One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for October 2014

Coming Up: Social Media for NonProfits Chicago

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social media for nonprofits - chicago


For many nonprofits, social enterprises, and other mission-driven organizaiton, social media is a key component of their marketing and communications strategy. Although Chicago has a great variety of resources and consultants available, there’s always a need to learn current up-to-date thinking about social media….and the Social Media for NonProfits Chicago session on October 29th is a great opportunity to learn more about strategically using online channels.

Social Media for NonProfits is an organization whose purpose and mission is to educate organizations on how to social media for social good. They put on a variety of sessions and seminars across the country. They were in Chicago last year, and this year they are making a concerted effort to reach nonprofit professionals throughout the city. The October 29th session will be held at Northwestern/Prentice Women’s Hospital, located at 250 E. Michigan, in Conference Room L. (It’s easily accessible via CTA Bus and Train Lines). Although there is a cost, organizations can either get a small discount using the code SM4NP, and scholarships are available for smaller organizations.

One of the great things about Social Media for NonProfits is that it brings together both national and local nonprofit professionals. The focus on this year’s conference is on leveraging online tools (including video) and boosting fundraising efforts. With an emphasis on visual storytelling as well as content focusing on mobile, this year’s conference looks to be a great opportunity with several “breaks” to allow people to network, interact, and foster greater social connections.

Presenters include:

For those who may not be nonprofits, but who are also invested in social change….there are tracks for both consultants (like me) and other interested parties. But it’s important to realize that social media and online communication have been touted as “free and easy” ways to “build awareness”….and are actually neither. (Or, as seen by the Ice Bucket Challenge, can often be misleading and wholly inappropriate). It may seem like an unnecessary expense, but being able to integrate these tools into community outreach and fundraising efforts can allow small, struggling organizations to “rise to the top”. Social Media For NonProfits is making an effort to be inclusive by providing discounts, scholarships to select organizations, and other strategies.

All of this is working towards a common goal: helping organizations who wish to foster social good become better able to reach their potential advocates. In Chicago, there are numerous organizations vying for your attention; Social Media for NonProfits Chicago is an effort to help those organizations gain the knowledge they will need to move further in their efforts.

I’m planning on attending next week – hopefully, I will see you there.

But we all know of other, smaller events and organizations that provide such training for nonprofits – know of any? Please feel free to leave them in the comments. Also, you can subscribe to the blog via e-mail and/or get updates via Facebook, and you can contact me privately – information can be found via the blog’s About page.

And as always, thanks for reading!


Written by gordondym

October 22, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Blog Action Day 2014: Inequality

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Facebookinstagramsocialtile2-300x300Every year, this blog participates in Blog Action Day, which is a global effort to drive conversation around one particular key topic. (Past topics have included human rights and “the power of we“). For Blog Action Day 2014, the focus is conversation around the topic of inequality…and my mind goes to Ferguson, Missouri.

This isn’t just a way to gain search traffic – from 1999 to 2007, I lived in St. Louis after the end of a relationship. It was a city where I developed my nonprofit skills, working for the Salvation Army, the National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse, and Grace Hill Settlement House. (I also served on the board for various nonprofits as well, from Metropolis St Louis to Great Circle). Many of my friends – whom I’m still connected with via Facebook and LinkedIn – still live in the region. I don’t keep up with them as much as I like, but since moving back to Chicago, I feel I have a very unique perspective.

Two things to note about St Louis culture – it is very fragmented (a multitude of municipalities in the suburbs, and) and also very cliquish (one of the key questions new residents are asked is Where did you go to high school?, as if four years can predetermine a person’s life.). There’s also a very strange, unspoken racial dynamic that derives from Missouri’s position in the civil war – a kind of tension that rarely, if ever, goes expressed. (In Chicago, it sometimes gets expressed, but more often, it’s kept under wraps). Ironically, very few media outlets have expressed this tension, the most notable being….believe it or not….John Oliver.

