One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for August 2018

Blogger Outreach: An Insider’s Perspective

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As a Chicago Now blogger, I’m finding myself in a middle of a popularity contest: between helping friends with their efforts, getting requests from media and organizations to profile them, and creating real-time topics…I am never at a loss for topics that make great posts. However, I also recognize that many nonprofit, community and other mission-driven organizations are looking to engage bloggers (and yes, blogs are still relevant in today’s times) to drive their mission. As an effort to provide guidance and insight (as well as generate interest in my freelance work as a digital marketing consultant and copywriter, here are some guidelines for engaging in strong, smart blogger outreach.

  • Do Your Research On Your Target Blog – it’s more than just reading the blog to ensure that its content fits your mission. Be sure to check out its unique monthly traffic through free tools to ensure that you will get proper coverage. Check out the blogger’s social media profile to see whether they are amenable to writing about your organization.
  • Create a Solid Pitch – When I’m working with public relations agencies and higher level organizations, it may often come in the form of a solid cover letter with an attached press release and/or pitch sheet. For smaller organizations, it’s usually a brief e-mail summarizing the highlights of the organization. (It helps to tie it into some event or milestone, like the 95th Street Red Line Station project or the Chicago Charity Challenge.) Either way, sending a brief pitch (and a short conversation via phone) usually helps me (as the blogger) provide the appropriate pitch/approach to writing it for the blog. Which leads to…
  • Create A Media List – Whether you create a high-end database or a simple spreadsheet via Microsoft Word or Libre Office, you should track your media contacts. Basic information should include the blogger’s name, e-mail, blog name, and URL, as well as unique monthly traffic for the blog. (For the record, One Cause At a Time receives 350 – 500 unique visitors per month according to Google Analytics). I would also suggest connecting with Public Narrative, an organization that assists nonprofits with communication and media and helps connect them with interested journalists.
  • Blogs help shape the story, not the spin – As a blogger, I try to write posts that encapsulate the best of technology, social change, and community-driven efforts throughout Chicago. Sometimes, bloggers like me get some of the fine details wrong, and I’m always willing to make corrections/clarifications. It is also tempting to use blogs as a way to generate “spin”, changing several details to provide an element of spin or make the blog post sound a little too promotional. (One small Chicago-based foundation, years ago, insisted on making changes that were different than what was discussed). Collaboration is key when working with bloggers since we straddle the line between “professional journalism” and “personal opinion.” (At least, that’s what I believe).
  • Ethical Bloggers Disclose When They Receive Complimentary Products – Whether I have received complimentary comics and books (as a pop culture blogger) or access to a conference, I have always disclosed when I have received free items and access. It’s not just out of a sense of ethics, but I am also bound by the FTC Disclosure Guidelines. (Worth a read if only because these guidelines also cover social media). Most of the time, that disclosure is relatively simple, such as A complimentary copy of this book was provided for purposes of review. My thoughts are my own.. When I have written books reviews for the blog, I have relied on the Chicago Public Library’s Interlibrary Loan service to find and acquire books (meaning no need to disclose). Otherwise, ethical bloggers opt to disclose when necessary
  • Always Ask For a Link to the Published Post – This may seem obvious, but this isn’t just for due diligence on the blogger’s part. In short, your organization and any blogger (including me) are looking for traffic and attention. Blog posts should be part of the “media mix” for any nonprofit or social enterprise, and that includes having it available for your organization’s marketing/public relations and other outreach efforts. (After I have completed a post, I add it to Google Plus (giving it greater weight), Twitter and this blog’s Facebook page). Having access is a given, and you have a right to using any positive media mention in your marketing efforts.

There’s obviously more to blogger outreach and relations which can be covered in a single blog post. Think of this as a great “starter” to get you thinking about your organization. We’ve been lucky to highlight some great community-based efforts over the past few weeks, and we have some great plans for the blog coming in the near future.

Questions? Comments? Please leave them below, or please feel free to use this form to contact me directly.

