Category Archives: Uncategorized

Anniversary Week: My favorites!

I can rely on the site statistics to tell me the most-viewed and most-commented posts, but coming up with my own favorites list is much less automated. So there aren’t a nice, neat 10 of these, and they’re not in any particular order, and some are from a long time ago and some I just published.

Cut me some slack, OK? Summing up five years of mostly very late nights writing is tough. Especially late at night. Again.

Anniversary Week: FIVE YEARS of C2C

When I started this blog, my twins were infants, my Sam was just out of diapers, and my now-two-year-old wasn’t even in our imaginations.

I was an adjunct instructor trying to figure out how to translate my nonprofit advocacy career into the classroom and into nonprofit Board rooms, while spending the bulk of my days at our local parks.

In other words, a lot has changed.

And much hasn’t.

My kids are older and, in many ways, need me more.

I am more thoroughly ensconced in academia, with all the tremendous rewards and considerable additional responsibilities that come with that (Case in point, I’m wrestling EPAS curriculum standard tables this evening. Those of you in social work education are shaking your heads right now.).

I am satisfied beyond measure with my advocacy consulting work, having grown significantly as a practitioner, in my theory base and my skill set, and still struggling alongside nonprofit advocates to figure out sustainable ways to drive at advocacy impact.

How I use this blog has changed, certainly: recently, it has been much less a transmission of what I have learned and more of a conversation with those in the broader field, including my own students, as I found a lot of success assigning blog comments in my advocacy practice course this spring. My reach has grown, and I still find the chance to have a substantive exchange about social change work the most rewarding aspect of this whole exercise.

I would say that I’m struck by how little has changed in the advocacy landscape over the past 5 years, and how much time I’m still spending talking about the very same issues.

Except I’m not really surprised at all. I am encouraged by how some concerns have percolated up a bit more–income inequality certainly rises to the top of that list–but others seem even more intractable than before (immigration reform, I’m looking at you).

And I’m still trying to fit in as much park time with these dark-haired wonders as I can.

I would be beyond honored and delighted if anyone is willing to share any reflections on their own last five years–what has changed, what hasn’t, and perhaps any small role that this online space has played. It has been a rather incredible journey, even through the haze of my sleep-deprivation.

Thank you for sharing it with me. It’s supposedly our ‘wooden anniversary’ together, but I say we just virtually pat each other on the back.

And keep on.

Your 2013 Reflections

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This is my favorite photo from 2013, of my four kids looking out on Lake Superior, during our incredible ‘recharge’ week at the end of the summer.

It’s a time, and a place, of a lot of thinking for me, reflecting on what I want to work on, where I’ve come, and what needs to change.

As I’ve shared some here, 2013 has been a year of contradictions, with some great personal successes and progress on many fronts, and some huge public losses, including the erosion of the Voting Rights Act, the evisceration of our revenue base in Kansas, and the painful defeat of stronger legislation to prevent gun violence.

As you look back on the year that was, how do you balance the scales?

What are your regrets? The triumphs you celebrate?

What do you hold out hope for, for these last 12 days of 2013?

What do you hope to be able to reflect back on, a year from now?

This is what I mean

When I tell my students that ‘we’re all on welfare’, it provokes some reaction.

This is what I’m talking about.

Stunning, sobering, significant.

Talking failure and risk and advocacy

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I was honored to be part of this conversation, with civic leaders in Kansas, about failure and risk, particularly (in my case) among nonprofit advocates.

It’s a critically important reflection, for us, about not only why we’re failing but, really, why we’re not failing more, and whether we are really striving as much as we should, given what’s at stake if we fail by default.

I’d love for you to chime in with your actual advocacy failures, and what you’ve learned, your thoughts on the extent of our failures–collectively–and your advice for leaders contemplating the risks of failure.

How do you talk about failure, at your organization or in your community? Where have you learned about failure, and when and where do you have ‘permission’ to reach and to fall short?

Thank you to the Kansas Leadership Center for sparking this.

And tell me what you think of the picture on page 39, too!

Taking it straight to them

Crowd-sourcing time!

Lately, I have run across a couple of references to nonprofit advocates using Twitter and Facebook to communicate directly with policymakers, in addition to their power as tools to mobilize supporters.

It’s the difference, in technical speak, between direct lobbying–taking our appeals directly to policymakers positioned to do something about the issues–and grassroots lobbying–contacting targeted members of the public, and requesting that they ‘take action’ to urge policymakers to take a specific position.

