One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for August 2013

Ben Affleck, Batman, and Slacktivism

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Batman - Social Media LessonsCurrent social media conversations have generated a large amount of interest…and controversy. Recent casting news about Ben Affleck as Batman has generated a great deal of awareness, controversy, and in some cases….online petitions.

And it provides a great cautionary tale for non-profits, social ventures, community organizations, and other social change agents in Chicago.

It’s called slacktivism, defined by Wikipedia as “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it take satisfaction from the feeling they have contributed” . In non-profit social media circles, it’s the ever-popular strategy of “raising awareness”, and consists of strategies arranging from liking Facebook pages to using hashtags, from changing profile photos to forwarding videos. It is a valid strategy for building word-of-mouth, but as a communications and engagement strategy, it is sorely lacking in two critical areas.

One is that many campaigns that focus on “raising awareness” never really consider any deeper opportunities for engagement. To use fan conversations, recent discussions about Peter Capaldi being cast as Doctor Who resulted in conversations about ageism and some fans’ tendencies towards “gatekeeping” and access. Most other online discussions on casting – like many forms of slacktivism – provide great light, but very little heat. It’s a superficial “me, too” approach that emphasizes being in a crowd with actual activity. In short, it is like sharing a video from a pundit on either side of the aisle: yes, you may have good taste in political commentary, but are you hoping to change hearts and minds….or are you merely asserting moral superiority?

(However, changes can result from a variety of slacktivist efforts: although Johnny Depp’s recent turn with a crow on his head resulted only in poor box office, generating a lot of online conversational heat led to a controversial author being removed from a Superman comic).

Ultimately, social change agencies, social ventures, and non-profits that engage in campaigns which integrate “slacktivism” do so at the risk of ignoring their mission or purpose. Recent online campaigns by UNICEF and the United Nations World Food Programme focus less on “awareness building”, and more on activities that actually drive their overall purpose. Focusing on business and agency goals – using social
media as a communications channel – enables organizations to become more sustainable, better able to do the work that they are pledged to do. Social media for non-profits and social ventures should be like the Batmobile and utility belt: key tools in an overall mission, not simply a cool thing to have for its own sake. Any non-profit marketing consultant, administrator, or volunteer who focuses solely on “building awareness” misses out on a wealth of networking, resource building, and other development opportunities that may arise…much like Ben Affleck deciding to shift gears and direct movies rather than simply pursue acting.

Pop culture fandom can provide many examples of what not to do – two September events will demonstrate how fandom can serve as an example of exceptional advocacy and activity. One is a charity screening of Joss Whedon’s Serenity sponsored by the Chicago Browncoats; the other is a Doctor Who-themed lunch & learn on social media strategy. Both show that not every lesson that non-profits, social ventures, and other mission-driven organizations can learn from fandom is a cautionary one.

If you have questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below. In addition, you are more than welcome to contact me privately either via Linked In
or private e-mail. And as always, thanks for reading!

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Meet Your Neighbor: Over the Rainbow Association

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Over the Rainbow Association Logo(Thanks to Eric Huffman and Derek Serafin for their time and consideration)

Every once in awhile, I come across a “hidden treasure”: a non-profit, a resource, or some topic that is worth highlighting. On the blog this month, I’m happy to introduce you to an Evanston-based non-profit that focuses on removing barriers for a specific group of people, and who possess an entrepreneurial spirit when it comes to driving social good.

Over the Rainbow is a non-profit whose primary focus is providing affordable, barrier-free housing solutions for people with physical disabilities. Started in the 1970s by a group of parents concerned with finding accessible homes for their kids, Over the Rainbow has grown to include 151 apartments throughout the Northern Illinois area, with expansion plans to include 41 units in Mattson and 25 units in Newport.
Every once in awhile, I come across a “hidden treasure”: a non-profit, a resource, or some topic that is worth highlighting. On the blog this month, I’m happy to introduce you to an Evanston-based non-profit that focuses on removing barriers for a specific group of people, and who possess an entrepreneurial spirit when it comes to driving social good.

