One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for September 2015

Open Letter to John Oliver of LAST WEEK TONIGHT

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Dear John Oliver,

I just want to say that I love your work on Last Week Tonight (especially through the magic of YouTube), but I also have enjoyed your star turns on The Daily Show and Community….but also, that little video that pops up whenever I watch a Doctor Who DVD. You know the one:

I must say that I enjoyed all of my Doctor Who DVDs….except Time and the Doctor, but that’s a post for another time.

But my main purpose is to congratulate you on being named “America’s Social Justice Warrior” by Mashable – the tech site that reflects America’s taste in potatoes. Yes, the phrase “social justice warrior” tends to be used in a pejorative manner, but it’s a way to think about advocates – people who are willing to put themselves out there and work for social change. I think it’s safe to say that I’m proud to consider myself a social justice warrior. One of the aspects of Last Week Tonight that I enjoy the most is the show’s willingness and enthusiasm in focusing on lesser known, but critical issues such as Net Neutrality, the need for a well-funded public defender system, and infrastructure (featuring the comedy magic of Vincent D’Onofrio). But you’re also hitting on issues that impact the nonprofit/social change community as well, whether you’re discussing scholarship competitions, for-profit schools, rules for nonprofit organizations, or even World Cup Soccer.

But I’m e-mailing you because I really enjoyed two particular pieces you did….and which I’ve written about. First, your #JeffWeCan piece focusing on tobacco marketing in other countries – I really wish this was available when I was doing tobacco prevention in St. Louis:

The other was your piece on Ferguson, which prompted a post for Blog Action Day:

But let me get to the point – I would love the opportunity to interview you for this very blog. I would ask you various questions about the show, your beliefs, and possibly the genius of Patrick Troughton, and we would have a conversation similar to the one you did with Pepe Julien Onzema. Although this blog’s focus is technology and social benefit in the Chicago area,  you and your staff do such an exceptional job in highlighting social justice issues with great intelligence and wit and without pandering, and I feel that’s worth highlighting.  To use a rather awkward metaphor – you’re Moss from The IT Crowd while other media are merely Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory.

(For those reading who don’t understand the reference – one is a sharply written, hilariously observed comedy featuring nerdy references and clever material which serves as a great example of television comedy; the other is The Big Bang Theory).

Now, it may be a bit of a challenge with your show taped in New York while I live in Chicago – but forget about time zones, let’s do this. Here are some suggested ways we can make this happen:

    • I’m more than happy to send you questions via e-mail, which you can answer and send right back to me. The great thing with
      this is that you can answer at your convenience….and one of your producers can reach out via this contact form on my
      personal website.
    • Check out and comment on this blog’s Facebook page (and if you need more direct lines of communication, please see this blog’s About page). Think of it as a way for both of us to work our social media mojo;
    • You can fly here to Chicago and we can go on a tour of our many restaurants, where you can enjoy our fine deep dish pizza, our English-style pubs (which may or may not cure you of any homesickness for Birmingham), and Italian beef sandwiches large enough to be used as small projectiles.
    • Yes, you could fly me out to New York and we could do an interview on air, but let’s face it – I don’t think HBO will spring for it.

Now, Mr. Oliver, you’re more than welcome to read this blog post on the air….or even include it in one of Last Week Tonight’s web-only videos on YouTube. Either way, I wanted to make it known that I would like to thank you and your production staff for all your hard work. And if you wanted to encourage your viewers to help with the Chicago TARDIS charity auction, I would greatly appreciate it.

Last Week Tonight is a great resource (much like FAIR’s CounterSpin podcast) in shedding a light on stories that may not receive mainstream attention, and I’m glad you’re taking the lead in providing that attention. Thanks for being such a stand-up social justice warrior bro.

Your pal,



Written by gordondym

September 21, 2015 at 10:22 am

Chicago Charity Challenge: A worthy gamble

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Sometimes, taking a gamble can pay off.

