In Defense of Stunts and Spectacles

Just read an article that endorsed creative protest as a social change tactic; was inspired to write the following ...

For too long, stunts, spectacles, street theater and such have been spurned by supporters of social change!  

Twenty years of working for and with nonprofits on organizing, advocacy, lobbying, outreach, raising awareness, and public education have convinced me that stunts can be serious tools of social change. (If you do them right.) Silliness can be used to spotlight the surreal level of injustice promoted by a particular public policy: Activists can use stunts to get the attention of media, hold people’s attention to issues they might otherwise ignore, and use the attention they attract to make corporations and politicians more accountable to their (activists’) constituencies. And stunts are affordable - more affordable than producing and running TV ads, organizing a statewide lobby day, etc.  

Some people worry that stunts are tacky and unprofessional. These folks confuse poorly planned stunts with those that are part of – and shaped by - a larger organizing/advocacy campaign strategy, convey a persuasive message backed by thorough research, and are well-executed.

So, to all of you citizen activists: Supplement your social change campaigns with some strategic silly. Some spoof. Some spunk! Here are some hypothetical examples:

  • A pro-austerity lawmaker is scheduled to speak at a lunch meeting. Immediately before the lunch, 75 anti-austerity activists gather outside of the restaurant where the meeting takes place. They give arriving meeting attendees to-go boxes on which are written “I’ll eat what you can’t finish! Save your scraps for me!” (Inside the boxes is information about their views on austerity.) They chant, “Shared sacrifice - it sounds so nice! ‘Til all you eat is beans and rice!” and “Balanced approach – a bipartisan feat! Now we don’t have enough to eat!”  

  • Citizens disappointed by their lawmaker’s pro-austerity stance buy a full page of ad space in the community/local newspaper of the lawmaker’s home town. They use the space to feature a “Shared Sacrifice Pledge.” It says something like this: We, the undersigned, in the spirit of sharing sacrifice with filthy rich corporate CEOs and out-of-touch politicians, vow that from this day forward:
    • We will abstain from spending $1.22 million on remodeling our offices (including a $35,000 commode-on-legs) as did then-Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain a few years ago;
    • We will not buy and drink $350 bottles of wine, which austerity champion Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) and his pals were seen doing in 2011;
    • We will buy only as many houses as we need (unlike NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who owns 11 residences), and spend no more than $32 million per house (unlike Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, whose most recent purchase cost $32.5 million);
    • No $1000 t-shirts for us;
    • No $400 hair-cuts for us;
    • And so on.   

  • An advocacy group (let’s call it Economic Justice for All) is dissatisfied with a lawmaker’s work on income inequality. The group holds a bake sale outside of the lawmaker’s office. They hang a big banner to call attention to their sale; it says “Help Economic Justice for All to Eradicate poverty in Washington State – One Cookie at a Time.”

Get silly, activists! Because you mean business.


Personal Responsibility Deniers, Moochers, Takers, Self-Proclaimed Victims, Welfare Queens, Government Dependents, Public Teat Suckers, and Gift-Seekers, Unite!

This is a call to action. We have a problem - the fake “Social-Security-Is-Going-Bankrupt!” problem.

Politicians, pundits, and policy wonks falsely claim that Social Security is going-bankrupt-now! and adding-to-the- deficit!, and destroying the Futures-of-Our-Children-and-Our-Children’s-Children! They argue for “reforming” Social Security, by which they mean cutting benefits. Other politicians, et al. dignify this malarkey by treating it as if it merited consideration. Some examples:
  • This exchange, during the 10/11/12 vice presidential candidates’ debate, between moderator and ABC journalist Martha Raddatz, and vice presidential candidate Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI):
Martha Raddatz: Both Medicare and Social Security are going broke and taking a larger share of the budget in the process. Will benefits for Americans under these programs have to change for the programs to survive, Mr. Ryan?

