Tag Archives: politics

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

To Do List the Day After the USA election

The USA Presidental election is over in the USA at last. While not everyone is happy with the results, everyone is happy that it is over. It feels like it’s been going on for two years or more!!

This Presidential election has been contentious, controversial and very, very heated. I wrote in another blog about mistrust being rampant in so many communities in the USA and elsewhere, but the reality is that, fueled by this election, mistrust has seeped into organizations and families all over the USA: friendships have dissolved, many people aren’t speaking to various family members, and employees and volunteers may also not be speaking to each other because of what’s been said and done in this election, perceptions of the candidates and perceptions of the candidates’ supporters.

Strong feelings about the election and the issues it raised can poison workplace congeniality, kill employee and staff motivation and drive the exit of employees and volunteers you really didn’t want to lose. Maybe some of this has already happened at your nonprofit or government agency. You may need to do a number of things over many months to ease tensions, heal hurt feelings, reinforce your policies regarding workplace behavior and culture, and make sure everyone understands that the mission of your organization is always the priority while acting in an official capacity as an employee or volunteer.

You could:

  • Encourage departments to organize lunch together one day every other week, or do this for your entire organization if staff numbers are small, for a few months. You could introduce non-work topics for each lunchtime: recommendations for binge-watching, best classic black and white movies, predictions about March Madness, etc. Or have lunchtime trivia contests. The goal is to create fun, friendly, non-political conversations and help employees and volunteers again see each other as real people with real feelings. You don’t have to say why you are doing this – just do it.
  • Have a simple, fun contest for staff. For instance, ask them to bring in photos of themselves as babies or very young children, or in a Halloween costume, put the photos on the bulletin board in a common area and ask people to say who they think each person is. Or staff can bring in photos of pets they have, or have had, and staff can guess what animal belongs to what staff member. Or have a weekly staff award, like most tenacious, or most congenial, or person with a work situation that would make the best reality show. The winner could get a gift card. Again, this creates fun, friendly, non-political conversations and help employees and volunteers again see each other as real people.
  • Consider posting appropriate quotes in the break room that encourage humanity and kindness. For instance, from Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address: Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. Or this quote from Carlos P. Romulo: Brotherhood is the very price and condition of man’s survival.
  • Organize several activities over the course of coming weeks that will remind staff and volunteers of the mission of your organization, such as a Q & A with frontline or program staff, a video of clients talking about the difference the organization makes, etc. This is good advice anytime, not just after a contentious election.
  • Remind staff in various ways that, at your organization, people matter, and in the workplace, we need to take care of each other, we need to have each other’s back. Cite individuals in front of all staff that have demonstrated this, or any teamwork, in some way. Have a brainstorming session on what kinds of words your staff would like, ideally, to be able to say about their workplace culture.
  • Note in an all-staff meeting that your organization’s staff has the right and responsibility to ensure that the work environment is free of hostility aimed at employees, consultants, volunteers or clients because of protected classification, such as race or gender, and that there are federal and state laws that prohibit hostile work environments on the basis of sex, race and religion. It’s better to do this in-person, in a conversational tone than a memo, as it feels less like a cold command, but certainly, you can also send out a written memo as a reminder of what you discussed in a recent meeting on this topic.
  • Remind staff – employees and volunteers – that, in the workplace, political discussions should never interfere with work, should be avoided with clients, and among staff, should never be allowed to devolve into debates over race, national origin, gender roles or religion, as such talk could be construed as creating a hostile work environment, even by someone not participating in such debates but just hearing such. Remind staff that such discussions should not happen in the workplace and, instead, should happen outside of the organization. This may require a written memo to drive home the point if things are getting out of hand.
  • Immediately take aside any employee, consultant or volunteer who seems to be crossing the line regarding political comments and remind them in specific terms what they have said that is inappropriate and in violation of your policies. Take appropriate action for repeat offensives, including dismissal.
  • If your organization, as a part of its mission, is focused on issues that came up frequently in the election, such as marriage, immigration, refugees, veterans, safety, government transparency, women’s health, insurance coverage, etc., make sure all staff, including non-program staff, know where the organization stands on these issues and knows how to properly refer any questions or criticisms of such.
  • Be absolutely strict on senior staff demonstrating the behavior they want out of subordinates and volunteers in all of the above. If they aren’t walking the talk, all of the aforementioned is for naught.
  • Be prepared to say goodbye to employees, consultants or volunteers who cannot let go of hostility about the election and are letting such affect their work and the work place.
  • Welcome questions or discussions from staff about any of the above.

