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On Rejecting Best Practices

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rejecting best practices of marketing

This stock photo man in a business suit has something to say to YOU!

Have I told you? I’m in marketing.

As part of my day job,  I write. I write  a lot.  I write more articles in one month than the number of posts that exist on this entire blog,  because it keeps the company website’s content fresh, and it’s a major part of proving to Google that a site is still relevant. That’s an excellent strategy for a business, and I’m not saying those articles aren’t useful for people. They are. But a side effect of doing this is that through the research process, you start to spot when people are churning out content on the pretext of giving advice.  Think about how many times you’ve clicked on a blog post called “The Ten Secrets to XYZ,” only to realize that the ten “secrets” are the same rehashed platitudes you’ve already heard. That “secret” part? It’s kind of a dead giveaway that someone is baiting you into reading their blog.

Here are some other ways people may trick you into reading writing-that’s-not-writing:

  • A controversial headline followed by an article that proves not to be all that controversial
  • Anything that compares a business-related topic (sales/marketing/managing a team/etc) to a completely unrelated popular television show,  event, movie, or public figure
  • Lists, sometimes accompanied by bullet points (ha!)
  • Infographics. Some blogs do them beautifully; everything else is pretty much useless.
  •  Any “new trick” related to Facebook or Twitter. I promise you, you’ve already heard it.
  • And I really, really hate to say this, but be more wary of blogs that aren’t a “leader” in the industry. Sorry. I’m not trying to pick on the little guys, because I’m one too. It’s just that NPR is usually a more credible resource than Joe Schmoe’s politics blog, and SEOMoz is a better resource than some random marketing guy who’s trying to get his content noticed. We all start somewhere, but you don’t have to start there with us. That said, if you do notice a little guy who has something particularly interesting to say, it can be really fun to follow them and see where they end up.

So now that I’ve told you why not to read my blog, here’s why I think you should:

Because I don’t update very often, at least not these days.You’ll never see a “filler” post on here, and if you do, call me out on it. What this means from a marketing standpoint is that my blog is a little more likely to go unnoticed by the search engines*, but what it means from a “me” standpoint is that I can focus my time on my nonprofit, and also on making sure the words that flow from my brain to my fingers are the ones I’ve been meditating on. And in the midst of noise and ceaseless streams of content, I do have faith that quiet writing still has a place. Plus, I think this journey is fun, and maybe you will too.

A common writing exercise back at Smith was to go through old papers and omit every needless word, and sometimes I wish I could do that to the entire internet. But in the meantime, I can take comfort in knowing that when I write here, even though it rejects best practices, it means I actually have something to say. And I really do think people can still get by on intuition and heart, rather than on rehashing and repacking somebody else’s advice.

That said, you can expect more hilarious hijinks here soon, as The Great Exchange begins to hold its first meetings and I attempt to fold various elements of mindfulness practices into the program. So check back!

*Caveat: that viral little Kony2012 post still pulls in a lot of people, which I think is another testament to quiet, thoughtful writing.

Looking Forward

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After what I’m officially calling a summer hiatus, I figured it was time to bring this blog, and The Great Exchange, back from the dead. I’d rather move things at an embarrassingly slow pace than not move them at all, and it’s oddly comforting that after four months of inactivity this little corner of the internet still gets about 30 unique views a day. Not much, but I’m frankly surprised we’re still seeing any traffic at all, and it shows that people are still interested in the cause.

My original goal for this blog was to keep it hyper-focused on nonprofit and disability-related material, but the fact is, the narrative spills over into my life all the time, given the personal nature of The Great Exchange. So on a personal level, I’ve been diagnosed with my own completely fascinating brain disorder. It’s called a chiari malformation, and the pressure it’s putting on my brainstem is the reason for my central sleep apnea. I also have syringomyelia, but if you ask me about that last one and I’m not around a computer to look up the name, I’m hopeless. And I’m having partial seizures, but they feel like nothing.

