Category Archives: My New Favorite Thing

Social Change, in the New Year


Let’s start 2014 right, with a giveaway of an exciting, infinitely readable, and immediately applicable book about using online tools to spark advocacy, raise money, and engage communities around your issues.

I’m giving away a copy of Social Change Anytime Everywhere, by Allyson Kapin and Amy Sample Ward.

Because I’m the one with the book to give away, and because I’m still clearing the cobwebs from my holiday break brain, this week’s posts will be a series of questions sparked, for me, from reading the book. I will randomly select a winner from among those who comment on any one of this week’s three related posts, and I’ll even pay to ship you the book.

Because this year is going to be epic, for advocacy, people.

Anytime, Everywhere

Question: How do you integrate your online and offline engagement–advocacy, fundraising, volunteerism–around your cause(s)? How are these responsibilities shared, within your organization? What technologies and strategies do you find effective in both venues? What do you find is the most successful ‘entry point’ for your advocates? How do you help them to bridge the gap to other types of engagement?

Thankful, Thankful, Thankful!

I’m only decently good at gratitude, really.

I mean, it flows out of me pretty abundantly, when I’m feeling good, but I am very prone to dwelling on the hardships, such that sighs escalate and my darling oldest son pipes up with zingers like, “I guess this is how Mrs. King felt, Mom, when Dr. King was gone so much. I mean, she didn’t have to deal with snow, I guess, but…”

Point taken.

So, mashed potatoes and pecan pie aside (which, really, is sometimes necessary, because they don’t always fit on my main plate!), Thanksgiving is one of my very favorite holidays.

I work very well under pressure, and Thanksgiving’s expectation of demonstrated gratitude serve as a good reminder to focus on all that I have. This is, as always, an incomplete list. I’m thankful for that, too.

Too many things for which to be grateful, to even fit them all on one list?


  • The greatest colleagues ever: I mean, really. I get to work with people who I genuinely like, honestly respect, and fervently admire. Every day. It’s incredible.
  • Our nanny: Can I just say how amazing it is, as a parent, to know that your kids love to be with the person who cares for them while you work? And that she is part of their lives, and our family, forever? I’m especially grateful for her on the rainy days, because, secretly, I love when my work calendar works out like that!
  • My new treadmill: Grateful for workouts I don’t have to think about, for 40 minutes a day that only belong to me, and for not having to crank the incline manually any more. Grateful for feeling good, and strong, because I have a lot of fighting to do over the next 50 years.
  • Twitter: I’m thankful for my own personal clipping service, of sorts, where people smarter (and with more time) than I do the heavy lifting so that I just have to scan headlines. I love having conversations with people all over the country–even the globe–about work we all care about.
  • My husband: Most days, every really wonderfully good thing that comes into my life is due to him: these incredible kids he made it possible for me to parent, the foundation of a strong marriage that gives me the strength to face another day, the latte that he learned to make me at home. The kids know that I consider him the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Now you, my Internet family, do too.
  • Smart nonprofit CEOs: I’m not trying to start a pity party for CEOs, but I sometimes think they get a raw deal. They struggle with all of the pressures of an executive in the corporate world, with little of the immediate payoff. And, sure, there are some who aren’t up to all of the challenges of running a dynamic organization in today’s climate, and we see those strains. But I spend most of my day with nonprofit leaders who are spending their lunch hours working on messaging, their evenings calling policymakers, their Saturdays going to fundraising events, and their should-be-sleeping hours thinking about how to keep their staff motivated. I learn from them every day. And I am grateful.
  • Our National Park system: Maybe if every taxpayer received a photo of the Grand Canyon with their 1040, we wouldn’t have such a tax revolt mentality. Because, seriously, people: it is amazing. And we protect it. Together. It’s an incredible thing, the commons, and I am thankful for it.
  • DREAMers: I am thankful for their youth and their impatience and their enthusiasm and their wisdom and their fearlessness. I am thankful for their commitment and their love for their families and this country. They will not only reshape immigration policy; they will reconfigure this nation. And we will all be thankful.
  • Public school educators: My son has had some really great teachers these last couple of years. Really, really, impressively great. I cannot imagine our lives, or his learning, without them, and I am so thankful that I don’t have to. Every child deserves a great public school. And every public school teacher deserves our gratitude. And our compensation. And our respect.
  • The omnipresent ‘village’: I have been thankful for this in years past, but it gets recycled here, because I could not survive without it. I am grateful for the global village that makes my life possible–the Iranian woman who alters my clothes and the Mexican woman who cleans our house and the Chinese woman who teaches Sam yoga. I’m thankful for the woman who cuts my hair so I don’t have to blow-dry it. I am grateful for organizations that understand how much help I need, from the nonprofit whose volunteer activities include young children, to the stores installing drive-throughs to the libraries that hire incredible children’s services staff. And I am grateful for the social network that holds our lives in their warm embrace, and for the chance to nurture that community, with and for my children.
  • Powerful research: My work with the Assets and Education Initiative has renewed my hope, I guess, in the power of data to at least start policy conversations. We’re capturing policymakers’ attention with research about the effects of financial aid policy on educational inequities, and I get a real adrenaline rush when I read new results and just know that we’re going to get some traction with these.
  • Apps: Seriously, what did I do before I could stream NPR while I run or have every This American Life episode at my fingertips or renew my library books while I’m at the park with the kids or add items to my husband’s to-do list while in line at the grocery store? Thank you, techies. You read my mind.
  • Truth-tellers: I am grateful for people like John Lewis, whose raw statement after the Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act still haunts me. And Malala Yousafzai. And Zach Wahls. And Robert Egger. Prophecy is powerful, and so needed. Thank you.
  • Marriage equality: When we told the kids that their nanny was marrying her partner, they had questions. Like, “Will there be a fancy party?” “Will we get to drink Sprite?” In our house, we’re pro-love, pro-commitment, pro-fairness. America is catching up.
  • You: For giving me a reason to keep writing and reading and thinking and talking about policy, and social change, and social justice. With the expectation that someone just might be listening. I am thankful for you.