If you try anything at your organization, or are struggling with staff cohesion, share your experience in the comments below.

Also see

For Nonprofit Organizations: How to Handle Online Criticism

Survival Strategies for Nonprofits , a guide for nonprofits facing critical budget shortfalls.

Volunteers are more important than social media in Presidential elections

Please see the end of this blog for an update nine months later.

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersLast night, the public radio show Marketplace here in the USA did an excellent story about the vital role volunteers play in a successful Presidential campaign. Social media is great, but the reality is that it’s old-fashioned volunteer engagement – people calling neighbors to get out the vote, driving neighbors to the polls, etc. – that wins elections. The story is available for free online, and if you are outside the USA and can’t access it, just download Hotspot Shield – you’ll be able to using that.

My favorite points from the article:

“It takes $670,000 dollars in ad buys in a general election to get the same number of estimated votes as you would by opening a field office which is about $21,000 dollars to maintain throughout an election season.” — Joshua Darr, assistant professor of political communication at Louisiana State University, quoted in the article.

“Donald Trump’s performance in Iowa has widely been blamed on his lack of volunteer organizing. ”

“Networks of lawn-trodding volunteers aren’t something you can just whip up overnight, and the people who build these networks are not a dime a dozen.”

I’m THRILLED with this story. It touches on so many things I promote in my work: that highly-skilled managers of volunteers, fully supported and funded, are required for effective volunteer engagement, that volunteers are not free, and that, sometimes, volunteers are the BEST people to do a task.

For the record, I knew President Obama was going to win re-election, despite what the polls were saying, because his campaign was getting new volunteers, and keeping volunteers, all over the country, right up to election day, while Romney’s campaign was closing offices many weeks before. And when I volunteer for political campaigns, I always rewrite the script I’m given, so that the first thing I always say is, “Hi, I’m Jayne Cravens, and I’m a volunteer with the such-and-such campaign,” because I know the person on the other end is much more likely to listen to me knowing I’m a volunteer, not a paid staffer.

And note: volunteer engagement might be cheaper than national news spots, but it still costs money. I know a lot of managers of volunteers that would love $21,000 for their volunteer engagement… and with that said, be sure to sign this petition at Change.org that calls on Congress to provide funding for the effective management of the volunteers it is requiring public lands, including National Forests, to involve.

vvbooklittleSuch a shame people managing presidential campaigns, senate campaigns, congressional campaigns, grassroots campaigns – whatever the campaign – aren’t buying The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook in bulk! Tools come and go, but certain community engagement principles never change, and our book can be used with the very latest digital engagement initiatives and “hot” new technologies meant to help people volunteer, advocate for causes they care about, connect with communities and make a difference.

— end original blog —

November 28, 2016 update:

I was wrong. This election was not won by volunteers nor by volunteer management. As my November 28 blog details, social media DID win this election. It proved an ideal vehicle for promoting misinformation. As I noted in my last blog, BuzzFeed reported that fake news stories about the USA Presidential election this year generated more engagement on Facebook than the top election stories from 19 major news outlets COMBINED – that included major news outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and NBC News, and on and on. And the majority of these fake news stories did NOT come from any campaign operatives; rather, they came from a man in Los Angeles who originally built fake news sites to as a way to expose the extreme right, a plan that most certainly did NOT work. And these fake stories, most of which promoted Trump as a candidate, were shared by millions of people via social media – people who believed them, and most of whom never signed up to be an official Trump campaign volunteer. See my November 28 blog for more details. A blog in December offers even more details on how volunteers were engaged, officially and unofficially, in this campaign, and how a well-managed, vast army of volunteers did NOT win this election.

