How to change minds

I’m a part of the March for Science Facebook group, for people that were in the Marches for Science all across the USA on April 2017 or that supported such. A lot of the talk on the group has been about science education and public relations. There are individuals and communities all over the USA – and the world – fighting against science-based decision making in public policies and science education in schools, and many on the group feel this is because of poor wording and poor outreach by scientists and those that support science regarding public relations. In my ongoing quest to be a better communicator, I’ve watched these discussions closely.

Recently, someone posted the following regarding how we communicate about science. I think it’s a great testimony regarding what works, and what doesn’t, regarding swaying public opinion, changing people’s minds and fighting misinformation. I’m sharing it here, with her permission, but without her name to protect her identity:

I’m not a scientist. I’m not afraid of science but I also don’t have a strong grasp of most science related jargon. I joined this group along with a few other science groups/pages as I heard more and more of anti-science rhetoric from our govt. Allthough I don’t understand a lot of scientific things that doesn’t mean I don’t realize the importance of science for our society and for our future.

I have learned SO MUCH from reading posts and comments. The reason I have learned so much? The reason I am no longer “afraid” of GMO’s? The reason I have changed my mind on other popular misconceptions? Because my fear was never the science. My fear was that I didn’t know what information to trust. Money talks. It’s hard to figure out who is paying. Do I trust a science study that was paid for by a big corporation? Do I trust a study that’s published but not peer reviewed? WHO do you trust?

The common thread I’ve found as I read posts and comments in order to learn more is how stupid I am. How dumb was I to not trust GMO’s. People’s comments were blatantly MEAN. And sure, I was completely uneducated about GMO’s. I read the wrong information. I trusted the wrong sources. But again, without hours of research to find out funding sources, etc HOW do I know what to trust?

This question was amazing. I always want to learn more. I want to understand about so many things – to give my kids the best future possible. The best food to eat. The best meds for my asthmatic child. The best environment for them to grow up in, etc. But here’s the thing. If I wasn’t determined to do the best for my kids . . . by the 100th ridiculing comment on a post I found interesting I would have stopped following and learning. Heck by the 20th I would have written off these sciences pages.

Even in this thread there are those using terms like “stupid,” “brainwashing,” etc. Very derogatory terms and grouping all people who don’t have a knack for science into one realm. I have a great head for business, finances and can analyze the heck out of any non-technical literature. I don’t make fun or ridicule those people who don’t have have that ability. It accomplishes nothing.

So thank you to those of you who answered this post thoughtfully. I’m certain there are many of you who diligently try over and over again to get your point across. Don’t give up. Changing peoples’ minds is never easy but in this case it’s worth the fight.

—end quoted text—

Also see:

State of organizations working with people in UK criminal justice system

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersClinks is a registered charity in the United Kingdom, based in London. Clinks began life in 1993 as London Prisons Community Links. “Clinks supports, represents and campaigns for the voluntary sector working with offenders.” Note that the phrase “voluntary sector” is the British term for what we call the nonprofit sector in the USA, or the third sector, and by “offenders”, they mean people in, or having recently left, the criminal justice system. Charities in the voluntary sector in the UK may or may not involve volunteers to be a part of the “voluntary sector”, though Clinks reports that more than 90% of the charities it works with do involve volunteers. “Clinks aims to ensure the sector and all those with whom they work, are informed and engaged in order to transform the lives of offenders and their communities.” Clinks employs 21 staff and has over 600 members.

Each year Clinks surveys voluntary sector organizations in the UK working somehow with “offenders” to collect information about how healthy their sector is, the role the sector is playing in society, and the well-being of service users. Results are anonymised and collated a yearly state of the sector report, tracking “key trends for voluntary sector organisations working with offenders and their families.” One interviewee said that “…the needs vary from homelessness, rough sleeping, drugs and alcohol, social and cultural isolation, health, poverty and debt, a very holistic picture of needs that we are presented with and often very complex needs.”

