion moving forward.
  3. There were two moments of tension during the week between a centralized approach and a network approach. The first time, the effort split in two; with one group focused on fundraising and another on advocacy and awareness. The second, a faction chose to opt out of the Super Bowl effort. Both times it was brought up that it was no longer about recouping money to PP (as that was already achieved in the first 48 hours) but was about redirecting people’s emotional responses, keeping people connected to causes and organizations even if they weren’t Komen, and demonstrating the importance of knowing what the orgs do that you support.
  4. There was a flow of people in and out of the effort depending on their interest and availability. A public thread rather than the private email thread would have been more in keeping with our interest in and value of transparency. We chose the email vehicle believing that the element of surprise would be important to our efforts. It turned out not to be the case.
  5. Finding the messaging middle ground in a fast changing environment was very challenging. Take Back the Pink was seen by some as Komen bashing and by others as “too nice.” We did our best to find a positive place for Super Bowl Sunday: there are a lot of organizations and way to support breast health, here are options in addition to Komen. It was harder to communicate than, “Screw Komen, fund Planned Parenthood” and it’s unclear how successful we were in explaining the shift and making the message clear.
  6. We could have done a better job of looking for other hashtags in real-time and piggy-backed on them in order to weave together different conversations.
  7. We developed and shone a spotlight on nonprofits and transparency, an unusual element to a discussion of pro-choice and women’s health issues.
  8. Defining success in a very fluid situation was also very challenging. If fifty people retweeted with our hashtag was that success? Five hundred people? Five thousand people? An interesting model to use for comparison is Occupy Wall Street. Rather than using numeric outputs as goals, perhaps our effort, simply being and spreading, was successful. We are still wrestling with this question, although perhaps one answer is that if a single person learned about a new resource or organization that was success. Having the single largest media event of the year on the immediate horizon made for a great leverage point.
  9. It would have been great to have advocacy organizations sign on as participants and partners in this event, however, when we did bump up against organizations they were unable to move fast enough with their approval processes to fully participate. This will continue to hamper the ability of organizations to work with “free agents” like us who need to meet an opportunity like this with speed, agility and a lack of concern for traditional message controls. Perhaps organizations can more fully participate in the next phase of development of the Facebook page.
  10. This group is open to continuing the Facebook page and the conversation about general breast health and the array of organizations and resources available to women.  Clearly, there is a void in the digital space for being a resource to those who want to learn, contribute, volunteer, receive services but don’t know of all of the options or how to vet. Our capacity is stretched, though, we all participated in this effort as volunteers.

For me, the most resonant lessons were, 1) difficulty of free agents like us working with organizations – the rhythms, interests, pace and risk levels are totally different and very difficult to reconcile, and 2) defining success. The “whats” are always easier to measure than the “so whats” but this effort, I felt, was particularly difficult to measure for change. There is no question we gave a lot of people something to do to express their outrage and anger, great, but what difference did it make? I don’t know the answer but am open to suggestions!

I am enormously grateful to my old and new friends who participated in this effort. It was great fun, I don’t mean the issue was fun, it was deadly serious, but the process of working and creating together, moving quickly without fear or restrictions, was GREAT fun, and I appreciate their willingness to play, their patience in explaining something that whizzed past me (Amy Sample Ward!), their spirit of adventure, and openness to reflecting and learning.

I’d love to hear what others thing of this effort, our report, and similar efforts. Thanks!


Network Weaving Personalities

My friend, Lisa Colton, wrote  fascinating post on the personality of network weavers. Meyer-Briggs for network weavers, she called it. In the post Lisa asks a very provocative question: Do the different styles of network weavers (personality, skills, training, preferred tools, strategic objectives) produce different patterns of network maps?

