One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for February 2015

I Served As Judge for the Chicago Primary Election

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votingFor many, this past Tuesday’s Chicago primary election were about selecting their mayoral and aldermanic candidates of choice. For me, it was a very unique challenge….as I served as election judge for the 13th Ward.

What motivated me to such an action? The previous election – more specifically, the use of robocalling to disrupt voting- and potentially influence results –  in our communities. In short, I felt outraged, angry, and motivated to do more than just type an obligatory blog post. (My mom’s stories about living across from the Daley family in her childhood, and my father’s work for Alderman Majerczyk in the 12th Ward also had some bearing on my desire to get involved). So when my precinct captain encouraged me to take that step, I eagerly accepted – after all, I wanted to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. However, thanks to a variety of other commitments, I was unable to submit my application until a week before the election.

I submitted on Tuesday, and received formal notification of on Saturday. Since there was not enough time for me to attend the optional four-hour training for election judges, I went to the City Board of Elections website and downloaded their information. Kudos to them making this information available online, and greater kudos to a greater embrace of technology. In fact, even checking voters into elections has become much easier, as this video explains:

Since I received the notice after early voting had ended (my timing, not the postal worker’s), that meant rushing downtown to vote an absentee ballot. And so I eagerly prepped for my service on Tuesday morning – I was heading for a different precinct than my own, but thankfully it was a short distance away. Assembling a briefcase with water bottle, tablet (with ebooks), composition book (for both professional and personal writing), and snacks, I headed out in the wee hours of Tuesday morning to my destination. When I arrived, we eagerly sorted out roles, and my responsibilities were simple:

  • Activate the white cards for touchscreen voting
  • Help anyone who needed help (while avoiding seeing their ballot); and
  • Hand off the white receipts after people voted, thanking them for their service

Most of the day was spent….well, sitting and waiting for voters. My fellow judges were all really good people, and I wish I had some nice stories about potential fraud, if only to drive traffic to the site. (In fact, throughout the day we only had one glitch – a “spoiled” ballot that was easily fixed). Most of the work of election judging comes the day before/in the morning (with setup) and after polls close with tallying and paperwork. (More about which later). Being outside my home precinct gave me a nice sense of objectivity, with an appropriate outsider’s perspective. Just some things that I noticed and/or experienced:

  • For all our talk about Chicago politics, we’re not really motivated to vote– Setting aside early voting, the 13th Ward precinct I worked in as judge had 31% of eligible voters heading to this election. (Other than the mayoral race, all other races – including Alderman – were uncontested). This follows overall city patterns in which approximately 33% of voters headed to the polls. In short, it shows that many thought this election was a mere formality….and which says much about the apathy of most Chicago voters.
  • There may be subconscious “digital divide” when assigning touchscreen machines – In this precinct, we had one touchscreen voting machine with eight “regular” voting booths. (Ironically, when I went for absentee voting, there were numerous touchscreen voting machines). Since I do not have any data on how many machines are currently in use, I wonder how those machines are assigned and whether certain wards may have received more. (Not crying foul, mind you – just want more information).
  • Perhaps election judge training shouldn’t be “optional” – When I started the process, I had been informed that there is an “optional” four-hour training for judges, and which I was eager to attend. (My only reason for not doing so – I was not provided any information about a Monday training). Although I’m used to learning on the go….perhaps Chicago elections should warrant having people work at their best. (If that meant that I didn’t serve this time around, it would not bother me either way). Having a mandatory training – even online – would make things much easier, and more importantly, provide an extra layer of accountability.
  • Post-election wrap up and tallying should be made much easier – Although polls closed at 7:00 pm, we ended up working until about 8:30 on finalizing results. (This was a relatively “easy” election – one judge informed me that tallies for the previous election ended at 9:15 pm). Multiple forms, a variety of envelopes, and all sorts of bureaucratic entanglements had us often working at cross purposes. (Even though a manual describes the process, this is where formal training – and having less paperwork – would be critical). Even combining the results from both the touchscreen machine and the paper ballot scanner took an extended length of time, due to the slow processing of the machine. Granted, there may not be funding for upgraded election technology, but in this case, it can mean more timely election results.

