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Outreach isn’t just reaching people who already agree with you

But a capaign can go to far. In this case, too far is when people believe that believing is enough, without factoring in the differences between the passionate few who run the campaign and the barely interested many who actually vote. –Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody, referring to the 2004 Howard Dean campaign

In my wife’s work with the GetDowntown program, she hears avid bicycle commuters suggest ways to get non-cyclists to bike to work. She hears from avid walkers about how to get non-walkers to give up their cars for a good pair of shoes.

In my work, I hear from deeply committed environmentalists about how to get indifferent people to lower their carbon footprint. I hear passionate peace activists tell me how we should get the apathetic public to care.

This input is valuable, and many good ideas come from it, but what these true believers forget, and what I often forget, is that the “barely interested many” aren’t approaching our issues from the same perspective we are, and what motivates us may not motivate them. To reach the “barely interested many,” you have to set aside your interests to see what it is that they are interested in, meet them where they are, and help them take the next step.

It can be fun to connect with the people who already agree with and to talk the shared language of what already motivates you, and there is a place for that in sustaining a movement, but it is not enough.

If you are going to change the world, you can’t just talk to people who already agree with you. You can’t just speak the language of what motivates people like you. You need to reach out, talk to new people in their own language. That’s why they call it outreach.

Five Ways to Lead With More Compassion

compassion and empathy are more than feel-good skills, they make you a better leader.

Susan Cramm has an excellent post on the Harvard Business Review blog how to lead with more compassion. The 5 ways are:

  1. Assume the best in others;
  2. Understand what makes them tick;
  3. Serve their needs;
  4. Accept responsibility;
  5. Assume the best intentions.

I’ve said before that  empathy is the core of organizing (and fundraising, and media relations, and volunteer management, and marketing, etc.). These five practices are strong ways to build your empathy and compassion and become a better community organizer.

http://blogs.hbr.org/hbr/cramm/2010/01/break-free-from-ugly-little-bo.htmlAssume the best in others

Communities are already organizing themselves: the power of “horizontal philanthropy”

This month’s issue of Grassroots Fundraising Journal has a great article about  “horizontal philanthropy,” the ways that members of a community support each other in many ways.

The Center for Participatory Change did a study of this phenomena, and one of the things I found striking is that participants would mention their neighbors, their church, and grassroots groups as proving support, but they rarely mentioned nonprofits in general.

There are two lessons here for community organizers:

  1. Recognize that the communities you work with are already organizing themselves. There may not be an office or letterhead, but there are relationships and structures that support the community.
  2. Your job as an organizer is to work with and support these existing structures, NOT to replace them.

know your limits, push your limits, don’t exceed your limits

In both organizing and weightlifting, you want to push your limits. But if you try to vastly overshoot your limits, you do more harm than good.

In both organizing and weightlifting, you want to push your limits. But if you try to vastly overshoot your limits, you do more harm than good.

When I was in high school, I did a bit of weight lifting. (Being more bookish than physical, though, I actually spent more time reading weight lifting magazines than I actually spent working out).

Here’s how weight lifting makes you stronger. You lift weight that is just at the limits of your ability so that you have to struggle to lift it ten times.

Your body says, “this is hard, I had better get stronger so I can handle I’m being asked to do.”

It’s a dance where you are operating just at your limits, slowly building up strength and pushing your limits.

There is a temptation to try to do too much too fast, to lift more weight than you are ready for. It usually ends in injury.

Trying to do something far beyond your capabilities doesn’t make you stronger, it makes you weaker.

The same is true in organizing.  You want to challenge yourself and your organization. You increase your strength and influence. And you do this by taking on larger and larger challenges.

In Tools for Radical Democracy, when Minieri and Getsos talk about choosing actions, they say an action should be “within your capacity. You only choose actions that your organization can run effectively.”

Know your limits. Expand your limits. Respect your limits. It takes a long time to recover from a strained tricep. It also takes a long time to recover from a “mass rally” that only fourteen people show up for.

The “Iron rule”

Saul Alinsky had what he called the “Iron Rule.”

“Never do for others what they can do for themselves.”

How would following the Iron Rule change your organizing?