Monthly Archives: January 2010

The power of personal greeting

“Caterina Fake, one of the founders of Flickr, siad she’d leanred from the early days taht ‘you have to greet the first ten thousand users personally.'” — Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody

Whether it’s online or face-to-face, organizing is all about relationships.

You can’t automate relationships. You can’t outsource them. They have to be made on a one-on-one basis over time; again and again; by the tens, hundreds, and thousands.

Are you willing to fail enough to succeed?

“Open source ecosystem is a profound threat, not because the open source eecosystem is outsucceeding commercial efforts but because it is outfailing them.” -Clay Shirky Here Comes Everybody

For all we’re about change, sometimes community organizers can be very afraid of it.

We stick to the same marches, the same chants, the same fundraisers. We do what we’ve seen work in the past.

But if we’re going to be about change, we should be willing to try it for ourselves, even if that means trying out tactics that flop.

Be bold. Try new things. Be willing to fail your way into success.

Clay Shirky

picture of recipe card

How does the Internet change the way we cook up social change?

In Here Comes Everybody:

Outreach isn’t just reaching people who already agree with you

But a capaign can go to far. In this case, too far is when people believe that believing is enough, without factoring in the differences between the passionate few who run the campaign and the barely interested many who actually vote. –Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody, referring to the 2004 Howard Dean campaign

In my wife’s work with the GetDowntown program, she hears avid bicycle commuters suggest ways to get non-cyclists to bike to work. She hears from avid walkers about how to get non-walkers to give up their cars for a good pair of shoes.

In my work, I hear from deeply committed environmentalists about how to get indifferent people to lower their carbon footprint. I hear passionate peace activists tell me how we should get the apathetic public to care.

This input is valuable, and many good ideas come from it, but what these true believers forget, and what I often forget, is that the “barely interested many” aren’t approaching our issues from the same perspective we are, and what motivates us may not motivate them. To reach the “barely interested many,” you have to set aside your interests to see what it is that they are interested in, meet them where they are, and help them take the next step.

It can be fun to connect with the people who already agree with and to talk the shared language of what already motivates you, and there is a place for that in sustaining a movement, but it is not enough.

If you are going to change the world, you can’t just talk to people who already agree with you. You can’t just speak the language of what motivates people like you. You need to reach out, talk to new people in their own language. That’s why they call it outreach.

Five Ways to Lead With More Compassion

compassion and empathy are more than feel-good skills, they make you a better leader.

Susan Cramm has an excellent post on the Harvard Business Review blog how to lead with more compassion. The 5 ways are:

  1. Assume the best in others;
  2. Understand what makes them tick;
  3. Serve their needs;
  4. Accept responsibility;
  5. Assume the best intentions.

I’ve said before that  empathy is the core of organizing (and fundraising, and media relations, and volunteer management, and marketing, etc.). These five practices are strong ways to build your empathy and compassion and become a better community organizer. the best in others

Communities are already organizing themselves: the power of “horizontal philanthropy”

This month’s issue of Grassroots Fundraising Journal has a great article about  “horizontal philanthropy,” the ways that members of a community support each other in many ways.

The Center for Participatory Change did a study of this phenomena, and one of the things I found striking is that participants would mention their neighbors, their church, and grassroots groups as proving support, but they rarely mentioned nonprofits in general.

There are two lessons here for community organizers:

  1. Recognize that the communities you work with are already organizing themselves. There may not be an office or letterhead, but there are relationships and structures that support the community.
  2. Your job as an organizer is to work with and support these existing structures, NOT to replace them.

Is there a new recipe for social change?

“The old model for coordination group action required convincing people who care a little to care more, so they would be roused to adt. What Hanni and Streeting did instead was to lower the hurdles to doing something in the first place, so that people who cared a little could participate a little, while being effective in the aggregate.” —Clay Shirky

picture of recipe card

How does the Internet change the way we cook up social change?

In Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, Clay Shirky describes the new recipe for community organizing.

Here’s an embellished version of the old recipe: Continue reading

3 Ways To Deal With Fear Of Loss

When I suffered my brain hemorrhage last November, the scariest part for me was in the ambulance as I was being transferred from the hospital that diagnosed my brain bleed to one with a neurology department that could treat it.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on that fear, where it came from, and what it means for my life now.

As I lay in the gurney, I didn’t know how much damage I had undergone, and I was worried what this would mean for the rest of my life. As a community organizer, my work (and my current life) revolves around being able to think clearly, communicate clearly, and influence people.

Thank God, there was no noticeable damage from the event, but since then I have reflected that this is a temporary sitauation. While I am now physically strong and mentally astute, as we all age we lose these things.

If I love my ability to speak and write well, and this ability leaves me, I will be heartbroken.

If I define myself based on my smarts, and my smarts leave me, my identity will be destroyed.

How can I use the gifts I have now but not base my life around them so I will be lost if I lose them? I am still reflecting on this query, but three responses come to mind:

  1. I can try to use and appreciate my gifts while I have them, just as I appreciate a sunset for its duration. By cultivating this perspective toward my physical and mental health, I hope to suffer should my health leave me..
  2. I can care for my body and mind to keep them working well, just as I care for my car (okay, I should do better than how I care for my car). While age is inevitable and it will mark all of us as long as we are alive, we are able to slow its erosion of body and mind.
  3. If I lose my ability to think clearly, to remember, to communicate, to move easily, what would be left? How can I cultivate traits within myself so that in this case I would still be able to give and receive love for myself and for others. I have known people who have experienced dementia, yet while their memory was gone, they still exuded love and warmth for those around them.

More than death, I have long feared strokes and dementia. These reflections give me a pathway to live so that I might fear them less, to deal with them with more grace should they befall me, and probably to live a better life in the meantime.

Now let’s see if I’m up for it.

You live or die by your database

Your groups most important resource is the people involved in it. Your database is how you connect with them. Keep you database healthy to keep your organizaiton healthy.
Your group’s most important resource is the people involved in it. Your database is how you connect with them. Keep you database healthy to keep your organizaiton healthy.

Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith tells you “you live or die by your database.”

Their point is to be personally effective, you need to have a way to track your personal contacts and keep in touch with them.

The same is true for a nonprofit. I often say at ICPJ, “Our most important resource is our people: our volunteers and donors. Our database is how we keep track of this most important resource.”

Since you live or die by your database, you need to:

  • Make sure your database has accurate contact information;
  • Make sure that when you send something out it gets to it’s destination (not caught in a spam filter or lost because of a bad postal address); and
  • Use that database to keep in touch with your contacts.

Chris and Julien aren’t exaggerating, I’ve seen nonprofits live and die by their databases.

The first nonprofit job I had was with the Nicaragua Network, a small group that has stayed active even as U.S. policy toward Nicaragua has become less of a concern in the media because their co-director, Chuck Kaufman, does an excellent job of  working with the NicaNet donor database.

Think of your contact list like a muscle, you need to use it to keep it strong. Chuck Kaufman is a master of using his NicaNet list and keeping it strong.

On the other side of things, I’ve seen nonprofits fail because they didn’t keep up with their database. People got dropped from the email list. The only mailings they received were infrequent donor appeals. The nonprofit didn’t keep up with their database, and they suffered as attendance, engagement, and donations dropped.

Keep your organization healthy by keeping your database healthy and active. It can mean life or death for your group.