I’ll start my answer on what we know right now. We know there is a function called network weaving, originally defined by Valdis Krebs and June Holley. Based on Valdis and June’s work, we outlined the activities of network weavers in The Networked Nonprofit as:

  • Introducing and connecting people to one another.
  • Facilitating conversations that are meaningful to participants and authentic. Sometimes these conversations are actionable, and other times they are simply to build relationships.
  • Sharing resources, links, and information without expectation of a direct return from that person.
  • Building relationships with network members by doing things like linking to their blog posts and commenting on blogs, friending them on online social networks, and celebrating their contributions.
  • Working with many different people on multiple channels such as email, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and even on land at face-to-face meetings.
  • Treating all members of the network as equals regardless of their formal organizational position.
  • Inviting people with differing points of view into conversations, and facilitating those conversations so those points of view can be shared.

And although network weavers are fundamentally online community organizers, when I facilitated a group discussion with a key group of them at the Case Foundation a few years back, we found, perhaps not surprisingly given that they do sit behind screens most of the day, that there were a few extroverts around the table, but mainly introverts.  So, now we know what they do, how they work and who they are. The question Lisa has is whether the totality of these characteristics affects the shape of networks.

I don’t think so, and here are my reasons why:

  • Network form follows function. The the network for a specific campaign, say, is largely based on the key hubs and networks the weaver is intending to reach. Say, the YWCA is trying to get the message out to women about their domestic violence efforts, such as last year’s very successful Purple Purse campaign, they aren’t trying to reach all women, they’re definitely not trying to reach children, they’re aiming for advocacy groups that reach women, mommy bloggers, companies that serve women, etc. This design will shape the network.
  • Networks flow in the paths of least resistance. Network weavers can intentionally activate networks but they cannot shape them to their will. No one can, that’s what makes social networks so unpredictable, and so much fun! There are works of art that has sand and water within a frame, like this one:

Social networks work like this when it is flipped over. Things start to move about, unexpected pressure and action takes place at one end or in the middle, and all of a sudden great movements occur. Network weavers start the action, they flip over the frame, they aren’t responsible for everything that happens thereafter.

There is a corollary to Lisa’s question which I think is fascinating: Can people for whom network weaving isn’t natural or practiced become good network weavers?



Defining Social Change

I was at a little league game a few weeks ago. It was a bucolic scene, the baseball diamond situated right on the shores of the Hudson River. Squads of ten year old boys prepared to play against one another, so earnest in the almost impossible task of solidly hitting a moving round ball with a moving round bat. A batter was up, cleats dug into the batters box and eyes intently focused on the pitcher. A grounder was hit to second base and the batter took off towards first. Flying down the base path I noticed something different, two pigtails flying behind the batting helmet and cheers for the batter, Audrey, as she made it safely to first.

I didn’t know Audrey was on my son’s team, which was good news, and I didn’t care except to feel a bit of pride as she successfully navigated around the diamond and scored a run. When did this happen, I wondered? When did we stop noticing Audrey, and other little girls like her? When does radical, disruptive change become blase?

At the same time I was also noticing what I think is the loose usage of the term “social change.” Sign a petition for social change. Buy this yogurt for social change. Bang a nail into a house for social change. You get the idea. I’m not usually a stickler for precision in language. For instance, I made up the word “miniphany” a few years ago, meaning a mini epiphany, and happily use it often. I’m also just as happy as the next Fellow to throw around words like innovation and synergy, I’ve even been known to use “algorithm” with only the vaguest idea of what it means. But social change is different. It’s too important to be watered down and mischaracterized to confuse a donation from a food company with the struggle that women and girls overcame to make Audrey’s hit so unremarkable. What does “social change” really mean, I wondered.

I asked my networks on Twitter and LinkedIn for help in defining the phrase. To spice it up a bit, I also asked if it was like pornography, we’d know it when we see it like I did with Audrey.  The responses were very helpful.

Lisa Colton said she thinks of it as greater than changing one element. Though that is one aspect of social change.

Debra Askanase said it is a movement of people trying to change a part of society from unjust to just.

Matt Scharpnick wrote, “The way I studied it, we drew a distinction between soc. service & soc. change, (band-aid vs root causes).”