Surgery is sort of a “when, not if” thing, but it will be at least a year before the insurance company arbitrarily decides that I’ve paid them long enough for them to tend to my pre-existing condition. Still, I go to bed every night now with my arms wrapped around the comforting promise of a cure, and that feels great. Lack of sleep continues to be the most difficult thing I deal with, but it’s not really an excuse for failing to move forward with The Great Exchange.

So why am I moving forward with it again? Because it seems more important than ever. Because it still affects me far too deeply to go out to brunch with friends and see one man, clearly disabled, eating alone. Because the word “retarded,” even when it’s spoken with no malicious intent, still hits me in a primal and painful place. All of that.

And on an even more personal level, because I derive meaning from helping people, not making money; and until I can start doing that, I’m just going to feel like I’m spinning my wheels. It’s honestly a little depressing not to have anyone to help. I’m not trying to create a false dichotomy here, but it really seems like people are drawn to one thing or the other: financial impact, or social. And I actually don’t value one type of person over the other; but I do think it’s an important part of seeking happiness to determine which type of person you are.

So where does this go from here? Baby steps. The tiniest baby steps. And it’s hard to me to admit that, especially on a public forum, because it feels a lot like riding a bike up a hill in front of a bunch of other bike riders and finally acknowledging that you need to get off the bike and walk. Especially since my nonprofit friends are still reading this, and my writing friends too, and a lot of people who have made it very far – objectively speaking, farther than me – through pitch-perfect focus.

What I can do, this week, is clean up the internal pages of The Great Exchange’s site; and make phone calls and send emails until we have our first team assembled. The team doesn’t have to be big. I’d settle for ten Core Members and a couple of Allies who are particularly tenacious about getting through any nascent first-time confusion. And I think I can have an inaugural meeting within a month. And I think I can write one or two blog posts a week until it happens. And I think all of this is completely doable.

So, happy Fall, and here’s to a slew of meetings that get off the ground and a future that’s brighter than ever!

Pop Culture Rant: On “Glee” and Disabilities

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I have a confession to make, which probably comes as no surprise to people who follow this blog: I watch the television show “Glee.” It’s this weird paradox in which every week, every time I finish the show, I completely regret feeling uncomfortable for an hour of my life, but I can’t stop. I keep watching it every week! And I always end my viewing session feeling vicariously awkward on behalf of the poor souls who have to break into “Journey” songs every two minutes, and then I quickly erase my browser activity so nobody knows what I just did. But this isn’t about trying to absolve my guilt over watching a cheesy television show. This has to do with the representation of a minor character in the show who has Down Syndrome.

For those who are unfamiliar, this is Becky, played by the immensely talented Lauren Potter:

Now, you have to understand, this is a case in which I’m honestly questioning whether I’m being too sensitive. I would never accuse myself of being too sensitive over the “R” word or over the abundance of judgmental language we use to describe people with developmental disabilities. But here’s the thing, dear readers: I spent the better part of my college life being trained to notice patterns in popular culture that marginalize other people: races, sexes, or sexual orientation. And when I look at Becky and her role as the sidekick to “Glee’s” resident evil, Jane Lynch’s cheerleading coach Sue Sylvestor, all I can think of is this:

The buffoonish partner to the archetypical villain. The one who’s there for comic relief, who says the funny lines, who makes you feel that unlike the villain, they’re not some evil mastermind; they’re just a little lost. And comical, of course, always.

Now, I’m a rabid fan of Jane Lynch, and her recent commencement speech at my alma mater brought me to tears of nostalgia. Seriously, I love this woman. I am also aware of Jane Lynch and Lauren Potter’s incredible voice in the disability awareness campaign. And I know that taking offense to “Glee” is a trivial crime, so be aware of all of this as I continue.

I just do not like the way the character Becky is portrayed. Plain and simple. I think she’s cartoonish, two-dimensional, and there for an easy laugh. In a recent episode I watched as her character sat in a hotel room with a few of the primary characters, as they felt disappointment over not being somewhere better, as she demanded beer and condoms, and the implication was, “laugh at this person for demanding condoms so she can presumably sleep with one of the main characters, who will, of course, reject her.” And I’m sorry, but that just isn’t funny. I’m sorry, but using a disabled person’s sexuality for a cheap laugh will never be okay with me. I’m sorry, but the intent was wrong: it wasn’t to point out the disabled person’s real, human feelings; it was to make an awkward, uncomfortable situation even more laughably uncomfortable.