Words matter

Back in my university days, for my major in journalism, I had to take a class about ethics in journalism. And it changed my life. My “aha” moment was when the professor handed out two different news articles about the same event – a funeral. Both articles were factually accurate. In our class discussion, we noted that one story seemed rather cut-and-dry: the hearse was “gray”, the women “wore black” and they “cried openly”, etc. After reading the other article, the class said their impression was that the family of the deceased was very well off and very high class – the hearse was “silver”, the women wore “black haute couture” and they “wept”, etc. There were lots more examples we came up with that I cannot remember now, but I do remember that I started paying a lot more attention to words that were used in the media to describe events. And I still do.

I use the following as an example not to invite debate about the ethics of abortion or access to abortion, but, rather, for you to think about words, to think about those debates and the words different people use when talking about the same things. One side talks about reproductive health, personal choice, reproductive choice, health clinics, pregnancy termination, freedom from government interference and abortion access. The other side brands itself as pro-life and uses words like murder and killing and baby parts and abortion industry. You can know which side a politician is on based on which words that person uses. Both sides regularly petition the media to use particular phrasing when talking about any news related to abortion services.

Another example: following mass shootings and murders by different young white men at a Colorado movie theater in July 2012, a Connecticut elementary school in December 2012, a Charleston, South Carolina church in June 2015, and an Oregon community college in October 2015, among many others, the shooters were referred to by police and the media as loners and mentally-ill, their relationships with women were often mentioned, and the words terrorism or radicalized were rarely, or never, used by journalists or politicians in association with the events once the shooters were identified. By contrast, mental illness, relationships with women and similar references was rarely, if ever, discussed by those same people regarding mass shootings, murders and bombings in the USA by young Muslim men in Little Rock in 2009, in Boston in April 2013, in Garland, Texas in 2015, and in Chatanooga in July 2015, among many others (details are still emerging regarding the shooting in San Bernadino this week, so I’ll leave that off this list).

Another example: the estate tax versus the death tax. In the USA, when someone dies, the money and goods that they had that is passed along to heirs, usually children, is taxed by the federal government. When this tax is described as an estate tax, polls show that around 75% of voters supported it. But when the exact same proposed policy is described as a death tax, only around 15% of voters supported it.

Sometimes, our choice of words to describe something is unconscious, a matter of our education or background. Other times, the choices are quite deliberate and meant to add subtext to our message, to sway the reader or listener in a particular direction. As I said on Facebook in response to someone who implied she doesn’t think word choice matters when describing groups, people or events:

If there is anything I’ve learned in my almost 50 years – WORDS MATTER. The words we use influence, inspire, change minds, create understanding or misunderstanding, fuel flames or put them out. Using a double standard to talk about people that murder others brands one “just really sad”, and the other “terrorism.” It demonizes entire groups while letting off other groups that are the same. It’s hypocrisy.

Here is a wonderful web site from a student project at the University of Michigan on the power of word choice in news articles (it includes rather wonderful lesson plans you can use in your own trainings!). It hasn’t been updated in a long while, but the examples it uses – many from the second Iraqi war with the USA – are excellent for showing the power of word choices to influence opinion – and even create misunderstanding. Also see this lesson plan for students in grade 9 – 12 regarding word choice and bias from Media Smarts, “Canada’s centre for digital and media literacy,” for more examples of how word choices can influence our opinions.

Words matter. Choose carefully.

Also see:

Why I’m not outraged at the IRS

Each year, the IRS reviews as many as 60,000 applications from groups that want to be classified as tax-exempt.

501(c)(4) tax-exempt status is a different nonprofit category than organizations like homeless shelters, arts groups, animal groups, etc. The (c)(4) status allows advocacy groups to avoid federal taxes, just like 501(c)(3) orgs, but the status doesn’t render donations to the groups tax deductible. The primary focus of their efforts must be promoting social welfare – and that can include lobbying and advocating for issues and legislation, but not outright political-campaign activity. Also, these groups do not have to disclose the identities of their donors unless they are under investigation.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s January 2010 “Citizens United” ruling lead to a torrent of new 501(c)4 groups: the number of applications sent to the IRS by those seeking 501(c)4 status rose to 3,400 in 2012 from 1,500 in 2010. MOST of these applications were from conservative groups. And many of these organizations flout the law in terms of not being involved in political-campaign activity – if you saw the whole process where Stephen Colbert oh-so-easily formed his own 501(c)(4) organization, you know what I mean.