When I was invited to a charity night put on by Paul Hastings, I had let it go due to work commitments. Thankfully, I received a follow up and with a new window of opportunity this past Thursday night, attended their Casino Night event for Christopher House. There, I learned that this event was part of an overall effort called the Chicago Charity Challenge.

To put it bluntly, I’m impressed. Very impressed.

Now in its second year, the Chicago Charity Challenge was started by Craig Foster, who founded Call One and was seeking a way to make a greater philanthropic impact. With many other companies crafting a “Day of Sharing” with nonprofits, Craig realized that many charities and businesses could benefit from longer-term relationships. (If one day of impact is good for both organizations, building working relationships can help extend the range and focus of that impact). From April 1st through December 31st, companies  collaborate with nonprofits who share their Corporate Social Responsibility mission. With help from Challenge staff, these collaborations work on a variety of activities (including joint events, fundraisers, and other team building activities. Data and donations are collected through free access to GiveTrak, and companies are encouraged to compete against each other (and results are tracked in real time).

But how do companies feel they benefit? Allow me to share how one company views the benefits of the Chicago Charity Challenge:

Paul Hastings Law Firm and Christopher House Honored with Grand Prize Award from Chicago Charity Challenge on Vimeo.

One of the key strengths of the Chicago Charity Challenge is that it integrates a value that most nonprofits tend to avoid – competition. With companies competing towards philanthropic efforts, the Chicago Charity Challenge may seem “at odds” with conventional wisdom….but it means that people are encouraged to work harder towards social benefit. (And as Stephen Lee of ChariPick learned in his research, people often get more pleasure from giving donations over receiving). The Chicago Charity Challenge’s concept of “competitive philanthropy” has even acquired a nomination for the 2015 Chicago Innovation Awards.

Right now, the philanthropic landscape is becoming more diverse and improvisational, with businesses seeing the benefit of philanthropy and nonprofits conducting themselves in a more businesslike manner. The Chicago Charity Challenge is a fine example of the power of collaboration – when two different organizations with common values work together for the benefit of the community.

As for my experience….I had a blast. Played quite a bit of blackjack (my personal game) and even tried my hand at roulette (hit a lucky streak for a bit) while meeting a variety of people from a variety of nonprofit and corporate organizations. (Including an all-too brief – yet charming – conversation in the elevator on the way out). At the end of the night, we were encouraged to donate our “winnings” to various charities (by dropping our chips in various labeled boxes), and I don’t mean to brag….but I had plenty to give away that night.

Collaboration? Community? Having fun while doing good? That’s a gamble that’s always worth taking….and the Chicago Charity Challenge is a worthy gamble.

(Special thanks to Michelle D’Amico, Stacey Raga, and Craig Foster for their time, their hospitality, and most importantly – for all their hard work)

Know of any other great philanthropic efforts happening throughout Chicago? Have any questions or comments? You’re more than welcome to share below or join the conversation on our Facebook page. 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

September 19, 2015 at 11:03 am

Meet Your Neighbor: ChariPick

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(Special thanks to Stephen Lee of Charipick for sharing his time and insights, and special thanks to Derek Serafin of Motion PR for the introduction)

Matching nonprofit supporters and potential donors/volunteers can be a challenge for any organization. For smaller and medium-sized nonprofits, it can be especially challenging given the size of the organization, challenges in allocating resources and staff, andother concerns. However, a Chicago-area startup named Charipick has risen to meet that challenge…and is the focus this month’sMeet Your Neighbor.

Charipick was started with great intentions: Stephen Lee wanted to focus on “giving back” to the community. With his professional background in hedge fund management, M & A strategic planning, and business development, Stephen wanted to find an appropriate nonprofit – preferably a smaller organization – that would allow him to make an impact by sharing his skills and talents. However, the search for an appropriate nonprofit was a great challenge which needed simplification. Engaging with nonprofit boards was also a challenge – although most recommendations came through word-of-mouth, the process was still needlessly complicated. But Stephen realized what was needed most: a discovery and donation tool that would lead users to curated and trusted non-profits. With their target market increasingly engaging via mobile devices, Stephen and Charipick rose to the challenge.

