Walking the Walk

December 3, 2009 § 1 Comment

In a recent blog post, Seth Godin challenged nonprofit professionals to put their money where their mouth is. If you work for a charitable organization, if you don’t give, why are you in that line of work?

Whether it’s a charitable gift or a volunteer shift, those of us who work in nonprofits, especially those of us who have more administrative duties keeping us away from the front lines, should get in the trenches on occasion. It is a matter of responsibility, as well as staying in touch with why we do the work that we do.

Clean Your Plate: People Are Hungry

November 30, 2009 § Leave a comment

New USDA published the latest statistics on food insecurity on November 16, reporting that 49 million people are struggling with hunger in the United States. At Feeding America where I work, we were expecting the numbers to be bad, but we found them shocking.

Since then, there have been numerous articles about how people are coping with the recession, including an article in today’s New York Times about food stamps.

Many have observed the paradox of hunger and obesity in this country, and a recent study shows that as much as 40% of the food produced in this country is thrown out.

When I was growing up, I remember making fun of my elders saying that we needed to clean our plates because there were children starving in Africa. Now I find myself overcome with guilt if I don’t finish everything on my plate, or if I throw anything away in my refrigerator.

This issue touches every facet of my life, personally, professionally, and spiritually. My spouse, Gillian, talks about being a good garde manger in the kitchen, the person who stocks the pantry and makes sure that the food is rotated and used efficiently and economically, making sure not to waste anything.

As I approach my work in philanthropy supporting hunger relief, and as I make my own personal choices about food and sustainability, I’m going to strive to be a better garde manger at home, and do my part to help get food to my hungry neighbors.

Beat Cancer! #beatcancer

October 17, 2009 § Leave a comment

I found out about this campaign a little late, but not too late to join in. eBay, PayPal and Miller Lite are all c0ntributing $.01 for every blog post, Facebook update, and tweet with the #beatcancer hash tag. You can find out more about it at the Beat Cancer Everywhere site.

I have also adopted the hash tag for the Blame Cancer campaign, which started as #blamdrewscancer. For my brother, David, who is currently fighting (and winning) cancer, when I have a bad day, I #blamedavidscancer.

More and more people are impacted by cancer. Either they get it or someone close to them does. And all of us could get it in some form or another.

For that reason I feel compelled to join the social media campaign to help raise money, and encourage others to do so as well.

Slacktivism, Shmacktivism!

May 22, 2009 § 3 Comments

How Social Media Activists are Changing the World

I have seen and heard a lot of nay-saying lately in the media about social networking tools, to which I feel compelled to respond. Within the last week I’ve encountered at least three different critiques about tools the likes of Twitter and Facebook, accusing thier users of  “slacktivism,” like this opinion piece by John Ridley, who says that People who use Twitter are hypocrites, or the piece in Foreign Policy which claims that the tools foster “feel-good online activism that has zero political or social impact.”

To this I say “pshaw!” I can say first hand that these tools have real impact, especially when it comes to community organizing and raising awareness of issues. I work in the nonprofit world, where social benefit organizations are exploring the exploding number of communication tools available to see how they can be used to motivate people into action, whether it is getting out news, inviting people to an event, informing people of volunteer service opportunities, or encouraging folks to make charitable contributions. Getting people engaged with these tools is the whole reason they are so successful.

Last winter, I went to a rally at the Center on Halsted when Fred Phelps and his clan were in town ready to hurl their anti-gay hatred at this wonderful Chicago institution. One of the primary ways the organizers were able to get the word out was through Facebook and Twitter. Over 200 people showed up, and we successfully delivered the message to Phleps & Co that hate is not welcome here.

Right now, marriage equality activists are organizing and communicating with each other about local actions when the Supreme Court decision in California that is announced on Tuesday, May 26th. Through online tools, we are getting the word out and as a result people are going to hit the streets all over the country on Tuesday night.

Next week in San Jose, CA, people from all over the world are gathering for the NetSquared conference, which is all about the use of social technologies for progressive social change. People representing all types of nonprofit organizations that are working for environmental justice, human rights, and world peace are coming together to learn from each other and collaborate. The projects they work on include Handheld Human Rights, which uses technology tools to document human rights abuses in Burma, and PublicStuff.org, a mobile application that enables citizens to make meaningful connections with their local government leaders and hold them accountable to meet needs in their communities.

There’s also the example of the Sunlight Foundation which promotes the creation and use of online tools to improve access to government information. The Sunlight Foundation promotes tools like Filibusted, which allows users to keep track of which senators have used the filibuster to stall debate, and Know Thy Congressman, a widget that convenietly provides very useful information about any congressperson, including their voting record.

Social media is more than just Twitter and Facebook, and though those are wonderful community organizing tools, too, there are so many more under development. Activists all over the world have used and created these tools to raise visibility for their issues. These are not perfect mediums, and they are only as good as the people who use them. 

Finally, as I was writing this post, I learned via Twitter that the prolific nonprofit blogger Beth Kanter wrote a post for Mashable about how social media is changing the nonprofit landscape. Her examples further illustrate the point I am making.

Nay-sayers be darned! Social media tools are helping activists change the world.

Conspicuous Generosity

May 17, 2009 § Leave a comment

Forbes recently published an article positing the question of whether or not the age of “conspicuous philanthropy” was coming to an end. Citing a trend in anonymous giving, author Judith Dobrzynski asks whether having a donor’s name in lights with a big naming gift may be a thing of the past.

Some people are motivated to give by the promise of having their name up in lights, naming a building or a scholarship in their honor, that would remain for generations. From the institution’s point of view, naming opportunities is good stewardship. It gives the donor the chance to see concretely how their dollars make a difference in the community, as well as honoring the donor’s generosity.

In my view, philanthropy is a responsibility, like the concept of tithing, and people should give as much as they are able to the causes they believe in. Even so, in our culture philanthropy is a choice, and those of in the business offundraising know that the gift has to give something to the donor. If making the gift doesn’t generate positive feelings, then there’s no motivation for the donor.

Philanthropy is always motivated by emotions and what is going to make us feel better about ourselves. Whether it is shame, love, jealousy, or good old-fashioned egotism, I think that deep down people understand that public philanthropy (call it conspicuous if you like) is simply modeling good behavior.

One of my former employers, a large, presigious university, organized a series of fundraising dinners at the homes of volunteers. These were initimate gatherings of classmates, no more than ten couples, where the host would give a presentation about the campaign. At the end of the talk, they disclose to their friends the gift they were pleding, and what influenced their decision.

At that point, the friends around the table felt compelled to also pledge, wheter it was out of competition, love for the school, or responsibility. The actions of the donors and volunteers were able to personally tap into the emotions that influenced further philanthropy from their social circle. This model had tremendous success during that campaign, cultivating new donors and volunteers for the institution.

While the age of the mega-gifts may be coming to an end, or at least a significant slow-down, I hope that anonymous giving is not a trend that will take hold. Especially in these exceptional times, philanthropists should lead by example and continue to give generously and conspicuously.

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