And thanks for reading!


Written by gordondym

August 30, 2018 at 12:13 pm

Meet Your Neighbor: Esperanza Community Services

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  (Special thanks to Joy Decker of Esperanza Community Services for her time and insights)

“Community” often gets used in a variety of contexts without understanding the full meaning of the word. In social media circles, “community” is often used to describe followers without necessarily any context other than a given brand. In Chicago neighborhoods, “community” often describes how neighbors, organizations, and leaders relate to each other. There’s a sense of common philosophy, empathy, and a powerful interconnection between the members of that community.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Joy Decker, Executive Director of Esperanza Community Services since 2014, about their programs. Not only do they provide a wide variety of services, but their philosophy embraces the idea of community.

Esperanza Community was started by Guadalupe Reyes 49 years ago in a church basement in Pilsen. Her son had developmental disabilities as a result of spinal meningitis, and he wanted the same experiences and support as other children when attending school. Influenced by Waldorf school philosophy Esperanza Community provides an array of programs for individuals with developmental challenges and autistic individuals to express themselves through the arts. These include

  • An adult day program that allows participants to learn life skills, engage in social interaction, and maintain a connection to the community;
  • A residential program providing case management and hands-on
  • A state-funded therapeutic day school (in partnership with Chicago Public Schools) that provides programs for 55 students and 55 adults to develop living and social skills, express themselves through the arts and maintain a connection to the community.

One of the great things about Esperanza Community Services (as Ms. Decker explained) is that the students and participants do more than just create art; they are actively engaging in promoting and displaying their art. Like the recent Raks Inferno fundraiser for immigrant rights, Esperanza Community participants play an active role in curating, exhibiting,  and promoting their art, holding past exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Hotel Lincoln.

This strong community-based philosophy allows Esperanza Community Servies to have a greater impact on their participants. Not only do participants receive a wide range of supportive services (including occupational therapy and speech pathology), but also a great compassion and empathy that extends to the student’s (and resident’s) family as well.  Esperanza Community Services provides a greater opportunity for their students and residents for community participation, as well as a greater chance to engage the greater world.

Not only is the emphasis on visual arts a great way to engage participants, but as Ms. Decker explained, Esperanza Community considers the arts a way to bring vibrancy to its programs. Although seemingly more “clinical” in nature, the programs at Esperanza Community Services provide participants an opportunity to express themselves. Looking at Esperanza Community Services’ presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram will reveal a liveliness and spirit that permeates the organization. Funded through the state, Esperanza Community relies on key partnerships and the greater community to keep going…and developing those partnerships is key. That sense of partnership and community extends to the way in which Esperanza Community engages the greater community, such as this video highlighting their School Supply Wish List:

Esperanza School Supply Wish List! from Esperanza Community Services on VimeoYou can also donate other items on their Wish List as well as donate to Esperanza Community Services Directly. These outings are just a few examples of ways that individuals can support the participants of Esperanza’s programs. People can help Esperanza’s mission through the donation of school supplies, providing support for customized learning materials, and more. For information, please email or call 312.243.6097 x 131.

And Esperanza Community Services is one neighbor you should know.

Please feel free to leave your comments below or join the conversation via our Facebook page. If you wish to contact me directly, my information is available via this blog’s About page. And as always, thanks for reading!

Meet Your Neighbor: Chicago CRED

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Last week, I had the opportunity to check out the opening of Pullman Peace Park. After all, it was simply a few bus rides away, but it was an opportunity to learn about the work of Chicago CRED through the eyes of one of their participants.

It was an outing to the newly-opened Pullman Peace Park, a collaboration between Chicago CRED, FH Paschen (who donated construction supplies and noted for their work on the 95th Street Red Line Station) and the Chicago White Sox. It was also unique in that I got to meet Michael Reed (featured in the above video). It was a great opportunity to learn about a great organization doing work, follow up with another topic, but more importantly, meet someone whose life has been positively impacted by that work.