So am I glad I served as election judge? Yes: it may be a long day, and there’s a rush of activity towards the end, but I’m also proud that I helped strengthen my community’s voice. In fact, I’m eagerly anticipating serving again (which I’ll need to double check – after all, I never determined whether I would be called back into service for each election, or if I would be asked to “sit one out”. But for those who wish to strengthen our collective voice, and more importantly, create a truly democratic political spirit in Chicago….it’s well worth it.

Any thoughts about this past election you would like to share? If so, please feel free to leave them in the comments below, or bring the conversation to our Facebook page. Stay current when the blog gets updated by subscribing via e-mail – the directions are listed below. If you wish to contact me personally, you can find a variety of methods via the site’s About page.

And as always, thanks for reading!

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Written by gordondym

February 26, 2015 at 3:03 pm

Jeff We Can: Lessons in Mission-Driven Marketing

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(Revised 01/25/2023)

It’s one of the little white lies that many of us in the nonprofit/social venture field tell ourselves: if we only had more money/time/resources, we could market our missions more effectively. Mission-driven marketing is always a challenge in a media environment with multiple channels, various worthy causes, and ever-decreasing resources. (Chicago-area nonprofits and social ventures have very particular challenges as well). But when it comes to mission-driven marketing, there’s one example from popular culture that demystifies those “little white lies”, providing some great principles to use….and which is near and dear to my heart.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver recently focused on the tobacco industry’s efforts to gain market share overseas, urging people to proclaim “#jeffwecan.” (Full Disclosure: In my professional past, I worked as a tobacco control specialist for the National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse in St. Louis and had chaired the Tobacco Free Missouri coalition). Rather than recap, let me just go ahead and show you the piece (which has some non-work-safe language):

Now, it may seem rather absurd on its face, but much like Stephen Colbert’s efforts around campaign funding, Last Week Tonight’s “Jeff We Can” manages to drive a strong discussion around a little-known issue. (You might want to check out other pieces about beauty pageants & scholarship funding or even issues around the organization that puts on the World Cup). For both nonprofits and social ventures, mission-driven marketing can seem daunting. (Many agencies and ventures are still seeking the next “Ice Bucket Challenge”) However, there are some tremendous underlying principles behind this piece, and which make for more effective mission-driven marketing.

  • Make your case plainly – Using humor to reinforce their arguments, Last Week Tonight provides an articulate, well-reasoned argument against Phillip Morris’ efforts. (After all, not every news satire goes through t e trouble of translating a letter originally written in French). Despite focusing on global issues, the segment provides enough intellectual and emotional content that a wider audience – including Chicago-area viewers – can feel a more significant investment in that mission.
  • Use multiple channels effectively – From creating the hashtag   #jeffwecan, users can spread information via Facebook and Twitter. Releasing segments (and occasionally entire episodes) on their YouTube Channel allows potential advocates to learn and share information. Last Week Tonight’s “Jeff We Can” reaches people who are conversing online about tobacco industry misdeeds. By performing some research, many mission-driven organizations can find where people are discussing their particular areas of interest and more effectively engage those potential audiences.
  • Focus on visual media – Although blog content allows someone to make their case in writing, Last Week Tonight works on engaging people on a deeper level. (Many studies around social media find that visual content drives three to five times more engagement than written media). From the overall segment to the design of Jeff, Last Week Tonight staff crafted a campaign that was well thought out and articulate while engaging audiences intellectually and emotionally.
  • Provide a prominent call-to-action – Towards the end of the piece, John Oliver provides a solution for the tobacco industry and encourages viewers to take action via posting and hashtags. It’s clear what Last Week Tonight wants people to do – post and drive conversation around tobacco industry activities (and let’s be honest, #jeffwecan is rather catchy). It has led to a rebuttal from Phillip Morris, but more importantly, it provides a great example for nonprofits and social ventures. Asking people to take positive action is more critical in mission-driven marketing than simply “building awareness.”