Representative Ryan: Absolutely. Medicare and Social Security are going bankrupt. These are indisputable facts.
  • The Simpson-Bowles Commission’s deficit reduction “plan,” which proposed a combination of cuts that would reduce the average annual Social Security benefit for middle-income workers by up to 35 percent. (Note: There is no official Commission plan because only 11 of the Commission’s 18 members voted to endorse their own work, three short of the 14 needed to send it to Congress.)
Social Security recipients are not cheating future hard-working, tax-paying, by-the-rules-playing citizens, as some people seem to suggest. Rather, cuts proponents are proposing to cheat future benefit recipients by raiding Social Security. People who say otherwise are being poopy-heads, and here is why:
  1. Social Security doesn't contribute one penny to the deficit, and is prohibited from doing so by law.
  2. Social Security benefits 56 million  Americans, and keeps 20 million out of poverty.
  3. Social Security's surplus in 2011 was $2.7 trillion; it can operate at current benefit levels for at least 20 years - without any "reforms.
These are indisputable facts.

If ever there was a time to expand Social Security’s capacity to protect the “average citizen and his family against … poverty-ridden old age,” as FDR said, it is now.  Yet we are told that Social Security is in crisis and needs immediate cuts so that it will “be there for people who need it”   several generations from now, that we must remember The Children, etc.

Translation: If I (a Baby Boomer under 55) insist on receiving the Social Security benefits I have earned and will need to avoid poverty (no cuts), a Terrible Burden could be visited on The Children 40-some years from now.  Motivated by guilt and a sense of urgency, I am supposed to happily forfeit my benefits - right now. (Unless I act now, I might realize something: If reformed Social Security benefits no longer cover my rent and food, it is my children who will feel obligated to pay for these essentials – while also paying for their kids’ child care and saving for college tuition.)   

Remember the 2011 protests that shifted the national policy focus from the deficit to the destitute and near-destitute? It’s time to protest again. We need to call out politicians who continue to insist that during the worst recession in 50 years, they need seniors’ stay-out-of-poverty money to pay down a debt largely due to tax cuts for the rich. We need to call out people who pit our needs against our children's.

Picture this: Throughout December, voters show up at their U.S. senators’ and representatives’ offices, daily, to demand Social Security benefit increases.... Senators and representatives are deluged with emails, letters, and phone calls, all advocating this same position.... At town hall meetings and other public events, they are urged to increase benefits. When they go downtown, they are greeted by demonstrators demanding more benefits. Each time they check the news, there’s another letter to the editor, op-ed, or interview, about increasing Social Security benefit levels.

If they don’t hear us, we turn up the volume. Local senior groups*, Occupy chapters, and others who care about seniors join forces and:
  • Occupy local Social Security offices.
  • Go holiday “caroling,” through local shopping districts and past our electeds’ offices. (“Wet socks dangling over a camp fire….Jack Frost’s gonna claim more toes….Just lost my crash pad, damn that barbed wire! Wish I could find a place to doze…”).
  • Hold bake sales outside of lawmakers’ offices, at hearings on Social Security reform, or  in downtown shopping districts. A big bake sale sign could read something like, “Janesville Senior Center Bake Sale: Helping 56 million seniors live with dignity –  one cookie at a time.” Proceeds would fund senior services or community organizing campaigns to expand Social Security benefits.
  • Stitch and bitch: Senior center members could add a decorative patch to the scarves and hats they knit and sell at holiday bazaars, outdoor Sunday markets, craft fairs and bake sales, as well as online.  On each patch - a circle with a slash through it, superimposed on a drawing of a grandma under a bus.
There are many ways to express your opinions. Choose what works for your community. But do it now.

*Yes, today’s seniors might be spared at least some of the cuts, but they are worried about their children, who won’t be spared.

By the way, the picture above is of a grandma, thrown under the bus.


