Category Archives: Uncategorized

A camel is a horse designed by a committee

Here’s a line from the Just Enough Planning Guide

There’s a saying that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. This seems like a particularly hard knock against the camel, but the point is well made. As you expand the number of people involved in planning, you run the risk of creating internal inconsistencies and unnecessary complexity, and, worst of all, you could lose sight of your campaign objectives. The key is to keep it tight and keep it small, but empower those on your team to do the work and trust that they will.

They identify 4 common roles for people to be part of the process: Input Givers, Decision Makers, Hard Truth Squad, and Buy-In Givers.

This is a useful framework. When thinking who you need to have on board, also consider how you need them on board and what role they need to play.

7 Tips for Dealing with the Economic Turmoil

Some people have been absolutely wiped out by the recent economic turmoil.

Most of us, though, still have our jobs. So while we may be scared, we’re doing okay for now.

What should we be doing?

Here are seven ways you can take care of your community and take care of your own finances.

1. Buy local: Now is not the time to save $1.78 on a book by shopping on Amazon. Amazon doesn’t employ your neighbor, donate to your local school, host a local book group, or order takeout from your favorite Indian restaurant. Really push yourself to see how local you can go. Do you buy the coffee roasted across the country or the coffee roasted by the local coffee guy?

I know this might cost a little bit more at times, but right now your community needs you more than you need the 37 cents you might save on a light switch by buying it from Home Depot.

Don’t stop with being a locavore-be a locaholic.

2. Give generously: In my family we are increasing our charitable giving now, especially to groups that care for the poor. Many people who used to donate for these charities are now going to them for help. That means they have more demand and they have fewer contributors.

We are continuing our support of other nonprofits as well. We love our local NPR stations, and we want to keep them on the air.

Finally, charity is important now, but don’t forget justice. Caring for the people hurting in this recession is important, and we also need to address the causes of poverty and the structures that were leaving people behind even before the recession. That means supporting groups that are advocating for policy changes to provide for the common good.

3. Cultivate simple tastes: Yes, fine wines and fancy cheeses are delightful, but so is a simple grilled cheese sandwich. It’s even better if you make it with local cheese and fresh bread from a real neighborhood bakery. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to find things to delight you.

4. Learn to cook (and especially how to cook beans): When you cook from scratch you save money. At eighty cents a pound for local, organic dry black beans, simple foods like this are a tremendous value. They taste better, too.

5. Food not Lawns: It’s amazing. You put a few seeds in the soil, give them some water and some care, and they turn into food. All for free! And you don’t have to mow it! We still have a lawn, but our garden is taking up more and more of it.

6. Love your library. Checking out books and movies from the library is a lot cheaper than Netflix and Nicola’s Books, and that’s even after factoring in my occasional late fees. Check out your local museum, or catch a music show at a local coffee shop or bar. There are plenty of ways you can enjoy yourself that are free or very cheap.

7. Buy used. Consignment store clothing, thrift store dishes, and Craigslist appliances are all great ways to save a bit of coin. It can be fun to see the crazy stuff at the thrift stores, it sure beats the predictability of the big box stores. And a lot of what’s for sale is practically new. Compulsive shoppers, shirts that were the wrong size, and people who would rather donate than pack when they move keep the thrift stores stocked with good-quality merchandise.

Of course, all the standard financial advice still holds. Eliminate credit card debt. Keep an emergency reserve fund. Live within your means.

We are facing some tough times ahead. Getting through them will demand more from us: more money for charity, more time to learn how to save money, and more discipline to keep our financial houses in order.  We can get through this if we show the commitment to care for ourselves and the compassion to care for our community.

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.

You need long-range and close-range vision

I wear eyeglasses to help me see things far away.

I know plenty of people who wear reading glasses to help them see things nearby.

It can be hard to have both long-range and short-range vision in community organizing.

If you only have long-range vision, you get lost in dreams. You know exactly how the world should be, but you cannot take meaningful action here and now to move toward that goal.

If you only have short-range vision, you get lost in tactics. You might carry out a masterfully run campaign or project, the only problem is that it doesn’t move you any closer to your goal.

Anti-abortion groups have done a masterful job of having both long and short-range vision. Their long-range vision is to stop all abortion, largely by criminalizing it. However, they recognize that the can’t get there all at once. so they’ve engaged in a strategy to chip away at access to and support for abortion through waiting periods, mandatory sonograms, and other short-term tactics. And it’s worked.

Can we create equally effective progressive campaigns on issues like ending poverty, caring for the earth, and overcoming discrimination?

Do what needs to be done, or don’t say you’re working hard

There’s a reason that Organizing for Social Change teaches organizers to recruit people for activities, not for meetings. They know that activities are the real work, and there is a danger in recruiting people who just like to go to meetings.

Last week someone told me, “I worked really hard on this campaign. I was only weekly conference calls.”

Nope. Sorry. That doesn’t count.

Conference calls and meetings may be important for doing work well, but the real work happens when between calls or meetings.

Don’t confuse talking about work with work.

The power of face-to-face

Last week I attended a house meeting for people to volunteer with a political campaign, and I re-discovered the power of face-to-face interactions.

I’ve been considering volunteering for this campaign for a while. I even texted the campaign to learn how I could get involved. But somehow I never got around to actually volunteering.

But then I found myself in someone’s living room talking about the campaign, its volnteer needs, and the ways people like me can get involved.

I now have a plan for volunteering.

And to be honest, I’m not sure I would have done it if I had gotten a text back. I’m not sure I would have done it if the person hosting the house meeting had emailed me a list of ways I could get involved.

I needed that face-to-face, person-to-person contact.

That’s why even with all the new technological innovations, as wonderful as they are, personal relationships built through personal contact remain the baseline for community organizing.

No email blast, not fancy text messaging system, and no robo-call campaign can take the place of face-to-face.