One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for September 2012

Building Better Communities Through Broadband

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You’ve probably read the news – Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has announced the Chicago Broadband Challenge, encouraging citizens to get involved in helping establish city-wide online access, and you probably have one question on your minds….

Why should I bother – or care?

Here’s the reason why – the Chicago Broadband Challenge is a really great opportunity for people in the community to have an impact on how the city moves forward in terms of tech.

Slowly, but surely, Chicago is hiding in plain sight as a center of connectivity. It’s gaining a reputation as a tech/startup center, and this collaboration between city government and private business is heartening, but there is another question you should be asking….

Where’s the community, and why isn’t this just another example of typical Chicago politics at work?

The answer is that, if we’re looking at helping serve communities which lack resources, having access online means that more people can seek out employment opportunities. It means more kids can complete homework assignments because they’re not waiting at a library for a terminal. It means that people who are seeking jobs can network and seek employment opportunities. It means that small businesses and non-profits can thrive because online access is a resource that they don’t have to worry about….

….and as a result, communities across the city begin to move forward. This isn’t a government handout – it’s a way of building intellectual/vocational/informational infrastrucutre, of building both online and offline networks, and helping all Chicago residents become more digitally literate.

In short, this is an opportunity not just for residents to have an impact, but for neighborhoods and communities to really impact the overall social good. It’s more than just assembling apps which have a side benefit, or putting on conferences which educate about online/web-based tools – this is an opportunity to engage in democracy in its purest form.

So please, consider being part of the Chicago Broadband Challenge – the only reward I will receive is knowing that not only will I be participating, but also helping bringing this opportunity forward to people who are interested.

If you have comments or questions, please feel free to leave them below. If you want to contact me privately, just send me a note via Linked In (citing Chicago Now in your request) or via my web site. Also, don’t forget that the next Chicago Net Tuesday meeting is October 9th – please RSVP here.

Thanks again for reading, and have a great weekend!


Written by gordondym

September 28, 2012 at 10:58 am

For Your Reading Pleasure

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This past Monday, I worked (and attended) Heartland Mobile Council’s MobiU2012 Summit – there was a great deal of information provided, and I’ll be writing about one of the sessions in the next week.

In that spirit, I’m going to provide some really great articles that I’ve come across on the web. These links describe various aspects of tech and the social good (although admittedly, many have a definite non-profit slant).

Ready? To quote Jackie Gleason, and away we go:

On a purely self-promotional note, here are some events and links you might also find interesting:

Thanks for reading, and as always, I welcome comments and feedback below. In addition, you are more than welcome to connect with me via LinkedIn (please mention Chicago Now in your referral note) or e-mail me via my web site.

Written by gordondym

September 26, 2012 at 8:42 am

Website Revolution Coming in November

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I read about this on a Facebook site, and received an e-mail from Mark at the Nerdery. Either way, I intended to write about this event…because it’s a revolution that everyone can join.

For many non-profits and community organizations, the most basic weapon in engaging online is a website.  However, building an excellent website takes time, resources, and committed individuals….something which is out of the range of most non-profits.

However, the Nerdery – a web development firm here in town – is bringing its Overnight Website Challenge to Chicago in November….and is encouraging potential participants to sign-up by October 19th.  Teams will be randomly assembled, assigned to an appropriate non-profit, and then for 24 hours, work to build (or rebuild) a fully-functioning website.

It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Especially since there are many web-based site development tools, but this a great opportunity – it builds collaboration out of nothing. It allows volunteers to donate their time and talents (and you don’t have to be a coder – the Challenge is seeking project managers, copywriters, and other professionals as well), and non-profits to benefit from a dedicated team working to build their web presence.

Whether you’re in the web development, marketing, or non-profit community. this is a great opportunity to help build something that did not exist before. It’s also a great pre-Thanksgiving event that will, at the very least, help you feel even more grateful during the holiday.

If you have questions, please visit the Challenge’s web site, and please drop me a line if you have further questions. It’s a great opportunity to engage in a revolutionary idea – dedicating a solid day to helping a non-profit strengthen their online presence.

Thanks for reading!


Linking Bacon Numbers and Board Members

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Two important news items relating to online networking were announced this past week – the first is that Google now allows you search for degrees of separation between any actor and Kevin Bacon. (For the record, my Bacon number is 2 – I was an extra in Midnight Run with Robert DeNiro, who starred in Sleepers with Bacon).

But more importantly, Linked In announced a new service that would allow non-profits to locate potential board members. Now to you, it might sound a little off-the-beaten-track for this blog – at the very least, that I mistakenly posted my entry for this week’s Job Stalker in the wrong place. However, this is a great opportunity for many non-profits (and community groups) to locate potential advocates and volunteers.

