Tales of Tools and Tactics: Host a civic write-a-thon

Tools and Tactics are replicable templates Connectors can use to multiply and amplify action and collaboration in their communities. We find they also make for great stories about people all over the world who are promoting good in interesting ways.

A new breed of online projects that make a difference in local government are popping up in cities around the world. One of the best parts of these new models? Anyone can contribute something, regardless of their tech skill level. With this Tool and Tactic, you can learn how to produce a crowdsourcing event that involves the community and begins a collaboration between government and citizens. No coding required!

In 2012, the city of Honolulu debuted Honolulu Answers, a website intended to allow citizens easy to access government information. Building the site was pretty simple; filling it with content turned out to be the challenge! With help from Code for America, the city hosted a day-long “write-a-thon” wherein more than 55 community members and city employees collaborated on researching and writing 120 answers to common civic questions.

Below, Sheba Najmi, a 2012 Code for America Fellow, tells us about her personal experience helping to organize the event:

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Q: What was something that surprised you about how the write-a-thon went?

A: One of the things that took me by surprise was that 14 city staff members (including a police officer in full uniform) came to participate. They were there, bright and early, at 8:45 AM on a rainy Saturday, unpaid.

I was surprised and grateful that they made the time to share their expertise with citizens, and in the process of answering citizens’ questions, I could see their perspective shifting—from the way the city is structured internally to the way things would make sense from a citizen’s perspective. They explained things to the people, and they also sat down with their computers to write answers to questions themselves. This was truly the first time I’d seen “government being what we do together” in action.

I was also very touched by their dedication to doing “homework assignments” for four months afterwards. I asked them to review and rewrite citizens’ answers over and over, and they did. Not because they were mandated to, but because they wanted to.
And a nice update: Oakland, California city services website Oakland Answers is holding its second annual write-a-thon this weekend! Great to see this idea spreading. Check out their event website: oakanswers.eventbrite.com.

Read the civic write-a-thon Tool and Tactic here.

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Tales of Tools and Tactics: Loan assistance for careers in social good

Tools and Tactics are replicable templates Connectors can use to multiply and amplify action and collaboration in their communities. We find they also make for great stories about people all over the world who are promoting good in interesting ways.

College debt can greatly affect the career paths of recent graduates concerned about paying back their loans. New York University’s Stern School of Business recognized this issue and developed a loan assistance program for MBA graduates working for the public good.

Through the program, alumni earning $100,000 or less while working for a nonprofit or social enterprise can receive as much as $15,000 annually towards their school loans.

Our Tool and Tactic on the subject can tell you more about instituting this benefit at your school, and this article on Stern’s website, featuring alumna Dorrit Lowsen, is a perfect case study in how the positive effects of the program can be felt beyond graduates’ bank accounts. Lowsen, a 2008 Stern MBA graduate, has spent the last few years living and working in different countries as an IT project consultant for social enterprises:

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Dorrit Lowsen (photo via NYU Stern School of Business)

“I’m incredibly thankful to Stern for recognizing the importance of nonprofit work and for supporting alumnae like me who sometimes forgo larger salaries in more traditional industries to do other meaningful work. Because of the Loan Assistance Program, my decision to switch career tracks into the social enterprise sector went from a tough choice to a no-brainer. ”

Read the rest of Dorrit’s story here, and check out the loan assistance Tool and Tactic here.

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Tales of Tools and Tactics: Donate time through pro bono services

Tools and Tactics are replicable templates Connectors can use to multiply and amplify action and collaboration in their communities. We find they also make for great stories about people all over the world who are promoting good in interesting ways.

Organizations need helping hands of all kinds. Those with skills in especially great demand—like lawyers—do an extra-good deed when they donate their time and expertise to people who need it. If you’re a lawyer or work in a law firm, this Tool and Tactic can show you how you can help nonprofits and individuals who could benefit from your support.

Jessica Perrin is Head of NGO and Social Enterprise for TrustLaw Connect, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global pro bono service, based in London. Below, she tells us why it’s so great to go pro bono.

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Q: How did you get into pro bono work, and what’s your favorite thing about it?

A: Up until joining TrustLaw, my career had firmly been on the NGO side. When I made the jump to the pro bono sector and started here, I knew we had something big to offer. I knew the value of external expertise for NGOs, and I knew that without it most organisations aren’t able to have the impact they set out to.

So, what does it look like sitting on the other side of the table? In all honesty, it’s pretty wonderful.

Instead of working with beneficiaries who want to create change in their own lives, I have walked into a buzzing network of passionate lawyers who are willing to help create that change using their own expertise, and from their desk! This means my day job is saying ‘yes’ to NGOs who reach out for pro bono legal support, ‘yes’ to helping them grow, ‘yes’ to helping them have an impact, and ‘yes’ to my favourite question of all: ‘Is it really free?’

To learn more, read the Tool and Tactic here.

Interested in becoming a Connector? Get started here!

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Tales of Tools and Tactics: Hold a 3Qs meeting

Tools and Tactics are replicable templates Connectors can use to multiply and amplify action and collaboration in their communities. We find they also make for great stories about people all over the world who are promoting good in interesting ways.

