Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.


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.

The Mundane…and the Profound

I have been very occupied lately, even more than usual.

It means a lot of late nights working, which isn’t that different than normal, but also a lot of multitasking, trying to answer emails or respond to discussion boards while my kids are entertained by the dynamic duo of Phineas and Ferb.

Some of this is work that matters a great deal to me, some of which I hope to share here soon, including the conclusion of my technical assistance consulting for direct-service organizations in advocacy, strategy planning for how to use the defense of Kansas’ instate tuition law to build momentum among immigrant students granted deferred action, some potential civil rights litigation I think is very promising, a new advocacy evaluation collaborative with advocacy organizations and foundations in Kansas, work ‘translating’ the research of some of my social work colleagues (in the impact of asset accumulation on the college trajectories of low-income students), and an exciting project mapping the networks and advocacy capacity of entities working to combat obesity regionally.

Good stuff, really, and I feel very privileged to be part of it.

And some of what keeps me busy until the early morning is far more mundane, including a communications problem that forced me to redo my syllabi at the last minute, a new server which necessitated reloading all of my online content, a seemingly endless string of those Doodle meeting scheduling emails, and the so tiresome power struggles that are present everywhere, social justice advocacy not excluded.

As we pivot fully towards fall, and as my kids get into the rhythm of school (with its own mundane elements, certainly), I was thinking about how we stay focused on the profound.

On the central.

On the really, potentially, transformative.

And that made me think about my favorite moment of every day, after long daylight hours of mingling parenting and professionalizing, and before the longer nighttime hours of inverted workdays, when my oldest son and I have finished that day’s ‘bubblegum reading’, and I snuggle next to him and ask him what lullaby he wants.

And he inevitably chooses My Country ’tis of Thee, and then sings it with me, so that, every night, we end with a duet.

It’s not as well-pitched as his favorite version from Marion Anderson, on the steps of Liberty Memorial on that memorable Easter.

But for this Mommy, who can sometimes get too busy to remember,

it’s pretty profound.

Of primary importance

Here in Kansas (and in many other states), it’s Primary Day.

Please take the 15 minutes you would normally spend reading my blog and

Take somebody with you, and, if you have a few extra minutes, make some calls to turn out the vote, too.

Primaries matter.

A lot.

November is, in Kansas and much of the nation, all about August.

Today, in particular.

Test Post

Please bear with me as I test out a new blog feature.



Time for a Break!

Here's to hoping Van Gogh induces restfulness around here!

This post has been previously scheduled, because Baby Lewis is due to arrive in the world this week, and I’m preemptively giving myself some time off. I’m hoping to be back in a few weeks, first with a reprise of some of my favorite posts from the past two years, and then with some guest posts as I ease back into “normal” life, albeit with four young children, four part-time jobs, and a penchant for inserting myself into various social justice causes.

I’ll still answer emails, at least periodically, and especially from students and former students, so don’t be afraid to ask. But I apologize in advance for my absence from others’ blogs, and I’ll try to get caught up again this fall!

Have a wonderful summer, and, for those of you getting full nights of sleep, well, good for you!