It’s sporadic when popular culture provides some excellent “best practices” for mission-driven marketing. However, Last Week Tonight provided an intelligent, strategic approach to a public health problem. You may dismiss it through the absurdity of “Jeff, the Diseased Lung With a Cowboy Hat,” but beneath the nonsense is a vital mission: calling the tobacco industry out on its behavior. Many Chicago-area nonprofits and social ventures can learn much from this campaign…and I know that I will be integrating some of these into my social media engagement.

Because one way to quit those “little white lies” we tell ourselves….is to dive deep into the truth.

So what do you think? Do you feel that Last Week Tonight acted out of line, or did they provide a well-crafted piece of entertainment and advocacy? Feel free to let us know in the comments below or even join the conversation on our Facebook page. You’re also more than welcome to reach out to me personally – you can email me through my website.

And as always, thanks for reading….and #jeffwecan!

Nonprofit Freelancing: Lessons From Vancouver

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Freelancer Dot Com(Special thanks to Nik Badminton for taking time out of his schedule for this discussion. What follows is a general summary).

When I wrote my recent review of The Economy of You, I might have expected more discussion around the challenges of social venture/nonprofit freelancing. However, I was elated when Nik Badminton of reached out for the opportunity to discuss the matter. We had a great discussion about social venture/nonprofit freelancing, especially coming from a Canadian perspective. (Nik is located in Vancouver, BC). Despite the geographic distance, there are many resources and lessons from Vancouver that can influence how Chicago area social venture/nonprofit freelancers work….and how social ventures/nonprofits can work and function more effectively.

Ironically, despite a team of data scientists at and a large selection of data, there is very little data specific to freelance services for social ventures and nonprofits. Much of it may be related to limited revenues, with social ventures and nonprofits focusing on “bang for the buck”. (There are a handful of such organizations using freelance services, but that takes further data exploraiton). However, with the increase in startup incubators (including those focused

specifically on mission-driven organizations), discussion is increasingly focused on running an organization in the most cost-effective manner. Some organizations do use as a platform for driving projects, such as the New Leaf Clubhouse’s recent efforts to hold a contest to create a new logo.New Leaf Clubhouse Logo


One of the more hopeful trends within nonprofits is the adoption of the “lean startup” approach in running their organizations. Increasingly, more established nonprofits are taking an approach of “build/learn/adapt” in streamlining their operations. (More established organizations area also more likely to use freelancers than startup organizations). During our discussion, we identified three key concerns for nonprofits and social ventures:

  1. Operations: with a tendency towards business process outsourcing, nonprofits & social ventures have to keep their accounting relatively tight (especially in nonprofit campaign execution);
  2. Crowdsourcing: although crowdsourcing can be an effective method for fundraising, organizations are challenged to integrate it as part of a holistic marketing approach; and
  3. Agility: for more established organizations, factors such as staff longevity make it much harder to be agile, but adopting a lean startup model (with test/experiment cycles) and smaller approaches can have a positive impact. (Good examples of nonprofits adopting more agile thinking are We Day and the Wikimedia Foundation.)

However, there are many tools present that Vancouver-area nonprofits are using….and that Chicago nonprofits may want to consider. (One of the advantages of web-based tools is that many are often independent of geography). Some of the tools Nik and I discussed were:

Nonprofit freelancing in Chicago can be a challenge in terms of finding clients and performing the actually work. One of the themes that emerged from my conversation with Nik Badminton of is that many nonprofits (and social ventures) are working to adapt to a changing field. Adopting more of a lean startup mentality can have positive impacts on an agency. There are many lessons that Chicago nonprofits and social ventures can learn from sister agencies in Vancouver, and hopefully, we can begin taking those lessons to heart.

Do you have experience finding (or performing) freelance work in the social venture and/or nonprofit arena? Please let us know by leaving a comment below. In addition, you’re more than welcome to follow the blog via e-mail (directions listed below) or our Facebook page. Personal contact information can be found via the blog’s About page.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Type your email address in the box and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.