Go ahead, keep your desk messy—science says it’s okay

This week on Idealists in Action, we’re exploring the concept of Home.

Research suggests that having a messy desk might make us more imaginative.

When it comes to workspaces, whatever works for you is best.
(image courtesy Shutterstock)

As a generally unkempt person, I tend to take issue with the “messy desk, messy mind” principle that tidy folks occasionally bring up (usually with one eyebrow cocked). But it turns out that science is on my side.

New studies are showing that it’s less important to rid your workspace of clutter than it is to design and organize a space that fits with your personal tastes. When we have control over the look and feel of our workspaces, it increases our productivity and all-around efficiency.

Psychologist-turned-writer Dr. Christian Jarrett explains this—and other new workspace organization research—in the 99U article “The Perfect Workspace (According to Science)“.

Though he asserts that individual tastes rule, Jarrett does have some decor ideas that work well for most people. Try working these into your own personal decorating scheme:

Choose rounded furniture and arrange it wisely

If you have the luxury of designing your own workspace, consider choosing a layout and furniture that is curved and rounded rather than sharp and straight-edged.

Creating this environment has been linked with positive emotions, which is known to be beneficial for creativity and productivity (added bonus: there’s also less chance of knocking an elbow or knee on a sharp corner).

Take advantage of color, light, and space

Choosing the right color and lighting scheme for your office is one of the simplest ways your environment can enhance your performance.

For instance, exposure to both blue and green has been shown to enhance performance on tasks that require generating new ideas. However, the color red has been linked with superior performance on tasks involving attention to detail.

Make use of plants and windows

If you only do one thing to optimize your workspace, invest in a green plant or two.

Research has repeatedly shown that the presence of office plants has a range of benefits including helping workers recover from demanding activities and lowering stress levels.

But however you decide to decorate or organize your space, says Dr. Jarrett, the most important thing is to do whatever you can to create “an office space that you feel happy and comfortable in.”

Messy desk, it is!

What kind of space do you do your best work in? Share with us in the comments.

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Join Idealist on March 11 as we launch a new global movement for action and change!

 

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Money week roundup: Opportunities & ideas

Stuck? Feeling hopeless? Unsure of your next step? For the almost two decades Idealist has been around, we’ve been asking you—our community—to tell us about the obstacles you face when trying to turn your good intentions into action. We’ve compiled a short list of the top-reported obstacles, and now we’re blogging about them one by one.

This week we present: money.

Trying to change the world can be expensive work! So this Money Week, we’re sharing some ideas and opportunities to help you secure the cheddar you need to turn your awesome ideas into real-world action.

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Crowdfunding infographic by Anna Vital and Vlad Shyshov,
fundersandfounders.com

Nothing attracts a crowd like crowdfunding

This buzzword has become annoying to some (check out this amusing McSweeney’s send-up), but it’s been more than a flash in the pan for a reason.

In the past five years, Kickstarter alone has been the conduit for raising $918 million to help fund 53,000 creative projects. And now they’re far from the only game in town: Indiegogo, AngelList, and Crowdfunder are just a few of the other major players on the scene.

Interested in learning more about your crowdfunding options?

  • This good Forbes article breaks down what different sites offer and how to find the one that’s best for you.
  • See our recent guest post by the heads at CauseVox to get ideas for a workable crowdfunding strategy.

Show me the money

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These opportunities will have you feeling like this guy.
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

If you want to try from the reverse angle and go for funding that’s already been allotted for specific purposes, here are a few current opportunities:

  • Presidio Graduate School’s Big Idea Prize “awards a full-ride scholarship to a Presidio degree program for the best ‘Big Idea’ to move the needle in sustainability.” The deadline for admission in fall 2014 is May 15 of next year.
  • You don’t necessarily have to be a 501(c)(3) to apply for grants. DoSomething.org hosts a database of grants available to entrepreneurs.
  • If you’re part of a nonprofit and want to get your website in order, apply for Elevation’s $1-for-$1 match program. For every dollar you spend on design, programming, and related work, the web solution company will chip in a dollar of their own. Last year they gave about $500,000 to 150 organizations.