Charipick (a Chicago-area startup) provides a mobile app for both Android and iOS that allows users to engage in a habit of giving. Users are presented with three different nonprofits in a variety of areas, and have to select one profit for a donation. (Users are asked to donate $1 per day per nonprofit, and every single dollar is incremental for nonprofits). All of the charities featured on Charipick are selected and curated based on three key criteria:

  • Relevance – Charities (with IRS 501c3 status) are selected due to relevance and interest to Charipick’s target audience (25 – 35 year olds);
  • Size – Most charities featured in the app have a budget of less than $10 million (and that will decrease over time);
  • Financial Stability – Charipick selections have demonstrated some financial stability and transparency, and meet very stringent criteria.11009169_1578860249044455_4398678107613974202_n

One of the more interesting aspects about the app is that much of the way it was designed was based on research into human behavior. It turns out that, according to science, giving is much more pleasurable than receiving, sparking similar neural responses and feelings that mimic those around food and sex. Even with a minimal donation of $1/day, users are introduced to the idea that giving can be beneficial, and that feeling is continually reinforced. In fact, Charipick’s app also allows for greater personal engagement around nonprofits – users can research nonprofits of interest, learning more about their cases. If a Charipick user finds a nonprofit where they would like to volunteer, all they need to do is press a button and provide information – an e-mail is sent to the nonprofit, providing greater volunteer engagement and allowing nonprofits to build their resources with minimal effort.

In short, Charipick is providing a way for users to “graduate” from the app, moving into greater support of a nonprofit….but that’s not the only outcome Charipick seeks. As a startup, Charipick has actively built outcomes and impact into the way it interacts with nonprofits. For smaller to midsize nonprofits, registration is a relatively simple 15 second application. If the organization is relevant for Charipick users, it moves onto phase 2, focusing on thinking through how to quantify their impact, from “what does a dollar donation do?” to an overall perception of their mission. Even when individuals donate, Charipick has been proactive in providing documentation – users are provided a month-end e-mail report for tax purposes. Charipick has simplified the process for both nonprofit and supporter alike.

(For those concerned about financial control, Charipick has also built in some safeguards. Although they facilitate the donation process, Charipick transactions are handled through a third party credit card processor which transfers money directly to nonprofits. Charipick is also not a crowdfunding tool – while most crowdfunding tools encourage users to market the crowdfunding project, Charipick flips it around and markets itself as a way for users to find nonprofits.).

Chicago’s startup scene – and social entrepreneurship scene – can take pride in Charipick, which is a well-needed mobile app that connects supporters and nonprofits. Find out more about them via their web site, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Have any recommendations for great organizations to highlight? Any thoughts or comments?  Please leave them below or join us in conversation via 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.

Planning the Chicago TARDIS Charity Auction

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chitardis2015As an active social change agent, I always “practice what I preach” and have a healthy set of interests outside of my professional efforts. As a very active Doctor Who fan, I always look forward to organizing the Chicago TARDIS charity auction. It’s a great opportunity for me to stay involved, keep my skills up, but more importantly, continue to engage partners, volunteers, and
attendees around raising funds and awareness for Northern Illinois Food Bank, who supports food pantries and other organizations in the western suburbs.