So what was the “extra scrutiny” by the IRS? Good luck trying to find out specifics beyond the phrase “extra scrutiny” again and again. It took me an hour on Internet searches to find out enough to make this list of what the “extra scrutiny” was:

  • more details on what “social welfare” activities the organizations were undertaking
  • speakers they had hosted in meetings
  • fliers to promote events
  • list of volunteers
  • roles/works of volunteers
  • lists of members
  • list of donors
  • positions on political issues the organization was advocating

Some groups have claimed they were asked who was commenting on the group’s Facebook page, but I can’t find any confirmation of this claim.

Of course, this “extra scrutiny” is a fraction of what many of these same people outraged at the IRS were demanding regarding the now defunct nonprofit group ACORN. It’s the same scrutiny these conservatives were screaming about wanting for arts organizations back in the 1990s, in their attempt to eliminate all government funding for arts organizations. And probably most importantly: no organization was prevented from engaging in the activities it wanted to, not even those with pending status. None. Zilch.

This scrutiny is not only what I have been asked for in every nonprofit and government-related job I have held in the last 15 years (yes, I have been asked by a government agency to provide a list of paid staff and volunteers – they wanted to see if our arts organization was involving “enough” volunteers”); these are details I have long encouraged nonprofits to provide on their web sites, to show transparency and credibility.

So, I’ll be by usual blunt self: any nonprofit organization, no matter what their designation, that can’t easily provide details on its programs – who, what, where, when – as well as information the number and role of volunteers and information on any activities that might be considered political advocacy, shouldn’t be a nonprofit. And if that organization is a political group, it should have to provide a public list of all financial donors. Period.

But, no, I’m not going to provide a list of volunteers. Their roles and accomplishments, yes, but not a list of volunteers.

In fact, let’s get rid of (c)(4) nonprofits status altogether. You want to form an organization that engages in political activities? Form a PAC

My sources:

http://www.politico.com/story/2013/05/israel-related-groups-also-pointed-to-irs-scrutiny-91298.html#ixzz2TSsJpVJ1

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/14/us-usa-tax-irs-idUSBRE94B08I20130514

http://www.southcarolinaradionetwork.com/2013/05/15/at-least-2-sc-tea-party-groups-say-they-were-singled-out-by-irs/

http://www.coyotecommunications.com/outreach/scrutiny.html

http://www.salon.com/2013/05/14/when_the_irs_targeted_liberals/singleton/

A volunteerism blog, not a political one

During this election season in the USA, there has been a lot of talk about the role volunteers played in the work of various campaigns, including the presidential campaign. But most of it has focused on the “free labor” aspect. Yet, as we all know (right?!), volunteers are NOT free.

 

The reason volunteers were effective in various campaigns this time around – and, well, always – isn’t because they were unpaid labor. Rather, it was because volunteers were the best people for certain tasks, and could do certain tasks far better than paid staff.

 

I got a lot of phone calls related to the election for the last three months. I realized after several of them that, when the person said, “I’m calling from the such-and-such campaign…”, I almost always interrupted them at some point, even if they were calling from a cause or campaign I supported, to say, “Hi, I’m sorry to interrupt, but I have absolutely no money to donate to the campaign whatsoever.” But when the person said, “I’m a volunteer, and I’m helping with the such-and-such campaign…” I let them finish their spiel and answered all of their questions (but still couldn’t give money).

 

I thought about why I was doing that, why I was being so much kinder to the volunteers, and the answer was, for me: the people that are volunteers are supporters of such-and-such campaign, no question. A lot of people will do anything for a paycheck and, therefore, I wonder if the motivation for the political call from someone who is being paid isn’t actually all about the commission they are trying to make for every person that donates. With a volunteer, I know, absolutely, that that person is volunteering from a passion for that candidate. And I want to be a part of that.

