One of my favorite blogs to read, partially for the insightful content and partially because I’m convinced that she’s a terrific person (even though we’ve never “met”), Community Organizer 2.0, had a post awhile back that dealt with the idea of free agents, a topic expanded on in The Networked Nonprofit, and one that I’ve done some thinking about here before.
And it occurred to me at the time that my most successful parenting days come when I apply the principles of free agency to my kids, and that those lessons can help me not only succeed as a parent but also apply to my organizing and organizational development work. And, then it took me a couple of months to actually sit down and write that out. And, apparently, I’m incapable of doing so today in short sentences!
The concept of free agents is basically this: if nonprofit organizations and “official” entities try to control too tightly their messages and those who would be ambassadors for their causes, they’ll miss out on a whole lot of passionate activity that could be contributed by those who don’t see themselves as traditionally connected to a nonprofit base (as a staff member or volunteer), but who will “latch on” to your issue and, potentially, bring the new attention and energy that every campaign desperately needs.
There are some really smart people spending a lot of time thinking about organizations as fortresses and how to break down the barriers that discourage free agents, and about how to change organizational culture so that the idea of loosely affiiliating in this way isn’t so strange and scary. It’s tremendously exciting, in part because of the incredible advocacy potential of free agents (who often specifically want to tell people about a given cause and rally others to its defense, which is what advocacy efforts crave), and also because I believe that making organizations more responsive and responsible to free agents will make them places where clients can tap into leadership opportunities and where transparency will, to a large extent, reign.
Very important stuff.
And, of course, because I’ve got young children to raise, I tend to think of everything in terms of what it means for me as a mom, in addition to someone who tries to think about and work with social problems and the nonprofit organizations charged with addressing them. Which brings me (eventually!) to this post.
Because my kids are free agents, with me, not of me, and the more I remember that, the better things work around here. What this means for me as a parent, and what I think it can mean for us as practitioners?
I’m interested in hearing from both parents, about this whole free agent “thing” applied to kids, as well as from nonprofit folks who are finding ways to tap into and build up the free agents who circulate around their causes: is this parallel something my intense-summer-course-addled brain just came up with, or does it reflect what you see in the free agent realm?