If you want to talk about the capacity to which an intellectually disabled person feels fully-functional adult emotions, that’s one thing. If you want to talk about the moral implications of giving alcohol or condoms to an intellectually disabled person, that warrants an even longer conversation. But to make light of it and then move on is inexcusable.

And I know it’s not this show’s intent to write off a disabled person for comedic relief; in fact, I think that in their bizarre way, “Glee” is trying to draw a “this person is just like me” parallel. But it’s going about it all wrong, and I think at the end of the day, all they’re doing is solidifying the perception that society already has about teens or adults with disabilities. And I’m not sure if this is too much of a tangent, but full disclosure: I don’t think they’re doing gay people any good, either, when they lump gay storylines into the same storyline as a student sleeping with a teacher.

It used to be my goal to make movies and television shows (this was a long time ago) for one simple reason: to create characters that are different from the ones we see every day. At the time, for me, this was especially true of women: I yearned to see female characters onscreen that didn’t portray the archetypical romantic or weak stereotype.

But now? Now that I’m focused on disabilities? Let’s put it this way: I was concerned for women, but I’m pissed off on behalf of disabled people. If our disabled people aren’t buffoons, or if they aren’t a way of proving the main character’s “humanity,” or if they aren’t Oscar-bait, then they do not exist.

But guess what? They exist. They are our Austistic brothers, our aunts with Down Syndrome, or, in my case, our beautiful and capable brain-damaged sisters. And unlike “Glee,” high school wasn’t a laughable time for my sister. My parents had to move out of state just to find a special education program that wouldn’t amount to making my sister wait tables in the cafeteria for her able-bodied and able-minded peers. Before my sister switched schools, she was kept in a room with the behaviorally challenged kids (which she wasn’t) where they hit her (which made her wonder what she had done wrong).

This is the story that remains untold. This is high school for millions of disabled children around the world. And to minimize that by telling the story of one high school where the disabled girl is the laughable cartoon sidekick to the most evil woman in the school? That’s not okay. There simply aren’t enough stories out there to counterbalance this one. There simply isn’t a reason to believe that the stereotype portrayed in “Glee” isn’t true.

Four Things I’ve Learned About Nonprofits From My For-Profit Job

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I’ve spent a good portion of past two weeks absorbing new information as much as any human can without spitting it out her pores. My new job has been fun, rewarding, and overwhelmingly illuminating. And while I’ve kept careful detail of all the technology-related information I’ll need to know in order to do my job as well as I can, a deeper part of me has also been making note of what I’ve found in this job that I haven’t found in my previous work with nonprofits. This is not an insult to any of the nonprofits for which I’ve had the pleasure of working; but it is eye-opening. I promised I’d continue to apply the lessons from my new job to the process of starting a nonprofit.

So here, then, are my first (but not last) lessons. The top five for-profit tactics I’ve learned that every nonprofit should emanate:

1. Value (and reward!) your employees, with both feedback and criticism. 

My boss is a busy guy, so he doesn’t check in with me more than is necessary, and he trusts me to operate independently, just as any nonprofit would. But he also gives me positive feedback. When he tells me I’m doing a great job, I believe him. Why is this? Because he reviews almost every assignment I send him. I know this sounds unfeasible for most CEOs or nonprofit managers; but especially in the “ramp up” or “learning” phase, it is critical. I feel respected, I feel aware of where my strengths and weaknesses are; and moreover, I feel held accountable. I want to do a great job because it gives me a jolt of adrenaline whenever my boss tells me I am doing so. And if you think that’s silly, well, you’ve clearly never been praised by a teacher.

Nonprofit managers are notoriously strained for time. I understand this more than anybody, and I also sympathize. But it takes 30 seconds a day to let your employees know they’re doing a great job. It takes five minutes more to review a small portion of their work and let them know if they’re on the right track. Schedule this time into your calendar and don’t ignore it when the reminder crops up: it could just make the difference between an employee who works her heart out, and an employee who is convinced she is creating echoes into a void.