Pick up some knowledge

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Restock your brain library.
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

Or maybe the time is right for you to hit the (proverbial) books and read a little more about different funding options. Here are a few ideas:

  • Don’t be afraid of corporate fundraising—there are dollars and non-monetary support to be found in the business community. For some tips on how to break in, read this DoSomething.org Q & A.
  • Online fundraising (and fabulously-named) gurus Stay Classy have a whole section on their blog dedicated to helping you get money. Check out guides such as “Growing a Community of Fundraisers,” “The 4 Phases of an Effective Peer-to-Peer Campaign,” and “Avoid the Big Mistake.”
  •  If you’re in a position to make grants, we know that giving money away (or doing it well, anyway) is seldom a walk in the park either: it can be tough to decide who gets funding, especially as strategies change. “Storytelling & Social Change: A Strategy Guide for Grantmakers” is a free-to-download publication that aims to “serve grantmakers interested in so-called ‘narrative strategies’ for their funding and communications programs.”

Party with a purpose

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Break out the costume box.
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

From the “mixing business with pleasure” file, here’s With Love… The New Generation of Party People—a new book and accompanying website geared toward helping you put on great fundraising parties. Find ten complete party plans with everything from invitations to music playlists to help you show your friends a good time while bringing in some cash for your cause.

Have you had a good fundraising experience recently (or a not-so-good one)? Share your story in the comments.

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Crowdfunding tips from the pros at CauseVox

Stuck? Feeling hopeless? Unsure of your next step? For the almost two decades Idealist has been around, we’ve been asking you—our community—to tell us about the obstacles you face when trying to turn your good intentions into action. We’ve compiled a short list of the top-reported obstacles, and now we’re blogging about them one by one.

This week we present: money.

Growing up, maybe you were the 4th grader who sold lemonade for 25¢ a glass to help feed hungry kids. Or maybe more recently, you’ve been rocked by the correlation between global warming and the natural disasters that hit developing nations the hardest.

Whether you’re a born do-gooder or had a life-changing experience somewhere along the way, crowdfunding can help you scale your social impact.

Here are a few tips to get started with crowdfunding your social good project.

Create a point of view

crowdfunding point of viewYou want to do some good. Great! Now what good, exactly?

You know what distinguishes vivid, memorable dreams from the vague, forgettable ones?

Details.

It’s not enough to want to make the world a better place, you need to tell the world how you plan to do that:

●      What particular problem are you trying to solve?

Is there a lack you want to fill? A mistake you seek to correct? Or even something good you want to make even better?

●      What’s your strategy for solving the problem?

What tools are at your disposal?

●      Who are you helping by solving this problem?

By trying to help all seven billion people in the world, you’ll hardly accomplish anything. Instead, start with seven and slowly but surely, you’ll start to reach more.

But you must have a point of view on how you’re going to change the world. Follow our guide on how to form a point of view before you start crowdfunding.

Identify your story

Your story is your most important asset in a crowdfunding campaign. It’ll drive people to take action for you, whether they share your story with friends or feel moved donate to your project themselves.

shutterstock_105363872Specifically, your story is important to crowdfunding for a couple reasons:

1. It’s an invitation

The fact that 27 million people are enslaved throughout the world ought to be convincing enough for anyone to get involved, right?

Ideally, yes; the reality, however, is that most people are more intimidated than moved to action by such statistics.

We’re more easily won over by the emotion and imagery that stories evoke than by plain numbers. Narratives bridge the gap we perceive between the helpers and the helped.

Learn how to use storytelling for your nonprofit or project.

2. It’s your own motivation, too

Spoiler alert: At some point during your crowdfunding campaign, you will hit a wall. What’s gonna keep your nose to the grindstone?

Your memory of the sight of faces, the smells in the air, the sounds, the tastes, the textures.

Your story will remind you that it’s not about hitting certain numbers, that people’s lives are at stake. Your story will keep you motivated, encouraged, and inspired through your crowdfunding campaign.