And, despite seeing some examples in Measuring the Networked Nonprofit and running across some comments within social media, I haven’t been able to find any documentation of how common this practice is, not any case studies that document how engaging a policymaker directly through social media has resulted in (or, at least, contributed to) a policy change.

When we use social media to engage our supporters, with an advocacy ask that includes reaching out to elected officials, then we have two bottom lines, essentially–we want the policymaker to take our position, obviously, but we also have the potential to energize our allies, strengthen their connections to our organization, and build our network.

When we use social media to take our messages directly to policymakers, there is obviously still some potential for collateral impact–we’re in a public sphere, and others will see and, we hope, engage with that same message–but it’s still a different end goal. With what we know about how congressional emails and voicemails are harder and harder to cut through, these days, in particular, there’s something really appealing about finding a sort of ‘side door’ to their ears.

So, can the crowd help me? Who has used social media in this way, and to what effect? Does anyone have data or case studies they can share? Best practices for using social media as direct advocacy?

Thankful. Even Now. Always.

This has been a pretty tough year.

There was the epic drought that wreaked havoc on food and farmers, on house foundations and decades-old trees, even on my beloved perennial garden/therapy outlet.

There were the 100+ temperature days, on end, all summer long. And the difficulties of keeping 4 small children safe and entertained in that kind of heat.

There was the apocalyptic primary election of August 7th, which, here in Kansas, imperiled many of the investments and protections that are so important to our quality of life.

There was a usually bitterly-fought presidential election, with the unprecedented infusion of outside money that threatens to undermine our democracy, and the predictable turning off and tuning out of so many Americans, in response.

BUT

This is Thanksgiving week, so this is a thankful post.

And there is so much for which to be thankful.

  • My students, who are really wowing me with their passion for policy change. When someone raises her hand in class to ask about sequestration, I think I have the best job in the world.
  • My clients, who are kind enough to pay me for getting to come into their organizations to help them think about how to do advocacy, and how it can complement their work. When I get to sit down with a Board of Directors and help them envision a role for themselves in advocacy, I know I have the best job in the world.
  • My kiddos, who, despite growing up way too fast, are the greatest thing in my life. I am so thankful for their questions, for their hugs, for their presence…and for the chance to get to grow up with them.
  • Inspiring advocates, of all stripes–I am thankful for my former students who use Facebook to raise issues with their friends and families, for CEOs who post “If you were happy with your service here, please tell your representative” signs on their mental health center doors, for high school students who hold protest signs on the street corner by my house. Thank you for being a fellow companion on this journey, for standing up for what you believe in, and for inspiring others’ advocacy, too.
  • Good childcare, because I cannot imagine walking out the door for work while worrying about whether my kids will be happy and safe. No parent should ever face that quandary.
  • Lake Superior, which is the most wonderful place I can ever imagine, and which nourished my soul in 4 days for the rest of the year’s trials. I will be back.
  • Greek yogurt–what I look forward to, at midnight, to keep me working just a little bit longer. Now that I’m not nursing twins anymore, I can’t have bowls of ice cream every night. Nor can I stay awake without some promise of reward.
  • Public libraries–my oldest son reads about 7 hours every week, at least, and we would go bankrupt trying to keep him in books, without our dear library, and our librarians’ spot-on recommendations
  • Teachers and coaches and counselors and neighbors and all who make up the village that helps me raise these kids–we don’t build this on our own, and we are foolish and arrogant if we think that whatever successes we enjoy are due to sheer effort alone. I know that I’m only a thread away from falling apart, and those threads unravel without a support team.
  • Technology–yes, I know that there’s an anti-tech argument to be made, about isolation and the loss of community. I get that, and I cringe when I see parents ignoring their kids on the park because they’re immersed in their smart phones. But I can’t imagine how Ma managed to get food on the table and clean the kids’ clothes and write actual letters, without the technology that makes all of those things so much easier in my life. I love the days when we wander around an apple orchard or just roll around in the backyard. But I don’t want to forget my mom’s birthday ever again. And there’s an app for that.
  • Smart people who write down their smartness and sell it to the rest of us in paperback form–seriously, I could read for the next 20 years, nonstop, and not come close to soaking up all that I want to learn about history and science and religion…and nonprofit organizations and network theory and activating activism. I know that writing takes a tremendous investment of energy. And I am grateful.
  • Legos, for bringing so much joy to the life of my older son, and for making it possible for even a totally spatially-challenged person like me to build a 3-story beach house. If I follow the directions really carefully.
  • Stories–stories of inspiration, stories of triumph over adversity, stories that illustrate the problems that need to be solved, stories that show us how we might solve them. I am grateful for people who help us tell stories better, for those who are willing to share their own, and for anyone–especially policymakers–who listen.
  • Public servants, who still do exist, and who shape our polity for the better, because they run for office out of a desire to make the world a better place, and they often do, by working hard and putting others first and using politics to mobilize and inspire, rather than to divide and conquer.