Don’t believe me – watch for yourself:

It’s that lack of connection that sometimes leads to some creative ways of “supporting” the Ferguson
community – mostly, Facebook feeds filled with Photoshopped graphics that deny residents their
experience, and that somehow equate supporting the police with “they are right no matter what”.
Instead of shining light, or even expressing a legitimate opinion or perspective, it becomes another
source of bluff and bluster online….but there are many lessons for social change when working
through the issues in Ferguson.

The first is quite simply that social media can sometimes complicate the problem of inequality.
Dealing with complex social issues cannot be summarized in a nice, 140-character tweet – they need
to be discussed. As social change advocates, we need to realize that the people behind the computer
screen are human beings, no matter what their particular position….and that pictures can tell a story,
but that behind that story are legitimate, human experiences, and the more we can connect with those experiences,
the more we can see our common humanity…and equality.

Another is that digital excellence is a good step towards combatting inequality. I’m not suggesting
that giving out computers to underserved communities will enhance democracy…but integrating
tech literacy and competency into other community development initiatives will go a long way
in driving community growth. As we transition towards a more tech-based, personal network-driven
economy, we as a community need to make sure that we can foster a sense of small and large scale
economic development. (It’s not a surprise that many community organizations – especially on the south
side of Chicago – are driving small business initiatives). But it’s making sure that our communities can
face the challenge of a shifting economy, and that we can better equip them to handle the changes.

One very key factor in dealing with inequality – and this may spark some controversy – is to openly
talk about privilege
. On the one hand, it’s easy to take a finger-pointing approach. It has happened
to me – You’re a white male, Gordon, and you have privileges that other groups don’t…like having
a blog where you can write a post for Blog Action Day 2014

Yes, I do….but that’s not my point.

Working through issues of privilege and perspective is as much an internal process as it is
external, and most importantly, it’s a process that all sides need to work through. Taking
an academic approach to inequality is easier when the personal stakes are minimal, and easier when
there’s a casual approach to exploration. Working through personal biases and conceptions takes
time and effort, but makes for a more honest approach in handling issues of inequality, and avoids
the easy dismissal that a pointed finger is a victim’s motto.

(Let’s also be very clear – although this post’s focus on Ferguson deals with racial equality, looking at
issues of privilege and bias also includes gender, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, and other factors as well. One of the most unspoken tensions is that between the north and the
south side of Chicago….but that’s a blog post for another time).

For many organizations on the front lines – nonprofits, community groups, and other mission-driven enttities – working through issues of inequality are critical to success. For the residents and police in Ferguson, there are many steps to take in order to work through this situation.

For my friends and colleagues in St. Louis working to bridge the gap and provide unity – I stand behind you. If I were still living in St. Louis, I would be beside you working towards a common goal. Perhaps
this is my way of dealing with geographic inequality – my thoughts are with you and the residents of Ferguson. Perhaps by starting the difficult conversation – and avoiding the easy social media shortcut –
I can provide help in taking the next step.

Thanks for reading this special post for Blog Action Day 2014 – if you have any comments or thoughts, you are more than welcome to leave them below. (Please note – comments are heavily moderated). You
are more than welcome to subscribe to this blog via e-mail (check the link on the sidebar), follow us on Facebook, or contact me directly via the About page.


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C Now - Little Book of Big PR


NOTE: A complimentary copy of Ms. Witter’s book was provided for purposes of review

As I was writing last week’s post, I came to a very subtle realization – throughout my career in nonprofits, I have had to take on what might be called “guerrilla” public relations tactics. Working with media, getting the word out, engaging the public – all of those were key skills that I needed to cultivate in order to move programs forward. For many Chicago (and other) nonprofits, having an easily understandable reference for public relations is paramount.

Thankfully, Jennefer Witter’s Little Book of Big PR: 100+ Quick Tips to Get Your Business Noticed, published by Amacom Books in both softcover and Kindle editions, is a great primer. Although geared primarily towards small businesses, there are enough practical, down-to-earth tips for nonprofits, social enteprises, and other mission-based organizations to gain benefit.

