One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for April 2014

Donald Sterling’s Lessons For Digital Excellence Advocates

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With Donald Sterling’s recent comments leading to banning (and possible removal) from the NBA, discussions around diversity, racism, and inclusion are prevalent. (It also helps that similar conversations are happening in the nerd/geek realm, thanks to two Chicago Nerd Social Club panels at C2E2). When discussing digital excellence – helping non-profits and underserved communities become more literate with technology – these issues become increasingly more prevalent, and need to be addressed. Although we have several key organizations focusing on digital excellence in Chicago communities, the conversation needs to happen.

(Content Warning: some articles linked in the following post contain information about  abusive and harmful situations. Caution is advised)

But why doesn’t it? Why are we only reactive with recent news, or when we have it recorded? For non-profits, social ventures, community groups, these should be at the forefront of our thinking. We should be having open, honest conversations – in a community like Chicago, where we have an extremely diverse pool within our fields, we seem to be lacking in open, honest conversation. This is not just limited to discussions of race and technology – issues around gender, sexuality, class, and age may be discussed, but those discussions aren’t happening out in the open. Sterling’s comments happened “behind closed doors”….and had they not been recorded, we never would have known. If we’re going to discuss issues around digital excellence, non-profits, and underserved communities, it needs to be inclusive, open, and transparent.

But why would anyone not want to discuss these issues? Or better yet – is this post only reaching those people who are like-minded, who are shaking their heads in agreement?

Part of the issue is that open, inclusive, and transparent conversations around diversity issues can be uncomfortable, because these issues are neither simple nor clear-cut.  Talking about them openly means facing our own personal biases and facing some uncomfortable truths. It means that when it comes to tech, we may not be as inclusive as we believe….and that means we become increasingly more accountable. Facing issues around sexism/racisim/name your own ism means calling attention and dealing with the aftermath. (One fine example – a female writer researching sexual harassment in the comics industry wrote a disparaging review of a comib book cover….and received anonymous threats as a response. Although the non-profit world might not have such an extreme reaction, there can be great reluctance to face issues and proceed, regardless of the consequences). 

But this is a blog about tech and non-profits, and thankfully, there are conversations and guidelines for helping non-profits become more inclusive on every level, including board leadershipprofessional/organizational functions, and various other levels. Digital excellence does not make us immune from considering such issues – after all, Donald Sterling worked with a diverse group of players, and still managed to hold some very inappropriate views). Working with diverse and  underserved communities means that we avoid stereotyping those communities, and that being inclusive is as much about looking at our own internalized attitudes and biases as we do external biases (including how media portrays issues of race and equality). It means that everyone is held accountable, and that honest and open discussion results in stronger communication, collaboration, and communication within and among various communities.

It also means being vigilant in avoiding digital, technological, and organizational “gatekeeping”. Recently, a colleague had expressed concerns that comments about gatekeeping might be undue criticism – that the non-profit field needs to be more unified and avoid internal and external conflicts. In a politically-driven city like Chicago, that might be a wise course of action….but an even wiser course is realizing one ultimate, simple truth:

Digital excellence is a basic human right, and that empowering all human beings with knowledge of the digital realm is an extremely most respectful, inclusive, and dignified strategy towards building communities. 

If there’s any key lesson that Donald Sterling teaches us, it’s that we can no longer simply claim “we’re diverse”. We need to be active, open, and inclusive – not just because our communities will benefit, or because it will allow us to look good….it’s because having such open conversations will allow us to stand the sunlight. We can honestly claim success in providing digital empowerment to our non-profits, social enterprises, and neighborhoods because it will be open, caring, and compassionate…and unlike Donald Sterling, we can honestly take the high road.

But what do you think? Please feel free to leave your comments below (and keep it civil – yes, this is a very heated topic, but we’re all grown adults). Please also feel free  to visit and join us on Facebook,  and my private contact information can be found on this blog’s About page.

As always, thanks for reading!