Create your tribe

Your tribe consists not only of the people you hope to serve, but those who will serve alongside you.

Social enterprise is a team sport; your people—prospective staff, board members, supporters, clientele—will help you work smarter, and not unnecessarily harder. Any successful crowdfunding campaign takes the time to create a community of believers that will help amplify the marketing and funding of that campaign.

It’ll be helpful to consider other like-minded social enterprises and projects not as your competitors but your teammates, as though you were all members of a relay team. Then, figure out which leg of the race you’re running: are you starting off? the anchor? in-between?

Create a crowdfunding campaign

STR-CauseVox-Fundraising-SiteNow that you’ve sketched the fundamentals of your social enterprise or social good project, you can create a fundraising site to start crowdfunding. An effective crowdfunding campaign has the following elements:

Visual storytelling

That a picture conveys a thousands words is cliche for a reason. It takes less time for someone to get your vision by watching a two-minute video than by reading a 600-word article. Rest assured that putting the time in to tell your story through a well-made video is worth the effort.

Impact metrics

You’ll need to show the crowd the power of their collective dollars.

For example, members of the Mocha Club donate $9 a month toward the organization’s project areas (clean water, orphan care, health care, etc.). By forgoing three coffee shop drinks every month, you could: give clean water to nine Africans for a year, save one child from malaria, or extend the life expectancy of one person living with HIV/AIDS.

Number-crunching that highlights the potential progress your enterprise could make instead of harping on the severity of the problem are what will compel the crowd to join your cause.

Seamless branding

Hopefully, you’ve invested time and thought into branding your social good project or social enterprise. Branding is more than just picking colors and creating a logo—it’s about the impression you make.

Your brand presents your identity to the public. A branded fundraising page is like a lighthouse that helps guide boats to harbor.

Studies have shown that branded donation pages get more donations than generic, unbranded pages!

Leverage social media

crowdfunding social mediaI’ve intentionally saved this step for the end, since you need to be grounded before your grow!

Most, if not all, of your crowdfunding efforts will take place online, and social media will play an important role. In fact, social media is a key tool. But no amount of social media savvy and strategy will make up for a lack of substance.

But by now, you have established a solid foundation: you’ve clearly defined your identity and point of view and story. Now you’re ready to broadcast your presence! This is where social media steps in.

Here’s one simple, obvious-yet-easy-to-forget strategy in using social media: Keep it social.

This is about connecting with people.

In your effort to quantify and measure and be results-oriented, remember that all of this is ultimately supposed to be people-oriented. Make sure your numbers and statistics represent people with unique stories and gifts. You’re starting a social enterprise, after all.

Wrapping up

Crowdfunding to launch your social enterprise is about more than raising money—it’s a means of building relationships. Your tribe, your clients, and your supporters are part of the momentum that will sustain the movement you’re starting.

Taking this holistic approach to starting your own social enterprise or social good project will set you up for success, not just survival.

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Sara Choe is a crowdfunding expert at CauseVox, a fundraising platform focused on crowdfunding for nonprofits and social good projects. They’ve helped thousands of people raise millions of dollars via crowdfunding.

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In a creative rut? 52 ways to get unstuck

unstuck

We all get stuck.

Whatever the project, sometimes our creativity is less like the juice that’s supposed to be flowing and more like the pulp that gets caught in our teeth.

So how do you start clean again? Especially when that fundraising event is right around the corner or you have to write the story of how your social enterprise started right now?

In his book Unstuck, artist Noah Scalin offers ideas for 52 exercises to help you get out of the rut and keep taking those steps forward. From the six-word memoir (30 seconds) to a photo mashup (two minutes) to blackout poems (30 minutes) to making a creativity shrine (one hour), each activity is selected to fit with your (obviously busy) schedule.

The idea for the book came from Scalin’s year-long project of making skulls out of everyday objects: stencils, hands, trash, pumpkins, chains, and more. From the process, he learned a lot about staying committed to a project—even when you don’t feel like it.

