Monthly Archives: November 2007

Creating a “calculated epiphany” to make change

In the chapter “Taking Troy,” in Begging for Change, Roger Egger introduces the idea of the “calculated epiphany.”

His thinking goes like this. Folks are overwhelmed with direct messages about problems and programs. Those messages don’t work anymore. So you need a stealth way to change their worldview. You need a marketing Trojan Horse that will slip past the gates.

You need a calculated epiphany.

Here’s an example. The for-profit catering firm made up of DC Central Kitchen grads caters a black tie reception. At the end of the night, Egger introduces the kitchen and wait staff, gets a round of applause for them, and then tells folks that they are homeless or formerly homeless. The power of their transformation impresses people and gets them to start changing their ideas about the homeless. (Of course, this would only work after the dinner and after the guests have eaten good food and gotten good service.)

So far, so good. I agree this is a powerful way to change people’s views.

But I disagree with Egger when he takes to task some of the print ads and how they use emotion to make their point.

For example, he critiques an ad by the Ad Council and America’s Second Harvest. The add is a tear-jerker with the picture of a young (white) girl and the text:

Julie is cold. She has chicken skin, she says. She woke up in the middle of the night shivering because I turned the heat down. I’m afraid if my bill gets too high I won’t have any money left for food. I pull Julie close and hug her tight. She says she will be fine-she knows she’s not really a chicken.

Egger makes two critiques of this ad. First, he asks “now what?”  Here I agree with him. There isn’t a call to action. The ad doesn’t lead people to do anything.

His proposed ad reads like this:

Everyday, Second Harvest Food Banks save empowerment programs across this country tens of millions of dollars so they can focus on job training, literacy classes, and after-school program so that families like this can live independently

Second harvest-Using Food as a Tool to Combat Hunger and Build Communities, one family at a time.

I ask Egger the same question, “now what?” What do you want me to do?

Also, Egger asserts this will be a more effective ad. I want to see the evidence. Most of the research I’ve seen says that emotion compels action, not statistics and arguments.

Here Egger is acting on ideology, not evidence, and I find it disappointing.

Creating a community of change through “tangible links”

In Begging  for Change Robert Egger talks about the need to build “tangible links.” For example, in the kitchen training program at D.C. Central Kitchen, the students build links both with the people who eat the meals they serve and with the other volunteers who help at the kitchen. That way the students are connected to a web of giving and receiving.

Storyteller that he is, Egger talks about one of the early students in the DC Central Kitchen training program. Reggie was a heroin addict, clean for 3 months, enrolled in the program. He had a tough road ahead of him, and it wasn’t clear he would be able to escape his past and his addiction.

One week a group of doctors came in to volunteer, and Egger told Reggie to show them around. He could see the tension around him. Reggie, with his low education and history of addiction, was clearly thinking “you want me to work with them.” And the doctors were thinking the same thing.

But Egger stuck to his instructions and walked away, leaving Reggie to orient this group of high-power professionals.

Twenty minutes later Roger stopped back to check in. What he saw was inspiring. The roles had been reversed. Reggie, the barely-hanging-on addict was teaching these doctors how to julienne carrots. Here was an area where he knew something they didn’t, and he could speak with authority on it. He had something to give, something to teach. And that gave Reggie a level of self-respect that he wouldn’t have if he was cutting carrots alone.

That’s the power of tangible links.

This concept of “tangible links” goes to the heart of the solidarity model of organizing. What lessons can we learn from our allies in the global south? How can we build real people-to-people ties that will lead to enduring change?

It also ties in with one of the lessons in Cialdini’s “Influence.”  He talks about how to overcome group animosity, it’s not enough to have contact between groups. You need cooperation between the groups to achieve a shared goal.

When Reggie teaches the doctors how to julienne carrots, he is moving beyond just having “contact” between doctors and students to having true cooperation between the two groups. That’s where growth and change happen.

Anatomy of a great action alert

The Friends Committee on National Legislation just issued a top-notch action alert. Let’s take a look at what makes it great.

Subject Line: Action:  Cluster Bomb Senate Call in Day Nov. 5

Clear, to the point. There’s no doubt what your getting into and when you need to act.

Paragraph 1: You really can’t imagine the effect of a cluster bomb until you’re sitting across the table from Raed Mokaled. “I am sure Ahmed was not a criminal. He was not a terrorist,” Raed told us last week at a briefing in our building here in Washington, DC. He then described how his 5-year-old son Ahmed was killed by a U.S-made cluster munition that he picked up while playing at his own 5th birthday party in southern Lebanon.

This is  a great lead paragraph! I get dozens of action alerts a day, most of which I don’t read. This one got my attention.

Why? It does what few action alerts does. It tells a story and makes the issue real. It moves cluster bombs from being some distant and amorphous policy issue to a real concern about real people–including 5-year old Ahmed.

Paragraph 2: The U.S. has a stockpile of nearly 1 billion cluster “bombies,” the sub-munitions that a cluster bomb contains. You can help keep these bombs out of the hands of children. On November 5, tens of thousands of people around the world will be urging their governments to ban cluster bombs. FCNL is joining with the US Fund for UNICEF, Amnesty International USA, Adopt-A-Minefield, UNA-USA, and many other groups to call on senators to cosponsor the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act (S. 594). You can help. Ask five friends to make a call , and put a note in your calendar to call Monday. FCNL has set up a toll-free number for you to make your calls – see more details below.

Okay, I actually think this is a bit too fact-filled for a 2nd paragraph, I would have put the co-sponsors lower down in the alert, but their clear and powerful ask is great. What I really like is that it is more than just asking you to call, it invites you to organize and recruit more people. And they make it easy to do that–the link is to a “tell a friend” page.

Paragraph 3: The Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act would prevent the U.S. military from using cluster bombs in areas where civilians are known to be present. But the Bush administration says the military benefits outweigh the civilian costs. The bill currently has 12 cosponsors. We need many more—from both parties—to move this bill to a vote in the coming year.

This does a good job of creating context for why the call-in day is important and how it can make a difference.

Call to action: Encourage your friends and families to participate in the national call-in day, and remember to call yourself on Monday. Urge your senators to cosponsor the Cluster Munitions Civilian Protection Act (S.594) and ensure its passage in the coming year.

Spread the word in your community – download a flyer or print out the background in this email. Let people know that this day of action is a first step in a campaign over the next year to build support for a cluster bomb ban.

 These 2 short paragraphs reiterate the main action (invite your friends) and give you more tools to do just that. They also repeat the link to the “tell a friend” page. Good move, I didn’t click on it until this second link.

The action alert follows with a link to Raed’s story and background information of the issue.