This is a summary of their 2017 State of the sector report, published July 2017 (note that spellings in this paragraph and the report are British):

During a year of political instability, voluntary organisations continue to support the most vulnerable people despite a shifting funding landscape and increasing and changing service user needs. In our latest state of the sector research, organisations told us that they’ve seen an increase in the number of people they are supporting, with more complex and immediate needs, resulting in organisations developing more flexible and creative working and recruiting more volunteers. They have dealt with large reductions in funds, and have struggled to get full cost recovery on services, and some closing services. Through all of this the sector remains innovative and creative, with many designing new services to meet emerging need and responding to a changing landscape.

All I can think as I read this paragraph is that this is also probably true of every social service agency in the USA as well, nonprofit or governmental. I wish we had such an organization here in the USA that would do such a yearly state of the sector for social service nonprofits and government agencies in particular, to find out what’s happening among all those mission-based groups taking on society’s most serious social issues – not just those working in the criminal justice system, though that would be incredible as well.

Also from the 2017 report:

On average volunteers spend 16 hours a month volunteering for organisations that filled out our survey. Organisations told us that on average, the maximum time someone volunteers per month is 80 hours, whilst the minimum time is 8 hours. Volunteers undertake a variety of roles, which include working directly with service users… Organisations often recruit volunteers who have specific skills to support their work, such as research or marketing.

These volunteers in the UK working for charities that are involved somehow with law offenders engage in a variety of tasks (again, British spellings):

  • Organising or helping to run an activity or event  57 %
  • Befriending or mentoring people (clients)  57 %
  • Secretarial, admin or clerical work  50 %
  • Giving advice, information, counselling (to clients)  47 %
  • Getting other people involved  36 %
  • Leading a group, member of a committee  36 %
  • Visiting people (clients)  29 %
  • Other practical help (to clients) e.g. helping out at school, shopping  23 %
  • Raising or handling money, taking part in sponsored events  21 %
  • Representing (I have no idea what this means)  20 %
  • Proving transport, driving  17 %
  • Campaigning  8 %

From the report:

Organisations find it challenging to recruit staff and volunteers, with 50% saying it is slightly or very difficult to recruit volunteers and 57% reporting this to be the case for staff recruitment. The conditions in some prisons, such as high levels of violence, staff shortages and a rise in the use of psychoactive substances, is having a negative impact on organisations’ ability to recruit and retain staff.

Organisations find it more challenging to retain volunteers than staff, with 70% of organisations reporting it is slightly or very easy to retain or keep staff, with 59% of organisations reporting this to be the case for volunteers. On average, organisations reported that it is slightly or very easy to train both staff and volunteers. When discussing the training needs of their staff and volunteers, one interviewee said that due to the changing needs of their service users, they are having to develop a different approach to training.

Again, as I read these paragraphs, I wish we had such an organization here in the USA that would do such a yearly report on volunteers at social service nonprofits and government agencies in particular, to find out what the volunteers are doing and the challenges the organizations are facing in recruiting, supporting and keeping them. I would also love a comparison of the UK sector working with people in the criminal justice system and the same in the USA. Anyone? Anyone?

Here are Clink’s other surveys since 2011.

 

schedule social media posts? use with caution

I’ve been using social media before it was called social media: I was a heavy user of USENET newsgroups back in the 1990s, and moderated the soc.org.nonprofit group for a few years. USENET was all about interaction with others and networking – but in text-based formats. As a result of that experience, I learned early so, so much about using the Internet both for promotions and for engagement: it gave me terrific grounding for using modern social media tools (and least I think so). As a one-person shop with no permanent agency affiliation, no best selling book and no big media splash, I’ve done pretty well at attracting followers on both Twitter and Facebook.

I use tools like Hootsuite to pre-program tweets to Twitter and status updates to Facebook and GooglePlus, but I don’t overly-rely on those tools: I still take at least a couple of hours every week to scroll through those I follow on Twitter and to read updates, to retweet things, to reply to posts, etc. I also pick one of my Twitter lists every week to read through and do the same. I wish it was as easy to do that on Facebook, but that’s another blog…

That said, I do use Hootsuite to pre-program tweets and Facebook page posts. I do this days, weeks, even months in advance. And I’ve been doing something in the last several weeks that seems to attract a lot more likes, followers and interactions for me: choosing my own social media theme for a day, and programming posts, especially tweets, once an hour around that theme, for 4-5 hours on that one day.

