One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for January 2015

Writing for Fun and Nonprofit

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C Now - Writing 02As a nonprofit professional, writing has been a key cornerstone of my saily work. Everything from web content to grant proposals, from brochures to formal clinical reports  – at some point, much of my professional life has been behind a keyboard of some kind. In fact, it became a nice substitute for a failed fiction-writing career in college. (Although I did manage to craft a monthly column for the Loyola Phoenix). Non-profit writing has always been a personal strength, but the challenge of writing for work – and writing for love – is a continuing effort that I am only now starting to master.

Both professional writing and personal writing use the same skills, and often within a diverse array of forms ranging from longer reports and stories to shorter forms like blog/social media posts.  Both involve planning, crafting, and time management. Writing is an invisible skill, often hidden behind professional buzzwords: “crafting great content”, “clear, concise reporting”, “effective marketing copy”, or it usually takes second place to “visual storytelling” (after all, Facebook and Twitter posts get more engagement with visuals). Beneath the chatter, the major skill in both professional nonprofit writing – and creative work –  finding and telling a story in a simple, emotionally accessible manner.C_Now_-_Writing_01

Discussing the writing “process” can often fall into pretentiousness. Professional nonprofit writing can be trickier – not just due to deadlines and goals, but also in considering the impact of what is written. My blogging and professional writing is slightly easier….but not as daunting. Much of it for me involves putting together notes, finding that central narrative, and then moving towards the best way to express that narrative. (I’m a paper, pencil, and sticky notes guy – after all, it’s much easier for me to find a scrap of paper and pencil than it is a decent Internet connection). Carrying a small notebook and pen allows me to write ideas as they come, and trust me – I have a box of notebooks that I often search through when “inspiration” eludes me. Depending on your perspective, I an outliner as opposed to a ‘discovery writer’), or in pulp writing terms, I’m a “plotter” not a “pantser”. Although once my fingers hit the keyboard, it becomes actual work, fueled only by coffee and music/podcasts playing in the background.

(I have yet to craft some ideal “plan” for how to write a particular thing, but I take great inspiration from Lester Dent’s Master Plot Outline. If you want some easy inspiration for hard work, you can track down Frank Gruber’s The Pulp Jungle via the Chicago Public Library’s interlibrary loan system. As a writer, Gruber had a very strong work ethic (needs link), and that’s a quality that I work to develop in both my professional and personal life.)

As a writer/blogger for a variety of outlets (you can find my portfolio via my personal site), I have adopted my own system for capturing ideas, hoping to bottle inspiration rather than wait for it. Much of what I use is based on Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done (after all, if it works for Joss Whedon, it should work for me). Structuring my time means that I can write and/or edit early in the morning, and then focus on work. (As a freelancer, my writing time is expanded – I’m focusing on other tasks within my day). Tools like Trello and LibreOffice allow me to work more effectively, breaking down my time – and projects – into separate buckets. (And yes, I do use Microsoft Office for professional matters – LibreOffice simply allows me to stay focused).

C Now - Workstation 02Tankfully, I am seeing the results of my work. On a professional level, it has meant seeing clients achieve greater success, including increased donations and/or income. To use business speak, I am demonstrating “positive return on investment (ROI)”. On a personal level, it has meant not only improved search rankings, but also having several short stories published (or in the process of being published) for a variety of publishers. (One of the greatest surprises I have received has been discovering that searching my name on leads to a page of works I have contributed to as either a writer or copy editor). My position is unusual in that I write both professionally and personally….and that the habits I cultivated performing nonprofit writing have also led to the beginnings of a professional fiction writing career.

Either way, writing has been very beneficial, and I am glad I can enjoy the benefits from both efforts.

Have any comments? Please feel free to leave them below. If you want to contact me privately, you are more than welcome to do so – information can be found via the blog’s About page. You can also get updates via our Facebook page, or you can subscribe for updates via e-mail (directions found below).

And as always, thanks for reading!

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Written by gordondym

January 25, 2015 at 2:51 pm


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Review: THE ECONOMY OF YOU by Kimberly Palmer
Many people involved in nonprofit careers (whether transitioning into or out of the field) find it hard to survive in our current economy. Many are taking “side gigs” or smaller jobs to either bring in extra cash or – perhaps – spin their efforts off into a new career. For those wishing to adopt a “side gig” as a way of transitioning into (or within) a nonprofit career, let me suggest reading The Economy of You by Kimberly Palmer, published by AMACOM Books.