I ended up volunteering for a campaign because one of those callers said, up front, that he was a volunteer and he was NOT calling for money – rather, he was calling to see if I would be voting, if I would be supporting a certain presidential candidate, and if I wanted to volunteer. And I said yes. And there was something so warm and energizing about sitting in another volunteer’s house, with lots of other volunteers, calling potential voters on my cell phone, rather than being paid to sit in a corporate-esque phone bank making calls – do you think people could hear that in my voice? I do.

 

That is not to say people that are paid to work on campaigns don’t have passion. I have been paid to do public relations and marketing, and I’m quite passionate about the causes I’ve been paid to promote – I’m not sure I could do the same for something I don’t really feel personally supportive of. I used to cringe when I worked at the UN Volunteers program and people would try to say that UN Volunteers had more passion than UNDP workers in the field – having worked in the field, I could never tell the different in what contract someone had just based on the passion they exhibited, or didn’t in the field.

 

But the fact remains that, often, the public responds more positively to someone that says, “I’m a volunteer” than they do to a person that says, “I’m an employee.” And exactly the opposite is true as well in certain situations – some people will refuse to work with “just a volunteer”, even if that person has more qualifications and expertise than a paid employee of the same organization.

It goes back to what I’ve said again and again: for some tasks, volunteers are the best people for the job, and for some tasks, employees or paid consultants are the best people for the job, and it does NOT have to do with saving money!

Also see:

Writing a mission statement for your organization or program.

Going all-volunteer in dire economic times: use with caution

The Value of Volunteers (and how to talk about such)

The Gutting of the USA

The Republican Study Committee, a bloc of more than 165 US Congressional Representatives, have unveiled a proposal that will end a range of federal programs that benefit charities and their clients. Among its proposals:

* Eliminate AmeriCorps and other national-service programs.

* Abolish the Agency for International Development.

* Eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

* End Department of Energy grants to help low-income people weatherize their homes.

In short, it would cut every program I believe makes my country exceptional, that makes my country great — except for public education and the National Parks Service, both of which I guess they will be going after very soon. While these programs make up just a fraction of the US budget, they have had a profound, positive impact on the lives of millions and millions of people, often without those people even knowing it. I could not even begin to say how these programs have affected me.

Cutting these programs will rob the USA of a large chunk of its voice and its culture, as well as taking away programs that make the USA, and the World, a better place.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio is the committee’s chairman.

A sad day.

 

Do online petitions work?

Online petitions got off to a very rough start when the Internet went mainstream back in the early 1990s. You may remember one of those early efforts, if you have been on the Internet as long as I have: it was the 1990s, and you got an email written by someone at Brandeis University who wanted to help the women in Afghanistan suffering under the warlords and the Taliban. That email accurately told you about the situation for women in Afghanistan. But the email was inaccurate in suggesting that signing your name to the bottom and forwarding it to all your friends would have any impact on those in power in Afghanistan. The petition’s author was totally unprepared for the consequences of her email petition, and hadn’t thought through how her efforts would pressure any change on a country that had no means to receive her petition, let alone take it seriously. It was one of the earliest forms of Slacktivism or Slackervism – all sorts of people signed it, and I’m sure most of them did nothing else, like giving money to an NGO that was actually trying to help in Afghanistan, because, hey, they signed a petition!

I’ve always wondered what happened to that woman…

Online petitions have evolved since then. While some remain ineffective — just unverifiable names on an online document no one who matters will read — some do generate impact. Online petitions that generate impact have this in common:

  • They are web-based. People sign them via the web, not email. That puts the petition in ONE place, and makes it easier to find online.
  • Signers are required to use a verifiable email address (one that actually works), and to submit full names and full mailing addresses.
  • Each time a supporter signs the petition, an email is automatically sent directly to the person or organization at the government or company being targeted, with the supporter’s full name, full mailing address and his or her message.
  • Signers receive tools and information to help them talk about the issue via their other online activities, as well as their face-to-face, offline activities with family, friends and colleagues.
  • Signers are encouraged to take offline action, and are given all the information they need to do this: to make phone calls, to hand write and mail letters through the post, and to contact their elected officials regarding the issue.
  • The petition has momentum in the media; there are stories in newspapers, on TV, on the radio and in blogs about the issue, and at least some mention the petition drive.