Creating tweets and other social media messages around a theme for the day doesn’t require me to create new information: I choose themes based on pages on my web site and posts on my blog that I would love for people to visit or revisit. Some days, I tweet about the same web page or blog post four times, but always with different keywords and a different description.

Some of the day-long themes I’ve tweeted around:

  • ethics in international volunteering
  • how to get a job in or experience for a job in humanitarian aid and development
  • controversies regarding not paying interns
  • using Twitter
  • ethics in communications
  • safety in volunteer programs
  • resources regarding volunteer firefighters
  • virtual volunteering
  • competing online with breaking news
  • welcoming volunteers (and how you might be making them unwelcome)
  • digital/IT-related volunteering
  • conflict, free speech, reconciliation
  • social cohesion, building understanding

Your nonprofit, non-governmental organization, school, government agency or other mission-based initiative can do the same: look through your web pages that are focused on educating people about your cause or mission or reaching clients and potential clients in particular. Do you see themes emerging? What about UN international days that relate to the mission of your initiative – could you build a day-of-social-media-messaging around that theme?

On a related note, if you have an event, or an approaching program deadline, or some other time-sensitive information or announcement, don’t rely on just one tweet or one Facebook post to get the word out. You need to come up with reasons to post multiple times on Twitter, even in just one day, about a key event: each post could feature a different photo, a different keyword, and slightly different wording.

Oh, but doesn’t that mean followers keep reading the same message over and over? No. That’s because most people aren’t sitting and looking at one Facebook page or one Twitter feed all day long. I’m very lucky if one of my followers just happens to be looking at Twitter when I post – it’s very likely most WON’T be. For my followers to see a message, they either have to be staring at the screen the moment I post, to go specifically to my Facebook page or Twitter feed to read only my social media posts, to see the message when it’s reposted by someone else, or when it uses a keyword tag that they follow.

The only way scheduling messages for later posting to social media works, however, is if it’s coupled with live, in-the-moment interactions on social media: liking other people and agency’s content, responding to that content, asking questions regarding other people’s posts, etc. If I don’t show interest in the social media posts of others, why should they show interests in mind?

And whatever you do, do NOT use Twitter only as a gateway for your Facebook posts. No one is going to click on that truncated message on Twitter to read the rest of it on Facebook. It shows a profound laziness on your part.

Can fiction help us work better in humanitarian aid & development? Yes.

What can fiction teach people for working in humanitarian aid and development? Quite a lot! Fiction can build depth, richness and empathy to the concepts development professionals grapple with daily. Adaobi “Ada” Nkeokelonye explores this topic regularly via her blog, fictioningdevelopment.org. She finds surprising connections between fictional narratives and her day-to-day experience as a development professional. This interview with her from DevelopmentEx offers great background.

She’s worth following on Twitter: @adankeokelonye

Also see:

Aid workers in fiction – new ABC show in January in 2011

TV depictions of volunteerism

J.K. Rowling speaks out against orphan tourism

This, in short, is why I will never retweet appeals that treat poor children as opportunities to enhance Westerners’ CVs. #Voluntourism

J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, is no fan of voluntourism, particularly orphan tourism.

Below are screen captures of a series of Tweets she sent about this back in 2016, per someone asking her to retweet an appeal for such volunteers to “help” orphans in another country. It’s followed by the transcript of the tweets in the screen capture, and after that, there are a list of links to more information on the dangers of orphan tourism and where to find legitimate volunteering abroad programs (and how to recognize such).

And be sure to follow her via @jk_rowling:

Transcripts of tweets:

#Voluntourism is one of drivers of family break up in very poor countries. It incentivises ‘orphanages’ that are run as businesses.

The charity I have just been asked to support offers (doubtless well-intentioned) Westerners ‘volunteer experiences’ in child institutions.