One of the many things I enjoy about Linked In is that it empowers me to research current thinkers and potential colleagues on a purely professional level. For job seekers, it can mean research into potential employers, informational interviews about a given field…but for non-profits and community groups, the need is often more critical. Linked In, as a popular web-based tool for professional networking online, has taken a lead role in meeting those needs.

In an environment where sometimes “who you know” can often lead to blind trails, having a pool of talent to pull from can mean the difference between a sustainable non-profit….or one that struggles. Community groups can also locate volunteers with specific professional skills. In short, this can help non-profits and other Chicago-based community groups locate key board members (to govern their activities), experts, and other needed resources.

In a city like Chicago, major movers and shakers are often quite visible…but the behind-the-scenes people less so. This is a really cool way to get access to both.

It might even improve your own Bacon number.

Questions? Thoughts? Leave them in the comments below, or drop me a line via e-mail.

Socially Mobile: Upcoming Events of Interest

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Many of us lead a very active lifestyle, and increasingly, we’re using mobile devices like iPads, smartphones, and other tech for online access. (Non-profits and social good organizations are also increasing their activity via mobile) There’s an event next week focusing on mobile tech that I’ll be participating in (and volunteering for) which I would like to promote….as well as provide some great networking and educational opportunities as well.

On September 24th, the Heartland Council is sponsoring a one-day “Mobile University” conference focusing on the latest in mobile marketing and development. In all honesty, there is a more corporate/private sector slant to this conference, but it’s a great opportunity to learn about an emerging technology. (Increasingly, non-profits and other social good entities are being encouraged to adopt their current practices towards the mobile sphere).  Thankfully, I am able to attend as a volunteer, since the cost is a bit high.

(Contrast this experience to another, more high profile conference coming this week. Currently, I’m doing pro bono consulting work for two low/zero budget non-profits, including one that only recently received their 501c3 status. When asked, the conference representative’s response was, “Well….you can pay our reduced consultant rate, we’re trying to keep those seats open for zero/low budget non-profits.” I have filled out a volunteer form – after all, I will not make false claims about my employment status with a pro bono client –  but to date have not received a response.)

Next Wednesday, if you’re a coder/programmer and are looking to help develop a great socially beneficial project, be sure to attend next week’s Hackathon for Social Good at 1871, which is free for everyone, including pro bono consultants)

Finally, I run a small – but growing – networking group called the Chicago Geek Breakfast. We’ll be meeting this Thursday, and you’re welcome to attend…but you’re responsible for your own breakfast. Details/RSVP information can be found here.

Written by gordondym

September 17, 2012 at 1:27 am

A Striking Education in Open Source Software

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Admittedly, I’m a big fan of our local library system – I grew up making semi-regular walks down Archer Avenue to the Brighton Park branch from my grandmother’s house. I also visit my local branch when I need to do some “remote” working….and check out some books.

So I was very heartened – and proud – to find out that our new Library Commissioner Brian Bannon is moving our library system forward….and one of the first steps is integrating LibreOffice into library computers.  With our libraries taking a strong role in assisting kids during the CTU strike, this is a great educational opportunity that many might miss at first glance.

LibreOffice is a piece of software that is known as “open source” – it has the same functionality as Microsoft Office, with a few key differences. First, it’s free to download, free to use, and fully functional…and behind it, there’s a collaborative effort by programmers and coders to make this software work well.

It may not have the gloss of its more commercially-oriented brethren, but one of the key benefits of open source software for communities is not just the minimal cost…but that within each software suite is a variety of benefits and features that can enable people to become more digitally literate.

Looking at it from a global perspective – many people have adopted variations of Linux, an open source operating system, in order to revive and/or extend older computers. Free Geek Chicago is one advocate; I’m fortunate enough that my portable laptop is a Panasonic Toughbook powered by Ubuntu, one of the more popular variations of Linux (and which is extremely easy to use).

Many organizations are looking for a resource-friendly browser alternative to several of the major browsers –  although users tend to opt for Chrome, a very good open source alternative is Mozilla Firefox, which (like many open source equivalents) allows a user to customize their browser via adding software extensions and appearance themes.

Although LibreOffice is similar to Microsoft Word, the one piece that it lacks is a
proper external e-mail client. (Users of services like Gmail and Ymail often use those services’ web-based interfaces, many of us prefer to not have one browser tab open). Mozilla also provides an e-mail client called Thunderbird, which – like Firefox – is customizable with extensions and themes. Combined with the Lightning Calendar extension, Thunderbird becomes a pretty full-blooded time management system.

