Personal Responsibility, Really?

Have you noticed that the phrase personal responsibility has begun to resurface as the country discusses the looming debt crisis, major budget cuts and the word “taxes,” which seems to have become profane? The last time the phrase personal responsibility was used this much by those inside the Beltway, progressive causes were under attack, and progressives appeared to be on the ropes.

When Meanings Become Meaningless

As a communicator by trade, I am still awed by the power of words — and still amazed at some people’s willingness to manipulate them until the original meaning is almost meaningless. As a nonprofit communicator committed to advancing justice, I pledge to work hard to keep the denotation of personal responsibility front and center in my own discussions and writing. I hope to help keep the connotation that some less-then-progressive people are trying to yoke to the phrase from becoming the norm.

I intend to write and talk more about the personal responsibility of politicians to tell the truth about what it costs to run the world’s largest economy. I want to call them on any obfuscation about who is paying for what, and who is not paying their fair share.

Do You Have to Be a Person?

Now that corporations are equal to one human being, I’d like to ask companies to demonstrate personal responsibility in caring for the environment, employee health and well-being, and customer satisfaction as much as “s/he” ;-) cares for the bottom line.

I would like those of us with jobs and who make a living wage to demonstrate personal responsibility in ensuring the health and well-being of those in our communities who are not so lucky right now. I would like us to demonstrate personal responsibility for our youth, modeling this behavior to help them figure out what being a good citizen means and calling young people out (instead of hurriedly walking away) when we see them being irresponsible.

What About Everyone Else?

Mostly, I want progressive nonprofits and their staff to use the phrase personal responsibility in ways that illustrate how crucial taking responsibility for oneself — and one’s community — is for ensuring the kind of communities and world for which we are working so hard.

AND, I think it is time to co-opt some language. What about civic engagement and encouraging democratic principles?


For more than a year now, I have pledged to blog more frequently. That shouldn’t be very hard. Geez, more than once a month would be more frequently.

But it suddenly hit me a couple of weeks ago. I was listening to the radio and heard the lyrics, “Who died and made you king of anything.” And it all fell into place: I don’t blog more, because I can’t figure out why anyone cares what I have to say.

Maybe I have low self-esteem. Or maybe, as a Boomer, I’m of the generation that was told bragging is impolite. And it seems to me that telling the world what I think — even if I do have a few decades worth of experience — is similar to bragging.

Folks 10 to 15 years my junior were grown when social networking changed the rules on what you did and did not share. But many learned to embrace the new medium. Of course, those coming of age today assume that you use the Web to share pretty much everything. So, blogging is a natural pastime for these folks.

But it takes a lot to “rev” myself up to write about what I think, what I do and what I would do on a blog.

So, now that I’ve figured out why I have not blogged more, let’s see if I can just “get over it” and let my fingers do the walking. (Although that phrase means something very different to me as a Boomer than it might to Gen X, Gen Y and Millennials.) But I’ll try not to let my age get in the way.

Are any of you other Boomers blog-shy? What do you do to keep at it? For my more youthful colleagues, what helps you get the fingers flying? And for those of you wishing not to reveal your age, just give me general advice (wink, wink).

As always, thanks in advance.

Denise M

I’ve spent most of the nonprofit portion of my career as a communications professional supporting the programmatic core of organizations. But I have also worked directly in program departments, creating and growing grassroots initiatives in the field.

While both program and communications staff are passionate about their work – and the mission of the organization they serve – there are often times when the two groups seem to be operating in two different worlds. As a communications staffer, I used to think, Why don’t the program people get it.

Then I went to work as acting deputy director of programs. After a few months, when my former communications staffers came to me with excellent ideas for promoting program work, I thought to myself, Why don’t the communications staff members get it?

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A recent Boston Globe article suggested that the nonprofit merger rate has increased due to the economic downturn. In a letter to the editor, TSNE’s Hez Norton, who oversees our new Organizational Transitions program, suggests that there are many other — and often more effective — ways for nonprofits to share resources to better serve constituents.

In “More nonprofits engage in mergers for survival” (April 15, 2009), The Boston Globe examines one way that nonprofit organizations are collaborating – through mergers. While this may be a viable alternative for organizations with compatible missions, it is important to understand that merger is just one of many ways nonprofits are collaborating across the sector.

Third Sector New England was privileged to play a role in the two merger situations profiled in the article. Through our Executive Transitions Program, we placed the interim executive director at Dorchester CARES, who supported that merger process. We also placed the interim executive director and helped lead the transition process with Concilio Hispano that led to merger.