Here are his seven tips:

1. Let go of preciousness. The reality is that treating your creations as precious little things to protect keeps you from the world of possibilities that comes from trying new things out, making mistakes, and getting things wrong.

2. Freedom comes from limitations. It’s only from narrowing down the options that creativity becomes possible, as you are forced to push against the walls that close you in.

3. Get out of your environment. No matter how inspiring your workplace is, there’s only so much creative work that can be done within it.

4. Get out of your comfort zone. At some point in our lives we’re probably told not to make a fool of ourselves, but the fact is that’s one of the most effective ways to get creative inspiration!

5. Get things by giving them away. The more I gave away, the more people gave back to me.

6. Collaborate. Some of best things I got out of doing my own project were the wonderful new friendships and the deepening of my existing friendships that came from incorporating other people into my work.

7. Inspiration is everywhere. Once you start practicing, the ability to find ideas in even the most mundane environments gets easier and easier.

Go to Noah’s website, Make Something 365 & Get Unstuck, for more inspiration or to show off a project of your own.

What tips do you have for getting unstuck?

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Lou Reed: Lessons on doing from one of rock’s lifelong mavericks

“I always believed that I have something important to say and I said it.”  —Lou Reed

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Lou Reed
(photo courtesy Michael Ochs Archives, via dailymail.co.uk)

Last week, punks everywhere mourned the loss of Lou Reed, the iconic singer-songwriter from New York City whose signature toughness, honesty, and dark romantic sensibility have influenced rock music for the past 40-plus years.

But Reed wasn’t known only for his musical contributions; he was a figure to be reckoned with.

Clad in black leather in the age of hippie cotton and beads, notoriously deadpan in interviews, and collaborating with artists ranging from John Cale to wife Laurie Anderson to Metallica, Reed was always his own man, doing the things he wanted to.

We can all take a lesson. Read this Fast Company writeup—“Lou Reed on how to be as creative, dynamic, and difficult as Lou Reed”—to see how he illustrated many of the cornerstone principles of turning your ideas into reality—learning from the best, working hard, keeping it simple, and more.

Who inspires you to do the things you want to?

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Seeking support? Consider flaunting your failures to garner good feelings

Are you trying to drum up support for a project you’re working on—monetary or moral?

Whether you’re drafting language for a Kickstarter page, getting ready to make a speech to city council about your new neighborhood initiative, or prepping for the fundraising event you’re throwing at a local school, the way you tell your audience your story can make the difference between their committing support and walking away.

There are countless good tips out there about how to make people sympathetic to your cause—things like opening with a joke, keeping it short, including real-life examples, and giving a call to action.

Another great one is discussing your failures to show the audience that you’re not afraid to admit your mistakes, are okay with being vulnerable, and—most importantly—that you’ve learned from the past and are better prepared to take on the task at hand as a result of previous missteps.

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All eyes on you? Turn the attention from a misstep into heartfelt support.
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

The failure you choose to highlight could relate directly to your current idea, or not.

For example, if you’re trying for the third time to start an after-school art program in your neighborhood, you can explain what you’ve learned from your first two attempts, and how that knowledge makes your plan uniquely equipped to succeed this time.

Or, if you haven’t failed at this particular endeavor before, try dredging up an experience from high school or your first job that relates—maybe you learned the hard way to ask for help when you need it, or to speak up when you see something amiss around you.

Whatever story you choose, here are a few pointers about how to tell great fail tales in print and in person from Brooklyn, New York writer, performer, and storytelling coach Andrew Linderman:

For many people (myself included), the only thing scarier than failing is talking about failure. Maybe you’ve hit a parked cop car, peed your pants in front of the high school rowing team or cried in front of a group of Chinese school children*. Whatever the case, you’ve probably failed a few times in your life.

To help you tell stories about screw-ups, shortcomings and unfortunate incidents without coming across as a bitter shrew or a total moron, follow these rules and you’ll be able to talk about failure without looking like one.