And you?

What are you thankful for?

Thankful Week

I’m doing something different for this week of thankfulness this year.

Thursday, I’ll have my usual roundup of links and celebrations and shout-outs, but, today and tomorrow, I am sharing some photos of my travels and adventures this summer, especially those that connect to social justice and parenting, two journeys for which I am most thankful, indeed.

Learning about court cases around desegregation with my oldest son

He studies civil rights on the steps of Little Rock Central HS

Cool quote in the memorial garden in Little Rock

Road honoring Daisy Bates, a grown-up behind the Little Rock 9

Links, from me to you

I’ve never done this before, and you all might tell me you hate it, in which case I’ll probably never do it again.

But my ‘interesting stuff I’m not sure what to do with” email folder has gotten pretty full, and my calendar has gotten super tight, and I’m quite candidly not as diligent about Twitter as I should be, so I thought I’d give this a try.

Here are some links that I don’t want you to miss. I’d love to hear your reaction to them, and I’d be delighted to discuss them, but I just don’t know how to pull each into a coherent blog post of its own.

So, instead, a sort-of early holiday present:

some links, from me to you.

What do you think?

There is little in this world that brings me more joy than seeing nonprofit advocates really hit one out of the park.

Kids who go to bed right on time, maybe; fresh peaches off the tree; my allium when they bloom in spring.

But, really, extraordinarily successful advocacy campaigns are near the top of the list, especially when they also cultivate grassroots engagement and address critical social issues.

At the site, the Economic Policy Institute unveils economic inequality, as real, personal, expensive, created, and fixable.

It’s all interactive, accessible, and compelling.

What’s not to love about Robert Reich making the history of recent economic policy make sense to laypeople, in cartoon form?

But it’s not just a gimmick; policy prescriptions are woven throughout, and the real experiences of those on the losing end of the U.S. economy feature prominently.

And it matters, urgently and deeply, because inequality is a threat to our economic foundation, our societal fabric, and our democracy.

The site is super well-done, not only a resource for those seeking to better understand economic inequality, but also those wanting a tutorial on how to make their issue more salient, and how to use technology to draw others in.

Check it out.

The new ‘mommy wars’


I am all for more Mommy Wars.

Not the ‘stay-at-home’ v. ‘work-full-time’ type.

Those are offensive (because they totally ignore the reality of families’ economic needs for two incomes, and the policies that have driven them, as well as the ongoing gender imbalance in the workplace and in domestic responsibilities), soul-sucking (because being a mother is hard work, and the last thing we need is more alienation), divisive (our biggest challenges are not each other), and, ultimately, really misguided.