One of the advantages listed for your orphanage volunteer experience is that it will give you a CV ‘distinguisher’. #voluntourism

The #voluntourism charity tells volunteers that they will be able to ‘play and interact’ with children ‘in desperate need of affection.

‘

Willingness to cling to strangers is a sign of the profound damage institutions do to children #voluntourism

Globally, poverty is the no. 1 reason that children are institutionalised. Well-intentioned Westerners supporting orphanages…

… perpetuates this highly damaging system and encourages the creation of more institutions as money magnets. #voluntourism

Never forget, 80% of institutionalised children worldwide have close family who want them back. They are not orphans. #Voluntourism

These children and these countries need social care and health systems that keep families together. #Voluntourism

This, in short, is why I will never retweet appeals that treat poor children as opportunities to enhance Westerners’ CVs. #Voluntourism

More resources:

Civil Society Capacity Building: Why?

logoMy favorite kind of professional work is building the capacities of civil society organizations, especially in transitional and developing countries, to communicate, to change minds and to engage a variety of people and communities, through communications, dialogue and volunteering. But the term civil society isn’t used in USA as commonly as it is elsewhere, and many don’t understand exactly what I mean when I talk about my favorite type of work.

Civil society is a term commonly heard outside the USA when discussing community development. Civil society is a term for the assortment of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), nonprofit organizations, activist groups and institutions that, together, demonstrate the interests and will of residents of a particular area. Note, however, that these interests do not have to be the will of a majority of residents.

Civil society organizations include:

  • academia
  • activist groups
  • charities
  • clubs (sports, social, etc.)
  • community foundations
  • community organizations
  • consumer organizations
  • cooperatives / co-ops
  • foundations
  • non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
  • non-profit organizations (NPOs)
  • political parties
  • professional associations
  • religious groups
  • social enterprises (an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being)
  • support groups
  • trade unions
  • voluntary associations
  • foundations, government funders and international agencies have been supporting civil society for many years in developing countries. The goals with such support is to:
  • foster social equality (access to civil rights, freedom of speech, property rights, health, economic prosperity, education, social engagement, etc.)
  • foster civic engagement, including volunteerism
  • create a greater sense of ownership of what happens within a community by those that live there
  • create greater participation in addressing critical community and environmental needs
  • ensure a diversity of voices are represented in community decision-making
  • act as a counter to negative forces such as corruption, extremism, anarchy, etc.
  • ensure that civil society can work within the range of actors required for a country’s development.

This new resource explores why is it important for a country to have a robust, sustainable civil society, what is meant by the phrase civil society capacity building, and how capacities of civil society are strengthened.

Also see:

The Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science

Looks like an interesting read for those in the nonprofit sector and other mission-based organizations, and a great resource of quotes for various program and funding proposals – maybe even interviews with the press to explain why a nonprofit is doing whatever it is it is doing.

At $150, I’ll have to beg my way into an academic library in order to read it…

The Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science

Edited by Emma M. Seppälä, Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Stephanie L. Brown, Monica C. Worline, C. Daryl Cameron, and James R. Doty

How do we define compassion? Is it an emotional state, a motivation, a dispositional trait, or a cultivated attitude? How does it compare to altruism and empathy? Chapters in this Handbook present critical scientific evidence about compassion in numerous conceptions… and contribute importantly to understanding how we respond to others who are suffering… it explores the motivators of compassion, the effect on physiology, the co-occurrence of wellbeing, and compassion training interventions. Sectioned by thematic approaches, it pulls together basic and clinical research ranging across neurobiological, developmental, evolutionary, social, clinical, and applied areas in psychology such as business and education. In this sense, it comprises one of the first multidisciplinary and systematic approaches to examining compassion from multiple perspectives and frames of reference.

