Online Fundraising: please do it right

Of all things, tonight in my Institute for Nonprofit Management and Leadership class we were talking about Online Fundraising. I got a little frustrated since (a) I couldn’t get a word in and (b) they were really making a muck of it. What I was hearing was a confusion of the indicators of successful online fundraising with the methodology for creating successful online fundraising; saying things like “have a taste-maker blogger promote it” and “get people to post it on their friend’s Facebook wall”. To take a line from Joe Breiteneicher’s Quest: they were identifying with the money, not the purpose. So allow me some catharsis…

Online fundraising is no different than offline fundraising—heck, people of my generation don’t even recognize that there is a difference between on- and offline. What people want when they give is no different no matter where they give or where they are. The only difference is efficiency. Everything you can do online, you can do off-, except the reason you didn’t do it before was that it was so inefficient that no one expected you to. And now that the online sphere makes it so cheap and easy (well, if you’re doing it right), people demand it.

So what are people demanding: Community. Donors want to be linked with clients, linked with providers, linked with other organizations through you. If they don’t, it’s because they don’t realize yet that they can be—just like Britain didn’t have good food because no one demanded it because no one supplied it because no one demanded it (yes, that’s Krugman). I’m not saying that everyone will be an A-type personality—a healthy community is diverse both in participants and modes of participation—but people want the opportunity for participation.

So how do you build a successful community? What do people really want that will lead to a healthy community? I’ll just quote my notes from a conference session I attended called What Freud and Buddha Understood (and We’re Forgetting) about Online Outreach:

  • Need 1: To be SEEN and HEARD
  • Need 2: To be CONNECTED to someone or something
  • Need 3: To be part of something GREATER THAN THEMSELVES
  • Need 4: To have HOPE for the future
  • Need 5: The security of TRUST
  • Need 6: To be of SERVICE
  • Need 7: To want HAPPINESS for self and others

When you build a campaign—whether on- or offline— that includes these components, it has the best chance of being successful. This will cause the taste-makers to stop staring at their navels and the Facebook crowd to stop poking eachother (or throwing sheep)—and start talking about you. And possibly create something else that you didn’t realize would happen in the first place… that will bring in the money.

As an ending thought, think about why churches are so successful with fundraising. They link purpose with practice with people—and do such a good job that you may not realize when you are serving the church, serving the community or when they are serving you. If a church can do that because of a shared moral calling, think about what you can do with a shared ethical and social calling. Think about it!

Self, Language and Consciousness

The Tree of Knowledge is a goldmine of concepts and ideas.  The most interesting parts are at the end—in discussions of society, communications and language.

What biology shows us is that the uniqueness of being human lies exclusively in a social structural coupling that occurs through languaging, generating (a) the regularities proper to the human social dynamics, for example, individual identity and self-consciousness, and (b) the recursive social dynamics that entails a reflection enabling us to see that as human beings we have only the world which we create with others—whether we like them or not.

What I like most is the circular nature of the self-conception of individuals being tied to their use of language; the strength and ability of that language is tied to the richness and diversity of their interactions with others; those interactions are communication—strongly defined as activities triggering a change in the recipient; that change affects the individual’s own self-conception and consciousness.  It’s a little heady, so I made up a graphic:

Self, Language and Communication

All of the components are core to our human reality.  And, recursively, we cannot describe this reality without them.

On the practical side, I think the tidyness in which language and communication are linked and allowed to dynamically affect one another is astounding. Language—not just as words, but as a means of communicating and affecting change in others—is a continuous development.  Our individual ability to language is a function of the richness of our interactions with others, continuously enriching itself as we add new experience to it, and use it to create descriptions of descriptions (and so forth) of those experiences.  And, that the effectiveness of our language is the measure of our ability to communicate—effecting change—with others.

This calls to mind (well, it does for me) the thoughts of the Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin who advanced the idea of the dialogic within literature, stating things along the lines that “a dialogic work carries on a continual dialogue with other works of literature and other authors. It does not merely answer, correct, silence, or extend a previous work, but informs and is continually informed by the previous work.” Expanding this:

For Bakhtin, all language - indeed, all thought - appeared dialogic. This means that everything anybody ever says always exists in response to things that have been said before and in anticipation of things that will be said in response. We never, in other words, speak in a vacuum. As a result, all language (and the ideas which language contains and communicates) is dynamic, relational and engaged in a process of endless redescriptions of the world. [from Wikipedia, though you can read much more advanced dissertation on Bakhtin]

The unbroken linearity of consciousness is interesting enough. Once we have experienced something, we cannot go back and un-experience it.  I have participated in many conversations of “What album do you wish you could listen to for the first time again?” (for me it’s The Clash, The Clash). Jorge Luis Borges explores it within the short story “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote”:

Those who have insinuated that Menard devoted his life to writing a contemporary Quixote besmirch his illustirous memory.  Pierre Menard did not want to compose annother Quixote, which surely is easy enough—he wanted to compose the Quixote.  Nor, surely, need one be obliged to note that his goal was never a mechanical transcription of the original; he had no intention of copying it. His admirable ambition was to produce a number of pages which coincided—word for word and line for line—with those of Miguel de Cervantes.