No, I want more of the ‘Moms v. Injustice’ type of Mommy wars, the kind where Senator Mitch McConnell has to walk past lines of moms in strollers to get to his office, after leading the charge against mandatory background checks.

The kind where mothers and children celebrate Mothers’ Day by demanding immigration reform that will stop separating families.

The kind where mothers (and fathers) work together, across lines of class and race, to demand sick-leave policy to protect their families and preserve their jobs.

The kind of collective ‘mom war’ on what’s besieging our families, perhaps starting with the lack of recognition of the value of the caregiving work that women do–whether they also work for pay outside the home or not–and the need for society to share all of our responsibilities.

This year, for my birthday, I’m making donations to MomsRising, and I would love for you to join me.

My hope for this next year of my life is that moms–self included–feel less ‘stressed’ and more angry, together.

  • Angry at lack of affordable childcare and flexible workplace policies
  • Angry at society’s failure to take basic steps towards protecting our children
  • Angry at the gendered nature of caregiving and the reality of ongoing pay discrimination
  • Angry at the politicization of health care–for women and also for our families
  • Angry at how often women, in the U.S. and around the world, are expected to pick up the slack created by policy gaps, and at how unrecognized women’s work is, despite being the lifeblood of the economy
  • Angry at messages that convince us to compete with other moms or to focus inward on achieving ‘balance’, rather than seeking justice at home and work
  • Angry at forces that push us to tear each other down for our ‘choices’, instead of revealing the false nature of many of the options we face

We need a war on the system that tries to turn public failings into personal problems.

And Moms are just the ones to wage it.

It’s here! Report from Advocacy Capacity Tool Users

I’ve never camped out for a new record release, or a new iPhone, or, well, anything.

I’m not really much for sleeping under the stars.

But I have been eagerly awaiting the release of some aggregate data about the organizations that have taken the Bolder Advocacy (Alliance for Justice) Advocacy Capacity tool, especially since these data were one of the major impetuses for moving the ACT to a free format. It’s sort of a trade, really; in exchange for access to the assessment at no charge, organizations agree to let AFJ learn from their responses (anonymously).

Since organizations can then compare themselves to other organizations within their sectors, or of their same sizes, I think examining these results can spark some critical conversations within nonprofit Board rooms.

But I’m even more interested in what looking at these findings can do for grantmakers, capacity builders, and others interested in catalyzing advocacy fields. And that’s how AFJ has framed this first analysis of the initial Advocacy Capacity Tool users: what do organizations need, to move forward?

The Executive Summary is only five pages long and well worth your time, but in the interest of even speedier access, here are the most important pieces, from where I sit (as one training future professionals and providing technical assistance today):

  • Yes, organizations want more advocacy funding, but better planning is perceived as even more important, to advance their advocacy. I do quite a bit of campaign planning with advocating organizations, and I definitely see this need, too. To me, it also relates to their adaptive capacity, because it’s hard to quickly pivot your strategies–and, so, to develop better plans–without having engaged in an intentional reflective process from the beginning.
  • The areas that nonprofit organizations most want to improve, in their advocacy, did not necessarily correspond to their weakest areas. AFJ theorizes that this is because organizations are prioritizing the areas that are most important to their advocacy, but I think it could also reflect that adage that it takes capacity to build capacity, so maybe some of the other elements are places where organizations feel overwhelmed, or, possibly, that organizations feel that they have complementary relationships with other sectors/providers that fill these needs, which, for thinking about field capacity, would be a very promising thing.
  • Legislative advocacy is the best developed, an unsurprising finding that, nonetheless, deserves some of our attention, particularly as elected officials around the country evidence considerable resistance to social work policy priorities, emphasizing the importance of using the entire spectrum of tools with which to induce change. At the same time, a large number of organizations indicating that they are not taking the 501(h) election suggests that there may be room to enhance this legislative advocacy, too.

There is so much about which to be excited here–the availability of a strong tool, for free; organizations’ willingness to share their data, including intimate data about governance and funding; AFJ’s commitment to making this information available in a transparent way.

I look forward to future cohorts’ findings and to the ongoing conversation about what we’re learning.

I’m not pulling out the lawn chairs to camp out on the sidewalk yet, but I’m eager.