That’s obviously only a very, very short list of what I’m thankful for–what about you? What are you celebrating, in this week of thanks?

It’s my birthday. Yes, again.

I’m in a good place, birthday-wise. I guess that I am about where I imagined I might have been, at this age, or something…

I feel very fortunate to have lived as I have to this point, and I look forward to what the future brings.

But the point is, I’m in a very small minority of people for whom birthdays mean that.

For too many people, achieving another year of life is a hard-fought battle. Without enough food, or good medical care, or safety, additional years of life are anything but inevitable.

And that sucks.

This year, Sam helped me pick out the charity towards which we’ll funnel my birthday presents, including any that any of you are generous enough to share. He likes the very concrete translation of a dollar amount to a specific purchase–he’s particularly fond of the emergency nutrition and anything involving medicine (especially if delivered on motorcycles–he LOVES the motorcycles) and less enamored of the school uniforms, even though I think he understands their importance.

We chose CARE, but, really, if you have your favorite hunger and poverty-combating organization, in the U.S. or around the world, go with that.

Help someone else live to celebrate a birthday.

And thank you, from this birthday girl.

Vote. Just Vote. Now.

There’s nothing to read here today.

Just:

Thank you.

When nonprofits are boxed into corners

This is, for now, my last post about the Center for Evaluation Innovation’s framework for public policy.

It is inspired, again, by a conversation with nonprofit advocates–mostly also executives in their organizations–with whom I was talking about some of the challenges that their organizations face in adapting to changing political climates by incorporating new strategies and engaging in new advocacy arenas.

One Executive Director spoke bluntly about the boundaries she confronts, in trying to make these shifts, because of funding sources that constrain her ability to, for example, move from policymaker education to building political will (because that looks like lobbying), or translate policy analysis and research into champion development (by explicitly reaching out to make information resonate with decision makers).

And I know this isn’t the first that I (and others) have written about nonprofit lobbying rules (those leveled by the IRS and those more artificially imposed by foundations/donors and Boards of Directors), but I guess it’s the first time that I’ve thought about them in such clear terms:

Sometimes, these restrictions just compromise our effectiveness and form barriers that make it really, really hard for us to be effective.

It’s like we confront a fence when we get to a certain point in the framework and have to stop before we can get to the impact that we seek.

In my head, I see one of those cartoons where the character hits the invisible glass wall.

Only it’s not funny.

It’s frustrating and kind of disheartening.

I think that there are ways around most of these ties that bind us:

  • Organizations should take the 501(h) election, so that they are held to a clear, dollar-amount cap, instead of the amorphous ‘insubstantial parts test’.
  • Organizations should always, assertively, compellingly educate foundations and other donors, not just about the legality of nonprofit advocacy, but also about its expected outcomes, and why it deserves investment.
  • Organizations should build strong networks and use a ‘field frame’ to determine where they have allies with complementary capacity and, perhaps, not all of the same limitations on lobbying.
  • Organizations should maximize their capacity in the unrestricted areas, knowing that some of that strength will spill over into other parts of the framework.

Still, for me, the epiphany in this conversation was that we can’t always maneuver around these obstacles.

There are organizations whose funding primarily comes from the federal government, and they have very little ability to engage in activity with decision makers, beyond the most ‘neutral’ education. There are organizations with very small budgets, for whom even the 501(h) test gives few resources to dedicate to lobbying. There are organizations in contexts with few funders who are supportive of advocacy of any kind.

And all of that means that it’s harder for us to work a plan, to lay out a logic model that would move us from input A to outcome B in anything like an expected trajectory.

It can mean that we do pretty irrational things, like invest in a lot of community education and expect it to neatly lead to policy change.

It can mean that we feel stuck in a corner.

And, as a child of the 80s, I know that’s not good.