Posts by Ami Dar

A brief update and next steps

It’s taken a few weeks, but most of the pieces in our puzzle are now in place. People can sign up as Connectors, join a Connector Team, set up a rich personal profile, explore an initial set of Tools and Tactics for action and collaboration, and start an Action Group.

The challenge now is to make each of these pieces as good as it can be; tie them all as tightly as possible – to each other, and to the 100,000 organizations that are already on Idealist – and present the whole package as a coherent unit that can be promoted effectively around the world.

This is what the next several weeks will be about. In a few days we’ll share our plans with you, see what you think, and invite you to participate in whatever way makes the most sense to you.

Thanks again for your support and your patience, and more soon!

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Communication challenges – and solutions

Last Thursday, Action Groups went live, and you can now see the first real ones have been posted on the Connector Hub.

While working on Action Groups, our other top priority has been to improve the ways that all of us can communicate and share information across this network.

Here is where we are right now:

1. Discussions on Teams and other pages

If you start a new topic or reply to a comment in a discussion, you will be notified automatically when someone replies to you.

Please note that when you first do this, you may get an email from Disqus – the tool we use for these forums – asking you to confirm that you want to receive these notifications.

2. Daily digests

As of a couple of days ago, you should be receiving a daily Connector Update that now includes:

– Network-wide updates posted that day on the Connector Hub at

– New discussion topics posted on your team page

– New meetings or events

– New members joining your team

3. Individual messaging.

If you want to reach out to other people in your team, you can click on their photo and then on their profile, and send them a message from there.

(Please be respectful of people’s inboxes and don’t use this for any other purpose. If you receive an unwelcome message from anyone, you can block and report that person.)

4. Coming this week

An updated version of the Connector Hub that will provide a better place for all of us to have an ongoing conversation across the whole network.

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Action Groups are live!

Action Groups are live, and ready for you to start one.

When I first shared this whole idea with you, I described those two people looking out their windows, dreaming about a garden below. Now we can start closing these gaps, and we’d love to do this with you.

You can start an Action Group for your neighborhood, workplace, school, university, or house of worship. Or you can choose to focus on an issue you care about, such as education, homelessness, or the environment.

The first and most important step is to define the community you want to serve, and start your group.

For now, please don’t worry about how you’ll get people to join it. We’ll work with you on that. But first we need to know that you want to do this.

As with everything we do at Idealist, we’ve started with the minimum set of features, and with your feedback we’ll build up from here.

To start, please let us know if anything is not clear, or if anything is not working the way you think it should. (Feel free to post your questions or ideas right on that page so that everyone can see them.)

Thanks again for your support over the past few weeks. With this last piece in place, we’ll soon be in a position to start promoting this whole initiative more widely, and we look forward to that.

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Next steps, and expectations

Before Action Groups go live, I wanted to give you some context for where we are now, and what’s happening next.

As of now, here are all the pieces we have in place:

1. The concept of Connectors, as people who want to inspire and ignite more action and collaboration around them.

2. Local Teams for Connectors to support one another in doing this work.

3. An initial menu of Tools and Tactics for Connectors.

4. Personal profiles that allow any person on Idealist to share their interests and skills, and connect with others on the site.

5. Coming today or tomorrow: Action Groups – started and facilitated by Connectors – where people can share their intentions and ideas, and help each other act on them.

And of course all this is sitting on top of the 100,000 organizations that are already using Idealist to list their jobs, events, and volunteer opportunities.

So what’s happening next? Three things, in broad strokes:

1. Tying all these pieces together, in every possible way.

A small example is that when you visit a Team page now, you can see a link to all the local organizations listed on Idealist. But there is much more we can do. People and organizations in city X who care about issue Y should know when a relevant Action Group is launched in their area. And so on… This will be an ongoing process, and the more ideas the better.

2. Outreach to the Idealist community

Right now, 99% of the people who use Idealist every day don’t know that most of this is going on – and that’s OK. Before inviting more people to join us we wanted to have all these pieces in place, and we are almost there. Next steps: a new homepage for to reflect all of the above, and an email to our whole list to tell them about it.

3. Outreach beyond Idealist

Once a new home page is up, we’ll be ready to reach out more widely and start building this ecosystem of possibility all around us, day by day and step by step.

All of this will take some time, but if I think of where we want to be by March 11, 2015, we still have 47 weeks to go, and at this rate we’ll be in a good place.

Thanks again for your ongoing support and feedback!

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Action Groups are coming soon

We talked about Action Groups with the Connectors who attended the NYC Team meeting on Saturday, April 5th, and found people were happy to hear that these Groups will give us the best of both worlds: you’ll be able to start an Action Group for your neighborhood, school or workplace, OR one for an issue you care about—like education, homelessness, or human rights. (In the latter case you’d still be acting as a neutral facilitator/moderator, but within the issue that moves you most.)


