Monthly Archives: January 2008

Plan your follow-up BEFORE the event

When you have an event, your energy and excitement peaks before the first guest walks in the door. By the time the event is over, you’re exhausted.

For your attendees, however, their energy peaks at and right after the event.

Here’s how it looks if you’re an organizer:

Your guests, however, have a different experience. It looks like this:

What does this mean?

First, it means that your attendees are most ready to take further action and to get more involved right after the event, right when your energy is at its lowest.

That means you need to plan your follow up before your event!

You have a golden opportunity to cement your attendees’ commitment to your cause immediately after it finishes. That’s when they will be most receptive to action alerts, fund appeals, or just a feel-good “thank you for attending” email.

So plan that follow up while your energy is high. Plan what you will do to keep in contact with your attendees. Create the infrastructure. Even draft the emails you will send out.

By the time you get back to the office after the event, exhausted as you are, you want to be ready just to do a very little bit of tweaking and data entry to get your follow-up to your attendees.

Follow-up is like gold for increasing commitment to your cause. Don’t lose that chance by neglecting to plan for what happens after your last guest goes home.

Are Nonprofiteers better leaders?

The Nonprofit Quarterly is reporting on an interesting study that reports that nonprofit executives outscore for-profit leaders in 14 of 17 categories.

Does this mean that nonprofit managers are better lovers leaders? Or does it mean that nonprofit staffs are easier graders?

I do think it’s evidence that nonprofits and their leaders deserve more credit than they often get.

The Maintream: Reach out to them or reject them?

One of the things that I like about the book We Are Everywhere is that it is willing to present different, even contradictory, perspectives.

This is especially clear when thinking about the relationship between activists and “the mainstream.”

In “The Sweatshop and the Ivory Tower,” Kristian Williams writes,

If I had been in charge – also, I suspect, if the GSC [Georgetown Solidarity Committee] had been comprised of more radical types – things would have one a great deal differently. We would not have bothered with leaflets at the basketball games. We would not have sung the fight song at our rallies, or put Jack the Georgetown Bulldog on our posters and picket signs. We would not have organized prayer meetings. And we would not have won.  [emphasis added]

Kristian respects the mainstream of Georgetown enough to realize that they had to take the steps to reach that mainstream. They were essential to victory. She goes on to write:

I spent a year at Georgetown, and this is the biggest thing I learned: you win by organizing, and you organize by approaching people on terms they can accept. You do not win because of your radical rhetoric. You do not win by writing off potential allies, or insisting on ideological purity. You do not win by denigrating popular culture or ignoring the decent impulses of your peers. You do not win because you have the ‘right line’ or are able to quote Gramsci. You do not win through heroics or martyrdom. You win by organizing, and you organize by approaching people on terms they can accept. [emphasis added]

In “Fighting to Win,” Jeff Shantz takes a very different approach:

Recognizing that we have no interests or values in common with the economic and political elite, we don’t try to reach them on any level. Instead we attack them directly where it hurts: in their bank accounts.

This isn’t going to get far in reaching the middle-class Americans and Canadians who, by global standards, are part of the economic elite.

Moreover, for me as a Quaker who recognized “that of God in everyone,” I find Jeff’s dismissal of the humanity and reachability of “the elites” to be quite troublesome. For me, in that worldview lie the seeds of dehumanization, violence, and repression.

While I disagree Jeff Shantz about how to approach “the opposition,” I do respect Jeff’s focus on what it takes to win:

We don’t do protests anymore. OCAP [Ontario Coalition Against Poverty] learned a long time ago that marches and rallies to protest, register our dissent, or to shame governments that have no shame are almost completely useless. . . . Our members just don’t have the time and means to come out for purely symbolic actions.

I see this tension. Sometimes rallies are meaningful, such as the Georgetown prayer meeting, but sometimes they are just taken because the organizers don’t take the time or the imagination to think about how to truly move toward their goal.

So let’s take the time to work, to organize, and to reach people where they are to bring them into the struggle for justice and peace.

p.s.  Another thig I appreciate about We Are Everywhere is that the entire book is available online!

The power of a faithful witness for peace

I’ve just finished reading the Pastoral Letter from Friends Church in Kenya (FCK), a response from the Quaker Church in Kenya to the recent violence.