Here’s the table of contents:

Preface
James R. Doty

Part One: Introduction
Chapter 1: The Landscape of Compassion: Definitions and Scientific Approaches
Jennifer L. Goetz and Emiliana Simon-Thomas

Chapter 2: Compassion in Context: Tracing the Buddhist Roots of Secular, Compassion-Based Contemplative Programs
Brooke D. Lavelle

Chapter 3: The Empathy-Altruism Hypothesis: What and So What?
C. Daniel Batson

Chapter 4: Is Global Compassion Achievable?
Paul Ekman and Eve Ekman

Part Two: Developmental Approaches

Chapter 5: Compassion in Children
Tracy L. Spinrad and Nancy Eisenberg

Chapter 6: Parental Brain: The Crucible of Compassion
James E. Swain and S. Shaun Ho

Chapter 7: Adult Attachment and Compassion: Normative and Individual Difference Components
Mario Mikulincer and Phillip R. Shaver

Chapter 8: Compassion-Focused Parenting
James N. Kirby

Part Three: Psychophysiological and Biological Approaches

Chapter 9: The Compassionate Brain
Olga M. Klimecki and Tania Singer

Chapter 10: Two Factors that Fuel Compassion: The Oxytocin System and the Social Experience of Moral Elevation
Sarina Rodrigues Saturn
Chapter 11: The Impact of Compassion Meditation Training on the Brain and Prosocial Behavior
Helen Y. Weng, Brianna Schuyler, and Richard J. Davidson

Chapter 12: Cultural neuroscience of compassion and empathy
Joan Y. Chiao

Chapter 13: Compassionate Neurobiology and Health
Stephanie L. Brown and R. Michael Brown

Chapter 14: The Roots of Compassion: An Evolutionary and Neurobiological Perspective
C. Sue Carter, Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal, and Eric C. Porges

Chapter 15: Vagal pathways: Portals to Compassion
Stephen W. Porges
Part Four: Compassion Interventions

Chapter 16: Empathy Building Interventions: A Review of Existing Work and Suggestions for Future Directions
Erika Weisz and Jamil Zaki

Chapter 17: Studies of Training Compassion: What Have We Learned, What Remains Unknown?
Alea C. Skwara, Brandon G. King, and Clifford D. Saron

Chapter 18: The Compassion Cultivation Training (CCT) Program
Philippe R. Goldin and Hooria Jazaieri

Chapter 19: From Specific to General: The Biological Effects of Cognitively-Based Compassion Training
Jennifer Mascaro, Lobsang Tenzin Negi, and Charles L. Raison
Part Five: Social Psychological and Sociological Approaches

Chapter 20: Compassion Collapse: Why We Are Numb to Numbers
C. Daryl Cameron

Chapter 21: The Cultural Shaping of Compassion
Birgit Koopman-Holm and Jeanne L. Tsai

Chapter 22: Enhancing compassion: Social psychological perspectives
Paul Condon and David DeSteno

Chapter 23: Empathy, compassion, and social relationships
Mark H. Davis

Chapter 24: The Class-Compassion Gap: How Socioeconomic Factors Influence Compassion
Paul K. Piff and Jake P. Moskowitz

Chapter 25: Changes Over Time in Compassion-Related Variables in the United States
Sasha Zarins and Sara Konrath

Chapter 26: To Help or Not to Help: Goal Commitment and the Goodness of Compassion
Michael J. Poulin

Part Six: Clinical Approaches

Chapter 27: Self-Compassion and Psychological Well-being
Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer

Chapter 28: Compassion Fatigue Resilience
Charles R. Figley and Kathleen Regan Figley

Chapter 29: Compassion Fears, Blocks and Resistances: An Evolutionary Investigation
Paul Gilbert and Jennifer Mascaro

Part Seven: Applied Compassion

Chapter 30: Organizational Compassion: Manifestations Through Organizations
Kim Cameron

Chapter 31: How Leaders Shape Compassion Processes in Organizations
Monica C. Worline and Jane E. Dutton

Chapter 32: Compassion in Healthcare
Sue Shea and Christos Lionis

Chapter 33: A Call for Compassion and Care in Education: Toward a More Comprehensive ProSocial Framework for the Field
Brooke D. Lavelle, Lisa Flook, and Dara G. Ghahremani

Chapter 34: Heroism: Social Transformation Through Compassion in Action
Philip G. Zimbardo, Emma Seppälä, and Zeno Franco

Chapter 35: Social Dominance and Leadership: The mediational effect of Compassion
Daniel Martin and Yotam Heineberg

Essential digital networking skills of the modern nonprofit worker

angryjayneNo matter your role at a nonprofit or other mission-based organization – marketing, management of volunteers, directing a program, accounting, human resources (paid staff) management – you must have a solid understanding of certain digital skills, skills that go beyond how to use database software, to be able to do that job well.

