One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for May 2015

Tomorrow: A Powerful Word for Nonprofits

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It’s a challenge laid down to many Chicago Now bloggers – talk about literally what our hopes, expectations, and actions will be tomorrow.

On a simple, tomorrow (as I write this) will be Saturday – I’ll be attending a brunch for Chicago Nerd Social Club and Chicago Doctor Who Meetup . But overall, I’m much more positive – and eager – for tomorrow, and find it a very powerful word in working with nonprofits.

Like many who have worked in the nonprofit arena, “tomorrow” has been a word filled with fear and frustration. Wading through various commitments and tasks, feeling overwhelmed in a never-ending cycle of work. (In these cases, the word “tomorrow” tends to be the procrastinator’s best friend). Add a sense of futility due to a slow sense of progress, and thinking about twenty-four hours from the present can be a bit daunting.

Even with an increase in technology available to nonprofits (whether software, hardware, or cloud/web-based tools), many nonprofit professionals still feel overwhelmed. Rather than see technology as a method of streamlining their operations, it becomes “just another thing to learn” – another item on an already crowded to-do list. And tomorrow simply becomes another day to either work through that list or “catch up” on tasks not performed during the work week.C Now Sunset

But “tomorrow” can be a powerful tool for nonprofits – and has been a powerful tool for me – because it takes focus away from the future and onto the present.

Ironically, rather than focus on the future, thinking about tomorrow can be a potent reminder of the tasks in front of us. “Tomorrow” gives us a sense of goals, of moving forward, and ultimately…of hope. But that hope comes with a small price tag: we have to keep our focus on the present in order to move forward. By focusing on today and taking care of what is in front of us, that allows us to enjoy those small victories, those small accomplishments….and in the nonprofit world, those are critical.

To be completely honest, much of my own change in spirit has been due to a change in circumstances. After a long period of inactivity, I am experiencing huge growth in my consulting work. This has meant revamping my schedule – making sure I have enough time to complete my tasks, administrative tasks, etc. As a nonprofit freelancer, it has also meant dedicating myself to business development – finding clients, developing contracts, etc.

(For anyone who tells you being self-employed is easy….it’s not. You take on a greater commitment and workload to find the work that pays the bills, as well as doing the work that pays the bills. As a result, I’m networking and building my professional connections – and allowing others to ‘pick my brain’ – in a way that many “connectors” find a bit problematic. But my personal success has shown me that my actions today bring about greater successes tomorrow.)
But “tomorrow” is a powerful word for nonprofits – their mission is to make a positive impact on the community. Having a concept of the future makes staying in the present much more powerful and impactful. From personal experience, I know tomorrow will bring a new set of challenges, so it makes me much more enthusiastic about facing today’s challenges. It provides me with a sense of purpose, of energy, and more importantly, a greater ability to live “in the now” knowing that tomorrow will be different.

And the best thing about “tomorrow” – as the song reminds us, it’s always a day away.

Your thoughts? Please leave comments below join the conversation on Facebook. You can receive updates via e-mail (instructions below), or contact me personally via the About page.

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Written by gordondym

May 29, 2015 at 1:00 pm

Why I’m Joining Chicago Cares’ Serve-A-Thon 2015

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Volunteering can be a challenge – our time is taken up by family, friends, work, and other activities. In fact, my own time has been busy with consulting work, other writing commitments, and keeping current with the state of social good in Chicago. So when I was invited to join Chicago Cares’ Serve-a-Thon on June 27th, I was a bit hesitant…

But that hesitancy soon faded, and now I’m happy to announce that I will be participating in June. Plus, I will also be “covering” the event for the blog – taking photos, writing up a post, etc.

But why, Gordon, are you taking time out of your schedule for a single day?, you may be asking yourself. If you are seeking to gain personal time, why extend yourself this month?