It’s brilliant. And I say that as someone who is deeply ambivalent about the value of “words on paper” to create social chance.

The letter reaches to Quaker tradition and Biblical texts to call for actions based on truth, peace, economic justice, and reverence for life. It lays out a proposal for addressing the impasse in Kenya that respects civil society, all ethnic groups, and fair process.

Spiritually-rooted activists here in the US can learn much from their example. And in the meantime, we can pray for peace and reconciliation in Kenya.

Be a dream-feeder

Here’s what I’ve learned listening to The Splendid Table…feed people’s dreams.

Every Week Lynn Rossetto Kasper encourages cooks to make amazing food and feeds their dreams that they can make outstanding dishes. It’s a great show, and Lynn’s enthusiasm is the reason for it.

Recently, a caller phoned in wanting to copyright or patent a recipe he had come up with.

Lynn could have easily smothered his dream under a thousand and four wet blankets. Recipes can’t be patented. Food companies only want to deal with professionals with credentials. It’s a fiercely competitive industry.

And if that’s how Lynn would answer her callers, she wouldn’t be on the air.

Instead, Lynn fed his dream. She told him that he should look at the lines of food that major companies put out and try to pitch it to companies where it fits in with their existing products. She told him to get non-disclosure agreements and not to let them taste it too soon lest they reverse-engineer the recipe.

It was positive. It was encouraging. It was up-beat. It makes you want to listen. It makes you want to cook. It makes you want to be daring.

And it’s how you, as an organizer, should work with your constituents.

Decentralized Networks vs. Centralized Leadership

I’ve really been enjoying We Are Everywhere. It has challenged me to seriously consider some of the anti-capitalist analysis that I had previously dismissed.

Their chapter Networks: The Ecology of the Movement is a fascinating analysis of how decentralized networks of activists can create powerful actions, such as the Seattle WTO protest. It disabuses some myths of network-based organizing (such as they create events “spontaneously”).

The authors take their cue from ants: nobody tells them where to go but they are very effective of finding the best food, sharing work, and keeping the colony alive. Looking at ant networks, they propose four rules for effective network organizing:

1. More is different: The power of networks is to have lots of individuals and small groups generating ideas, making discoveries and proposing these actions, and then to interconnect these small actors so that ideas can spread.

2. Stay small: When you get too big, communication breaks down, hierarchies emerge, and the network loses it’s dynamism. So, when groups start to reach that point, they need to divide like an amoeba…or an ant colony!

3. Encourage randomness: Just like an ant’s “random” wanderings may find a new food source, a network and a movement need some randomness to find new ways to adapt, respond, and grow.

4. Listen to your neighbors: Knowledge in a network flows horizontally, not vertically. So, for that to work, you need to connect to your neighbors and share ideas, lessons,  and information with them.

Powerful ideas, and network organizing is certainly an important tool to have at hand. That said, I’m left with some questions:

1. Does network organizing lead people to only do the fun jobs and projects? Door-to-door canvassing, fundraising, reaching out to people who aren’t already on board: none of these are as fun as organizing a reclaim the streets party, but I think they are just as vital for the movement. In a network-based organizing model, is there the structure to get these less glamorous jobs done?

2. Do we have anything in common? In a completely leaderless, flat, non-hierarchical movement, is there enough common experience or language to hold us together? For example, Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail and Beyond Vietnam speech were two powerful pieces that gave people common frames for discussing the movement. Do we loose this common language in a network-only environment?

Give the article a read. It’s worth a good think.

Scraping together some scratch for ballot campaigns

So, after complaining about how we always need to start from scratch to come up with campaign plans or other lessons from other community organizers, I turned to the true font of all wisdom and knowledge, Google, and found a few resources to help with ballot initiative campaign plans.

First of all, the Campaign Plan for the Florida Minimum Wage Campaign is quite interesting. The fact that this version is hosted on a conservative website tells you something, though. If nothing else, when running a ballot initiative, don’t say that it will change the outcome of a presidentatial election right there on page one. That’s a no-no.