Improve Your Advocacy Aptitude Before Legislative Session 2013

What does your advocacy/organizing plan for the 2013 (state) legislative session look like? Something like this?
  • Hire lobbyist. (no money in the budget this year)
  • Organize annual lobby day. (no money in the budget this year)
  • Deal with it after the holidays. Maybe Santa will deliver a gift certificate redeemable for a great 2013 legislative session.

But what if Santa’s budget has been “reformed” and “tweaked” until there’s nothing left, and Santa and the elves have been selling their plasma in order to bring any gifts at all to good little girls and boys?

Your organization can be a powerful advocate without spending a lot of money in the process. The same communications tools commonly used by nonprofits of all sizes are often all you need – tools like visits to legislators and their assistants, calls, letters, emails, town hall meetings, letters to the editor, etc.

But you may want to change how your group uses these tools to increase your efficacy. Here are a few suggestions to consider:

First things first: Do you have an advocacy agenda? In writing? One that key volunteers and staff endorse? And can easily explain? (True story: An advocacy group, after much prodding, was able to get a meeting with a U.S. senator to discuss their policy priorities. At the hour-long meeting, they distributed an agenda with 45 policy action items. You can probably guess how many items they were able to discuss after the Senator personally greeted and shook hands with each of the 50+ meeting attendees.)

Make sure you identify your organization in all interactions with lawmakers (and staffs) and on all informational materials. How else will your legislators know to hold a place for your group at the proverbial “table” when considering legislation affecting your community?

Put your communication tools to use early in the session and often. Marketing professionals say that a message often must be heard six or seven times before it starts to sink in.  

Generally speaking, if one constituent phone call to your state representative or senator is good, five are better, and so on. The challenge for many organizations is finding the time to find the numbers of people to send the letters and emails. If your group is strapped for time, try incorporating your advocacy work into activities that you, your staff, volunteers, supporters, and potential supporters will be doing anyway.

Here’s an example. Say that you are a member of a homeless shelter’s board of directors. Each member has pledged to collect 50 mini-letters (two or three sentences per letter) supporting a bill to increase funding for services for the homeless.

You could ask the person who leads weekly services at your place of worship to help: When (and if) the collection plate is passed, s/he could ask worshipers to pen a short note to their elected while they’re waiting for the plate to make the rounds. (Sample letter and paper could be placed on worshipers’ seats before the service.)

You could ask the chair of your book club for five minutes on the next meeting’s agenda. At that meeting, you could ask club members to take a minute to write one or two sentences supporting the proposed bill. (This suggestion is adaptable to a variety of different meetings.)

Here's another example. Say you want to get 50 petition signatures. You could get them quickly (relatively speaking) from:
  • A line of people outside a sports arena, waiting for the doors to open
  • People milling around during half-times
  • A line of people waiting to see a movie, plays, dance performances, etc.
  • People milling around during intermissions
  • People in line waiting for Black Friday sales to begin
  • People taking the bus to/from work
  • Parents at parent-teacher conferences, waiting for their next conference.

Petition signatures can be even easier to collect if you do so at an event you were going to attend anyway (i.e. you take petitions to the play-off games that you were going to see anyway).

That’s all for now! I will post more tips in the coming weeks. 


Recession-Era Fundraisers for Cash-Strapped Organizations

You know how different types of fundraisers occur more frequently during certain times of the year? It seems that November and December are bake sale months. Bake sales can be a good source of quick cash for some organizations. Putting them on doesn't require much investment of time or money (relative to the alternatives). Here are some tips to make the most of your group's bake sales:

If you have the goods (or the bakers) but lack a place to set up shop, ask yourself, Where can I find a lot of people in one place at the same time, who would love to buy a nice snack or could be tempted to buy one, and who lack access to snacks? The answers might suggest bake sale options such as these: 
  • Bus Stop Bake Sale: Where are the busiest bus stops during rush hour? This could be a good place to sell your scones, coffee cake, and other breakfast items.
  • Black Friday Bake Sale: Hundreds and hundreds of shoppers, waiting  in line for hours, and many of them hungry…just waiting for someone to show up with freshly-baked scones, coffee cake, and other treats. 
  • Baked Goods for Bar-Hoppers: In my neighborhood, there are a lot of bars and clubs. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, there are a lot of people, lined up, waiting to get into these bars and clubs, some of them with a hankering for a snack. (These folks might prefer savory items to sweet.)
  • Baked Goods for Block Buster Movie Buffs Lined Up For Blocks: See Black Friday Sale.
For these options, you may have to make your sale an ambulatory one. Instead of putting the goods out on a table, put the goods on your person, and "work" the lines of people who are hungry, bored, or unable to resist home-baked goodies. Specifically, put on an apron with deep pockets and fill them with your (wrapped) cookies, brownies, etc. Have a sale partner, who works the line with you, taking money, making change, bagging purchases. Or use a rolling cart or wagon to display your goods.

You can apply the ambulatory bake sale concept to other situations, like these:
  • Sports events
  • Parent-teacher conference nights
  • Intermissions of holiday sing-alongs, recitals, and other shows
  • Polling places Florida, Ohio, and other states where people stood in line for hours
  • Gas stations in New Jersey, New York, and other places that Sandy visited.

How to make your sale easier:
  • Ask your friends, family members, the bakers on your board of directors, and your organization’s volunteers and supporters if they plan to bake for the holidays, and if so, to donate some of their creations to your sale.

How to make your sale more profitable:
  • Make a “donate-your-spare-change” jar prominent and available.   
  • Consider what else you can sell at your sale, i.e. decorative bags (baked goods in a cute bag = instant gift), other small items.        
  • Make available a sign-up sheet on which customers (and perhaps future donors) can share their names and contact information. Give them a good reason to sign up, i.e. discounts on your theater’s next show, a free copy of your group’s report on where to buy locally-produced/organic/fair-trade food, etc.      
  • Sell raffle tickets. (Have a raffle.)
  • Dress up as a snowman or Santa Claus, and pose for pictures with customers in exchange for a donation.
  • To attract post-event donations and potential volunteers, send out a press release and photo – the more interesting your story/photo, the more likely it will be used.
  • Check local public land use, health code, and gaming (for raffles) regulations relevant to your sale.
Key Principles:
  • Incorporate into your bake sale as many additional opportunities for customers to spend money as you can.
  • There aren’t (m)any one-size-fits-all-organizations fundraisers. It’s up to you to consider if an ambulatory bake sale would work for your group. Would your board/volunteers be willing to hawk cookies, etc. to lines of people? Can you find folks to bake and donate treats for you to sell? Are there places in your community that attract lots of people, waiting to get in/their turn, etc.? Would these people buy what you are selling? How does a bake sale fit with your organization’s mission? (Diabetes prevention groups  - this fundraiser isn’t for you.) Are you selling baked goods that people will want to eat, or those industrial-sized muffins-in-plastic-wrap that you can find at the gas station, by the cashier?
  • Take names and … contact info and enter them into your database! Then put your newly acquired data to use!


Blue Blues

They said,  "Have you seen the news?"
Get out every vote or we lose!
The base said, "Oh horrors!
We'll go knocking on doors
Once we find our comfortable shoes..."