The goal of a 3Qs meeting is to surface people’s intentions by inviting them to share their answers to three short questions (the 3Qs):
  1. What do you care about/what do you want to do for the common good?
  2. What’s stopping you or getting in your way?
  3. What would help you take the next step?

Wherever you are, you can do the 3Qs as a one-time exercise to engage people in your community and find out what inspires or concerns them. Or you can make it a regular event—a way for people to connect in person and inspire follow-up.

Some Teams find the 3Qs especially good as a getting-to-know-you exercise at their first meeting. Below, Connector Ashifa Sarkar Vasi of Baton Rouge, Louisiana tells us about her experience when her Team did the 3Qs:

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Ashifa Sarkar Vasi

Q: What are some particular memories you have of doing the 3Qs exercise with your Team?

A: I had not really thought about how it would go. I went to the meeting expecting anything since I did not know my fellow Connectors. It was a surprisingly easy and comfortable meeting that set wheels in motion for ongoing conversations and meetings.

I remember that towards the end, despite our differences in passions, we all felt a sense of common desire to improve our local communities and the lives around us. And that it was a wonderful feeling to find like-minded individuals. We may be called Connectors, but that meeting connected us to each other in a powerful way.

To learn more, read the Tool and Tactic here. Interested in becoming a Connector? Get started here!

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Tales of Tools and Tactics: Volunteering as a team from your workplace

Tools and Tactics are replicable templates Connectors can use to multiply and amplify action and collaboration in their communities. We find they also make for great stories about people all over the world who are promoting good in interesting ways. 

A great way to bring your organization together while benefiting your local community is to organize a volunteer service project with your coworkers. For extra credit, consider putting money allocated for company BBQs or parties back into the community and host a service project with it instead.

In 2001, global visual computing company NVIDIA began directing funds originally intended for their annual holiday party toward volunteer service projects that involve employees, their families, and the community. Since then, they’ve hosted “a party with a purpose” each December.

Below, Megan O’Leary, Idealist’s Community Relations Manager and a City Year alum, reflects on her personal experience working with NVIDIA on their fun service projects.

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Team NVIDIA!

Q: Can you tell us about some particular times that stand out in your mind when you remember your time working on this project?

A: I was lucky to work as a member of the City Year team with NVIDIA on Project Inspire in 2009, 2010, and 2011. As a member of the planning team, my greatest fears leading up to the service days were always, “Will anyone actually show up? Will we have enough coffee? Will people have fun and be glad they came out?”

But each year on a chilly Saturday in December starting at 8:00 am, the volunteers did come, there was enough coffee, and NVIDIA employees told us they were proud to work for a company that decided to forgo their annual holiday party in favor of coming together as a team and contributing to the community.

I’ve seen firsthand that volunteer service projects can be a powerful way to build bridges across teams of employees, and can also be an effective way to collaborate with communities and neighborhoods to meet critical needs.

To learn more, read the Tool and Tactic here. Connectors, have you had experience facilitating a team volunteer project at your workplace? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Tales of Tools and Tactics: Create a resource inventory for your Team

Tools and Tactics are replicable templates Connectors can use to multiply and amplify action and collaboration in their communities. We find they also make for great stories about people all over the world who are promoting good in interesting ways.

A great thing about the Idealist Network is that everyone brings their own skills, connections, and knowledge to the table. A great thing about Google Docs (or even a spiral notebook) is that they allow you to use a simple template to create an inventory of all these resources. Share the knowledge, Team!

Below, Connector (and Idealist video producer) Liz Morrison of the Brooklyn, New York Team tells us a little about her experience starting such a resource inventory.

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Team Brooklyn. Liz is on the left.
(photo courtesy Liz Morrison)

Q: What’s been the biggest challenge of creating or maintaining your resource inventory and how have you addressed it?

A: The biggest challenge has been getting people to start using it! I’ve mentioned it at meetings, posted it on our Team page’s discussion board, and talked it up to every Brooklyn and New York Connector I’ve met. We’ve started to see people filing out the first sheet with contact information, which is great and helpful. But the next step is to get them to complete the info in the other tabs—that includes memberships/affiliations, meeting locations, and existing action resources.

In order to continue growing this document, I’ll keep giving friendly reminders about it at meetings and explaining the various information categories people can contribute to; post it again on our discussion board; and maybe print a paper copy for people to fill out on-the-spot at our next meeting. Hopefully as more Teams start creating their own resource inventories (like San Diego), more Connectors will learn about the concept and start using it as a matter of course!

To learn more, read the Tool and Tactic here. Interested in becoming a Connector? Get started here!

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Tales of Tools and Tactics: Volunteer speed matching

Tools and Tactics are replicable templates Connectors can use to multiply and amplify action and collaboration in their communities. We find they also make for great stories about people all over the world who are promoting good in interesting ways.

Modeled after speed dating, volunteer speed matching allows lots of potential volunteers to “meet” lots of organizations in the span of one morning or afternoon to learn more about what’s going on in their community and how they can help out.