Written by gordondym

April 30, 2014 at 10:44 am

Online Resources – Alcohol Awareness Month

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Every April, the National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence sponsors Alcohol Awareness Month, an effort to educate the general public about the nature of alcoholism and the dangers of problem drinking. (Admittedly, I have a personal interest in this – not only was my training in chemical dependency, ut I once worked for their companion organization in St. Louis). In an effort to educate and provide resources for Chicago-area readers, here is a list of resources that can serve as a great launching point for learning more about alcohol and problem drinking.

(Please Note: this post is meant merely to provide basic information, and should not be seen as comprehensive or an implicit endorsement. Readers are strongly encouraged to recommend other resources in the comments below)

Chicago is home to many treatment centers, including Thresholds, Hazelden, and the University of Chicago Hospitals. Most treatment consists of counseling, medical interventions, group support, and lifestyle planning. For many, this is the beginning of a process, and for some, relapse is a natural part of the recovery process. To use a metaphor – when someone is diagnosed as diabetic, it means a change in lifestyle and behaviors ranging from self-care to dietary habits. For those suffering from alcoholism, it is more than just not drinking – it is changing behaviors and thought patterns, and this can be a key challenge.

A key predictor of success in recovery is finding group support, and for many people, there is an automatic assumption that includes 12 Step recovery. Ironically, Alcoholics Anonymous has some presence on social media via Twitter and Facebook, although there is (obviously) strong concern over “anonymous” recovery in social media. Thankfully, the Chicago AA Community provides an online listing of meetings for those who wish to engage offline. (They provide both “open” meetings for potential new members, as well as “closed” meetings for those actively working an AA program).

For those who are seeking support in dealing with a friend or loved one’s drinking, Al-Anon provides support and comfort. If you are seeking a meeting, simply head to the Northern Illinois web site and click on the menu to “Find A Meeting”. (It’s easily searchable by zip code and distance). For those seeking regular affirmation, Al-Anon also provides regular Twitter and Facebook updates. (You may want to double check with any 12 Step organization first before liking or following them on social media – each organization provides specific guidelines and protections to insure anonymity).

For those who are looking for an alternative to 12 Step recovery programs, one option would be to consider Rational Recovery. It is a program based on Albert Ellis’ principles of rational-emotive behavioral therapy (REBT), and provides information on (fill in with details later). Although they have a minimal online presence, information about Rational Recovery can be found via their Facebook page

Usually, with months of celebration, most information is released at the beginning of the month. However, as April closes, it’s a reminder that addiction and recovery – like many other aspects of social change in Chicago – are slowly integrating tech to meet present challenges.

Of Special Note – If you are interested in issues around diversity and “gatekeeping”, and will be attending C2E2 this weekend, my fellow Chicago Nerd Social Club board member Michi Trota will be running two panels focusing on those issues within the fan community. (Many of the lessons and subjects are easily applicable towards the non-profit/social good sector). On Friday, April 26th from 6:30 to 7:30 pm in Room S401D, the Chicago Nerd Social Club is sponsoring the Opening the Clubhouse Doors: Creating Inclusive Geek Communities, focusing on diversity and inclusion issues, featuring Hugo-award winning author Mary Robinette Kowal; author and Speculative Literature Foundation founder Mary Anne Mohanraj; local gamer and gaming legal scholar Karlyn Meyer; and DC Comics writer Scott Snyder (Batman: Zero Year) In addition, the Chicago Nerd Social Club is also putting on the Glass Ceilings, Missing Stairs & Gatekeepers: Geeks Still Deal With Sexism panel on Saturday, April 26th from 2:45 to 3:45 pm in Room S401AB. The panel focuses on issues around sexism and gender equality in geek culture. Panel participants include comic artist Carlye Frank; Challenge by Geek blogger Laura Koroski; writer and gamer Kate Lansky; singer/songwriter and Raks Geek producer Dawn Xiana Moon; STEM multimedia expert Susheela; and lighting designer Erin Tipton. Although focused on the fan community, those who are interested in learning more about these issues – and willing to bring these ideas to other agencies and organizations – are more than welcome.