After Occupy and the election: how to organize for real change, part one

Followed the news lately? If so, you probably have come across dramatic statements like these:
"The security of the United States and its allies — hangs in the balance." — Mitt Romney campaign
"Our future as a nation is at stake." — Jeb Bush
“The future of the American democracy is at stake.” — U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent-Vermont
"Like my father's election in 1960, this is one of those elections where the future of our country is at stake. And women and children have the most on the line." —  Caroline Kennedy
Now and then, a pundit will offer reassurance: “Not to worry!” s/he’ll say.  “They have more power and money, but there are more of us! We have people power!”
Whew! That’s a relief.
“OK. I’ll do my part,” you think. “Where do I plug in?”
Last fall, it was easy for progressive Seattleites to figure that out — Occupy Seattle drew thousands of people to West Lake Center and Seattle Central Community College. As someone with a community-organizing background, I was encouraged to see so many people publicly protesting rampant economic injustice. But now, a year later, where have all the people gone? What does their disappearance — from the park and school — say about our local people power? I decided to ask people involved with local social change work.
I met with people from nine local organizations whose work highlighted the lopsided distribution of wealth in our country. We talked about local community organizing and what has been shaping its development.
A funny thing about social change: The language used to describe it is dicey. One person’s “organizing” is another’s “advocacy.”  One person’s “advocacy” is another’s “outreach.” So when we talked, I didn’t use terms like “people power,” “community organizing,” and “grassroots organizing.” Instead I asked about the conditions that define grassroots organizing (at least to me, drawing on definitions of direct action from the Midwest Academy):
  • People affected by a problem collectively name it, identify the solution, and design and execute a plan to attain that solution.
  • The solution makes concrete improvements in people’s lives.
  • Their organizing redistributes the balance of power.

(In this piece, I will use “people power,” “grassroots organizing,” “community organizing,” and “organizing” interchangeably. All refer to nonviolent social change.)
What I found is that there is no shortage of local social change organizations doing advocacy, outreach, education, training, leadership development, research, policy development, electoral campaigning, lobbying, online social change work, direct service, coalition-building, or technical assistance. It is easy to find groups whose social change work supports or complements grassroots organizing.
It is harder to find grassroots organizing. Norm Conrad, an active member of MoveOn.org (Seattle Council) says that if half of Seattle were to suddenly want to mobilize against corporate greed, they'd have to start their own campaigns because current groups and campaigns would not be able to accommodate all of them. There's something to be said for the power of numbers, he says, "but until we get organized, it ain't worth a tinker's damn."
He's got a point: What if you organize a protest for tomorrow, at Westlake Center, and tens of thousands of people show up? Now what? How do you channel all of that energy into a campaign that is not only powerful, but also sustainable? The work of many Occupy Seattle members — like a woman named Aliana, who commuted daily between Federal Way to Seattle and spent 12-hour days doing all manner of work that needed to be done — woke up the mainstream to income inequality, made it okay to be angry, and even involved some of them in protest. Those are huge feats. But not even Occupy Seattle could build a sustainable campaign involving thousands of people — not on the fly.    
According to Rebecca Saldaña, a program director at Puget Sound Sage, “This [grassroots organizing] is where the vacuum is.”
I suggested that there's a vacuum because too often people don’t have accurate information about organizing.
“Or maybe because they know too well what organizing takes.” Saldaña countered. (Organizing can involve things like asking people for money, knocking on doors, holding picket signs, maybe getting arrested, etc. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.)
Or maybe both factors are at work. While there are groups that focus a significant portion of their activities on organizing, there are not many. If and how we grow our local capacity seems to depend on how we navigate a number of challenges, including: lack of information on organizing, lack of resources, lack of activists, and resistance to bolder resistance. This piece focuses on the information we lack to fight wealth inequality and what we can do about it.
If we are going to build our people power, we will have to undo common misconceptions about organizing, to wit:
People don’t think there’s a systemic problem —  at least not one that affects them. Marcie Bowers, director of the Statewide Poverty Action Network (SPAN), points out that “the right has done a good job of making individual people feel responsible for their problems — problems that have systemic roots.” Conrad of MoveOn.org has a different take. He says it is difficult to involve more people in social change because “most progressives … are still middle class…. They see Seattle as a progressive oasis, insulated from problems."
There are people who believe there is a problem, but don’t think of organizing as a solution. The board of the social service agency whose city funding was cut, PTA parents who want the school to adopt an anti-bullying policy, and other groups like these could organize to attain their goals, but do not for several reasons:

  • The “canvassing-and-protesting-are-too-hard” school of thought: “Social service providers don’t realize how doable organizing is,” says Bowers.
  • The “too-much-at-stake” concern: According to Alice Woldt, former executive director of Faith Action Network and the Washington Association of Churches, for some nonprofits, “their government contracts are at risk if they organize.” (Example: I ran a housing campaign that targeted a member of City Council. When a state senator went out of town, the councilman had our community development block grant pulled. But when the senator returned, so did our funding.)
  • The “we-can’t-go-there” position: Groups with a 501 c 3 IRS designation mistakenly fear they will lose their tax exempt status if they organize. According to the National Council on Nonprofits, “Many nonprofits have let the fear of losing their 501(c)(3) status keep them from participating in the democratic process in appropriate and legal ways.”

People associate organizing with individuals and groups who break windows or wear funny hats with dangling teabags, etc. I ran into an example of this when, as organizer for a campaign to improve police response to domestic violence, I showed campaign participants photos of sexual assault protesters draped in dark cloth, hiding their identities. I said the drapes both protected women fearing retribution if recognized and made a powerful statement about their fear of rape.
One participant in the effort, Barb, blew up, as if I had confirmed her worst fears about organizing. “I am 57 years old, a grandmother, a Sunday school teacher, and a lady! I want nothing to do with this!” she declared. I assured her that choice of tactics belonged to the group (not to me); then the group assured her they had no interest in draping themselves in anything.
Months later, at a meeting to plan a protest, Barb noted that the district police commander was stonewalling, and suggested a visit to the fabric store. At subsequent protests, Barb could be seen in her drape, telling press, “I am 57 years old! A Sunday school teacher and grandmother! I should be picking up an extra shift at work or preparing for Sunday, but if this is what it takes [gesturing to 40 picketing women in drapes] to get better police response, then I will be here, as often as necessary!”
Organizing can be like getting a smart phone; it’s tempting to dive in before consulting the user’s manual. This can lead to mistakes.  I know of one group, at the time a brand-spanking-new organization, that relied on its website to recruit volunteers to go door-knocking. On a Saturday morning. To get petition signatures in support of a highly controversial issue. The group even rented several busses for the door-knockers. Not one person showed up.
Another example of what happens without training: teabags. The trained organizer would be able to tell the teabag-wearing folks that you use over-the-top tactics to make the other side and their position look silly — not your own people.
What can we do? We can get the 99 percent’s attention. Now.
We need all hands on deck immediately. The election is just under six weeks away.. And the day after the election, we will need all hands on deck  immediately because, whoever wins the presidential, Senate, and House races will — still ­— be answering to big, moneyed interests at the expense of the people’s interests.
We can highlight what’s at stake. According to Wim Mauldin, lead organizer for the Sound Alliance, engaging people's self-interest in order to mobilize them is a huge challenge. Agreed. Many well-intentioned people suffer from “I-can’t-deal-with-it-now” syndrome (i.e. some version of: “They’re cutting my pay at work. I have to find more affordable child care. Grocery and gas prices are through the roof. Between overtime and fundraising for my kid’s school, I am never home. Attend the hearing on the coal train proposal? I can’t deal with that now.”)
Now is a good time to highlight what’s at stake  whoever wins the elections in November  Social Security, Medicare, access to health care, reproductive rights, the environment, to name a few.
We can make organizing-related information and training user-friendly: easy to find, easy to access, user-friendly, affordable, compatible with different schedules, and tailored to audiences with different skill levels. An important reason to do this is that learning how to mobilize people power is an ongoing adventure. David Ayala, organizing director for OneAmerica, says, "You can't go to one training or conference and emerge a leader."
Remember when jazzercise and aerobics saturated popular culture? Classes were ubiquitous: at community centers, YMCAs/YWCAs, continuing education programs at the community colleges and universities, and senior centers. Classes were accessible, widely promoted, held throughout the day, and often accompanied by free child care. The aerobics culture thrived outside of classes. You could read all kinds of articles on aerobics moves, health benefits of aerobics, Jane Fonda, etc., in magazines and papers.  
We can “aerobicize” organizing. We can focus on providing information specifically for the 99 percent of the 99 percent who are not organizers. For example, we can offer information on: how to identify when the "rules of the game are rigged," such as when the Legislature more regularly scrutinizes state investments in social services than it examines corporate tax loopholes; how and why organizing works; how nonprofit organizations can organize under the law; and how to know if your organization is ready to organize.
People power: It’s renewable. Sustainable. Locally sourced. It is what we need. Right now.