Below, Tony Frew, General Manager for The Centre for Volunteering in Sydney, Australia, shares a bit about his experience with The Centre’s first volunteer speed matching event:

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Dragons as well as people came to learn more about their volunteering options.
(image courtesy The Centre for Volunteering)

Q: Did your event go as planned? If not, what changed?

A: We made minor adjustments throughout the planning process but nothing major. Planning was meticulous by a very experienced team and we had excellent support from the City of Sydney. The event was well-resourced and managed on the day.

The MC was great in reading the audience and making changes on the fly—the most significant in being more direct during the afternoon session and closing early as the audience thinned out. We issued a survey after the event and one respondent wrote, “They persevered and adapted very well to changes in pace throughout the day.” So I guess it was noticeable!

Although we also got the comment, “Reduce speaker volume,” so maybe we should persevere more quietly next time.

To learn more, read the Tool and Tactic here. Interested in becoming a Connector? Get started here!

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Tales of Tools and Tactics: Incorporating service into conferences

Tools and Tactics are replicable templates Connectors can use to multiply and amplify action and collaboration in their communities. We find they also make for great stories about people all over the world who are promoting good in interesting ways. 

Conference organizers take note! Conferences are great for networking and learning, but they can also be prime opportunities to give back to local communities.

Below, Cheryl Hanback, who helped organize the day of service for the The Nonprofit Technology Enterprise Network (NTEN) Conference, shares her experience:

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NTEN conference-goers give back.
(image courtesy NTEN)

Q: In all your years of helping to organize NTEN’s Nonprofit Tech Conference’s Day of Service, what’s something you’ve seen carry over from year to year?

A: Camaraderie between conference attendees that volunteered during the day of service—whether we worked in a soup kitchen or in small teams to help a nonprofit with a tech challenge they were facing. I wouldn’t have put a price on that, or guessed it would’ve happened. Conference attendees came back year after year and felt so bonded, because you’ve gone out and helped that day, and you did it together. People made real connections. You don’t just sit at a lunch table for five minutes before a speaker starts, or eat dinner next to someone. You make real, grounded relationships.

To learn more, read the Tool and Tactic here. Interested in becoming a Connector? Get started here!

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Tales of Tools and Tactics: Paid time off to volunteer

Tools and Tactics are replicable templates Connectors can use to multiply and amplify action and collaboration in their communities. We find they also make for tales about people all over the world who are promoting good in interesting ways. 

Offering employees paid time off to volunteer can encourage them to serve in their communities, and is a great way for companies to give something back.

Below, Marc Vettori, Director of Human Resources at Dansko, an employee-owned footwear company founded in Pennsylvania in 1990, shares his experience with Dansko’s program:

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Dansko employees get their feet wet with the community.
(image courtesy Dansko)

Q: In offering paid time off to volunteer to employees at Dansko, what’s something that surprised you?

A: Organizations often reach out and ask us for volunteers, because we’re known in the community for giving back. A couple of years ago, an animal rescue organization needed their cat room painted. I, personally, don’t like painting, and that it was the cat room, well… it didn’t sound to me like the most awesome room ever. But we do have a lot of animal lovers at Dansko, and four employees stepped up and generously painted the room. That was a total, and good, surprise.

A different kind of surprising thing has been that while our executive team supports our employee volunteer efforts, most staff really recognize the importance of giving back, too. We had two women from customer service who had a goal to max out on the amount of paid time off for volunteering [20 hours per year]. So a lot of our people want to give back. This isn’t just a top-down thing.

To learn more, read the Tool and Tactic here. Interested in becoming a Connector? Get started here!

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Tales of Tools and Tactics: Academic projects that benefit nonprofits

Tools and Tactics are replicable templates Connectors can use to multiply and amplify action and collaboration in their communities. We find they also make for great stories about people all over the world who are promoting good in interesting ways. 

Calling all educators and students! Providing real-world experience in the classroom is a good thing. What’s even better? Letting real nonprofits benefit from students’ pro bono work.

Below, Emily Hashimoto, alumna of Pratt Institute’s School of Information & Library Science, which offers degree programs to prepare students for professions in the quickly-changing fields of information management and digital innovation, shares her experience working on a pro bono project for a local nonprofit:

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Pratt students get real in the classroom.
(image courtesy Emily Hashimoto)

Q: In your class on information architecture, you worked with a nonprofit to design their new website. What did you learn or, what surprised you during that experience?

A: I went into my class knowing I probably didn’t want to do that work professionally, but still wanting the experience. It was really exciting to learn skills as I went and to apply them immediately to a real-life scenario, especially for a small nonprofit who could really benefit from the knowledge we were bringing to the table. I also ended up with a much stronger interest in information architecture before the class’s end.

I was surprised by how fun it was to work in teams. Interestingly, I don’t think anyone on my team knew they wanted to go into this line of work, so we had fun with it in a way that perhaps other of our classmates didn’t, as they were looking to use this project in their portfolios. We’d break into our groups and eat snacks in the back, working hard but also having a great time. I was also psyched to bring my experience working for nonprofits into the fold. It might sound boring, but it’s really important where that “Donate” button is.

To learn more, read the Tool and Tactic here. Interested in becoming a Connector? Get started here!

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