Ahhh, now we’re really getting somewhere. There is an important distinction between doing something and solving something. It’s the difference between treating problems and solving them. I love the fact that young people are drawn to volunteering; they are idealistic and caring and good people. But these are largely acts of loving kindness. We feed, cloth, shelter people. We visit people so they are less lonely, we provide gifts to children in the hospital. We do these things because empathy is in our DNA and because we hope others will treat us this way when our time to be taken care of comes.

But these efforts don’t change systems, and they rarely change believes or attitudes or solve fundamental problems. That’s why Leslie and Heather found in Forces for Good that the most effective nonprofits all had advocacy arms. Advocacy is the primary vehicle for social change and organizations are not the only vehicles for change. When Elizabeth Taylor stood arm in arm with Rock Hudson when he had AIDs, our attitudes towards people with the disease began to change. Alaaa abd el Fattah, an Egyptian blogger and Facebooker, was a key free agent activist who helped to catalyze the Egyptian revolution this past spring.

Cindy Wong wrote on LinkedIn that she found this definition from the social science dictionary: “social change = alteration in social structures or culture over time.”

I think that’s close, but I don’t think it’s just structural change. When a girl playing baseball is unnoticed that means attitudes and beliefs have changed. It is where gay marriage is headed, someday soon it will go unnoticed. How to get to unnoticeable is the great challenge for social change makers.





Change is Really, Really Hard

Change is Hard. Lisa Colton of Darim Online said that to me yesterday. Actually, what she said was, remember when  YOU wrote, “Change is Hard.”

Sure, I remember writing that, but I meant it for other people, not for me! Lisa was referring to the project we’ve been working on together, which I’ve written about before here, the Social Media Academy for Jewish Day Schools sponsored by the Avi Chai Foundation. Based on our experience with this Academy, I would have written the above sentence as, “Change is Really, Really, Really Hard!”

We’ve asked the schools in the Academy to engage in a huge learning process. They are learning how the individuals tools actually work, which is like learning a foreign language on a tool like Twitter, plus how to work in networked ways. In the long run, the latter is far harder than the former, but in real time, in the moment, both can seem overwhelming. In a great post on her blog, Jew Point 0, Lisa Colton, the founder of Darim Online, compares the learning process for organizations with social media to her son Eli’s experience learning to ride a bike. [The post includes as a bonus a great video of Eli really getting the hang of riding his bike.]

She writes, “In the Avi Chai Academy, the Jewish Day Schools have just completed a 3 week match campaign through Facebook Causes.  Everyone struggled, everyone learned. Some had their breakthrough moment, and others did not.  So they’ll keep practicing and soon they’ll find their balance just like Eli eventually did on his bike.”

The schools learned an awful lot during the match campaign, and I did as well. We struggled mightily regarding the timing of the match. Is it best to do it early in the Academy when schools would be likely struggle a bit but have time with their coaches for the rest of the Academy to debrief and recombobulate about the discomfort they experienced working in networked ways? Or is it better to do it at the end of the Academy when the schools will be, hopefully and presumably, more facile and comfortable using social media? We chose early in the Academy. In retrospect, perhaps the best bet wasn’t either of these extremes but allowing the schools to pick a three week window that worked best for them during the Academy. Some of the schools did quite well during the match contest, others struggled and one didn’t participate at all.

And now the hardest part of the effort comes, how to help the schools understand that the pain, frustration and discomfort they felt at times (when it wasn’t caused by difficulties with the Causes system or the lack of lead time they had to prepare for the match) was because they were working differently – and that is a good thing. If you never fell off a bike then you never learned to ride one. It is part of the process, but too often institutions want immediate, tangible results that short change learning and growth. Or use discomfort as an excuse to stop and pull back.

I admire the courage these schools are showing by their engagement in this process. It really is hard work and hard to change habits and institutional default settings and my greatest hope is that they will persevere and sometime in the future, hopefully sooner rather than later, be able to say, “Oh, that’s why it felt so bad.”


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