Chicago CRED (Creating Real Economic Destiny) has a mission to achieve a transformative reduction in Chicago gun violence. Created in 2016 by the Emerson Collective, Chicago CRED believes that recruiting men who are at high-risk to become perpetrators or victims of gun violence and transitioning them to jobs in the legal economy (which pay equal or better than those in the illegal economy) is the best solution for ending gun violence in Chicago.  Their approach assumes that most “jobs” in the illegal economy (involving drug and gang activity) pay only $11- 13 an hour, and Chicago CRED’S strategy (which is research-based)  addresses the social, emotional and job readiness support of men by placing participants in permanent, full-time jobs with private employers at a targeted starting wage of $12-$15/hour.

But the best way to describe the impact of Chicago CRED is by talking to one of their participants. And last week, I had the opportunity to talk to Michael Reed. He’s the individual featured in the above video. c-now-pullman-peace-park

It was a casual conversation – Michael had become involved with Chicago CRED simply through attending a presentation. It engaged him, but in his words, it “made him grow into a man.” He took classes, worked with others, and then found himself hired by Paschen on the 95th Street Red Line Station project. (In fact, he was at Pullman Peace Park helping with demolition). Speaking with Michael Reed, his enthusiasm about his work with Paschen and his involvement with Chicago CRED was easily apparent.

We also remarked how his involvement with Chicago CRED speaks not only to breaking cycles, but also reinvesting in the community. Michael remarked that he knew many people who played the same roles because those roles were always prevalent. He appreciated his work on the 95th Street Red Line Station because it wasn’t just about the work, but it gave back to the community. (As I live in Beverly, I also made similar remarks). It’s “economic development” at the smallest level – a person who enjoyed and had gratitude for their work was helping support his community not just through taxes…but on a very hands-on basis.

It’s moments like these that make me glad to write this blog. After all, I’ve been fortunate to help friends with their projects…but I also enjoy checking out programs that are making a differencce but often receive very little spotlight. Chicago CRED is one neighbor worth knowing.

Please leave your comments and thoughts below or join the conversation via our Facebook page.

And as always, thanks for reading!


Self-Care When Freelancing and Caregiving

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Last week, I crashed hard. Between marketing an immigration rights fundraiser and being dragged into a crisis involving a former volunteer gig, I’ve spent most of the past few days relaxing. Losing two assignments have resulted in a more diligent search for freelance work, but my mother’s health issues have meant an increase in caregiving responsibilities. Balancing caregiving and freelancing is difficult, but adding self-care increases the overall challenge in maintaining balance.

Part of integrating self-care into my freelancing and caregiving lifestyle is setting boundaries over my time and efforts. When Facebook refused to promote ″political content” (especially after numerous online efforts encouraging that action), promoting that event meant a bit more work. However, that also meant cutting off efforts to engage me in a former volunteer situation after I had resigned. (Ironically, this was for an organization that claims to be focused on freelancer rights yet treats volunteers like unpaid employees). It also means not regretting being terminated from a freelance assignment for a local agency with high turnover (both in employees and freelance staff), disorganized and poorly trained staff, and using outdated principles.

In short, leaving all of those situations improved my mental health; being nearly dragged back into one cost me time and energy in setting boundaries. But it also means engaging in balancing the search for work with caring for an ill parent. Unlike caring for a child, the dynamics of “parenting a parent” can be more ambiguous and difficult to navigate. Taking time out for self-care often feels selfish, yet it’s necessary to avoid compassion fatigue and caregiver burnout.

Photo by Gordon Dymowski - Taken at B-Sides Coffee & Vinyl

Photo by Gordon Dymowski – Taken at B-Sides Coffee & Vinyl

One of the other challenges in self-care has been dealing with friendships. For the past year and a half, I have been in the process of simplifying my life and letting go of activities that don’t really engage me. This has resulted in opening up my time for other things, including connecting (or reconnecting) with many people. Face-to-face time with people outside of social media often results in greater enthusiasm as well as a reminder about the importance of having healthy relationships. Self-care also means distancing myself from people who…well, their attitude tends to reflect these sentiments:

″You’re not doing enough, Gordon, you need to hustle. You need to do more so you can get work to take care of your mother. You’re failing at everything you do.”