In public his roots are hardscrabble; In private he hates on the rabble ...

Light reading about the presidential candidates , Part I ...

Governor Romney  (Check back for Part II, about President Obama.

In public his roots are hardscrabble.
In private he hates on the rabble.
Though his donors are elite,
His campaign has been effete -
His talking points meaningless babble.

... and just in time for tonight's (presidential) debate:

Ever wonder how candidates for public office can (and sometimes do) frame their issues to appeal to voters? If so, you may enjoy George Lakoff's article in today's edition of Alternet.


Recession Survival Strategies for Nonprofits

What To Do When The Only Reason Your Organization Isn't Struggling to Keep the Doors Open Is That You Can't Afford Doors ...

Is your organization housed in a church hallway, in a board member's basement, or in half of a room you share with a hair salon? Has the recession halted your cash flow so much that day-to-day expenses wipe you out? If so, read on. Below, I share examples of real-life donations and freebies, where to get them, and how (without spending a lot of time).

What You Can Get
  • Office supplies
  • Office furniture
  • Office equipment
  • Office(s)
  • Snacks for board and volunteer meetings (e.g. coffee, boxed lunches, pastries, fruit/veggies)
  • Copying services
  • Computers, software, printers, etc.
  • Cameras
  • Massages
  • Used Crowns (not the royal headwear kind, the dental kind)
  • Belly dancers (as in a troupe to perform at an annual gala fundraiser).
Where To Get Them:
  • Local stores, restaurants, and other businesses (especially those you patronize)
  • Schools: These are a great source of donations. Some examples of donations: massages, data collection, desks and other equipment...
  • Faith-based organizations
  • Your organization's donors and volunteers: I worked with an organization in search of a professional-size kitchen it could use for free for a day. It found one. Why? Because it knew whom to ask. Why? Because it cultivated (i.e. got to know) its donors. 
  • Corporate giving programs and foundations: The process of getting in-kind donations can be a good way to develop a relationship with prospective (cash) funders.  
  • CraigsList: These are online classified ads, organized, by location, topic, etc. Check out the "free" section of the "for sale" ads. Every now and then, you can find an ad for free office supplies (everything from desks and computers to file folders), posted by a business/office that is relocating or dissolving. There is a huge array of free things available for the taking.
Opportunities to get donations can come from the unlikeliest places. For example, I know of a dentist, who, after replacing patients' old dental crowns, sells those that patients don't want back to a refinery, and donates the money to a local food bank.

How To Get Them - Tips
  • Ask. Put on your big-boy or big-girl pants and ask.  
  • Encourage other board members, volunteers, and supporters to put on their big-boy/girl pants also.
  • Don't forget to put on your antennae either; try to find opportunities to solicit in-kind support as you go about your daily business. I asked the manager of a sandwich shop near my office what happened to the salads and sandwiches that hadn't sold by closing time. This resulted in a weekly donation of salads, sandwiches, and pastries for residents of an affordable housing complex for seniors. I know a taxi cab driver who made fliers about his organization's upcoming fundraiser, and handed them to his fares. (And some of them showed up!) 
  • Post your organization's "wish list" in your newsletter, on your website, on your Facebook page, on your blog, at the bottom of emails, in your annual report, in the program of your annual fundraiser/benefit, at the bottom of your monthly board meeting agenda or report, on a big sign in your office lobby, on little signs posted in the women's/men's restroom, etc.
  • Thank donors! Thank them several times. See the bullet point above for ways to thank donors. Make giving as pleasurable an experience as possible for donors so that they give again.