2. Focus on results.

Every nonprofit is aware of what they’re looking for on a high level; otherwise, they wouldn’t have a working mission statement. The difference is, for-profit companies pretty much literally live or die on their results. Results are so much easier for profit-driven companies, as I’ve previously noted. But that doesn’t mean for-profits don’t have a game plan. It’s there, and it’s impacting their results, and they measure it. And when it doesn’t work, they get rid of it: even if it’s an employee or initiative they love. Please take this with a grain of salt, because nobody is heartless, least of all nonprofits. But at some point rationality must prevail, and if that 5k you organized just isn’t raising you money, even though the handful of people who run it love it, it’s time to cut the program and begin a new thought process.

3. Sell, sell, sell.

Here’s the point at which I feel like people are going to begin taking issue with my opinions (please leave comments if you do!) The entire point of a nonprofit is that you are harnessing yourself to a goal that isn’t sales-driven, a purpose that exists for the sole purpose of making a select group’s world a much, much more livable place.

In the nonprofit world, my strengths used to lie predominantly in the “grantwriting” aspect. I absolutely loved creating complex, emotion- and fact-driven images that illustrated why were were doing what we were doing, how it worked, and what we needed in order to be even more successful.

There are no grantwriters in the for-profit world. The expository beauty of the what, when, how and why falls to the marketing specialist (that’s what I do now). However, there’s this other critical branch of the for-profit industry: the salespeople. Bear with me here, because I understand your reservations about sales. But the fact is, these people are active, they are dynamic, they are personable, and they are out every single day with people who may be interested in their product or service. They are building relationships and they are addressing needs as they happen.

Grantwriters simply don’t have the capacity to do this. But does your nonprofit have salespeople? Does your nonprofit have people who are on their feet, addressing donors, telling them why their money should be directed through various channels, telling those donors what they can expect in return? Not always. And given the amount of business my current company’s salespeople secure, I’d say assigning someone to get out there–not just write grants–is a huge priority.

4. Don’t expand before you are ready to.  

This difficulty is paramount for both nonprofit and for-profit leaders. Both types of leaders have an endless stream of ideas, and it’s entirely possible that each new idea is as great as the last. Nonetheless, the for-profit company I work for has an explicit purpose. It is growing exponentially; but only to address that initial, primary purpose. It is not embarking on new initiatives, not now, and maybe not ever.

Were I currently running the Great Exchange full-time, I know this would be an immense challenge for me. As much as it seems like the world is tapped out on ideas, almost every person I have met has come up with a new one. I certainly have. But to work the new idea into the fold of your old ideas before they have even taken root? Well, here’s the analogy that’s coming to mind: it’s like planting seeds, only to suffocate them with more seeds before the first ones can grow and flourish. It simply can’t be done.

For some strange reason, my current for-profit knows this better than my prior nonprofits, and I think it’s because their income base–and therefore their results–are so focused. Expansion is great. Focus is greater.

And here’s a bonus, just for the nonprofits:

5. Create a profit whenever (and wherever) you can.

This is so important. Do not rely on grants and donations. Do not rely on grants and donations. Do not rely on grants and donations. There are plenty of intelligent, articulate, heartfelt people who will be able to tell you why some nonprofits should only rely on grants and donations, and I suggest you research Kjerstin Erickson, founder of FORGE, who wrote one of the most compelling arguments about this that I’ve read in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.  Kjerstin’s main point is that, given the population she works with, expecting a profit would be an unnecessary burden.

However, most nonprofits can come up with an earned income strategy that would work with their mission seamlessly. For example, my ultimate goal for The Great Exchange is that they start a business that emulates SCRAP in Portland, an organization that inspires creativity while recycling discarded products from around the Portland Metro Area. My other two inspirations, unlike SCRAP, are both disability-related: Full Life Coffeehouse, a coffeeshop that employs exceptional people with disabilities; and PHAME Academy, a performance-based nonprofit that teaches theater to developmentally disabled adults, sells tickets, and then generates the most inspirational, heartfelt performances an audience could ever hope to watch.