One way in which community groups may wish to promote themselves is via podcasting, and thankfully, Audacity serves as a great open-source alternative for sound recording and editing. There is a sharp learning curve for this software, but like most open source software, tips and insight can be found simply by an online search, leading to online forums and articles specifically oriented to educating users of software.

Looking for decent video/MP3/media playing software? You might want
to consider VLC Media Player – like its more commercial brethren, it can
handle a multitude of audio and video content. It can even play CDs and
DVDs (it’s also region-free as well). The main benefit is that VLC is usable
“straight out of the box”, and does not require the downloading of specific
pieces of software (or “codecs”) to play specific videos.

Finally, even basic tasks from unzipping compressed files to graphic manipulation, from Notepad equivalents to journalling, can be handled with open source software. (In fact, there is an entire site which provides open source equivalents to commercial software.)

So when Chicago’s public library system integrates LibreOffice into branch computers, they aren’t just saving money or helping others – they’re assisting in providing resources that enable families to become more productive and digitally literate….and provides a key step in building our communities one cause at a time.

Have any comments or thoughts? Please feel free to leave them below, and as always, you’re more than welcome to contact me via Linked In or my web site contact page….and I encourage you to RSVP and join me at the Chicago Geek Breakfast on September 20th.

As always, thanks for reading and have a great weekend.

Written by gordondym

September 14, 2012 at 3:53 am

Taking Stock of THE MISSION MYTH

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(Note: several pieces of this review were taken from a recent post I wrote for Chicago Now’s Job Stalker blog). 

Like many others in Chicago, I am a “consultant” to non-profits and small businesses. Unlike many of my non-profit-oriented colleagues, I don’t take an “anything goes” approach, nor do I see an agency’s mission-driven philosophy any different than a for-profit’s business-driven philosophy. It’s less about the motivation and more about the approach.

It’s that considered philosophy that makes The Mission Myth by Deidre Mahoney such a revelation – it’s the start of a change in thought processes around non-profits.

The book’s premise is simple – in order to best serve their missions, non-profits need to adopt a slightly more business-oriented approach to their activities. In everything from money to management to measurement to marketing, non-profits are continuing to have their previous ways of thinking challenged…and quite honestly, I believe this is a good thing.

In a rush to bring non-profits up-to-date in terms of technology and marketing, what gets lost is a formal inventory. Non-profits may be so eager to jump headfirst that they may lack the resources, the thinking, or even the time to begin engagement. It is easy for some to propose the idea that all non-profits should use social media (for example); it’s another to do so at the expense of strategy, without considering whether there is adequate staff or ability to take the initiative.

It seems ironic for a blogger involved with tech and social good to state that openly…but part of the challenge means that no one person or agency can do it alone. With increasing awareness and advocacy for non-profits taking a more strategic, well-considered approach, well….it just means that The Mission Myth has come along at the right time.

If you’re involved with non-profits at any level, please read The Mission Myth. It will have an impact not just on an agency’s ability to integrate tech and online tools…but have a positive impact on its overall work.

Please feel free to leave comments below, and you are more than welcome to contact me via Linked In or my web site’s contact form.

As always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

September 12, 2012 at 2:07 am

Meet Your Neighbor – Imagine Englewood If….

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Sometimes – just sometimes – you end up finding a worthy treasure without really looking for it.

I’m no stranger to Englewood – it’s a neighborhood that’s a short bus ride away from home, and I’ve done a bit of work with one organization as part of my freelance work with non-profits. (They’ve also been highlighted in this recent YouTube video) Thankfully, thanks to a measured response to a request for a Chicago Net Tuesday venue, I’ve found another…

One of my fellow Chicago Now bloggers writes about rebuilding Englewood. Imagine Englewood If… – the focus of today’s blog – is actively taking on that goal.

It was started after Jean Carter-Hill – the current Executive Director – had attended some leadership workshops put on by Imagine Chicago. Inspired by what she learned, she chose to bring that same sense of positive,  imaginative thinking to Englewood.  The organization’s mission is “to strengthen and empower the greater Englewood community through teaching local youth healthy living, environmental awareness and positive communication skills”.

And quite honestly, I was impressed – with the staff, with the facility (after leaving a crowded office, we walked through the hall and into a former Masonic temple), and quite honestly, with the fact that there’s an organization that posits the power of exchanging information and talents…at a time when many community groups are desperately seeking funds, Imagine Englewood believes that help can sometimes be as simple as asking, and doing the footwork.