The simple truth is this: in the past few years, I’ve been cutting down on my volunteer efforts – I needed more time for a job search, as well as more personal time. (There’s a reason why I’ve been slightly more consistent in my blogging for Chicago Now than I have been in the past). Volunteering for one day – and given that I won’t know where I’m volunteering until June 27th – is very exciting. Seeing a diverse group of people gather and work towards making an impact in the city of Chicago alwaysbrings a great thrill.

But more importantly, I personally believe that people do notunderstand the nature of volunteering. Many job seekers are often given the advice to volunteer at an organization. Somehow, the organization will determine the volunteer has some value and will later hire them.

(Sorry to disappoint, but it doesn’t work that way. Rarely, if ever, will a nonprofit or some other organization hire a volunteer. What volunteering can do – and I am living proof – is allow a person to keep their professional skills sharp, making them much more employable. Chicago Cares’ Serve-A-Thon is a great opportunity for only one day to sharpen those skills, even if it’s more “soft” than hard skills)

Many believe that volunteering is a way of “giving back” to the community, serving as a great alternative to donations. While this is true, there’s a greater need for collaboration and community – having attended two of many On the Table conversations sponsored by the Chicago Community Trust, I realized that the need for further collaboration and sharing of resources is critical for making an impact in Chicago.

But I also believe that in the social benefit field – whether you’re a nonprofit, social venture, or other mission-driven organization – there’s too much talk about collaboration and not enough practice. From the professional wading through their daily workload to the “connector” too busy to network with those seeking work, we’re all challenged to find the time and the energy to welcome and build collaborations. Those collaborations start with a single pause: the casual conversation over coffee, the phone call, or even the chance to work together on a project.

Chicago Cares’ Serve-A-Thon on June 27th provides a great opportunity for Chicago residents to make an impact on the greater community. You can track conversations about the event via the #imimpact hashtag, or visit Chicago Cares on the web

At the very least, I’ll get a decent blog post out of it.

What are your thoughts about volunteering? Are you planning to join the Serve-A-Thon? Please leave your comments and questions below, or join the conversation on Facebook. You can receive updates via e-mail (instructions below), or contact me personally via the 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.

Written by gordondym

May 22, 2015 at 10:17 am

The “Leverage Social Media Advocacy” Job

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This past week, I was lucky enough to participate in the Chicago Nerd Social Club’s Leverage 101 panel. Now, admittedly, as CNSC board member I might have been obligated to attend. As a nonprofit communications professional, I think the 2008 – 2012 series has a strong sense of social justice, beginning with its opening narration:

The rich and powerful, they take what they want. We steal it back for you. …Sometimes bad guys make the best good guys. We provide… “leverage”.

But it’s more than just clever writing….the greatest thing about Leverage is that it provides some great insights into how nonprofits can better engage in social media advocacy. It’s a field that near to my heart – as part of my professional background, I mobilized communities around chemical dependency and tobacco prevention. So I understand not only the need to engage others…but to also engage others around a common cause.

The first thing about engaging in social media advocacy – especially around heated topics (like tobacco prevention or social justice) is that the opposition usually tends to have three things in common:

  • They can often be better organized, and will have an almost immediate response. (Searching for a recent Boston magazine article about a controversial movement resulted in several “requests for clarification” posted within hours;
  • The opposition may often have more resources; and
  • The opposition will  deflect arguments, shift focus, and behave badly. In other words, they’ll cheat.

For nonprofits, social ventures, and other mission-driven organizations, social media advocacy draws attention and conversation around critical issues. But mission-driven organizations do not have to behave like their detractors, and Leverage provides plenty of guiding principles around better social media advocacy.Leverage_S2_e