1. Don’t pass judgment.

The point of storytelling is to recreate an experience for your audience, so avoid passing judgment about any of the characters (yourself included!) in the story. The easiest way to do this is to eliminate comparatives (i.e. “better”, “worse”, “faster”, etc) and superlatives (i.e. “worst”, “best”, “fastest”) whenever possible. Instead, turn these comparisons into declarative statements (from “the best shot putter in Brooklyn” to “the #3 shot putter in the 18-22 age cohort in Brooklyn”). Specificity will help your story while making the narrator (you) more relatable.

2. Avoid complex explanations.

If you’re talking about failure, it’s natural to want to explain away a decision through your own interpretive lens. Don’t do this. People love stories about a good flop, so don’t cheat them of the experience. One quick way to cut down interpretation is to eliminate explanatory words (“because”, “why”, “knew”, “understood”, “decided”, “realized”) from your story. Don’t tell an audience why something is important, show them how it is important.

3. Show (don’t tell!) us your emotions.

Stories are filled with emotions and feelings, but manipulating your audience into feeling a particular way won’t help them relate to your experience. Skip emotive words (i.e. “happy”, “sad”, “excited”, “worried”) in favor of active phrases (“I smiled and screamed: “Awesome!”) that show the audience how you’re feeling. When you spend the time to recreate an experience, the emotions will shine through.

It takes time to tell stories about failure, but if you use these tips, you’ll be able to get over life’s hurdles faster and tell richer stories in the process. In the words of Samuel Beckett: “Try again. Fail again. Fail Better.”

*All of these things happened to me

See Andrew’s original post in its entirety on his blog The Story Source, and read more about all the ways he helps people tell better stories on his website, www.andrewlinderman.com.

Have you ever told a story about a time you flopped to try to engage potential supporters? Tell us how it went!

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Negativity gnawing at you? Shift your attention to break the cycle

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(Image courtesy bluekdesign on Flickr)

In a blog post titled “Overcoming Your Negativity Bias,” The Energy Project founder Tony Schwartz explains that we all come with a built-in evolutionary imperative to pay more attention to the bad things in life than the good—the lion chasing you, for example, rather than the nice feeling you had after eating a delicious dinner.

But now, in a time when most of us don’t have to worry about hungry lions, consciously shifting our attention away from negative thoughts and onto positive ones “such as joy, contentment, interest, pride and love pays huge dividends.”

This practice is sometimes referred to as “overcoming negativity bias.”

“It’s a simple concept,” he writes. “We construct our internal reality–our experience of the world—in large part by where we put our attention. More often than we recognize, we can make that choice consciously and intentionally. Doing so influences not just how we feel, but also how we perform, individually and collaboratively.”

In the world of ‘doing good,’ it can be especially easy to let negativity encroach: your program didn’t get the funding you were counting on, your star volunteer called out at the last minute, the wrong email went out to donors—and it’s hard not to take it all to heart because you’re passionate about what you do.

Try this quick tip: the next time you feel negativity creeping up and your energy grinding to a halt, take two minutes away from what you’re doing and write down everything you feel grateful for in the present moment.

Schwartz writes of his own experience with this attention-shifting practice: “Saccharine as it may sound… I got on a roll, and after just a couple of minutes, I was not only feeling remarkably better, but also far more able to concentrate on the task at hand.”

Might be worth a shot, huh?

Read Schwartz’s original post in its entirety for more insights about letting stifling feelings of negativity go.

What do you do to overcome negativity when you feel it coming on? Share your wisdom in the comments below.

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Try This! Host a Summer Commune

 

SummerCommune

The idea

Josh Heller and Nicole Kelly tried an experiment last summer. What would happen if they got their friends to descend on a small town in the U.S. as part of an intentional, temporary community?

“Cities are really expensive and it’s crazy to think that someone who is a struggling artist or creative should have to spend half their income on rent,” Josh says. “The thing is that less affordable places are less desirable. The idea for Summer Commune was that we could make a place desirable by bringing the people we think are cool.”

Josh, a travel writer for Matador Network, and Nicole, who was a grad student at UC Irvine for fiction writing at the time, were perfectly poised to lead the project. Avid travelers by nature and community builders by default, the couple already had a list of people they knew they could reach out to.