The Ethics of Awareness

I just finished reading The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding. I posted upon the book earlier, but I wanted to paste in the conclusion, which I think presents an interesting closure to their introductory thesis: “doing is knowing, and all knowing is doing”—a thesis the authors make a compelling case for.

The knowledge of knowledge compels. It compels us to adopt an attitude of permanent vigilance against the temptation of certainty. It compels us to recognize that certainty is not a proof of truth. It compels us to realize that the world everyone sees is not the world but a world which we bring forth with others. It compels us to see that the world will be different only if we live differently. It compels us because, when we know that we know, we cannot deny to ourselves or to others that we know.

That is why everything we said in this book, through our knowledge of our knowledge, implies an ethics that we cannot evade, an ethics that has its reference point in the awareness of the biological and social structure of human beings, an ethics that springs from human reflection and puts human reflection right at the core as a constitutive social phenomenon. If we know that our world is necessarily the world we bring forth with others, every time we are in conflict with another human being with whom we want to remain in coexistence, we cannot affirm what for us is certain (an absolute truth) because that would negate the other person. If we want to coexist with the other person, we must see that his certainty—however undesirable it may seem to us—is as legitimate and valid as our own because, like our own, that certainty expresses his conservation of structural coupling in a domain of existence—however undesirable it may seem to us. Hence, the only possibility for coexistence is to opt for a broader perspective, a domain of existence in which both parties fit in bringing forth of a common world. A conflict is always a mutual negation. It can never be solved in the domain where it takes place if the disputants are “certain.” A conflict can go away only if we move to another domain where coexistence takes place. The knowledge of this knowledge constitutes the social imperative for a human-centered ethics.

Quoting the conclusion here doesn’t do it justice since this comes proceeding 9 closely interlinked chapters, but I think the authors make a powerful statement.

But, to follow up, I’ve been wanting to throw the following quote into a post for quite sometime. The quote is from Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age and, as the book takes place in the future, is ostensibly a statement of our current times:

“You know, when I was a young man, hypocrisy was deemed the worst of vices. It was all because of moral relativism. You see, in that sort of a climate, where you are not allowed to criticize others—after all, if there is no absolute right and wrong, then what grounds is there for criticism?

“Now, this lead to a good deal of general frustration, for people are naturally censorious and love nothing better than to criticize others’ shortcomings. And so it was that they seized on hypocrisy and elevated it from a ubiquitous peccadillo into the monarch of all vices. For, you see, even if there is no right and wrong, you can find grounds to criticize another person by contrasting what he has espoused with what he has actually done. In this case, you are not making any judgment whatsoever as to the correctness of his views or the morality of his behaviour—you are merely pointing out that he has said one thing and done another. Virtually all political discourse in the days of my youth was devoted to ferreting out of hypocrisy.”

I want to add this quote because I think it throws into sharp relief the emphasized statement in the first quote: “every time we are in conflict with another human being with whom we want to remain in coexistence”. The ethical statement makes the case that all viewpoints are personally valid, but need not be embraced let alone tolerated inter-personally nor socially_—nor geo-politically, if you want to go there. Though there is—as the case is strongly made in the Tree of Knowledge—an expansion of self, and thus knowledge, and thus realm of action, in that _understanding of others. Which is important indeed.

(Also regarding that last quote: I also really dislike it when people whine about hypocrisy.)

Tips for researching and applying to nonprofit jobs

I have a guest post up today at Entry Level Living on understanding and negotiating your non-profit salary. It’s targeted towards people who already have a nonprofit job and are looking to increase their piece of the pie. The last piece of advice from the article is stay mobile. If you’re looking for a new nonprofit job, here are some tips:

If you didn’t do due diligence the first time, you should definitely fully research the place you’re interested in. Once again, knowing how to read a Form 990 is immensely valuable (and you can search them for free here and here—though the latter requires free registration).

  • Looking at the upper-level salaries, what’s the maximum you could ever make?
  • Did the organization take a loss last year? Looking at a couple years, are they growing or contracting?
  • How is the organization making their money? That’s what they really care about—not necessarily their published priorities.
  • Do they pay a lot of money to contractors? What internal competencies is the organization lacking?
  • Look at their asset statement. Does the organization have the equipment you need to do the work efficiently (e.g. modern computers)?

Any number of these could generate questions to ask during the interview, or grist for the question “How did you prepare for this interview?”