The Little Book of Big PR focuses on small – yet practical – tactics for building overall capacity. It’s a brisk, easily comprehendable book that contains various bits of advice, as well as examples from other businesses. Covering a wide range of topics – from public speaking to self-branding – The Little Book of Big PR provides useful advice that is geared towards business growth. (And yes, there is a chapter on cause-related marketing, but don’t let that fool you – the other chapters are also extremely practical). It’s the kind of book that really deserves to be part of any nonprofit/community organizing reference library – along with The Mission Myth, Organizing for Social Change  and Everyday Entrepreneur, Ms. Witter’s book provides a great way to channel more business-oriented thinking into nonprofit activities.

Many smaller nonprofits and community organizations often lack staff dedicated to marketing and public relations. In fact, many smaller organizations rely on grassroots mobilization and community organizing to gain traction and (hopefully) exposure. One of the great advantages of The Little Book of Big PR is that it is written in simple language, and many of the tips are easily implemented. Ms. Witter does a great job in fostering the idea that public relations isn’t necessarily about “spin”, but that it’s a way for small businesses (and by extension, nonprofits and community organizations) to grow and expand with a minimum of resources.

Simply put, I enjoyed The Little Book of Big PR. It’s a small, easily affordable book that is a must-own for anyone in the nonprofit/social benefit sector.

Are there any must-own books that you can suggest? Please feel free to leave your suggestions – and any other comments – down below. You can also subscribe to this blog in e-mail (just look for the “Subscribe by E-mail” button), or follow us on Facebook. If you want to reach me directly, information can be found via the About page.

And as always, thanks for reading!

1990: My Entry Into Social Change

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CNow - SkylineRecently, I was able to make Chicago Net Tuesday’s recent session on digital storytelling, and found myself a bit nostalgic. Perhaps it’s because I’m at the point where I’m moving away from youthful idealism towards mature longing, but there’s always been one year where it all came together for me – my passion for social change as well as in technology. That year was 1990.

As an undergrad at Loyola University, I was pursuing a degree in psychology, commuting between its Water Tower and Lake Shore campuses. Nearing the end of my studies, I only had a few electives to go – taking a film study class (which introduced me to the glory of The Third Man) – but it was the all-important undergraduate internship. My chosen venue was the Mental Health Association of Greater Chicago – I was focused on community outreach, and their Information and Referral service would serve as a great training ground. (Working in their vocational training program would also help me in overcoming some biases – part of MHAGC’s mission). My love of writing took off with both a regular column in the Loyola Phoenix as well as a variety of freelance efforts. (My favorite rejection letter is from a spec treatment for Columbo...ironically, I now cannot locate what I had submitted).

Social change was the last thing on my mind with my efforts in online community Computers - Art of Learningmanagement – my mother had purchased a Epson computer, twin large floppy disk drives, with a healthy Prodigy account some years before. My online efforts at humor resulted in becoming a “Member Representative” or “MemRep”. (Meaning that I started conversation threads, monitored discussions, and was often referred to as a “censoring Nazi”. Ah, those heady days before Godwin’s law).  Even though the technology was relatively new, it provided me with a backdrop for finding and locating information….

…and ironically, it was the lack of technology at MHAGC that immersed me into working in social good/social change. It was the willingness to work with people in crisis, to communicate with them over the phone, that helped me develop a sense of concern. Learning about resources like 12 Step groups fostered my interest in the chemical dependency field. Working with a variety of board members and contacting agencies provided a great field training in community mobilization. (As I’ve often said, however, community mobilization never happens behind a desk). Using an online service to gain information and insight was incredibly helpful…if only to make me a much stronger, more capable individual.

(It also helped that, during this time, I was creatively inspired – I wrote a full-length screenplay for my film study class, and I also “directed” a documentary for MHAGC. Both are stored away, and both are….well, the results of an eager amateur, to say the least.)

But 1990 was a critical year in which, for me, the whole interplay of tech and social good started….in a few years, I would be in graduate school, working for Harvard University, travelling to Los Angeles & Toronto, and entering full-bore into adulthood. I won’t claim to be nostalgic for that time – it had its share of issues – but for me, I can look back on it fondly as the year it all began.

Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below. You’re more than welcome to join us on Facebook, or reach out to me privately via our About page.

As always, thanks for reading!


Written by gordondym

October 2, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Posted in Commentary, Community

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