So they got to work. They read books about communes past, deciding that in the age of Craigslist, people could simply sublet their own apartments. They set up a Facebook group, website, and Tumblr blog. They called it Summer Commune, and at the beginning of June, rolled into the city of Moscow, Idaho to find their faces on the front page of the local newspaper.

“Moscow was a perfect place. It’s this unique city that is close to Washington, has two major universities, and there’s only several hundred thousand people. So it’s pretty remote and isolated, but you still have artists, intellectuals, and old hippies. A lot,” Josh says.

What happened

Before they arrived, Moscow residents ranging from farmers to Buddhist professors were waiting to welcome them with open arms. Those who came from other places—thinkers, comedians, designers, and other creatives, some of which Nicole and Josh knew and some of which they didn’t—were at a liminal time in their lives and excited to connect and explore. What started out as an initial way to live cheaply became something much deeper.

“A lot of people who came were looking for an alternative. People wanted to test out another way of life, another way of having community, another way of doing things. They were open-minded and curious,” Nicole says.

Over the course of the summer, Nicole and Josh held weekly open meetings at a nearby tavern for the core group of 10 Communers and the 60-plus interested locals to commingle. They also hosted literary readings, salons, a variety show, and a Pecha Kucha night at other venues throughout the city.

“The mayor told us that the tourism initiative we put together was something she had tried to pay for and it had not come out so well. Our grassroots efforts had really stimulated the local economy during the summer,” Josh says.

When Nicole and Josh weren’t orchestrating events, they and other Communers were hanging out with punk and bluegrass bands, dining with aging hippies, making friends with the coffee shop and co-op crowd, hanging out on a farm, and volunteering at the city’s Artwalk. They fell in love with Moscow—and with an alternative way of living.

“For me personally, it made me be more open to living other places and seeing other parts of America I was less interested in before,” Nicole says.

3 things they wish they did differently

From the beginning, the two wanted Summer Commune to be a model that anyone anywhere could take and copy. If you want to create one of your own, here are three tips to keep in mind:

1. Be clear about who you want to target.

They initially pitched the idea just to artists, but realized halfway through that Summer Commune would’ve been great for anyone who worked remotely or wanted to, like freelancers, small business teams, etc.

2. Write a manifesto.

While Summer Commune was always an exploratory project which they wanted to give room to breathe, having principles of community framework from the beginning would’ve helped. “We wanted it to be collaborative, but I realize now that was unrealistic,”  Nicole says. “I think people wanted a structure but they didn’t want to help build it. A lot of people felt, ‘We’re happy to be here, but what do you want from us?’”

3. Email the mayor.

Nicole and Josh were so focused on amassing a crowd to go with them that they unintentionally forgot about local outreach. When they saw how responsive Moscow was, they realized they could’ve easily gotten in touch with local government, city council, and more much earlier, possibly tapping them for budget and infrastructure help.

Nicole and Josh are currently back in California, and are taking a break from communing this summer. But for them, it was an experience that changed how they relate to the world and their place in it—not to mention boosted their confidence in moving from intention to action.

“It was cool to see something come to fruition. I’m now more excited by having ideas and actually building them out,” Josh says.

“When people would ask, ‘What are you doing with your life?’ that would’ve stressed me out a year ago,” Nicole adds. “Now it’s fine. I know now opportunities will present themselves and that I can make my own things.”

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Of course, Nicole and Josh did many things right and would love to share their tips on choosing the right place, branding, and more. Get in touch by emailing hello@summercommune.com.

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Try This! Team up with other literary organizations to pack a real punch

The idea

What do you do when you have an awesome literary nonprofit organization that happens to have a very similar mission to other groups your area?

Well, instead of competing for resources by throwing down in a bookish rumble for supporters and donors, some of the leading literary organizations and independent presses of the Twin Cities decided to join forces. The love child of their cooperation is LitPunch, an outreach initiative with a shared community-building goal.

