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Sunday Morning Coffee: Thunderstorm Aftermath Edition

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Blog Post Roundup

This week’s edition of Sunday Morning Coffee is brought to you by the utter lack of sleep I get every time there’s a thunderstorm in Texas. For reasons that are beyond me, at the first hint of thunder or lightning my dog mysteriously leaves his body and becomes a panting, shivering, whimpering mess. He usually defecates on the carpet at least twice. It’s a strange phenomenon that is equal parts sad and frustrating.

Now that we’re working under the caveat that this will be less coherent than usual, let’s get down to it!

  • Did you know we celebrated International Women’s Day last week? I did, but that’s because I went to an all-women’s college, so my lovely classmates were more likely than most to post about it on my Facebook newsfeed. I may be cheating by posting to a collection of articles rather than a single one, but Small Business Trends curated a pretty great collection of stories about female entrepreneurs. Rock on, sisters.
  • On a related note, here’s an interesting article discussing Columbia’s reaction to its sister school, Barnard College, landing President Obama as their commencement speaker. In sum: there’s still a bizarre undercurrent of misogyny about all-women’s colleges and their relative “ease.” Going to Smith left me with some complicated feelings about same-sex education–on a personal level, I’d probably never do it again–but it still hurts to hear the stereotypes about the worth of these schools as compared to their co-ed counterparts. My former classmates pretty much kick a bunch of ass.
  • Hey! It’s South by Southwest Interactive here in Austin! I haven’t been able to go to any of the Interactive stuff, because my budget lines up better with the free music that will be beginning next week. But I’ve been interested in reading up on all the emergent technology that folks have brought to the table. For example, here’s an app that will allow you to identify information about any potential connections you may have with total strangers. Creepy? Absolutely. Cool? I think so. As with most technology, I meet this with a combination of fear and total awe.
  • Speaking of mixed feelings, my hometown brings us a bizarre article about a couple suing a hospital for neglecting to discover that their unborn child had Down Syndrome. Prenatal testing is a weird issue and I can’t really craft a cogent response to it at the moment. I do understand how many parents would not feel ready or willing to raise a disabled child; but on a gut level, reading about this particularly extreme reaction was disappointing. My oversimplified response: stuff happens, and we’re often unprepared for it. Then we learn and grow and become better people. And sometimes we start nonprofits.
  • On marketing: H&R Block’s popularity with the young adult  crowd has jumped impressively since their support of a tongue-in-cheek political initiative called The ‘Stach Act. What does this teach us about marketing? Well, my entire generation is really weird, that’s what. Our obsessions include, but are not limited to: cats, anything from the 90’s, cats interacting with dogs, bacon, cats wearing clothing, George Takei, mustaches, and cats. Harness the power of any of that, and you’ve pretty much struck marketing gold. But I’d like everybody to know that my dear hipster friend Weston and I loved H&R Block before it was cool. That’s Weston and me at the bottom, featured in “The Pilot Episode.”
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Impact Measurement, Part 2: Questions We Can Ask About Kony 2012

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[I know, I promised something else for the second part of this “series,” but Kony 2012 is a phenomenon that warrants discussion. We’ll return to our regularly scheduled program soon.]

Before we begin, if you watched the ubiquitous Kony 2012 video and it inspired you to donate to the cause, that’s great! I highly recommend you don’t donate to Invisible Children unless you’re in the mood for funding Self-Congratulatory Film #12. Grant Oyston over at Visible Children did some research and came up with a list of great nonprofits that operate in Central Africa, all of which have received more trustworthy ratings from Charity Navigator than IC has.