Yesterday morning I flew to our Portland office, which is where we do all of our web development. I hadn’t been here for three weeks, and when I walked in I felt wonderfully superfluous. Everyone was out getting lunch, but the walls were covered with charts and notes reflecting all the feedback we’ve received from all of you over the last four weeks, and it was clear that things are moving in the right direction.

Later in the afternoon we had a good meeting all about Action Groups. We’re itching to share them with you and see what you think!

More soon…

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Friday highlights

I hope you had a good week. I want to close this week with a few links and highlights.

First, earlier this week we rolled out a new version of our individual profiles. If you missed that announcement and you want to update your profile, you can do it here.

Then, a couple of days later we launched a new set of Tools & Tactics for Connectors, generating some good conversations at the bottom of this page.

For one story from that page that touched us deeply – who is this boy?! – see the short video on this blog post.

Lastly, various teams have been meeting for the first time, and in the details and shared vision of this report from Silver Spring, Maryland and this one from Bucharest, Romania, you can see the potential of what we want to build together.

Several more meetings are planned for this coming week, including one at our New York office tomorrow (Saturday). We’ll continue to share your reports as we receive them.

Have a good weekend, and we look forward to sharing more pieces of this puzzle next week.



What’s happening now

In the two weeks since we launched this network, much has happened:

  • 1,700 people have joined us, and they—you!—are engaged and responsive
  • You’ve helped test all the software we launched two weeks ago, and with your collective suggestions and bug reports our developers have already made it much better.
  • Together, you’ve started more than 500 discussion topics across dozens of teams, and some of you—in the US, Romania, Mexico, and other places—have already enjoyed meeting each other in person.
  • Lastly, through all of your questions and comments, you’ve helped sharpen all the concepts we’re using, while also highlighting the spots that still need some more clarity.

And all of this is exactly what was needed.

On March 11, I was was a bit disappointed that after 20,000 people had signed up to attend the live presentations, only 4,000 or 5,000 showed up .

But a few days later I realized that 1,000-2,000 Connectors was a perfect number to start with: enough to test and improve the ideas and the tools, but not too many that we’d be overwhelmed before everything was working as it should.

I know that some of you have been alone in your team, and we are working to change this, both by consolidating smaller teams and by sending more people your way. Please bear with us.

Here’s what we hope to accomplish—with you—over the next 2-3 weeks:

1. Update the FAQ with answers to all the questions you’ve asked.

2. Produce a series of materials—from short videos to flyers and posters—that we can all use to reach out to more people.

3. Add more Tools and Tactics for Connectors, and make them fully interactive.

4. Launch Groups—possibly renamed Action Groups—to complement the Teams we have now, which should probably be called Connector Teams.

(Groups, started and facilitated by Connectors, will be for people everywhere to share their ideas and intentions, and take action on any issue of common concern. Teams are for Connectors to support one another in this work. This distinction will become much clearer once both are live.)

So this is where we are right now. We are eager to reach out to many more people, but before we do that we want to get this model right. Once we have the model and the tools—and this won’t take more than a few weeks—we’ll be able to grow very quickly.

The first New York City Marathon was run in 1970, with 150 runners doing ten loops around Central Park. And once upon a time the Web consisted of a few dozen sites, Wikipedia had a couple of hundred entries, and YouTube contained no cat videos at all.

But in each case the *model* was there, and with some time and some work they became what they are now.

The same thing will happen here. As soon as we nail down the details—and that’s what we are doing with you right now—we’ll build something wonderful together.

Thanks again, for everything. And please stay in touch; we are always here.


It’s time to change the world. Will you join us?

I started Idealist in 1995 because ever since I was a boy growing up in Mexico I’ve believed that things don’t have to be the way they are.

Today I know with every cell of my body that we can do better than this.

Don’t you?

Don’t you often see or read something that makes you think, “It’s 2014, and this is happening? Why?!”

Probably for many reasons, all of which can seem beside the point. You know that this—whatever story or situation struck you—is wrong or sad or scary or a horrible waste, and that together we should be able to do something about it.

On Tuesday, March 11, Idealist will launch a new network—online and on the ground, in cities, villages, schools and workplaces—that will help people everywhere connect and take action on any issue that concerns them, locally or globally, online and in person.

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The heart of this movement will consist of people all over the world who want to use every available tool—from social media to a bulletin board on a village tree—to inspire and catalyze action and collaboration in their own communities.

If this is you, if you like new ideas and you enjoy connecting dots and people, I hope you can join us.

We’ll start with a live online presentation, take your questions, and then start building this movement together.