It is critical that nonprofit organizations explore an array of options as they look to meet their mission and best service constituents, especially during these difficult economic times. These options include joint ventures, shared services, merger, shared administration, shared programs and fiscal sponsorship.

The bottom line: Nonprofits need always to be creative in serving their constituents effectively – while keeping mission front and center. Looking at new models of collaboration and partnership has always been important. Now it is more important than ever.

Hez Norton, manager
Executive and Organizational Transitions

OR What If You Held a Three-Hour Webinar and Nobody Stayed?

Third Sector New England is offering a new training series to help nonprofits navigate the economic downturn — and use this time of change to decide if they need to retool and refocus their strategic direction. The trainings, which are three hours in length, are being offered for free to people anywhere in the country.

Therefore, we are offering these sessions as both an in-person opportunity and as a hybrid webinar or conference call. Obviously, webinars are rarely more than an hour in length. So we are grappling with how to:

  • Make this venture affordable for us (as the minute plan could break the bank quickly).
  • More important, make the webinar experience useful, educational and enjoyable for remote participants.
  • Make sure the remote feature adds to and does not detract from the experience for in-person attendees.

Have any of you dealt with turning a long training workshop into a shorter webinar or call-in experience for remote participants? How have you structured these trainings, so that the remote folks could sign off in a place that gave them a fulfilling experience and caused the least disruption for the presenter and in-person participants?

Or have you found that people were willing to participate for a two- or three-hour training?
I look forward to your insights.

So, Larry King and company have proclaimed, “It’s in to be Black.”  He explained, laughingly (and that’s the part that really got me), on one of his recent shows that his eight-year-old son wants to be Black.

When did it become appropriate for people in the news business to joke about race like bad comedians on cable networks?

So, I guess I wasn’t in before?

First, King is suggesting that being Black was out until he decreed otherwise. As a Black American, I’ve always thought that being Black was in. I either felt sorry for or angry at those pathetic people who acted otherwise — the people that unwittingly helped to galvanize the Civil Rights movement and the centuries-long activism (most of it left out of the history books) that came before it.

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A Respected Brand Can Get You Through Tough Times

When friends, coworkers and even family members find out that I went to Washington, D.C. for the Inauguration of President Barack H. Obama, they ask, What was it like? In their usually hushed voices, you hear one part awe, one part envy and two parts reverence. Even one of my husband’s friends, who mostly just nods when he sees me, asked to speak with me –  during their sacred weekly call about football – when he heard that I was on the National Mall for the swearing in.

Certainly, everyone from my mom to Rupert Murdoch and from the Guardian to CNN, MSNBC and Fox News (and how often do they all agree?) have called Barack Obama a rock star. Even rival John McCain pejoratively referred to then-Senator Obama during the presidential campaign as a celebrity.

So of course, everyone assumes that my experience witnessing the inauguration in person must have been amazing. And it was.

But it was also cold and windy and amazingly frustrating. I walked for nearly two hours from one check point to another between nine city blocks, and then was subjected to a body search in the frigid weather, before I finally got onto the mall to witness the event. And I, a member of the ticket-less lumpen proletariat, did better than hundreds of ticket holders who never made it in at all due to some kind of security breach.

But in the midst of all of the confusion, all of the waiting, and all of the pushing and shoving in and out of the Metro station and on the streets, two million people kept smiling – broadly – and greeting each other with such a positive spirit. And that is a testament to President Obama and all that he stands for.

And it is also a result, for those of us who try to practice such things, of successful branding and effective social marketing.

Social Marketing and Building a Respected Brand

Now before you suggest that I’m reducing President Obama’s accomplishments to a good brand, hear me out. The Obama campaign can teach nonprofits a lot about branding, messaging and social marketing.

Few people believed just a year ago at the beginning of 2008, that then-Senator Obama had a chance at the U.S. presidency. Even his wife has admitted to questioning his belief that he could be U.S. Commander-in-Chief. In addition to being a black man, our current president was raised in Hawaii and Indonesia and has a name that is anything but U.S.-traditional. His parents were not married when he was born, and his father was not American.

So how did he make it, and how can nonprofit organizations use some of the lessons from his campaign?

Six Steps to Borrow from Candidate Obama’s Brand Playbook

1) Be clear about purpose: First and foremost, candidate Obama was clear about what he wanted to achieve. Not only did he want to be the president for change, but he was clear about what that change would mean: transparent government, inclusive decision-making based on solid facts, citizen empowerment, progressive national and international policies, stewardship of our economy and ecology, and using technology to improve lives and strengthen communication.

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