Of course, these are the kind of people who believe that ″crushing it” in the gig economy is possible. (It’s also encouraging me to write a post entitled: Gary Vaynerchuk: Toxic Masculinity or White Male Entitlement – You Decide!). Part of the grind is securing freelance work, which often means placing a lot of effort that may not pay off immediately. Applying for full-time work also results in the question, ″Why are you moving out of freelancing/consulting?” Criticisms about ″charging too much” or ″why not just take any job” abound, meaning that freelancers like me are continually challenged to assert (and are continually denied) our value. Opening up about these challenges when networking often leads to the same cookie-cutter advice from self-appointed ″career coaches”: getting a job is a full-time job…and caregiving for an ill parent means less time at that particular “full-time job”.


It also means that my romantic life is…non-existent at this point. Dating becomes harder, mostly because many women aren’t that eager to date someone caring for a sick parent. Discussing these issues either leads to awkward pauses, criticism for being selfish (as in ″What you’re doing is such a blessing, why would you complain?” or simply lack of interest. (And don’t get me started when there are unrequited feelings…despite being difficult to handle in normal circumstances, those feelings can be even more difficult to work through without the help of a mental health professional). As much as I know my high worth as a human being…freelancing and caregiving can get especially lonely. Although reconnecting with friends can be rejuvenating, pursuing anything further can be rather heartbreaking and frustrating. Engaging in self-care means accepting this, but quite honestly…it’s difficult with various other pressures. However, it can be handled with grace.

If I ponder about these matters excessively, I can easily fall into depression. As I wrote when Antony Bourdain passed from suicide, I tend to have reactive depressions rather than full-on depressive episodes. Although I’m not incapacitated or kept from seeking work, it does mean that I have to work harder to identify and follow up on leads. It also means that rejection takes on a harsher tone. My self-care regiment means shutting out the negativity from those around me and realizing that I am doing the best I can in a difficult circumstance. It means that eating healthy, getting regular sleep, engaging in healthy social behaviors and making my self-worth a priority makes me a better freelancer…and a better person.

(And a word on ″positivity” – having a positive attitude does not mean that I refuse to acknowledge hardship in my past nor present difficulties. Adopting an attitude that ″there are no victims – only volunteers” results in a lack of compassion, empathy, and overall self-regard. Taking stock in the small victories of the day despite present difficulties – and having hope that matters will work out for the best – is a good thing. Adopting a counterfeit positive attitude that never acknowledges that sometimes things may not work out can be hazardous. I have adopted an attitude of defensive pessimism when it comes to dealing with matters – I’m not putting my eggs in one basket, but I make sure that I know my options when storing eggs.)


(That metaphor…really doesn’t work, does it?)

Balancing freelancing and caregiving can be a challenge; managing both while integrating self-care becomes especially critical. For many freelancers (especially those of a specific age who are ″reluctant entrepreneurs”), this work style is not aspirational as much as it is practical. With more people adopting a ″gig economy” working life, understanding their struggles and helping them progress in their work life can provide positive benefits. After all, freelancers are doing two jobs: doing the work that pays the bills and providing administrative support that finds and enhances the work that pays the bills.

So when you’re dealing with freelancers either personally or professionally, please try to have some compassion. Avoid the usual ″work in your pajamas” or ″you have it easy” cliches. Because freelancing is a work style, not a lifestyle. Life still happens, and freelancers who are caregivers are especially challenged with self-care…

…and taking care of ourselves should be celebrated.

What are your thoughts? Please feel free to join the conversation on our Facebook page or leave comments below. You can contact me directly either via LinkedIn or my website.

As always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

August 6, 2018 at 7:35 am