At the heart of these organizations lies a practical need to procure an income–by selling art supplies, coffee, or tickets–and therefore funding. Will this profit fully fund the organization? In some cases, yes, and in many cases, no. But it displays innovation and self-sufficiency. And this, combined with grants, donations, and “sales people,” will make the difference in your nonprofit success.

So there you have it, the lessons from my two-week point with my for-profit company. Please leave any questions or criticisms. More later; I promise!

Singular Focus, or Lack Thereof: An Important Reminder

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The more we grow up, the more we realize we can’t do it all, don’t we?

I’ve always known that tailoring every element of my life to taper down into the fundamental goal of The Great Exchange would be my biggest challenge. That’s not wisdom; it’s obvious. It’s life we’re talking about, here, with its natural bumps and curves and variables, and the degree of control we have over any of it is debatable. This is perhaps the paramount thing I admire about successful entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs; they seem to have this effortless ability to examine that line between “life” and “work” and then to erase it as if it were a mandala sand painting, beautiful but transient.

I believe I am closer to starting and founding a successful nonprofit than most because as I grew up, I didn’t have to work hard to erase that line. It just so happened that the work I loved to do–being a voice–coalesced perfectly with the injustices I had watched my sister and her peers encounter. However, there are external elements that exist today that continue to give that line a sense of indelibility, and I’m making a conscious decision not to erase it yet.

There’s a sense of acumen in acknowledging your willingness to be unready. I’ve brushed up against these signs of age (or lack thereof) in the past, and it always feels awkward and paradoxical to admit the wisdom of not moving forward. I’ve been on the “right” track educationally, but I was 21. I’ve been in the “right” relationship, but I was 22. And now, at the age of 26, I’m on the “right” path to start a nonprofit–but I feel undone.

I want a job. A real job–not independent contracting, not sporadic film work, not Americorps, not scraping by while I hold an organization together by its bootstraps. Those are all wonderful, life-shaping endeavors, but I’ve never experienced a professional life outside of them. I want a job like the one I started two days ago, one that leaves me exhausted by the days’ end but also intellectually satisfied, surrounded by companions, and secure. It is inspiring to walk into a beautiful office every day and watch my talented coworkers do what they do. It is inspiring to feel instantaneously rewarded for the goals I complete. It is inspiring to watch the founder and CEO of my company work his ass off around the clock in a way I have never seen anyone work before. And I need that, for now.

This blog will continue, as will the Great Exchange. But for now, the blog will serve as a composite of the lessons I learn from my day-to-day experiences that I will someday apply to the best and most heartfelt nonprofit the world has ever seen. I will continue to build on the weekends, and I even plan on launching our first major event soon; but I will also rest. And when The Great Exchange launches full-throttle, it will come complete with the knowledge that I’ve tested every experience I’ve wanted to test; that I’ve created an exhaustive list of what I want out of an organizational leader; and that I’m ready to commit fully without having to wonder about the other paths I could have taken.

And should you ever arrive at a similar conclusion, in any element of your life, please don’t see it as a sign of weakness. I can say wholeheartedly that the acknowledgment of unreadiness is one of the hardest things I have ever done. To stare your dream in the face–or a person, or a place, or an idea–and to say, “I need a couple more tests,” is bravery. It is human, and it will help you interact with a greater sense of humanity toward every person you meet. And I can promise you that in ten years I’ll be telling you, as the founder of the Great Exchange, that working for another company for a few years was vital. I mean that from the bottom of my heart, or I wouldn’t be doing it.

I hope the nonprofit professionals who follow this blog will continue to do so, as I will continue to use it as a venue for applying the lessons I learn from a successful for-profit web development firm. And I hope the lovely members or family members of the disabled community who follow this blog will continue to do so, because every single lesson is still an arrow that points directly to the fundamental human right of providing our disabled community members with the respect they deserve. But my hope, most of all, is for the aspiring nonprofit professionals who have contacted me: if, at any point, another path seems enticing, please take it without regret. I can say without hesitation that you’ll fall back into your heart’s work when you’re ready to, armed with the knowledge that there isn’t anything else you’d rather be doing. And that, friends, is the heart of a successful nonprofit.