Available in both hardcover and Kindle editions, The Economy of You focuses on establishing a “side gig” while working on full-time work. However, many of Palmer’s recommendations would also work with those who are freelancing and/or trying to find smaller gigs. (As a freelance consultant/writer myself, I found many of the recommendations helpful). Palmer takes a very practical approach, providing guidance and insight which would easily fit well within low-resource-but-high-resourcefulness environments (like nonprofits), and provides enough motivational content to empower people to move forward in pursuing a separate business effort.

In fact, one of the strength’s of Palmer’s The Economy of You is that its focus is on much more attainable goals. While many books of this type focus on more high-end thoughts, Palmer’s primary focus is on a secondary source of income. Never coming across as over-the-top, Palmer’s book has a nice, realistic feel, and something that would not be out-of-place on a “Nonprofit Career” bookshelf. (With several nonprofit and other professionals getting involved in the social entrepreneurship/social enterprise field, this is a great how-to field guide for making preliminary efforts). The Economy of You provides some hands-on guidance and exercises for moving towards developing another field of endeavor.

One of the best features of The Economy of You sits within the appendices at the end of the book. It is a list of the “Top 50 Side Gigs” which contains brief outlines of such work (like blogger, life coach, and pet sitter). The main advantage (and one which sets The Economy of You apart from other guides), but also some great “first steps” towards identifying potential matches and initial networking resources. By providing this, Palmer provides an easy resource for people to begin exploring (and much more practical than similar, self-published guides found elsewhere).

For many people planning to transition into – or out of – a nonprofit career, finding a “side gig” that can provide economic and personal freedom can seem daunting. In The Economy of You, Kimberly Palmer provides a relatively straightforward guide to exploring options, building initial efforts, and progressing forward. As more people take on multiple positions in “the new economy”, The Economy of You becomes an even more invaluable resource.

Any thoughts about freelancing, nonprofit careers, or taking on “side gigs”? Please feel free to leave them in the comments below (and comments are moderated). In addition, you can contact me privately via any of the resources on the About page, or follow us on Facebook.

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Written by gordondym

January 17, 2015 at 10:49 am

One Cause At A Time: 2014 in Review

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Transitioning into 2015When looking at the growth of social good and technology in Chicago, the past year has seen many accomplishments. This blog has also seen quite a bit of activity, and in looking at 2014 in review, it may be good to take a unique view. So this post is a kind of “greatest hits” of 2014 – sorted by month (with a random quote) for organization – and let’s face it, search optimization.

So without further adieu, here we go….

JanuaryAs the man said, I can have anything I want, I just can’t have everything I want…

February In the midst of a harsh winter, it is hard to focus on efforts that happen at a different time of year. It’s also easy to forget that networking is as much about building and cultivating working relationships as it is on “getting the word out”

March – Chicago has a great variety of events, and Meetup is not the only source….but at the very least, it provides a simple entry point for diving into the world of social good.

April – 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.

May – So for all graduates, regardless of age or program, remember – nonprofit/social change careers are an adventure to be embraced.BTP Adventures in Freelancing 1106

June – We should really do this again. Seriously, Chicago Now, let’s make this an annual event. I received a great deal of insight, and at the very least….it’s one less post to worry about.

July – Chicago has always seen a divide between the north and south sides that extends beyond baseball – and that divide includes a huge split in perception around socioeconomic status.

AugustFor those of you who have causes you would like to promote – or even if you work for a nonprofit and are looking to get the word out – I have come up with my own “viral” challenge. I’m calling it….the Funny Cat Challenge.

September…in Chicago, we have a variety of opportunities to meet with others and learn more about software

October – Ironically, very few media outlets have expressed this tension, the most notable being….believe it or not….John Oliver.

November – …and one of the biggest “moments of genius” that I have had is simply this: sometimes, nonprofits don’t know what to look for in a consultant.

December…it’s my hope that the coming year brings the best for everyone who reads this blog….

This may seem like an arbitrary list….but keeping track of so much great activity can be a real challenge….and a challenge that you can help!

Know of any really great resources – anything in Chicago (or the suburbs) where people, nonprofits, social ventures, or other organizations use technology to drive social good and social impact? Feel free to let us know in the comments below. Better yet, you can contact me directly – my contact information can be located in the About page of this blog. Plus, you can always join us for updates via our Facebook page.

Thanks for making 2014 such a success, and looking forward to 2015!

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