Monthly Archives: November 2008

Make events run smoothly by letting people know what to expect

When you organize an event, you are fully immersed in it. You know what you expect to happen. You know why it’s structured the way it is.

You know what is going on.

Your audience, however, does not.

That’s why your job as an event organizer is to let people know what to expect.

  • Let people know when they can ask questions and when they can offer their thoughts.
  • Let people know know when they will eat and how that will work.
  • Let people know where the bathrooms are.

Not only will this help put people at ease, it will also make your event run more smoothly.

Making time for what is important

One of the challenges I have every day at work is separating myself from the urgent tasks to make time for the important ones.

It’s so easy to get burried by the next event or the next newsletter to not have time to set up a face-to-face meeting with a potential community partner or to call a major donor to let her know how her support is making a difference.

The same thing happens in work-life balance.

Last week I went from Saturday to Thursday without having an evening at home with my wife. I had work engagements Saturday-Wendesday, and she had one Thursday.

All of these engagements were pressing, even urgent, but my marriage means more to me.

It’s just hard to make time for it sometimes, and that’s an even worse mistake than not making time for fundraising.

Make time for what is important.

Change your leaders, not your lightbulbs

As the organization where I work prepared to start a program on faith-based action to stop climate change, I prepped by listening to podcasts from the Creation Care for Pastors website.

I heard some great preaching and some excellent Bible study that showed how care for God’s earth is a religious mandate.

What left me unsatisfied is where that stopped.

The sermons I listened to did an amazing job of explaining why we should care for the earth. And to explain how to do this, they talked about filling your tires to improve gas mileage and setting up recycling progams at churches.

That’s a good start, but I’m sorry, that’s not enough.

If you look at the Bible, the Hebrew scriptures include laws about environmental protection.

A great example is the law of the sabbath year. This law said that every seven years the earth was given a year of rest, just like every seven days people were to get a day of rest. This law teaches us to respect the earth and to take care of it’s ability to give forth food rather than stripping all nutrients out of the soil in a greedy effort to get more and more productivity from the land.

Environmental protection was the law.

And as we face the environmental challenge of today, we need more than inflated tires and recycling progams, we need good lawys.

The Cuyahoga River in Ohio used to catch fire. Now it doesn’t. The credit doesn’t go to individuals who stopped dumping. The credit goes to solid envrionmental regulations that cleaned up the river.

In discussing global warming, Thomas Friedman says, “change your leaders, not your lightbulbs.” His point is that the challenges we face are much larger than we can fix by only driving a Prius or eating local greens.

These are important, but to get the change we need, we need strong environmental laws.

Personal and community transforamation are important. The sermons on Creation Care for Pastors give a good baseline. But to really fix the problem we need policy change.

Lucky for the folks at CCFP, the Bible gives us a good model of just that.

Are you helping or hurting?

I have a dear friend who is a community organizer for Planned Parenthood. How did she get her start?

When she was a college student, the Genocide Awareness Project came to campus. This is a group that tries to build opposition to abortion by comparing abortion to genocides such as the Holocaust and the Rawandan Genocide.

With my friend, this tactic backfired.

She had always been pro-choice, but the hyperbole of the Genocide Awareness Project’s claims spurred her to action. She called up a pro-choice group and they sent someone to train her as a campus organizer.

Soon she was organizing bus trips to the March for Womens Lives, and now she’s a full-time paid organizer for Planned Parenthood.

I don’t think that’s what the Genocide Awareness Project meant to do.

There are plenty of cases like this of earnest people hurting their cause:

  • The hard-core McCain supporters that talked about killing Obama turned off moderates from McCain’s campaign;
  • Some anti-drug messages actually lead to an increase in drug use (source);
  • The anti-abortion guy who told me “Obama is almost as bad as Hitler” because of his support for a woman’s right to choose convinced me to volunteer with Planned Parenthood’s get-out-the-vote campaign.

Of course sometime you need to take strong stands that do mobilize your opposition as well as your base. That’s part of engaging in contentious issues.

What you also need to do is really think carefully about who your audience is and how they understand the world. If you are trying to convince a moderate swing voter that Obama is dangerous for America, then talking about killing Obama won’t work.

If you’re trying to convince a peer-conscience high school student not to try pot, then you don’t want your marketing campaign to give her the message that all her friends are doing it.

Think through you message and tactics, not just from your point of view of someone who is already conviced, but from the point of view of the people you are trying to convince.

Was the Obama campaign grassroots?

Was the Obama campaign grassroots?

IWhile it had high levels of volunteer involvement, the overall campaign strategy was decided from the top.

This top-level leadership made strategic decisions and set clear goals and plans for voter identification, volunteer recruitment, voter persuasion, and get out the vote. These came from the central campaign office and local field organizers and volunteers helped carry them out.

This is very different than the common image of grassroots organizations where the key strategic decisions come from the bottom up.

Still, I think the Obama campaign was grassroots, but it was also centralized.

I think people often confuse these two terms. You can have a grassroots campaign with high levels of volunteer involvement that is centralized (like the Obama campaign). You can also have a professional organization with no volunteeer organizaiton that is decentralized (some think tanks operate this way).

For me, as a grassroots volunteer, I appreciated the centralization. I could show up at the campaign office and be put to work. They had already figured out what I needed to do.

And if I wanted to improvise, Yes, there was room for bottom-up innovation, as and Obama Girl showed.

My point here is not to say that there is one “right” type of grassroots organizing. Quite the opposice, both centralized and decentralized grassroots organizing have their benefits and their places.

My point is that we should know what we mean when we say we want a grassroots organization or a grassroots campaign. The answer will depend on a lot of things such as the organizations values, goals, and constituency.

Think this all through before you decide if you will depend on or reject strategic guidance from volunteers–or from professionals.