Rechanneling, Slowly

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Breaks in routine do funny things to people. Now that I’m back in Austin, it’s taking me awhile to ramp up again, in just about every aspect of my life.

Ashoka’s selection criteria mentions that people who possess entrepreneurial traits often have little interest in anything other than their mission. I think it’s actually a little more nuanced than that; I think entrepreneurs instinctively understand that they can’t have much of an interest in anything besides their mission, lest they fall off the tracks. That’s not to say they’re all automatons; it’s just that thoughts and ideas are slippery, and when you redirect them, it’s hard to push them back to where they once were.

Thoughts are like rivers. Events are like dams. And damn it (ha) if the recent events in my life didn’t just start channeling my thoughts elsewhere.

The Great Exchange, and work in general, is moving a bit more slowly now, like a runner with a pulled hamstring. I don’t know how to repair a metaphorical hamstring; but if I’m going to see this analogy through to the end, I’d say the only way to do it is to rest a little bit more than I used to, take care of myself, and work back up to where I once was as slowly and carefully as I need to.

So I don’t know, maybe this blog post symbolized my first 100-yard dash. And yes, even this tiny little cluster of words took longer than it used to. And I guess that’s okay.

News From the Home Front

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I can’t decide if I’ve been in Portland for just over a week, or just over two weeks. It feels like it has been months. This is a blog about nonprofits, so I’m going to do my best to tie that in somewhere, but it does feel good to take a moment, breathe, and write. First and foremost, Mom is doing great. Her physical and mental status reflects the best possible outcome of a terrible situation. Every time I think about strokes I recall details from one of my favorite books, so I know that now that we’re out of the danger zone, we have an exciting opportunity to rebuild positive neural connections.

I have a general tendency to put a positive spin on most things, but honestly, this hasn’t been easy, and not just for the reasons you’d think. Tough family moments have a way of stripping people down to their most honest and vulnerable selves, and while I’ve always been that way around my dearest friends, I’ve never quite shared that side of myself with my family. Until this week, I would have said with confidence that my best friends have seen my cry more than my family has. Reversing the trend has felt more than a little uncomfortable.

So there’s this profound sense of concurrent strength and weakness, now, because I can’t quite hold it together enough to pretend that I don’t worry, that brain issues haven’t kept me up at night (my grandma’s aneurysm, Martha’s epilepsy, my central apnea, and now this), and that my reaction to this latest medical problem doesn’t mirror what I went through growing up with Martha. I’ve done my utmost to be as supportive and helpful as possible, but on a selfish level, I would give anything to just see a friend or my boyfriend or even set foot outside the house. Writing this blog and knowing someone may read it is the first cathartic experience I’ve had. I can’t believe how much being back home in the midst of another medical problem is causing me to re-live my childhood.

And now to relate this to the Great Exchange. The Great Exchange exists because Martha has had a profound impact on my ability to empathize and feel joy and compassion for all types of people, and I want other people to experience that too. It’s also an oversimplification. For the purposes of the organization’s story, that oversimplification will stand. But on a personal level it feels a bit flat, like a painting that contains no shadow, like a romantic comedy, like a book without subtext.

From a purely developmental perspective, thinking about who I was as a child, for every positive experience there was a negative. For every insight gained, there was a tough lesson. For every award-winning piece of poetry I ever wrote, there was a child who sat in her room and wrote poetry, trying to be quiet and good. Behind my decision to attend Smith was a desire to go to the same school as my favorite children’s author, whose books I would read as a kid until the pages literally fell out because reading is all I ever did, and I was convinced those books were “rescuing” me. For every disabled child who has grown up happy and loved, there is a sibling who has quietly set their own needs aside.