Some Non-990 advice:

  • Know yourself. Make an honest assessment of what kind of management you need to flourish, and be ready to answer the question “What kind of supervision do you work best under?” Do you want to figure things out for yourself or be told how to do it? Do you do better with routine or having different activities every day? Even if this is your first job, try to think of a teacher or professor that worked with you in a way you liked.

  • Spend time on your cover letter. For-profit hirers flip to the resume to look for experience; nonprofit hirers read the cover letter with an eye for heart. Make it a passionate statement for why you do what you want to do. It’s not the body of the letter that counts, it’s the soul.

  • Salary ranges are not hiring ranges The published upper limit is most likely the maximum you will ever make in that position. Don’t expect to successfully negotiate for the higher amount.

  • What did you used to make. If you’re asked about your salary expectations (and you really shouldn’t be if it’s an entry level job—both of you should know you’ll be making next to nothing), instead talk about your salary history. What have you earned in the past (and what benefits have you received)? Be clear that your aware you may be taking a pay cut, but make up for it by stressing your alignment with their mission and services.

  • Use the hiring process as a guide. I know many people who say “I should have known when they hired me…” If the job description is poorly written, you have trouble getting direct answers to questions, or you feel parts of the hiring process take place in bad faith, take that as a warning of what it’s like to work there. Do they model the type of behavior you expect and respect?

And most importantly, stay positive and open minded. Right now it’s tough for everyone to find a job. Don’t get caught on a narrow path. A nonprofit career is not the only way to do good.

Notes on silence

My roommate (a teacher) left open this week’s Newsweek with a movie review of the French film, The Class, that began with this quote, tattooed on one of the students and dubiously attributed to the Qu’ran:

If your words are less important than silence, keep quiet.

Which sounds suspiciously similar to the Buddhist quote:

Do not speak—unless it improves on silence

Trying to google through Christian quotations, I found little in the way of direct quotations, though lots of interpretation.

As a contemporary quote, I like Cloud Cult’s “The Deaf Girls Song”, off of The Meaning of 8:

Did you hear about the deaf girl The one whose song’s gone number one Three minutes of silence on the radio It’s the best damn gift for everyone

Know your organic PLU by number

I get a big grab-box of organic produce every week and last week I guess there was a bit of a mixup. I order it more for the variety and element of surprise (what should I cook with celery root?) than health or ideology, so the issue was more an opportunity to learn this fun fact:

It was brought to our attention last week that some of the Asian Pears we distributed were not organic. We should have caught it as the price lookup code or “PLU code” on the sticker label was a number “4” instead of the number “9”; all organic PLU codes begin with the number “9”. 

Of course, that your produce even comes with a PLU is a different matter…

Types of Facilitator Interventions

Flipping through The Facilitator’s Fieldbook (Second Edition) I really liked their listing/categorization of the different Types of Process Consultation.  It’s a straighforward breaking apart of the different methods one might use to facilitate an interaction (normal-speak translation: talk to people)

  1. Active Listening: Paying close attention to both what is being said and the processes that are occurring, leading to highlighting clarification, summarizing, and consensus building.
  2. Inquiry: Questions and probes to raise data, focus attention, and/or stimulate diagnostic thinking; surfacing data for the group to look at.
  3. Observation and feedback: Seeing what is going on with an individual or the group and then (a) describing in behavioral terms what they are doing; (b) reflecting their emotional state; and (c) interpreting the underling dynamics of what is going on.
  4. Concretization: Pushing people to be concrete and specific to get beyond generalizations.
  5. Historical reconstruction : Looking back over events to force a reconstruction and review of what was done and how it was done (emphasizing the process dimensions).
  6. Including process focus: Building in process analysis periods, feedback sessions, and process discussions.
  7. Cognitive inputs: Concepts or ideas shared with the group to help members understand something.
  8. Skill building: Interjecting brief learning activities to enhance the capabilities of the group members in some needed competency (e.g., feedback, problem solving).
  9. Counseling/guidance: Helping the group or individuals look at themselves and actively engage in solving their own problems
  10. Designing processes: Designing and managing activities, methods, or exercises to effectively reach desired outcomes.
  11. Structural alternatives: Suggesting options for group membership, subgroups, interaction patterns, work allocation, roles and responsibilities, and so forth.
  12. Content suggestions or recommendations: Providing input or opinions concerning the content the group is working on; recommending what the group should do about some aspect of the group’s content.

