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Posts Tagged ‘Non-Profit’

Photo Credit: stijnbokhove @Flickr

Photo Credit: stijnbokhove @Flickr

Create awareness. Engage new audiences. Pursue and develop dialogue.

I think those steps get lost in the conversation of social justice. People get trapped in semantics (are you going to call it forced child labor or just child labor?) and the evidence of tangible results (what kind of result are you looking for?).

When tying advocacy with rigidly specified definitions, I think you lose purpose – maybe even focus. There is a tone that colors some forms of social justice advocacy that is a mixed bag of guilt, a sense of overwhelming and ambiguity.

We aren’t interested in victimization. We want to know about empowerment. Instead of manipulatively shocking me with photos of disembodied hands with cigarette burns and bruised legs – show me a person. Don’t just show me that something bad happened.

Better yet, show me a person with a story to tell.

People, in a readily conscious way, want to feel a tangible connection. The dialogue is about connection. There is no relevancy in creating distance.

When something seems beyond you – it stays there. On the outer edges of remaining “other people’s problems.” We say, “Too bad – that’s so sad.” Shake our heads and move on to the next news item about The Bachelor overdoing the waterworks on television.

Yet, it’s much easier to bring the content to people who may not, otherwise, seek your conversation. We want them to overhear what we have to say. Loud and clear. And, that’s the point, right?

There is one avenue of writing reports, setting up websites and creating booklets for human rights conferences – it is quite another to create a 3-dimensionality that you and I can touch, read and see on street corners.

And, that is what I think is missing from the conversation of these issues. The dimension of “realness” -making it touchable, heard, felt and seen. Books and articles don’t necessarily do it by themselves.  Yet, when creating this dialogue, activists  (unintentionally) needle potential new audiences  with guilt learning and wagging fingers.

Virtually, alienating the very people from whom they seek support. Look to empower on both ends of the spectrum, from those who are unengaged to those needing the support. When you start there, only then can the real energy of change begin.

It burrows into the mental space of your brain. It stimulates a question that may not have been asked.

It adds, without pause, a third dimension.

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The Importance of Serendipity

Photo Credit: babelita @Flickr

Photo Credit: babelita @Flickr

During open gallery hours, L is talking to a woman about the Congo Women project. She came in after seeing a sign detailing our exhibit in one of the space’s windows.

L is telling her about all the other work she hopes to fund, specifically, our forced labor initiative. 

The woman calls L a few days later. Over the phone, she tells her that someone is interested in funding the work needed to produce the case studies and the photography. It turns out that the woman is a donor advisor to an anonymous family.

Now, as a result of learning about AWP, the family will donate $50,000 to our Human Trafficking project.

Will $50,000 finish the work?

No.

But, it will give us a great start.

At tonight’s meeting, L says the bank called her to confirm the address of our organization. So, it’s real. Really real. No applications, no forms or LOI’s to muddle through.

Earlier on the phone with the donor advisor, L asks, “Just like that?”

Yep. Just like that.

No knock on wood. No crossed fingers. Not one piggy flying in the sky. In a world where balance sheets can dwindle to zero in the blink of an eye, it’s more than miraculous to believe that money can fall out of nowhere… and right into your lap.

Opportunities arrive when you most need them or when least expected.  So, just to keep yourself sane, hold out a little expectation for serendipity as well. And when that happens, you can feel a lot better about what luck truly means.

Just like that.

Update: Our Human Trafficking Project (recently renamed “At what price…?”) got additional funding from the International Labor Organization – so we are fully funded to pursue and finish the case studies and photography. I’ll keep you updated on what happens next…

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Yesterday, during a rainy and gloomy evening in the Union Train Station, I met up with K, a fellow volunteer with the organization I’m working with to create exhibit tours on human rights. L, the head of the organization, is looking for ways to increase her web presence as well as create avenues for contact besides the standard word-of-mouth and snail mail campaigns.