Originally designed to draw in a new audience, LitPunch is a series of social networking events hosted by the editors, book reviewers, directors, and volunteer coordinators of the five participating literary organizations. Chris Jones, Marketing Director at The Loft Literary Center, explains that sharing responsibilities between the organizations has worked well for LitPunch because of good communication and mutual respect between the partnering groups. “We have a great working relationship because we’re all open and flexible,” he says.

punch cardEver-evolving, LitPunch offers community members a chance to chat with the minds behind some of the most prominent literary organizations and presses in the country. Back when LitPunch got its start in 2011, the gem of the program was an actual punch card that participants could get stamped at “punch worthy” readings and lit events around the cities. After filling a card by attending 12 events (a “knock-out”), the card could be used as a $15 gift certificate at a participating indie bookstore.

While this was a fun idea at first, about a year into the program, participants started complaining about losing or forgetting to bring their punch cards and the program started to lose steam. Rather than giving up on the idea, the organizers decided to tweak their approach and transformed the program into a series of social networking events (from punch cards to punch bowls, some would say).

Why you might like to try this

  • Distributes your marketing efforts. With literary events like readings, there is sometimes a burnout effect that comes from inviting the same core group of followers again and again. Pooling your lists and inviting a bigger number of folks to begin with can help avoid this. Teaming up also lends a razzle dazzle effect to events and makes them really special—people love knowing that this is the literary event to go to.
  • Lightens logistical responsibilities. Nonprofits and small presses are usually strapped for staff time and have a lot to do besides organizing community events. By sharing the responsibilities of who does what, you can lessen the burden on all of the groups.
  • Increases fans and supporters. One of the big questions the members of LitPunch had in the beginning was if they were already sharing the same core group of supporters. They each sent out a survey to try and figure this out, and what they found was encouraging. “Most people were at least aware of the other organizations, but they definitely became more aware after we teamed up. It seems like most felt connected to one or two of the organizations, but few were circled into all five very strongly,” Chris says. He considers this one of the biggest successes of their coalition—that LitPunch really has exposed people in the community to new opportunities.

How you can replicate it

Creating new coalitions can be a challenge, but Chris has some advice for nonprofits looking to team up, whether for a literary endeavor like LitPunch or otherwise.

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Guests mingling at January’s LitPunch mixer.

1.Pick your collaborators wisely.
There comes to a certain point where without a central leader, trading off on responsibilities just isn’t efficient anymore. For the folks at LitPunch, five organizations is just right: “Any more and I think it would become a little unwieldy.” The most important trick to forming a strong coalition is to make sure that your missions are really on point. You want to be able to focus your efforts in the same direction when it comes to the consistency and style of your events, including collaborative efforts in grant proposals and reports, and reaching out to the right potential audience members.

2.Stay flexible.
Community projects need to be focused enough to have a clear goal that fits into what your organization does, but—especially when you’re working with other organizations—coalitions need to be able to change and grow with time. As Chris says, “If you’re too rigid, it’s just not going to work.” LitPunch has changed dramatically since its start in 2011, and its constant evolution has been a big part of its longevity.

3. Ask for feedback.
As LitPunch has grown up, the participating organizations have been very committed to seeking out and responding to feedback from their attendees. When people reported they were losing their punch cards too often to make it worthwhile, LitPunch did away with the cards. When people said they wanted to meet with more editors and talk books with the best of ‘em, LitPunch delivered. Give people what they want, and your program will be successful.

4. Make it fun.
The spirit of LitPunch comes from that nostalgic drive for racking up points and winning awesome prizes that many folks have carried with them since childhood. This fun energy has electrified all of the events and marketing efforts of LitPunch, even after the end of “knock-outs.” At the next LitPunch mixer in June, for example, attendees will be able to win prizes from their favorite presses and bookstores by playing literary signature bingo which rewards them for mingling with the editors and organizers of the participating LitPunch groups.

This consistent effort of LitPunch to give “normal” readings and literary events extra flare has certainly attracted a great deal of attention for the program and for the participating organizations.