Kony 2012, the internet campaign that rightfully denounces Ugandan guerrilla group leader Joseph Kony, is a great opportunity to ask questions about “awareness generation” nonprofits and decide for ourselves how we feel about their overall impact. I suppose I already made my stance on the issue clear in the first paragraph; but I’m not necessarily out to convince people that Invisible Children is a sham. This post will certainly not be without bias, but no matter where we stand, I want us to ask ourselves the following questions (some of which have no answers):

  • What are the implications of lumping such an important issue into a frantically consumed, frantically discarded viral culture? Kony 2012, by its very nature, is a meme–the social activism equivalent of sharing a picture of a cat who uses poor grammar. How does this compare, impact-wise, to the slow, sustained growth of knowledge and awareness? Will those who were driven to donate to the cause do so again in a month? In six months? In a year? In five years?
  • Does a campaign like this elicit widespread action? By “widespread action,” I am not referring to Tweeting, Facebooking, or sharing a video on your blog. I’m curious, in particular, about the well-intentioned souls who claim to have sobbed throughout the video. What did they do once they dried their tears? Did they call or write to a political figure? Did they do more research? Did they donate to an in-the-field organization? On a similar note:
  • Does sharing a video about a cause create a false sense of empowerment? Spreading awareness is so, so important. But don’t our responsibilities as concerned human beings extend beyond that? I could talk about disability rights until my face turns blue, and I certainly will; but I am not expecting my words to create systemic change. I am expecting my actions to do so. My words are just a conduit for meaningful information, so people can fundamentally understand how and why they should take the next step.
  • What is the strategy behind equating one figure with an incredibly complex issue? This is a great opportunity for me to break out the concept of metonymy, which I learned about when I was a student at the Northwest Institute for Social Change. Metonymy is the idea of using a single, tangible person or symbol to represent a large concept. It’s a psychological trick that allows us to grasp the intangible; and because of this, it’s a powerful practice and it’s certainly a strategy that all nonprofits should consider as they communicate their message. The problem emerges when metonymy is a stand-alone strategy. My beautiful roommate Jen spent time in Uganda building friendships and conducting interviews with female refugees. She is absolutely livid with Invisible Children’s consistently over-exaggerated claims about the LRA. Admittedly, I don’t know much about the bigger picture of what’s going on in Uganda, but watching the Kony video certainly didn’t help.
  • How meaningful is it that the majority of Invisible Children’s budget is funneled to overhead and media production? Despite their refusal to report certain information to the Better Business Bureau, Invisible Children’s financials are pretty clear. This is not an aid organization; it is a film company. As someone who spent a few years in the film industry trying to make social awareness films, I wholeheartedly support the goal of using film and popular culture as a mainline to our consciousness. For this, I applaud Invisible Children. I hope they will always continue to raise awareness about important issues in Uganda; but I do think it is their responsibility, as an influential media organization, to give people a clear picture of the nonprofits people can support when they want to take action.
And finally:
  • Why is it that the most successful nonprofits are almost universally the ones with the best marketing, and how can we use this knowledge responsibly? If there’s one thing Kony 2012 can teach all nonprofit professionals, it’s the overwhelming success of smart marketing. Because that’s what this campaign is: smart. Brilliant, even. So, study what works for Invisible Children, study it comprehensively, and use it. Use social media, use metonymy, use powerful storytelling. Find a great filmmaker in your area and make a film. Do whatever it takes to get the word out about your cause without lying, misleading, or manipulating. But do not, do not, do not let it end there. That’s not why we’re doing this, and any nonprofit worth its salt knows that.

Sunday Morning Coffee: Big Rainbow Mug Edition

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It’s time for another round of Sunday Morning Coffee! This week’s edition is brought to you by a beautiful sunny Austin day, leftover Indian food, and the letter A. So without further delay, here five things that are worthy of sharing:

  • How much do you know about gamification? Talk to me in six months, and I bet the answer will be, “I wish everyone would shut up about gamification already.” Gamification, or the idea that everyday situations like work or exercise can become engaging and absorbing when you apply popular game design techniques, is every bit as cool as it sounds. The smarter companies are already jumping on top of this trend (and using it for good or evil…please use it for good, guys). Because I think it will probably be the secret to successful fundraising, I read about it a lot. An article titled Startup Gamification Lessons from a Kindergartner is my favorite gamification article of the week.
  • On a related note, here’s a great argument for removing the stigma from “edutainment.” Educational entertainment has come a long way since your fourth grade teacher carted you and your classmates off to the new school computer lab for another round of Oregon Trail. Now, I don’t think anyone would argue that computer games should replace classroom teaching, hands-on learning, or important dialogue; but as a supplemental form of engagement, it can work wonders. Even Oregon Trail, which may not have been the world’s most educational computer game, left me with a lasting awareness of 19th century diseases:

weekly blog post roundup

  • Think you don’t have time to go play in the sunshine, savor a piece of chocolate cake, cuddle with your partner, or do whatever makes your little heart sing? Well, read this article about how happiness makes your brain work better, and then pencil something you enjoy onto your to-do list. Your success depends on it! My secret to happiness involves blasting Nick Cave music and trying to play my ukulele along. I, um, wouldn’t be surprised if yours is different.
  • But if there’s one thing that will make us all a little happier, it’s a baby sloth in a pretty blue onesie:

Holy moly. I can feel my brain working better already. Time to go forth and be productive.

Sunday Morning Coffee: My Favorite Blog Posts of the Past Week

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Guess and Check's Weekly Blog Post Roundup

My darling friend Jacqueline Stuart used to make me lattes that looked like this.

Once upon a time, I wrote this to a friend about rituals: “We need…rituals because we can celebrate the individual differences of each event while taking comfort in their overarching consistency. The familiarity allows us a moment to breathe, a moment in which we don’t have to test our responses to new situations; and yet with each new version of the same event, more differences and subtleties become clear. We’re able to learn and grow just as much as we’re able to give ourselves a break.”

That said, I bring you one of the happiest rituals of my week, my Sunday morning (or afternoon, as it may be) coffee. Today’s delectable blend is Folger’s, poorly measured and badly burnt. What can I say, I don’t live in Portland anymore. This ritual is really important to me; it’s my time to peruse the list of blog posts I’ve read and enjoyed this week (I read upwards of 50 blog posts every night) so that I can parse different points into my brainstorm document, reflect on good ideas, and finally, share interesting information with you. Here’s my top five list for this week:

  • GOOD Magazine makes an interesting point about fighting world hunger. The answer could be bugs!  I always love a good reminder that many of the things we consider “gross” are just cultural constructs, particularly in the U.S.–I still remember David Foster Wallace’s point (in Consider the Lobster) that lobsters (considerably insect-like themselves) used to be considered so disgusting that they were only fit for inmates. Now, of course, lobster is a delicacy. Also, my old English professor would have an aneurysm over the number of times I just said “consider.”
  • The Charity Navigator blog is one of dozens to document Generosity Day, a thoughtful (and pretty cute) rebranding of Valentine’s Day. Now, this is particularly exciting to me because I grew up around people who called Valentine’s Day a “Hallmark Holiday” or a “Consumer’s Holiday.” I won’t deny the truth in this, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love hearts, flowers, chocolate, valentines, and general sap  (third-wave feminism. Thanks, Smith College). Generosity Day is an excellent solution; it keeps the holiday’s inherent cheesiness in tact while shifting the focus from consumption to giving. It reminds you to spend a day leaving 100% tips, saying “yes” to favors, and donating your time to people or organizations. Arguably, it’s stuff we should do every day (maybe not the 100% tip), but campaigns like this are a great reminder and a way to re-situate ourselves within the sphere of giving. Plus, it allows me to continue being a cheeseball every Valentine’s Day, completely guilt-free. I can’t wait to celebrate again next year!
  • And finally, the Center for Creative Leadership brings us an interesting (and reassuring) article about the introvert at work. People never believe me when I say I’m introverted because I tend to be chatty and friendly (a common misconception about introverts is that they’re cold or reserved); but putting on that face takes untold work and energy, and I can only recharge when I’m alone. The proliferation of online social media is an interesting way to bridge the introvert/extrovert gap, and it’s one I take full advantage of. However, I often worry about the impact my introversion will have on my leadership style, and this article raises a lot of great points about the unique qualities introverted leaders can offer (it doesn’t surprise me that they’re able to listen to their employees better).
That’s all for this Sunday. Until next time!