I suggested she start an e-newsletter, launch a mega-upgrade of her website, and while she’s at it, create a blog (and get on Facebook!). Why not?

Blogs are wonderfully creative ways for small NPOs (as well as small biz/startups) to cultivate interest in their mission as well as develop connections with potential donors and supporters.  Blogs behave as your “active” link between your organization’s website and its official publications – and their awesomely fun, too! Plus, it fosters an environment for e-brainstorming with supporters, donors and other sponsors – people love to suggest things when given an open (but seemingly semi-private) forum.

The e-newsletter that L, K and I are working on will be developed by www.myemma.com, a nifty little website that requires no software, no crazy programming and best of all – it’s super affordable. It only requires a carefully tailored list of contacts that will be uploaded to Emma’s server and divided (as we choose) in various categories of our creation. I can’t say anything more in particular detail yet, but I’m quite excited! It’s a great feeling to see your suggestions put to (much appreciated) good use.

Our goal with the e-newsletter is to be short and sweet. I believe it is bad e-etiquette to clog inboxes with an overbloated newsletter or blast readers with publications that have the visual display equivalent of a 4th of July fireworks show.

Therefore, K and I want to make sure that the initial newsletter is finely tuned to only include very little text and teaser paragraphs about upcoming initiatives and community engagement. We have to figure out other (but, relatively boring) nuances like official organizational wording and formatting, but we are having a blast so far.

This is a great outlet for me, as well as a way to hone my more creative passions. I wouldn’t say that volunteering is for everyone, but if you find yourself bored to tears with a job (or looking to change jobs altogether) volunteering is a great avenue to tread. You can make dozens of contacts, develop a bigger social circle as well work with a cause you care deeply about (or want to learn more about).  

Honestly, I feel like my work with L and K is much more meaningful than anything I’ve gotten paid to do in the last 8 months – and that’s all that matters for right now.

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spiralMy weekend’s may look a little less fun nowadays.

As I type this, I’ve been doing some personal research on the state of the American economy (actually, who hasn’t?). More specifically, how the economy is affecting my ability to have good time (and best of all –FREE!).

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a native Chicagoan and a brand new homeowner. I have to be more than conscientious about my spending habits. A girl wants more for her dollar nowadays, (if she can get it.). Gone are the carefree Tazo tea moments –  hello home-brewed Celestial Seasons. That’s why it’s all the more important to invest my time in any social outreach or arts programming that my city provides.

Places like the Chicago Cultural Center, the Illinois Humanities Council, the Humanities Festival are guaranteed to feed my brain – I could go on. I’m lucky enough to live in a place where I attend discussions about human rights and genocide or hear FREE music from klesmer bands, check out shows from progressive dance artists – alright, it’s obvious that Chicago is a mecca for culture lovers. But, don’t be too hard on me for bragging.

But, Lehman Brothers is ruining my weekend.

You wouldn’t really think that a soon-to-be defunct bankrupt investment bank is screwing with my opportunity to have fun (ok, I’m not really that into klesmer, but that’s not the point).

Failing investment banks, credit crunches, foreclosures – these financial debacles spider into everyday life a lot deeper (and harder) than most people would think. Shrinking endowments (which are linked to bonds, stocks , etc. from the failing I-Banks) interfere with NPO operating costs.

This means more staff cuts. The dollar is weaker than ever (although, some experts claim the dollar is now gaining strength), so paying travel costs for bands abroad or foreign speakers is a lot more expensive than it used to be.  

Charitable donations are the first things to get cut in a market’s financial downturn. Even more specifically, the shrinking dividends in Daddy Warbucks’ financial portfolio directly affect if the programs and fundraising events that your (favorite) local NPOs create will have a budget for the coming year.

Americans as a whole are losing trust in big institutions – can you blame them? If they haven’t already, Americans are raiding what’s left of their 401(k)s and spending it or hiding it to under a mattress.

The current economic crisis affects everything: good and bad. Unfortunately, the only real question is: where does it stop?

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