Every job at a mission-based organization – nonprofit, NGO, charity, school, government agency, etc. – requires being able to efficiently process large amounts of information from a variety of resources, being able to respond to people quickly with accurate information, being able to work with a variety of different people via online tools, being up-to-date on developments that can affect that job and knowing about emerging innovative practices. Going to conferences and reading magazines and paper newsletters are great to build your knowledge, onsite classes are great to build your skills – but just going to such events and reading only print information isn’t enough anymore to continuously build your skills and knowledge. And conferences and onsite classes are often out-of-reach, financially, for many nonprofit workers.

The good news is that digital skills are easy to acquire, and are much more about being an effective communicator with humans than having a computer science degree or being a programmer.

At minimum, the modern nonprofit worker, regardless of his or her role – human resources management, program assistance, marketing, whatever –  should:

  • Respond to email quickly
  • Manage email well, to the point that he or she can quickly find a particular email from a particular person from a particular time period
  • Be able to communicate effectively via email, including in situations addressing conflict or talking with someone for whom English is not his or her first language
  • Be a veteran of participating in online presentations and know what makes an effective online presentation
  • Have taken and finished at least one online course that took longer than two hours to finish.
  • Know how to work remotely, not just writing and responding via email, but participating in phone conferences and checking in regularly
  • Be able to effectively facilitate a phone or online meeting
  • Know how to use Twitter or Facebook or whatever comes next to connect with essential information for his or her job (experts in his or her field, legislation that could affect his or her work, etc.) – that doesn’t mean he or she needs to be a social media outreach expert, just that they know how to use social networking to NETWORK as a part of his or her job. And that means more than just posting information; it means knowing how to engage with others.
  • Know how to look for social media keyword tags that might relate to his or her work in some way
  • Know how to upload, or download, photos to Flickr, or a similar online platform
  • Know how to reduce the size of a photo (so that it can be included in an email newsletter, attached to email, etc.)
  • Not be afraid to try new technologies more than once

In addition, senior staff at any mission-based organization should know how to work with online volunteers and understand the basics of virtual volunteering; even if all your volunteers are “traditional”, you need to explore virtual volunteering.

Yes, it would be great if you understood Instagram and Snapchat and whatever else intensive, shiny social media tool comes down the lane, especially those that are used exclusively or primarily by phones and tablets – but unless you are a marketing director or manager of volunteers, those are just nice to know, but not absolutely necessary.

Put it into your official work plan to get up-to-speed on essential digital networking skills – practice will get you where you need to be!

Also see:

When mission statements, ideologies & human rights collide

logoThere is a legal case in Canada that started in 1995 regarding a person that was refused participation as a volunteer, and that case has always stuck with me. I have never, ever seen it discussed on an online forum for managers of volunteers and never heard it mentioned at a conference related to volunteerism or nonprofit management. I guess I’ve been waiting all these years for someone else to say, “Hey, what about this? How does this affect us? Might this affect us?” But no one has. So, I guess I will, per a discussion that came up on my blog Treat volunteers like employees? Great idea, awful idea.

In Canada, Kimberly Nixon, a transgendered woman, launched a human rights complaint against Vancouver Rape Relief, a nonprofit, for excluding her as a volunteer peer counselor for raped and battered women that seek the services of this nonprofit. Vancouver Rape Relief said it rejected Nixon as a volunteer peer counselor because the organization’s spaces for counseling clients are dedicated women’s-only spaces, and their clients come to the organization specifically because of this commitment to women’s-only spaces (unlike many other nonprofits that offer rape counseling – another women’s group, Battered Women’s Support Services, accepts transgendered women as volunteers, and Nixon volunteered there previously). Vancouver Rape Relief said the reason was also “because she did not share the same life experiences as women born and raised as girls and into womenhood.”