Change.org credits its online petitions with a number of public relations victories on many different issues, including:

Here is more about How Change.org petitions work.

I’m quite transparent about my petition activities.

More about Online Action Creating & Supporting Offline Action

New Congress Brings Stark Agenda for Nonprofits

The new Republican majority in USA Congress will have a big impact on programs that affect charities and the people they serve. The Chronicle of Philanthropy lists what the nonprofit world can expect from the new Congress. It’s must reading!

This is a followup to my earlier blog warning that the Fall 2010 election in the USA should have every nonprofit’s attention – and every NGO’s attention abroad that receives money from the USA in some way, directly or indirectly. It provides links to commentaries by other organizations as well as ways to address the proposed changes.

As I noted in that earlier blog, US government budgets have already been cut severely, and the cuts that are coming will become even more severe — and the irony is that the same local, state and national governments cutting nonprofit budgets are also asking nonprofits to maintain their services in the face of these cuts.

Also see these tips to use your web site to show your organization’s accountability and results.

A war on nonprofits & NGOs?

The Fall 2010 election in the USA should have every nonprofit’s attention – and every NGO’s attention abroad that receives money from the USA in some way, directly or indirectly. Government budgets have already been cut severely, and these cuts will become even more severe over the coming months — and the irony is that the same local, state and national governments cutting nonprofit budgets are also asking nonprofits to maintain their services in the face of these cuts.

In addition to the budget cuts, there is also a significant backlash in the USA, and in some cases, abroad, against nonprofits and NGOs; there is growing rhetoric against the work of mission-based organizations, which are being accused of everything from promoting inappropriate agendas to being corrupt.

Your organization needs to get up to speed on what could be called the war on nonprofits and NGOs:

Your organization needs to develop a strategy that employs a variety of activities over the next year to ensure local officials, state legislatures, and US Congressional representatives, as well as political leaders that are not office holders, understand just how vital your organization is and just how well managed and efficient it is. This isn’t something nice to do; it’s absolutely necessary to your organization’s survival.

There are several things your organization can do:

    • Build a relationship with elected officials, politicans and pundits:
    • Ensure that office holders, representatives from local political parties and various media representatives receive press releases regarding your organization’s results and the difference your organization makes. This can be evaluation results and testimonials from clients or volunteers.
  • Invite office holders, representatives from local political parties and media representatives (radio, TV, newspapers and bloggers) to events where they will hear about the difference your organization makes, or to observe your organization “in action.” Thank office holders, politicans, media representatives and others for attending your event with a personalized followup letter or email.
  • Set up meetings with elected officials, politicans, media representatives and others, one-on-one. It can be a morning meeting at their office, a lunch, whatever. Try to know them on a personal level.
  • Respond to criticism and rhetoric from elected officials, politicans and pundits. Respond with a phone call, a request for a meeting, a letter, an email, a newspaper editorial and/or a blog. Responding to criticism is vital both in countering negative PR and in showing office holders, politicans, pundits and others that you are listening!
  • Post your annual reports for the last five years online. Give an idea of why things cost what they do. Spell out administrative costs — what does having a copy machine allow you to do that you could not otherwise? How does having computers and Internet access allow you to serve more clients? Why do you rent or own office spaces, meeting spaces, event spaces, etc.?
  • Post information about your paid staff and their credentials online. Show that the staff you are paying are worth their salaries.
  • Talk in your newsletter and blog about what a cut in the budget will look like, what programs would have to be eliminated, what services you would not be able to provide, etc. Don’t sound desperate but do be clear about why decisions are being made and what cuts will look like.
  • Talk in your newsletter and blog in blunt terms about expenses. For instance, involving volunteers is NOT free; talk about all the costs that come from involving volunteers, your commitment to involving volunteers as something much more than free labor, etc.

You cannot afford not to do this!

Also see: Going all-volunteer in dire economic times: use with caution.