Next, we have a PowerPoint presentation about successful transit funding ballot initiatives. There are some very interesting points in there about how to frame the issue and neutralize opposition. It also led me to the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. There’s not much on their website, but I’m hoping for some good things from them.

And finally, the Sierra Nevada Alliance has a great organizing manual that includes both a chapter on campaign plans and a sample campaign plan.

There was plenty of other information on candidate campaigns, but I’d still like to see more campaign plan swapping for both ballot initiative campaigns on non-lobbying 501(c)(3) campaigns.

Why do we always start from scratch?

If you want to open a Subway franchise, the company will walk you through the whole process from marketing plans to HR policies.

When community organizers plan campaigns, we often are making it up as we go.

For example, right now at ICPJ  mobilizes a Washtenaw County coalition for the Health Care for Michigan Campaign, we’re on our own for creating a campaign plan that includes outreach methods, coordination, media, volunteer, and funding.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Why can’t we have access to sample campaign plans from other campaigns like the Massachusetts health care campaign or the Florida minimum wage campaign?

One of the exciting developments in the human services sector is an effort to learn from effective programs and standardize their lessons. For example, the DC Central Kitchen has developed a kick-ass program for training formerly homeless people kitchen skills so that they can become competitive workers and have a sense of accomplishment when they finish the program. Now, they have standardized this program so that other communities can copy it.

Consider it open-source social services.

Why can’t community organizers go open source? Why can’t we post our campaign plans (after-the-fact of course) as well as an analysis of what worked and what didn’t?

I would love to see as many successful grassroots campaigns as there are successful Subway franchises, but we won’t get there if we always have to make  up our campaigns from scratch.

confronting intolerance

How do you respond to lies and bigotry?

Today I received a troubling email from my uncle. You may have seen it, it’s the one spreading lies calling Barak Obama a radical Muslim.

This is wrong on so many levels:

1. Barak Obama is not Muslim. The email is full of fabrications.

2. The dream of the United States is one of religious freedom, not religious intolerance

3. There is nothing wrong with being a Muslim

So, how to respond?

You can read my response below. I tried to touch on common themes, especially Biblical teachings,  to create a common ground and a basis to reject the bigotry.

I confess, it’s a bit snappish, and it does nothing to defend Islam as a religion. Anyone have other suggestions for how I could have responded?


This email says:

> We checked this out on “”. It is factual. Check for yourself.

Well, according to, this email is false. Here’s the link:

After reading that, it might be good to read Exodus 20:16, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”

Dr. Martin Luther said: “I’d rather be ruled by a competent turk, than an incompetent Christian.”

Remember, when Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan, there was considerable tension between his Jewish audience and the rival Samaritan religious community (

Therefore, when Jesus extolled the virtue of the Good Samaritan, he was teaching the goodness and mercy can come from people of all faiths and backgrounds. Jesus himself taught that people of all faiths and backgrounds are our neighbors.

Senator Obama is a baptized Christian in the United Church of Christ. He writes and speaks beautifully of his faith. (see below). The Apostle Paul taught that we are “one body in Christ” and nobody can say “Christ is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit. In that spirit, it is unseemly for those of us who follow the life and teaching of Jesus to denigrate the faith of our fellow Brothers and Sisters in Christ. Yes, there are other Christians with whom I disagree vehemently regarding faith and politics, but I will not betray the body of Christ to demean their faith or spread mistruths about them.

Check the facts. Reject religious intolerance.


Know when to fold them

I’ll conclude my blogging about Forces for Good by sharing one of their least-surprising but most-important lessons:

A mistake that highly creative, chaotic organizations often make is trying to sustain too many programs at once, and not prioritizing them. Running myriad programs consumes precious resources: they suck in talent, burn grant dollars, and command management time and attention. Being spread too thin can quickly impede a group’s ability to acheive greater impact. One nonprofit we know lists three dozen “priority programs.” Organizations like these trip over themselves and their programs; they could increase their effectiveness if they learned to focus on a few projects with greater potential for real impact.

That sounds all too familiar.

While we’re trying to do something about this at ICPJ,  it’s going to be a tough struggle to learn how to say “no” to doing too much so that we can say “yes” to being kick-butt effective on the projects we do take up (and I mean kick-butt in the most nonviolent of ways).