Over the Rainbow is a non-profit whose primary focus is providing affordable, barrier-free housing solutions for people with physical disabilities. Started in the 1970s by a group of parents concerned with finding accessible homes for their kids, Over the Rainbow has grown to include 151 apartments throughout the Northern Illinois area, with expansion plans to include 41 units in Mattson and 25 units in Newport.
In addition, the Association has an active board which plans several events per year including an October fundraiser with Mandy Patinkin and Patti LuPone), bike rides, and Wheelchair Washes. Over the Rainbow takes an especially business-like approach to building and maintaining its units, as HUD funding tends to focus on newer construction over than purchasing buildings. Using low-income tax credits and other financial incentives, Over the Rainbow has realistic yet ambitious plans for expansion, hoping to have 300 units under ownership and/or management in the next five years.

Over the Rainbow’s primary service – its housing units – are exceptional, exceeding ADA standards for housing, providing greater opportunities for adults who depend on wheelchairs for mobility. Besides automated doors and lifts, Over the Rainbow’s units also include amenities like roll-in showers, pull-under/front loaded light switches, and slighter greater maneuverability. (For example, bathrooms have a five foot radius allowing for wheelhairs to maneuver more effectively, and most doorways are approximately 48 inches wide). Integrating a more considered aspect to the design of units is a slight variation on the use of tech, which is why they’re featured on this blog – although there are consultants to help businesses become more accessible, Over the Rainbow extends that thoughtfulness to its buildings, providing opportunities for a group to truly live barrier-free.

However, with great work often comes great challenges, and Over the Rainbow is no exception. With increasing cuts in state-funded services (including Medicare), many residents of Over the Rainbow’s units are facing hard choices, often needing to choose between food and medical supplies. In addition, services like supportive care are also being increasingly cut….but OTR continues to take a much more proactive stance, and has even developed a junior board to move the organization into the digital realm. As Eric Huffman pointed out, although services are increasingly cut, the need for these services is greater than ever, and Over the Rainbow has a strong commitment to providing barrier-free housing to those wishing to lead independent, full lives.

So, you’re probably asking yourself what you can do to support….and in that spirit, here are some suggestions:

  • Contact Over the Rainbow to arrange a tour;
  • As Over the Rainbow is moving into the digital realm, they are always seeking volunteers to provide guidance and governance on their board;
  • Participate in one of their upcoming events.

Many non-profits are competing for ever increasing dollars, but thankfully, Over the Rainbow is tackling the challenge. By taking a much more entrepreneurial approach, and focusing on a core mission, they’re looking to establish themselves as a strong member of the community, and a good neighbor.

And it all started with a single e-mail….and if you have questions/comments, please leave them below. If you wish to contact me directly, you can do so either via e-mail or Linked In.

As always, thanks for reading!

Sign Up for Social Media Week in September!

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Social Media WeekOne area that non-profits, social entrepreneurs, and social change agents have great trouble understanding is the full impact of using social media. Many consultants often promote a basic “you-gotta-be-on-this-channel”  mentality, but rarely understand the impact on organizations, businesses, and individuals. Thankfully, Social Media Week – a global initiative that works towards explaining social, cultural and economic impact of social media – will be held in Chicago from September 23rd to 27th.

Social Media Week’s mission is (according to their web site) is to help people and organizations connect through collaboration, learning and the sharing of ideas and information. It’s more than just the usual chatter – this is a gathering that helps drive the idea of how social media impacts the social good. Although many of the sessions may have a business focus, the week-long conference (held at a variety of sites and locations) features sessions specifically geared towards social good initiatives.

Social media is a very popular topic, with organizations struggling to deal with adopting the channel as a way to foster their online networking. Mission-driven online marketing drives plenty of content, with consultants discussing how to use social media to drive conversation, build “brand awareness” for a non-profit, and cultivate donors and board members. However, one of the key aspects of social media that gets lost in that conversation is its power to drive collaboration, foster a sense of community, and empower people to take positive action.

One of the buzzwords in social media marketing is engagement – focusing more on how people behave online versus simply counting the number of “likes” or “followers”. Engagement involves reaching people on both an emotional and intellectual level, and influencing them to behave in a particular way. (Influence is also another major buzzword). Social Media Week is an opportunity to learn how strategies to engage and influence offline behavior have a greater impact on social and political structures – in short, it’s more than just simply a cool marketing channel; it’s a gateway to drive social good.

And it’s also free. So please check out http://www.socialmedia.org for more details. And no, I was not reimbursed nor am I receiving any benefits from this post….other than making a great resource available to people.

Comments? Questions? Please leave them in the space below. If you wish to contact me privately, you may do so via Linked In (just mention Chicago Now) or private e-mail.

And as always, thanks for reading!