  • Have a plan, but be willing to improvise: One of the major themes of the show is that Nathan Ford – the leader of the “crew”- often has a multitude of plans. (He also has a life that is somewhat out of control). Developing a strategy for engaging potential and current advocates – while being flexible enough to adapt when things change and/or new conversation possibilities appear – can strengthen a nonprofit’s ability to drive their mission forward.
  • Know your audience, but more importantly – know your opponents: Hardison – the tech expert of the group – often creates elaborate presentations and does the research to learn about each week’s “mark”. (For an explanation of confidence terms, consider reading David Maurer’s The Big Con: The Story of the Confidence Man. By understanding the mark, the team is better able to work against them. (Also, by knowing their allies, it becomes easier to build a stronger team against their opponent). 
  • Go Where  (and Know How) People Are Talking – Nonprofits (and other organizations) often wonder where their efforts would have the greatest effort. One of the Leverage team, Sophie, is a “known” grifter who serves as an “inside person” – the one who goes out and engages to find the mark. In social media, knowing where people are talking (in terms of channels) and how they discuss issues can be key in driving your advocacy efforts.
  • Be Strong, But Don’t Be A Troll – Part of your social media advocacy efforts should involve a response plan in case opponents go on the attack. Such as the case with Eliot, the team’s “muscle”, knowing how to defend yourself without succumbing to your own worst impulse is critical for social media advocacy. Elliot is a man who knows how to defend himself, but refuses to use a gun – your job is to know your limits.
  • Never be afraid to “steal” from those before you – Parker, the thief of the group, has a great working knowledge of how to locate and acquire specific objects. As nonprofit advocates, our job is to find resources and information that we can “steal”, whether it is another’s advice or an online resource. Consider checking out the Community Tool Box, which has some great resources for both communications and advocacy (as well as other community development tools).

If all of that doesn’t convince you to watch Leverage, please note that the show is available on DVD, as well as streaming via Netflix and Hulu. It’s not just an informative show….it’s also quite entertaining.

Have any comments? Please make your comment below or join us on Facebook. You can receive updates via e-mail (instructions below), or contact me personally via the About page.

And as always, thanks for reading!

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Written by gordondym

May 14, 2015 at 2:45 pm

Improvisation & Play in Nonprofit Technology

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SC BTP 01 Things have been quite busy for me lately: between increased consulting work (including a brand new project), attending a Second City ETC revue for my personal blog, and attending C2E2, my schedule has been rather hectic. But these few weeks have also reminded me about the importance of improvisation – and play – in nonprofit/social benefit technology.

Yes, that was a bit of a stretch, wasn’t it?

Many in the nonprofit/social venture fields find themselves wondering about the “right way” of doing things – finding that perfect formula that will allow them social media success, enable them to reach their constituents, and more importantly, raise funds and acquire resources. But a sense of exploration and experimentation get lost as nonprofit/social benefit organizations focus so much on the “how” that they forget the “why” of their activities. That thinking can often lead to a lack of creativity with a heady focus on “following the rules”…and can often lead to frustration because the perception is that the organization is “doing it wrong”.

(It’s also one of the biggest mistakes I have made in my own career – not embracing the “yes, and” when it comes to nonprofit work. Taking advantages of opportunities to experiment rather than “sticking to the script” has been extremely helpful in both working with communities and reaching people. By embracing those opportunities to jump in and “wing it”, greater rewards and strong outcomes can often result. Like many others, I am a strong proponent of the “nonprofit as lean startup” model of operation. It is an approach that can have positive impact on both the process of implementation and the eventual result: a greater sense of collaboration and community among participants.

It can even provide a more memorable experience. On a personal level, I saw this during the Doctor Who-themed panel at C2E2. Sylvester McCoy, who played the Doctor in the late 1980s, decided that he did not want to simply sit on a couch and take questions. Heading into the audience, he began interacting with a wider variety of people, and as the following videos reveal, he made quite the impression:

Perhaps you may be thinking, “But what does this have to do with my social benefit work?”. Improvisation is a key still – adjusting to sudden changes and opportunities to expand is critical for nonprofit survival. With many resources becoming available, and with new ways of thinking, adapting and modifying those approaches can mean the difference in how nonprofits, social ventures, and other social benefit organizations can make a greater impact on the community….and taking the risk always pays off in greater community collaboration.

Tell us your thoughts – please join the conversation via the comments below or join us on Facebook. You can receive updates via e-mail (instructions below), or contact me personally via the About page.

And as always, thanks for reading!

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Written by gordondym

May 1, 2015 at 10:32 am