After 12 years of legal pursuits, in 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada denied Nixon’s appeal to have her case heard, leaving the B.C. Court of Appeal’s decision in December 2005 as the last word on the dispute. This article offers a nice summation of that appeal’s court decision:

While it may appear that Rape Relief discriminated against Nixon because she was born with a penis, they have a different rationale. Rape Relief’s collective belief is that far beyond a person’s biological make-up, socialization and experience are what shapes individuals. It’s part of their philosophy that women experience the male-dominated world differently than men. That was the 34-year-old organization’s original argument for why they should be allowed to exclude men when their women-only policy was first challenged in the 1970s, and they feel it’s relevant to whether they should admit transsexual women.

It’s noted in the article, and I think it is VERY important to note here, that “both parties agreed that Nixon was a woman and that gender existed on a continuum — it wasn’t binary, despite the social convention of dividing everyone into categories of male or female” and “both the tribunal and Rape Relief accept that Nixon has a genuine interest in counselling other women, and she has done so both before and after her filing the human rights complaint.”

This article from 2000, before the case was decided by the courts, does a good job of showing the different arguments in the case. But even with a final decision, the case continues to be a source of controversy in Canada and abroad among those concerned with human rights applications for transgendered people. Some still call Vancouver Rape Relief “transphobic”: this article says that because the organization is “allowed to make their own determinations about who is—or who is not—a woman, and exclude them accordingly” that the organization is “allowed to discriminate against trans women. As a feminist and an ally to the trans community, I find this extraordinarily disturbing.” Disputing these accusations, the organization has a section on its web site defending its definition of a women-only space and its commitment to such, and one of the organization’s long-time staff members, Lee Lakeman, notes in this 2012 interview, that “Aboriginal people used the arguments that we built in court to defend their right to be only Aboriginals in their group.”

I do not bring any of this up to try to debate who is and isn’t a woman.

I could have also brought up cases regarding tribal membership – this article does a great job of explaining why cultural identification determination is so difficult, as well as explaining why tribal leadership gets to determine who is and isn’t a member of their tribe, rather than the federal government or the federal courts. Conversations and debates about such can be just as heated as the Nixon case.

I bring this case up to remind nonprofit staff, employees and volunteers alike, that a definition you may have of a particular aspect of humanity – who is or isn’t a woman, who is or isn’t gay, who is or isn’t a member of a particular ethnic group, who is or isn’t a member of a particular tribe, who should or should not call themselves an Oregonian or a Texan or a German or an English person or an African whatever – may not be the same, or as absolute, as someone else’s. Mission statements, ideologies, beliefs about human rights and the law can all collide – and have over and over, in break rooms, in meeting rooms, at community events, and in the courts. Don’t be surprised when it happens at, or regarding, your nonprofit.

What’s my opinion on this case? No way I’m going there… I’ve been controversial enough on my blog (links below). I’m going to let ya’ll debate it in the comments, if you want.

But I did kinda sorta blog about something like this before, back in 2012: Careful what you claim: the passions around identity

Also see:

Great reasons to involve LOCAL volunteer firefighters

It seems that, per the union for professional firefighters stance against volunteers in firefighting or any emergency response roles, a lot of fire stations are phasing out volunteers in these frontline roles. I’m seeing more and more stations across the USA scaling back the involvement and/or role of volunteers, allowing volunteers only in non-emergency-response roles, if at all: rolling hoses and cleaning equipment after a call, serving food and drinks to career firefighters at or after a call, staffing fundraising events, setting up for or cleaning up after events, etc. Those support roles to frontline responders are super important, and many volunteers are happy to fill them. But there are a lot of other people that want to volunteer in emergency response roles, and they are willing to go through extensive training, right alongside career firefighters, to do it. Unfortunately, there seem to be less and less opportunities for such people.