Let me provide an experience to put this in perspective: I volunteered to help Ms. Hill find someone to volunteer to help them with basic computer maintanence. Some people were reluctant because of its location – of course, I honestly believe that some people doubt the city exists south of Cermak. But when I went to a Facebook group specifically focusing on non-profit professionals – asking for a volunteer and/or resources – was referred to an organization that did not have its main office in Chicago, and that “might” work pro bono.

My only motivation in bringing that up – I connected with Imagine Englewood If via Facebook. Some people see Facebook connections as a means to an end; I see them as a way of building community. I’m glad Imagine Englewood does as well…

Have questions or comments? Please feel free to leave them below. In addition, you are more than welcome to connect with me either via Linked In (just mention One Cause At A Time in your note) or via my web site’s contact page.

And as always, thanks for reading!


Written by gordondym

September 10, 2012 at 2:09 am

The Final Frontier: Making Data Matter Locally

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Sometimes – just sometimes – there are people working in web development who do it right.

One of the big challenges about merging tech and social good is making open data easily accessible and readable. Very few of us (myself included) are able to create web interfaces that allow us to digest information. But much like the beloved android  from Star Trek: The Next Generation, two services are helping to build their communities by placing data in a very easy-to-use context. (With increasing awareness around issues of digital literacy, these sites are sorely needed steps in the right direction).

The first is actually a project involving David Eads of Free Geek Chicago. The site – – aggregates a variety of data into a clickable map showing crime rates in various Chicago neighborhoods. It’s a very user friendly resource, allowing people to determine the relative safety of their neighborhoods. It’s a nice way for people to access publicly available data in a nice, easy-to-use manner.

However, one of the best resources to use (both in Chicago and for various other cities) is Although initially it started as an aggregator for local data, it’s morphed into a Yelp-like forum. Users can ask questions, find out about neighborhood happenings, and really provide some great information in a very easy-to-use context. (On a personal level, I have used this for both professional and personal reasons).

But there’s one things that web-based services like these provide: they help community residents boldly go where few have gone before  – exploring the final frontier of community data.

Interested in some upcoming events? Please join me at the September 11th Net Tuesday meeting as well as the September 20th Chicago Geek Breakfast. Otherwise, please feel free to contact me via LinkedIn or my web site’s contact page.

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!

Written by gordondym

September 7, 2012 at 7:29 am

Networking Offline and Online

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I have to admit, I’m a late bloomer when it comes to networking – thankfully, though, several people in my youth (and in middle-age) helped remind me about the power of making connections….

…but sometimes, the non-profit world sees “networking” as a synonym of “schmoozing”. Or somehow, that “online engagement” simply means “posting pictures of your cat on Facebook while wearing pajamas”. There’s even the belief that working for a non-profit is simply showing up and saying, “Hey, I can solve your problems”.

So today’s post is a little bit of a networking primer, based (on some levels) on a series of guest posts I had written for Job Stalker.  At the end, I’ll provide some great opportunities for further networking and education.

  • Treat people as an ends in themselves and not a means to an end – when you’re meeting new people, it’s easy to think of them as a way to get what you require, whether it’s funding,  job leads, or resources. Consider that, when meeting someone online or offline, offering value may not lead to immediate value, but can lead to connections to value.
  • Actively question whether you need to be on social media – I have many colleagues who will insist that people “have to be” on social media…and my question usually is, “Do you have the resources to be on social media?” And “Is your audience already using social media?” When someone insists that there is a one-size-fits-all solution, remember – social media is a communications channel, not a single strategy.
  • Remember to always carry business cards with you:  Yes, there are mobile apps that allow you to scan cards into your smartphone….but having physical business cards are always an asset because you never have to rely on batteries, or failing tech – for more information, check out this past Job Stalker post.
  • Go Where Your Contacts Would Go – Chicago has a wide variety of networking events, many of which have little to do with networking. Consider shifting your attention to where your potential funders/donors/board members/employers/other resource advocates may congregate.  It may mean some creative scheduling, but why attend an event where you’re lost in the crowd when you can improve your chances?
  • Linked In = Best Research Tool – I’ve made no secret about my love of Linked In, and find it a great research tool. You can research individuals and get introductions; research other companies/agencies, as well as a variety of other tools.

So now you have some tips…and have clicked and reviewed all of the links. Would you like some recommendations to practice your skills? I have some recommendations (and am involved personally in three of them):

Finally, you are always welcome to share your comments below, and if you need to contact me, you can do so via Linked In or my web site contact page.
As always, thanks for reading!