The reason people grow up and move on and smile and laugh and build relationships and start nonprofits and become healthy is because it’s nobody’s fault. I’d venture to guess the majority of people who found nonprofits do so for personal reasons, and those reasons are probably laced with a hint of pain. That’s okay. But coming home and dealing with my own pain means I’d really like the Great Exchange to embark on an initiative that helps siblings, that puts them in the spotlight, that makes them feel special and loved even as their family is forced to prioritize the special needs child.

It’s going to be important to focus on the main goal of the Great Exchange before expanding, but as I recruit our Core Members I’m no doubt going to encounter the siblings who get lost in the trenches, and it would be great to funnel them somewhere. I’m going to do some research on my own, but if anyone knows of any sibling support networks in the Austin area, I’d love to build a partnership. Just email me; I’m always open to brainstorming.

Break

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My mom is in the hospital after having an aneurysm on Saturday morning, so I’m taking a break from blogging and, well, most things. Everything looks like it’s heading in a positive direction and I’ll be back in Portland on Thursday. I’m really worried, but I have a good intuition that she’ll be able to get through this. There’s not much else I want to say in this venue, besides that this has been an intense reminder of a lot of important things, and my anxiety about the little stuff has momentarily disappeared.

This has also been an example of the unique ability my sister has to assess a situation and be strong through it. She’s really inspiring everyone else do do the same. I value her emotional intelligence as much as I’ve ever valued anyone’s intellect, and it’s really shining through in this situation.

The outpouring of support and positivity has been amazing. Can’t wait to report back soon with good news!

Entrepreneur Anxiety

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Why does nobody talk about this? And no, I’m not talking about your run-of-the-mill, “man, I hope this works!” anxiety. I’m talking about waking up in the morning and feeling incapable of categorizing all of my looming expectations. I’m talking about trying to weave something huge into an already vibrant and dynamic life that includes full-time work, friendships, a relationship, and, well, a pretty major and completely inexplicable sleep disorder.

at the sleep clinic

You must admit, I'm the cutest little sleep clinic patient you've ever seen.

Do I expect my life to become less full now, or ever? No. Do I expect it to stop me? No. But I do need to learn to manage expectations. For example, my full-time job will continue to be my full-time job, and that’s just the way it is. And I frankly enjoy the work I do a lot; marketing is a great way to leverage both sides of my brain.

So that means The Great Exchange is relegated to the early morning, evenings, and weekends, and to those magical times when it actually overlaps with the research I do for work. I think a lot can be accomplished within those windows, a lot can grow and coalesce, a lot of weekend team outings can begin happening. I have so many plans that would turn The Great Exchange into a full-time job–including an earned-income model inspired by my favorite store in Portland, SCRAP–but I wrote those plans down, they’re not going away, and that’s the best I can do.

There is no timeline for The Great Exchange and I need to continue to let it grow organically, without fear or obligation or pressure. And for the love of all that is holy, I need to be good to myself in the meantime, because my life does become just a little harder when I miss an entire stage of sleep every night. It’s manageable, but that’s because I have great friends and a boyfriend who does the brunt of the cooking and grocery shopping. Anyway, it’s time to start taking extreme measures. Yes, you know what that means.  Shambhala meditation! If anyone who reads this blog happens to live in the Austin area, let me know if you’d like to go with me sometime.

The Winning Design

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All of the South by Southwest stuff happening this week means I’m probably not going to be as faithful to my little blog, but I did want to share The Great Exchange’s winning logo design after a bit of deliberation.

The Great Exchange's winning logo design

It’s this one! Those are now my official brand colors, too. I decided on it awhile back, but I just realized I never mentioned it. I love how warm and open and inviting it is, and a lot of the organization is designed around bridge imagery (see “bridging event” on The Great Exchange Glossary). As my close friend Marius said, “In this logo, exchanges are done in the light of the heart…The light of the heart has something very spontaneously warm about it, watching, embracing, and lighting all potential activity in the picture.”

Here’s a screen shot of the Great Exchange’s landing page:

The Great Exchange landing page

 

I’m quite happy with it, for a site I built myself (from a WordPress template…I’m no web designer). The internal pages aren’t so awesome yet, but they do convey the right information.

Design is really important to me, so this will continue to be a work in progress. But for now, it’s a relief to have a web site I feel comfortable directing people to.