The book also breaks out some other dimensions of your interaction:

Non-directive <—> Directive
Cognitive <—> Emotional
Reflective (Diagnostic) <—> Active (Doing)
Exploratory <—> Confrontative
Participating alongside the group <—> Participating in the group

American Commissar: my family archive project

Sandor Voros

It’s been about 3 years since I started and I’m excited to finally be rolling out a digital version of my late grandfather’s autobiography, American Commissar. The book follows my grandfather from Hungary to America as an immigrant in the 1920s; his entrance to the communist party and their activities during the 1920s and 30s; his wartime experiences serving with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War; and his frustration and disillusionment with the international Soviet communist movement. The book is human, funny, and—my grandfather being an accomplished playwright—well-paced with memorable scenes and stories. Seriously.

I will be posting one chapter from the book each week—there are 60 total plus an epilogue—on a blog specially set up for the purpose:

While I would not characterize the past 3 years as “steady progress” towards my goal of fully digitizing the book, I’m really happy to be entering the finale. The book itself is nearly 500 pages—which I have been scanning, converting to text (OCR) and proof-reading against the original text. Published in 1961, my family is pretty sure the book has entered the Public Domain—my mom and I have researched the laws (yuck), as well as contacting the original publisher and Adelphia University, who maintains his archive.  When I’m finished I’ll be submitting the entirety to Project Gutenberg.

In addition to my own personal interest in the work, I think the book has enduring lessons. As a 2nd generation American citizen, the experience of confused immersion and material poverty is so distant; as is the experience of the early-20th century, which few history books expose from such unique points of view. Fighting against the Fascists during the Spanish Civil War, my grandfather would today have been classified as an “unlawful combatant” or terrorist; yet at the time was cheered both locally and abroad. Most enduringly, I think his view of community organizing and his experience with the American Communist Party at the time is profound: the radical populism of the American Communist Party was one of the few movements actively advocating for the social services we take for granted today like Medicare, Social Security and unemployment insurance. As my grandfather argues, it was these evolutionary reforms that protected the American way of life (enduring freedom and opportunities) from Soviet style revolution—a movement that at its end my grandfather became disillusioned with and he worked the rest of his life to distance himself from.

While the book is a harsh critique of the Communist Party, I think my grandfather’s hope, optimism, and well-intentioned desire for positive change—topical concepts for today—are the book’s strongest themes; though I admit I am of a much different generation than both my parents and my grandfather’s contemporaries.

So I hope you will subscribe to the blog and read my grandfather’s book at

Using distinctions to create meaning

For Christmas, my friend Danielle bought me the book, The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding.  It’s getting a little long in the tooth near page 150, but I really like how they go about building up their argument.  Specifically, how they define Destinctions.

I’ve been accused in the past (by my own mom, for one) of being semantic.  Well, this is all of semiotics (of which semantics is just one part, along with syntactics and pragmatics).  So too bad.

The book builds upon the idea of “knowing how we know” and argues from the basic standing that “all doing is knowing and all knowing is doing” or “everything said is said by someone”.  They begin with the point that in creating knowledge, we are performing an act of Distinction: separating something from its background based upon certain criterion.  This something (being, object, concept, etc), is called a Unity.  Conversely, each time we refer to something (a Unity) in conversation, we are performing an act of Distinction.  A unity can be anything from a person, to a species, to an object, to a color, to an emotion, to a concept, to 1 of 100 different names for snow (which is an urban legend, by the way.

I found that to be an incredibly interesting way of breaking down understanding.  Building upon the core idea of Unity, I wanted to propose some additional building blocks of meaning that are commonly used in conversation, rhetoric and didactics (and easily found elsewhere on this blog).

Making Meaning

A Dichotomy is choosing between two unities that are mutually exclusive.  Dichotomies (and false dichotomies) are easily used and abused in arguments and rhetoric—some go so far as to say the West is an Argument Culture where middle alternatives are ignored.

A Continuum is a linear series capped by two Unities.  Sometimes there is meaning along the line, but the meaning primarily is a function of proximity to one unity or the other.  Probability is a simple continuum, capped at one end by absolute certainty, and absolute non-certainty at the other.

A Plane (or Field) is an flat-area bounded by multiple  unities.  Creating meaning from one’s position within the plane becomes more difficult to communicate unless in close proximity (or far distant) to a unity.

A Space is the most complex construction of meaning in which many unities are “mapped” out.  For such a construction, pointing out significant features (low-points, high-points, etc.) are the only way to communicate meaning about a space.

Ending with spaces, it’s interesting to note that the realm of human understanding (as bounded by our senses and cognition) is still a simplification of the complete space of possibility.  Even so, simpler and simpler constructions are made in order to successfully communicate.

Of course, definitions need not be static.  Because of that, I propose two ideas of movement or state change.  Flow is the change from one state of unity to another; a meta-dichotomy.  A frog may flow through the states of egg, tadpole, and adult.  A Cycle is a flow that iterates multiple times.

And for recursions sake, by defining these concepts, or applying these definitions to something, we are performing an act of distinction.