If you have other resources focusing on recovery issues in Chicago, or have ideas for future posts, please feel free to leave them in a comments below. You can also follow the blog on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or contact me privately (more information can be found on this blog’s About page)

And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

April 23, 2014 at 12:46 pm

More Non-Profit Coworking Resources in Chicago

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C Now - Seating A few weeks ago, we featured some great coworking spaces in Chicago focused on social ventures, non-profits, and other business entities focused on making an impact on the greater community.  Coworking spaces provide startups, non-profits, and other small businesses the opportunity to have a central, affordable place to perform their day-to-day business. Since many small organizations use these spaces, there is ample opportunity for networking, collaboration, and building a strong community. (Think of it as taking an open source approach to capacity building for small mission-driven businesses and organizations). Since we were fortunate enough to feature three such spaces awhile ago, we know of two spaces – one newer, one a long-standing institution – that provide resources for many social change agents to accomplish mighty things.

One newer resource (located in Wicker Park) is Free Range Office, which opened in November 2013. (Since it’s only a short hop from the Damen Blue Line station, you get to enjoy many cool amenities without worrying about heading downtown. Although it’s a smaller space, organizations like the Neighborhood Parents Network and’s regional office make their home there. (There’s a soft spot on this blog for organizations that take a strong focus on both social good and community building….but they offer space to startups, and provide discounts to non-profits as well). FREO offers a wide range of work spaces (including standing desks, open seating, office pods, and private offices), and a lounge area. (They also have a  large meeting/conference room that holds about fifty people, and organizations can rent the space for special events. FREO also works with Hands On Tech Chicago to put on seminars and training sessions for non-profits, so there’s always room for spaces that provide both a solid working environment and a strong commitment to capacity building for the social good.

And although it may seem obvious, local incubator 1871 in the Merchandise Mart – has always provided a great resource for non-profits and social ventures. Whether it’s advocating for tech job creation or encouraging female entrepreneurs, it would be easy to focus on 1871 solely as a private enterprise. But it does host a few non-profits, including Commogri (which allows non-profits and social ventures to gauge their impact on social media) and (focusing on immigration reform).

When I wrote that initial post on non-profit/social venture coworking spaces, I assumed – wrongly – that resources were few and far between. Thankfully, due to comments and feedback, I’m delighted to be proven wrong….and will be doing a follow up post in the next few weeks.

Know of any resources, or have questions? Please leave them below in the comments. You’re also more than welcome to follow me on Twitter (where I tweet about my twin passions – social good and pop culture), visit and like the blog on Facebook, or contact me privately (information via the About page)

And as always, thanks for reading!

How Agents of Social Change Can Shield Themselves With Good Intel

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Agents of Shield

(Minor spoilers for Agents of SHIELD and Captain America: The Winter Soldier follow)

As the weather gets warmer in Chicago (relatively speaking, of course), efforts to raise funds for non-profits begin to appear with greater familiarity. However, the success of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and last night’s episode of Agents of SHIELD show an increasing distrust of organizations, and focus on how hiding behind information can be detrimental in building trust. So in that spirit, we’re offering some resources and guidelines for making a smart, well-informed decision.

(Some may believe that this is highly critical, that having anything that is detrimental to the Chicago non-profit/social change field may have adverse effects. As someone with strong professional experience in the field, I am firm believer that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and that providing resources for potential donors and volunteers only helps strengthen us as a field, and that opponents may be engaging in a form of gatekeeping.)

So without further adieu, here are some tips and guidelines for finding information in order to make an informed decision:

  • Since many 501(c)3s are required by law to make specific financial records (most notably tax returns or “Form 990s”) public, a great first step is to visit Guidestar and Charity Watch and perform an initial search. It sounds very basic (and both allow you to create a free account), but looking over an agency’s tax records can help you determine the organization’s fiscal health, as well as get an overall sense of where it spends its money. (A good example – after looking up a former employer in another state, I discovered that when I had worked there, they were operating in the red by a significant amount, and most of their expenses were in administration).
  • In Chicago, the Donor’s Forum provides a wealth of resources into funders, foundations, and companies that provide money and backing. (Online, you can visit the Foundation Center, although there is a membership feeCaptain America: Winter Soldier involved).
  • For more local charities, using the Illinois Secretary of State’s site can help you in determining their business status. (If it’s an out-of-state organization, knowing where the organization operates can lead you to similar online resources.
  • Using a search engine like Google or Bing can give you a preliminary glimpse into their online presence, and using “Search Tools” to limit it within the past year/month/week can help you pinpoint any negative/recent news (as well as obvious SEO tactics like posting the same press release under different, seemingly random domains).
  • On a social media front, looking at channels like Twitter and Facebook – and the frequency/type of content posted – can often be a clue as to how (if at all) they are presenting themselves (For example, knowing how nonprofits like PAWS Chicago or the Chicago Red Cross do it well can help you not get slizzered by social media.
  • One really good resource is Linked In, not only to investigate organizations (via their Company Pages), but when looking at both workers and consultants to determine their professional strengths and areas of interest. (Some come from the corporate sector; others may have “grown up” professionally in non-profits).

This is, obviously, not a complete list of online resources…but here’s something to consider: funding dollars are decreasing and becoming harder to find. Many social enterprises are emerging that blend a strong business mission with a very practical social mission – and focus on making a direct impact. Non-profit organizations are increasingly finding themselves rushing towards the challenge, and potential donors need to make well-informed choices. Hopefully, this week’s post is a great first step towards greater insight into where those dollars should be spent.

Are there any other great resources you can suggest? Please leave them below in the comments – we’re always eager to have a conversation. If you wish to contact me personally, you can find my e-mail and other important information on this blog’s About page. And as always, thanks for reading!


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C Now - DataReview
NOTE: A complimentary electronic copy was provided for review. My opinions are my own.

Currently, many communities are discussing the impact of “Big Data” – a catchphrase making its way through Chicago-area business and non-profit culture. Learning how to manage and leverage data can have an impact on various non-profit/social venture marketing and fundraising efforts. Knowing how to manage, monitor, and act on data can provide an organization a critical edge in overall social impact. Thankfully, Koen Pauwels’ It’s Not the Size of the Data – It’s How You Use It from AMACOM books – available in hardcover and Kindle – provides a fine introductory read into data management and monitoring.

For many, the initial business tone may be offputting, with Pauwels’ focus on terms like dashboards and KPIs….but this is a book focused on general businesses. However, for non-profits and other social change agents, Pauwels’ provides an extremely thorough explanation into how – and why – to assemble such dashboards. Not The Size of the Data provides a thorough primer into how to take a variety of organizational processes and manage them in a systematic manner. Even if the terminology may be challenging for some organizations, thankfully Pauwels provides a thorough background in how marketing dashboards can assist in driving specific outcomes.

But Chapter Eight, focusing on social media, provides a very thorough understanding in the importance of understanding tracking key data. Pauwels’ provides one of the strongest arguments for looking beyond the superficial. As past blog posts have discussed, Pauwels postulates that volume is not the sole arbiter of success, but that data coming from conversational dynamics is also important for non-profits and social ventures. For Pauwels, organizations that examine how conversations are distributed – as well as the overall sentiment – provide key actionable insights for marketing and fundraising. Despite some reluctance to adopt a data-driven perspective, Pauwels provides strong justification for adopting both a qualitiative and quantitative approach – and approach that can mean the difference between anecdotal success and solid evidence towards a successful strategy.

Even if the organization is small, It’s Not the Size of the Data provides a wealth of information about managing and leveraging data. With an increasing emphasis on outcome-driven efforts, social change agents need strong, valid information to help them navigate data collection and interpretation. With improved efforts to open and utilize city data, improving digital literacy around data becomes even more critical to driving social change. Although focused primarily on business marketing, Koen Pauwels’ It’s Not the Size of the Data – It’s How You Use It provides some great “first steps” towards understanding how non-profits and social ventures can better manage, monitor, and utilize data in their day-to-day operations.

Essential, and a must-read.

How does your organization use data? Are you seeing challenges in adopting a data-driven approach? Please feel free to leave comments below. In addition, you are always welcome to visit and join us on Facebook (it’s small, but we’re looking to grow), and my contact information can be found on this blog’s About page.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

April 2, 2014 at 12:42 pm