More later!

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.”

I’m Trying to Find a Way to Responsibly Wrap Up Yesterday’s Kony Discussion

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…before my blog fades back into internet obscurity. People are asking a lot of great questions, and yesterday’s blog post went kinda viral because of that (also because of a link from Visible Children). I’m aware of the nature of viral sharing, which means I have approximately two seconds to communicate anything I want while I’m still standing in the spotlight’s shadow. I think I’ll say this:

I am not an authority on Uganda. This guy is. The only authority I have to even write about Invisible Children as a nonprofit is that I care a lot about transparency and nonprofit behavior. A lot of people who consider themselves advocates choose a focus and then become knowledgable enough to fight for it, and my focus is on disability rights. My sister has spent years and years teaching me about it, so it comes naturally (and if you’re playing along at home, yes, I’m applying metonymy to my sister and me).

What I do have a solid grasp on, though, is film, pop culture, and marketing. It’s sort of what I do when I’m not trying to start a nonprofit. I would like to believe I do it responsibly, but I’ve also taken a series of wacky “test paths” as I tried to figure out how to make a positive impact. I’ll be honest; I was never able to put enough time or energy into film to reach a place where I could use it to make a difference, and I really admire the people who can.

The side effect of spending a long time thinking that filmmaking would be my path, though, is spending about five years studying all the how’s and why’s of film and impact: how is it beautiful, how is it dangerous, how can we allow ourselves to be deeply moved while also trying to consider the people who sit just outside the frame of a movie or a YouTube video?

So again, I am not qualified to speak to the issues surrounding Joseph Kony. I am, however, qualified to think critically about the abundance of sensory input I receive each day. We all are. The Kony 2012 campaign was the lens of the conversation because from an activism and advocacy standpoint, it is probably the biggest viral social media campaign we have ever seen. People are scrambling for for a way to interpret what just happened because there is no precedent for this. But do you know what does have a precedent?

This type of image.

Sudan, 1993 and Kony 2012

Kevin Carter--Sudan, 1993

Taken by Kevin Carter, Sudan, 1993 was a quintessentially iconic image that circled the world. People saw it and became rightfully horrified. The child in the photo, of indeterminate sex, suddenly represented every child not just in Sudan, but in the entire continent (also, she’s a girl). People instinctively drew a “predator v. prey” inference because of their natural reversion to archetypes, and the photo became a widespread symbol of starvation.

The Save the Children Foundation appropriated the photo and used it on their donor brochures accompanied by the headline, “Stop a Different Kind of Child Abuse.” Save The Children’s use of the photo suggested a “starving Africa” in need of aid, which was not simply offensive; it was also an incorrect interpretation of the photo. David Perlmutter later noted in his book Photojournalism and Foreign Policy: Icons of Outrage in International Crises that the famine the photo reflected was most likely the result of a civil war that raged in the region at the time. Further, in 1993, Save The Children had no outposts in Sudan.

For good measure, I’m going to throw in one more image that sets a precedent:

our response to images

I so badly want to love you...

This is a spider. With the exception of a small, brave subset of the human population (myself not included), do you know what we do when we see one of these guys? Our pulse quickens; we abandon whatever we’re doing; and we look for the fastest way to get it the hell out of our vicinity. This is no doubt evolutionary; our biologically constructed reality is such that when we see a threatening thing or animal, we react instantaneously. We don’t have to think. It doesn’t matter if most of the spiders we encounter every day are harmless; once the fear seed is planted, the reaction prevails.

What does this have to do with film and the media? Well, the visual and emotional medium draws upon the same receptors, and we react in the same way: instantaneously. But in this case, unlike that of our reaction to a potential threat, we do have to think. And the questions I raised, with regards to a campaign designed to produce an emotional, knee-jerk reaction, are good ones to start with as we think past our immediate responses.

Always seek the bigger context. Always, always, always. That’s the message I’d like to impart, as a tiny blogger who has a bigger platform than usual for a couple of seconds. Oh, and go check out The Great Exchange. I think you’ll like it.