To accommodate people in every time zone, we’ll do this twice, first on March 11 at noon EST (17:00 GMT), and then again that evening at 11:00 pm EST (04:00 GMT on the 12th).

For more details about this event, to sign up, and to see how other people around the world are responding, please RSVP here.

For a bit more about why I think real change is possible, and why we need your voice in this conversation, please click here.

And if you know other people who should also be at this table, please invite them, too.

Thank you, and all the best to you and yours in 2014!


All about my mother

A couple of years ago the School of Professional Studies of the City University of New York asked me to do their commencement speech. It was an interesting challenge because their students are mostly working people in their 30s and 40s, so the traditional college thing was not going to work.

After visiting a couple of classes and hearing that many of the students are working moms, I decided to speak about my mother and about what I had learned from her.

In the video there is a brief intro and then I start. (The professor who spoke before me was supposed to say just a few words, but instead she gave a long and fiery political speech; that’s the context for my first few sentences.)


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My Top 10 Lessons Since Starting Idealist

When Darian Heyman told me about  Nonprofit Management 101 and asked me to write a Foreword for the book, two thoughts immediately came to mind. The first was, “Really? Another introduction to the sector? Do we really need this?” But then I saw the list of authors that Darian had assembled – many of whom I’ve known for years – and it was clear that he couldn’t have found a better group of people to write this.

The second thought was more of a wish: the wish that when I started in 1995 I could have had this amazing group of people whispering in my ear, and stopping me from making some of the bigger mistakes I’ve made over the years.

So in thinking about this Foreword I decided that the most useful thing I could do was share some of those mistakes with you, and then encourage you to read this book in the hope that you can avoid repeating them.

Here then are my Top Ten Lessons from the past eighteen years:

1. Focus. Focus! Mission creep is Enemy #1. Once you know what you want to do, do that and nothing else. Resist temptations, especially from funders who have their own agendas and who can blow you off course with a sweet-sounding grant. If the grant is not for something you want to do, the money is not worth it.

2. Build a good board, but first decide what “good” means for you. More or less engaged? More or less supportive? More or less meddlesome? The key here is that serious people who take on a task usually also want the authority to do it well. And so you need to decide: Do you want a board that does a lot but then also wants a say in how the work is done? Or do you want a board that is more hands-off, but gives you and your staff more freedom? What you should avoid at all costs is the worst of both words: a board that meddles but doesn’t help.

3. Hire good people. Skilled and smart, of course, but what I really mean is people you like. You’ll spend long days with this group, so hire kind and interesting people who make you laugh.

4. When you make a hiring mistake, and you probably will, try to fix it as soon as possible. There is one test that usually works well. Think about your entire team once in a while, and ask yourself, “if that person resigned, would I be upset or would I be relieved?” If the answer is that you’d be relieved, you should probably not wait for them to resign.

5. Learn some accounting. Money is the fuel on which your organization will run, and you should always know your numbers. Some people start nonprofit organizations as a way of avoiding what they see as the money-centeredness of the corporate world. But the truth is that money is at least as important in our sector as in any other, and you should know enough accounting to always know how your organization is doing.

6. Use free stuff; there is so much of it now. Blogs, Google Apps, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Salesforce licenses, and much much more. We run our whole organization on Google Apps, for example, which means that all our email and office software is free, and there is no reason why you should pay for it, either.

7. Build your network. And I don’t mean by “networking,” going to conferences, and exchanging business cards or Facebook connections. What I really mean is to try, wherever possible, to treat people the way you like to be treated. If you do this, over time you’ll have a real network of people who will be there when you need them most.

8. Collaborations, coalitions, alliances, mergers… Before jumping in, can you imagine a way out? Working closely with other organizations can be both good and necessary, but exactly at the point when the collaboration seems most tempting, stop for a moment and see if you can imagine a way out in case things go wrong. If you can’t, and the thought makes you queasy, it might be worth looking at the whole thing again.

9. Be careful with your time. Fight hyperbolic discounting! “Hyperbolic discounting” is a fancy term for a tendency that many of us have to make choices today that our future self would prefer not to make. For example, someone invites you to attend a conference across the country five months from now. It sounds good, and it’s easy to say “yes” at that moment, but when the day arrives and you have to take the trip, you find yourself regretting that quick “yes.” Most of us do this with all kinds of commitments, but these days, having regretted a “yes” once too often, I make a conscious effort not to commit to doing anything in the future without trying to imagine myself then.

10. Think big! Having said all this, what’s the worst thing that could happen if you fail? Think big, and go for it! Some days will be challenging and frustrating, but if you are doing what you want, they will never be boring. What more can we ask for?

Good luck!

Ami Dar

Thanks for reading. Want a copy of the book? It’s available now on Amazon.


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