"People power": What the hell does that mean, anyway?

"Power of the people": What does that mean in Seattle, in 2012?

Check out my article in today's Crosscut, and weigh in ... 


Thank You Occupy!

A year into the movement(s) inspired by last fall's protests in Zuccotti Park, I want to thank Occupy Seattle, Occupy Wall Street, and other Occupiers: You shifted the public debate from deficit hysteria to income inequality. You risked arrest and assault just for speaking up, and inspired many of us to speak up too. After 20-plus years of organizing and nonprofit work, I know how important hope and change are to those of us in it for the long haul. Thank you for boldly and audaciously giving us hope and showing us change. 


We Are All Riff Raff Now

How disappointing to read about the arrests of over 180 protesters and journalists on the first anniversary of Occupy Wall Street (OWS)! Are we to believe that all of the arrested people violated the law? Or are the 180+ arrests meant to encourage us 99%ers to look at the protesters as hooligans and riff raff?

If you ask me, the great majority of the OWS protesters are everyday heroes, risking arrest and assault in order to speak truth to power - without vandalism or violence.

99%ers, let's face it: We are all riff raff now.


Fracking, Hacking, Super-PAC-ing, Activist-Tracking

Fracking, hacking
Activist tracking
Corporate backing
Shooter packing
Judicial stacking
Employee sacking
Jobs a-lacking
Budget whacking
Cuts still smacking
Dems' shellacking
Bold hijacking
Candidates quacking
Then backtracking
So nerve-wracking
Veneer is cracking.

Debt Collection.
System's rusted.
You - disgusted.
Social Security
No more a surety.
You - enraged?
Get engaged.


Ode to Paul Ryan

Note 1: Every now and then, I abandon writing posts on how to raise money, etc., and write a post on events related to social justice. This is one of those posts.

Note 2: Prior posts have poked fun of the Democrats. Now it's the Republicans' turn.

Note 3: The lyrics below can be sung to "Clementine."

In a bistro, with the fellas
And $300 wine
Are they lobbyists or just friends with
Representative Paul Ryan?

He's an earnest, thoughtful, serious
Man of faith, a family man
Whose proposed cuts would mean Gram eats
Only ramen soup and spam.

Health care coupon (What's next? Group-On?)
Calls it Medicare Reform
It won't cover much stuff other
Than removal of a corn.

He loves freedom, faith, and choices,
Truth and his P90X,
Less aid for the poor and voiceless,
His ripped abs, and his ripped pecs.


39 Ways to Help Your Electeds Help You Keep Your Government $

Hint: It has something to do with communication.

Face to face
Present your case
To incumbents and candidates
At forums and debates.
At conventions and caucuses; to committees and commissions,
To councils, congresses, and coalitions

Benefit invitations
Requests for donations
Town hall meetings
Holiday greetings
Regular tweetings

Your annual report, your monthly newsletter
Constituent calls: 10 are good; 100 are better.
Regular updates - hard copy and online
Remember: Out of sight is out of mind.

Hard to get your elected's attention?
The indirect message can trump direct mention:
Call a call-in radio show
("We're still waiting for the mayor's answer - just a simple yes or no.")
Send a letter to the editor, submit an op-ed ...
Opinion sections are usually well-read.
You can use [nonviolent] protests, pickets, marches, sit-ins
Squatting, street theatre, sign-waving, and knit-ins

When your elected helps bring your mission to fruition,
Send lots of thank yous; give public recognition.

Finally ...
Get the most from your communications work - anything less is a tragedy!
Embed your messages in a messaging strategy.*

* In other words, it's best to have a communications plan/strategy before you choose specific communications action steps (tactics).  The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has developed a helpful guide to communications planning.