In addition, I’m also seeing fire stations that are still involving volunteers in first responder roles recruiting for volunteers only or primarily among people that want to become career firefighters and that see volunteer firefighting as a path to that. As with career firefighters, such volunteers are often from outside the town or city where they will serve, maybe far outside. They don’t stick around for long, because they are looking for a paid job: they leave the station after just a year or two for paid work elsewhere. That means such a fire station is forever recruiting and training volunteers to replace those that leave.

Career firefighters are not better than volunteer firefighters, volunteer firefighters are not better than career firefighters, and neither should be a threat to the other. Rather, these two kinds of first responders, working side-by-side, can make emergency management and risk prevention all the more powerful than just one kind or the other staffing a station.

Here are great reasons to recruit and involve local volunteer firefighters, even if a station is partially or primarily staffed by career firefighters, reasons that shouldn’t feel threatening to career firefighters:

  • Local volunteers live in the community or neighborhood, and that means they will often know things about residents, businesses, streets and locations that career firefighters that don’t live in the town or area may not know. This can be helpful, even vital, when responding to certain calls.
  • Local volunteers live in the community, and that means they can be more readily available to back up on-duty staff during an emergency than off-duty career firefighters that live outside of the town or city and have to travel several miles, even more than an hour, to staff a station when all the on-shift responders are on a call.
  • Local volunteers represent local community investment in the fire station and local support for career firefighters, many – and sometimes, most – of whom do not live in the community. Local volunteers demonstrate a kind of community endorsement as powerful as financial support.
  • Local volunteers can provide much-needed continuance and knowledge in a fire station with a high turnover of career firefighters.
  • Local volunteers aren’t career firefighters, and those that don’t have career firefighting aspirations can be a more neutral voice when making the case for a maintenance or increase in funding for a fire station or for a new strategy. They do not have a financial or career interest in funding or expansion, for instance, and that makes their voice incredibly powerful when advocating to elected officials and community members that may be voting on such a measure.
  • Local volunteers aren’t career firefighters, and those don’t have career firefighting aspirations can be a more neutral voice when addressing problems and complaints within or about a fire station, since they will not suffer financial consequences from speaking out about issues that need to be addressed. The key here is the phrase can be – does your station empower and encourage local volunteers to provide frank feedback about what they see and experience? Do you have a speak-up culture?
  • Local volunteers may end up serving on a citizen committee that advises government or even run for local office, and having a firefighter advocate in such a role can be greatly beneficial to all firefighting, fire prevention and emergency response in a community.

What are other great reasons to involve local volunteers in fire stations? What other scenarios, beyond fire stations, are good to have volunteers and career professionals working side-by-side? Please share in the comments.

And on a related note, here are four groups of questions every fire station should be asking itself:

  • If we involve career firefighters, how long are they staying, on average? Why are they leaving? Do we need to change how we recruit, manage or support career firefighters to reduce turnover? What are the costs associated with recruiting and training a new career firefighter?
  • If we involve volunteer firefighters in first responder roles, how long are they staying, on average? Why are volunteers leaving? Do we need to change how we recruit, manage or support volunteer firefighters to reduce turnover? What are the costs associated with recruiting and training a new volunteer firefighter?
  • How does the local community perceive the engagement of volunteer firefighters in first responder roles? If our station is scaling back or eliminating volunteers in these roles, how aware is the public of this change, and what are their feelings about it?
  • Does our web site have clear information about why we involve volunteers in emergency response? Are we limiting ourselves to recruiting only those people who have career aspirations and want to volunteer as a pathway to that career, or do we also have language that also encourages local people with no career firefighting aspirations to volunteer?

Also see:

Mission statements for your volunteer engagement
(Saying WHY your organization or department involves volunteers)

New online resources to help recruit volunteer firefighters

Volunteers needed, but are they wanted?

why you can’t find/keep volunteer firefighters

Making certain volunteers feel unwelcomed because of your language

pro vs. volunteer firefighters

Fire station turns away volunteers – & how it could be different

International Association of Fire Fighters is anti-volunteer