After running it for two years, one of the challenges of running the Chicago TARDIS Charity Auction is now making it a bit more solid. After two years of “test runs” and raising approximately $5,600, we set a 2015 fundraising goal of $3,000 – it’s a small, incremental amount but provides enough incentive for engaging partners, donors, bidders, and other interested parties. Part of that means encouraging both small cash and donation of non-perishable food items as part of the overall outreach. It also means working with various other “departments” to make the Chicago TARDIS charity auction a success – everything from spare boxes from Registration to coordinating volunteer needs. It’s a great way to sharpen the kind of collaboration skills that many nonprofits and social ventures discuss as part of their day-to-day work.TARDIS at Pumping Station

Another key challenge is using technology to make certain things easier. Much of Chicago TARDIS’ collaboration happens via e-mail, with regular  in-person planning meetings to outline and discuss potential issues. On a personal level, I often use Trello as a simple project management tool (first used in collaboration with a client), and LibreOffice allows me to run spreadsheets and create documents without much effort. Social media plays a key role, as Twitter and Facebook serve as primary channels to engage Doctor Who fans around Chicago TARDIS (and the charity auction). During the event, we use Northern Illinois Food Bank’s donation page to process credit card payments, making issuing receipts, getting payments to the organization, and other matters easier. Working Chicago TARDIS is a great collaborative effort, and it’s one of the best things about being a socially-minded Doctor Who fan – everyone gets into the spirit.

So now comes the greatest challenge – and a way that you might be able to help. One of my key roles as Chicago TARDIS Auction Director is to solicit items for bidding in the Live and Silent Auctions. My primary focus is to solicit items that will engage fans willing to spend money, and consist of a variety of items, including

  • High end memorabilia;
  • Photos, mementos, and other items;
  • Gift certificates; and
  • Fan-created items.

(And yes, people do pay for items – an autographed copy of Big Finish’s Zagreus net $300; a prop from a classic Who story went for a similar prize; and fan-crafted items like scarves can often sell for $70 and over. It sounds rather capitalistic, but when raising money for charity….every little bit helps).

And so, the pitch – if you would like to help us this year, the Chicago TARDIS Charity Auction always welcomes donations of Doctor Who (or other science fiction-related) memorabilia. (Just send an e-mail to with any questions). You’re also more than welcome to please forward this blog post via social media, because we’re really want to get the word out. If you would like to make a donation directly, please head to – simply provide your information, write “Chicago TARDIS 2015 Auction” in the Comments, and after donating, please forward a copy of the receipt to the aforementioned e-mail address.

It’s wonderful when professional and personal interests collide, and working as Chicago TARDIS Auction Director is something I look forward to every year. It’s a great conference with a great staff….and which demonstrates the power that collaboration can have upon positive impact in the greater community.

Any comments or questions? Know of any other conferences which sponsor similar activities? Please feel free to leave your thoughts and insights below, or join the greater conversation on our Facebook page.  You can receive updates via e-mail (instructions below), and you are welcome to contact me personally: my contact information is available via this blog’s  About page.

And as always, thanks for reading!
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September 8th, Dine Out for No Kid Hungry in Chicago

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Chicago is a city known for having a multitude of dining options. Thanks to NoKid Hungry, you have a chance to help end childhood hunger in the US by simply dining out on September 8th.

On Tuesday, September 8th, No Kid Hungry is working with restaurants around the country (including the Chicago area) on a fundraising effort. The process is relatively simple: find a participating restaurant via (Venue choices are relatively diverse, ranging from independent venues to franchise-based venues like Corner Bakery Cafe and Bar Louie). Ways to donate will be simple, from coupons to giveaways, and quite honestly – it’s a great blending of social purpose and practical activity.

(For those who think this may be nothing more than “slacktivism” something to consider – No Kid Hungry pledges that every $1 donated can connect a child struggling with hunger with 10 meals. In a country where 1 out of 5 children may not know where their next meal is coming from….that can be powerful). In 2014, No Kid Hungry’s efforts provided meals for over 89 million children in need. Of course, participants are encouraged to share via their social media channels using the #NoKidHungry hashtag).

It may not sound like much, especially given talk about budget woes. But at the very least, it’s a way to make a tangible difference in Chicago.

Have any comments? Please join the conversation 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!

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

September 4, 2015 at 10:43 am