“The turnout was overwhelming,” Chris says about the 2013 LitPunch kick-off this past January. “It was so cool to see a bar packed with people who were all there because they love books as much as we do.”

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Interested in forming a similar coalition? Have questions about the upcoming LitPunch mixer in the Twin Cities on June 19? Contact Chris Jones at cjones@loft.org.

Rebecca Olson

 

Rebecca Olson is a writer and arts advocate living in Portland, Oregon.

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Try This! Pedal unused food to those in need

Boulder Food Rescue volunteer Kim Abcouwer picks up food at a local Whole Foods (photo credit: Cliff Grassmick http://www.flickr.com/photos/boulderfoodrescue/8538484344/in/set-72157632757809202)

Boulder Food Rescue volunteer Kim Abcouwer picks up food at a local Whole Foods. (Photo credit: Cliff Grassmick.)

The idea

It’s no news that America is one of the largest waste generators in the world—just take a look at a Portland, Oregon dump a day after Christmas to refresh your memory.

But how far have we gone? According to a March 2013 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the U.S. wastes around 40 percent of all edible food. While a big chunk of this waste is generated by private homes, restaurants and grocery stores across the country add a hefty contribution (86 billion and 43 billion pounds, respectively, in 2008).

These alarming numbers—paired with population of those going homeless and hungry in the states—are the leading reason 25-year-old Hana Dansky decided to co-found the country’s first food “rescue and redistribution” nonprofit, Boulder Food Rescue.

“After learning about the national problem with waste, I did research locally,” says Hana. “There was enough food thrown away in Boulder County to feed the county’s entire homeless population—which was crazy. So we did something about it.”

Hana, along with two other friends, started talking to local grocery stores and homeless shelters in 2011 to see how they could connect the two. Soon the small team began pedaling trailer-toting bikes between multiple grocery stores, cafes, shelters, soup kitchens and residents for at-risk community members. They had become the missing link.

“It’s great how willing most store managers were to contribute and how badly the community needed their excess food,” Hana says. “Filling that gap makes all the difference.”

Now, 150 volunteers, 16 regular donors and a 501(c) 3 certification later—and the thriving Boulder Food Rescue is ready to share their model with other communities in need.

Why you might like to try this

  • Shrinks waste. Sure, this is an obvious one, but the national statistics alone make it a convincing reason to kickstart your own food rescuing system. Why toss a shelf of day-old bread or a box of barely wilted lettuce in the trash when others are pinching pennies to make a sandwich?
  • Supplies those in need. Hana says that a recent survey done by Boulder’s largest shelter revealed that 66 percent of its dining hall’s produce comes directly from Boulder Food Rescue. “It’s amazing to positively influence the diet of so many people who need it,” she says. “And the need is definitely out there.”
  • Strengthens community. Since the food rescue got off the ground, a handful of community members have offered their varied help to keep it rolling. “Not only have we connected food to those who need it, we’ve seen this community open up as a resource, offering skills and their passion for others without a second thought,” says Hana.

How you can replicate it

  1. Build donor trust. Hana says that create strong and trusting relationships with grocery store and restaurant managers is the trickiest part of her work. She avoids major chains, based on their overarching restrictions on donations, and focuses primarily on local food sources. “Usually,” says Hana, “we can sit down with the store managers in person and talk about our mission and process—specifically how they aren’t responsible for any of the food after its picked up.”
  2. Know your rights. Many potential donors shy away to avoid potential conflict with FDA regulations. But, Hana says, the national 1996 Good Samaritan Act—allowing businesses to donate food to nonprofits without claiming any responsibility—strengthens most donors’ interest. Plus, nonprofit donations benefit businesses when tax season rolls around.
  3. Follow a method. Boulder Food Rescue now offers a straightforward and relatable online guidebook to creating a food rescue program in any community, with tips on everything from money management to grocery store relationships.

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Want to bring a similar model to where you live? Hana encourages anyone interested in starting their own operation to get in touch with them directly at info@boulderfoorescue.org.

Learn more about Colorado month at Idealist!

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