Social Capital


So, yes…I’m Bayer Center staff, but I would attend this event even if I weren’t! Here’s why I think you should come:

#10: Good networking opportunity – lots of nonprofit (and some for-profit) peeps in one place.  A great way to say hello to those you know and to make new friends!

#9: Food and drink.  Wine, beer, and hors d’oeuvres – yum!  In my mind, very necessary items for an after-work event.

#8: It’s a celebration AND fundraiser (our first ever, actually), so your ticket cost is going to a really good cause and helps us continue to help the nonprofit community.

#7: The entire Bayer Center staff will be there.  All of us in one place at the same time is a rare event in itself – we are usually all over the place, consulting, teaching, etc.

#6: Bricolage has been commissioned to create a performance especially for this event.  I don’t even know what they are doing, but I checked out their past performances/creations on their website and they do some fun and crazy stuff!  This is not-to-be-missed!

#5: No talking heads.  When we started planning this event, we swore we’d not put people through two hours of speech-making and we are sticking to that promise.

#4: We’re giving something special away to everyone who comes.  I know what it is, but I’m not telling.  You’ll like it.

#3: You’ll get to see the new August Wilson Center if you haven’t been there before.  It’s lovely!

#2: There will be cake.  Who doesn’t like cake?

#1: YOU are the reason for our success.  We want you to celebrate with us!


If you would like to RSVP, visit
http://www.rmu.edu/bcnmregistration.
We hope to see you there!!

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When my husband Brad and I got married 7 years ago, we decided to make it priority to squirrel money away every year and make sure that our 2 weeks’ vacation is used for exactly that – vacation.  Each year since then, those two weeks have consisted of:

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1.  A week long road trip teemed with sleeping in unusually shaped hotel rooms, seeing “the world’s largest” something, and taking pictures of our stuffed alligator Terrence with as many national landmarks as possible.

2.  Going to Disney World.
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Brad and I are complete nerds for Disney World.  We ride the rides, get our pictures taken with characters – the whole nine yards.  As a matter of fact, you can ask me on any given day how many days until Disney World (today – 64) and I will be able to tell you.  In January of this year, we decided on a whim to drive down and camp in the Disney campgrounds so we could take advantage of their “get in free on your birthday” offer.  Curious to find out if they were doing that again this year, I did an internet search for “free Disney World ticket 2010” and found something pretty great.

In 2010, instead of offering free tickets to folks on their birthday, Disney World has decided to offer 1 million free tickets to anyone over the age of 6 who performs one full day of volunteer service for a nonprofit.  By partnering with the Hands On Network (which helps potential volunteers find volunteer projects and programs that align their passions within their community), Disney is making it possible for nonprofits to pay back their volunteers with something tangible – and your organization can participate!

Aside from the fact that this program gives nonprofits the opportunity to give their volunteers a tangible thank you gift that they may have never been able to afford, it also will encourage a whole new group of individuals and families who may have never done volunteer work before to serve in their community.   While we hope that people would choose to serve out of the goodness of their hearts, a free ticket to Disneyworld might be just the push some people need to open their eyes to the importance of volunteerism for the first time.   Don’t miss out on this great opportunity to recruit new volunteers!   Visit the Hands On Network’s “Give a Day, Get a Day” page to become involved.
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beebs and these two

Have you heard of the term “slacktivism” yet? Even if you haven’t, I bet you’ve been a participant in some form or another:

“Slacktivism (sometimes slactivism) is a portmanteau formed out of the words slacker and activism. The word is considered a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it feel satisfaction. The acts also tend to require little personal effort from the slacktivist.

Examples of activities labeled as “slacktivist” include signing internet petitions, the wearing of wristbands (“awareness bracelets”) with political messages, putting a ribbon magnet on a vehicle, joining a Facebook group, posting issue-oriented YouTube videos, altering one’s personal data or avatar on social network services, or taking part in short-term boycotts such as Buy Nothing Day or Earth Hour.” (Wikipedia.com)

Now let’s look at some quotes from critics of slacktivism, who shall remain nameless:

“[Slacktivism is] feel-good online activism that has zero political or social impact. It gives those who participate in “slacktivist” campaigns an illusion of having a meaningful impact on the world without demanding anything more than joining a Facebook group.”

“Slacktivism allows stupid, apathetic people to con themselves into believing they are helping make the world a better place.”

“Slacktivism is fun, easy, and builds self esteem in a cheap way.”

Now here’s my opinion on the subject, whether you want it or not.

I think it is premature to completely dismiss activities that have been classified as slacktivist. I think slacktivist activities, though different from traditional change-inducing activities, can have value.

In my mind, there is nothing different about gathering to protest in a public square or gathering in a Facebook group to support an opinion. If anything, the online gathering is safer, more cost effective, more environmentally friendly, and has the ability to draw more people. In either case, the objective is getting the attention of the people who have the ability to create the desired change.

Another popular activist activity involves creating and distributing flyers, advertisements, and op-eds. I have to ask: is a written piece any less effective if it is digital? Can a YouTube video not have as much (if not more) impact on a person’s mindset, voting habits, and opinions as a traditional print item? Here again, there are similar benefits to be found in the digital format – greater reach, cost-effectiveness, and environmental friendliness.

A slacktivist is not necessarily a lazy person. I know this because I am one, in large part. Yes, I do participate actively on two nonprofit boards and give to charity occasionally. But in large part, I do not have time or money to spend on getting involved, no matter how supportive I feel about a cause. I work full-time, do web design on the side, am working on my second master’s degree, commute 3 hours per day, and do some board service. I am also married and have a household to keep up with. I eschew most social activities and hobbies because of my schedule. It is unlikely that I will come to a protest or party (though I will wholeheartedly tell other people I know about events). I am environmentally concerned as well, so when someone on the street hands me an informational flyer, I ask if the information is available online and ask for the URL. I do not take a flyer so that I can read it and put it in the trash later.

What I do digitally to perpetuate organizations of my choice is to join and promote Causes on Facebook, tweet and re-tweet interesting information on Twitter, and connect other people to the causes I care about. The main thing I can do for any cause is to draw other people. I have larger social networks than many individuals and, while I may not be your volunteer or donor, someone I know may be. Therefore, I think there’s something to be said for simply standing up for a cause and spreading the word.

To further explore this idea, I created a continuum of activism (below) to compare and contrast levels of participation vs. levels of technology usage in regards to activism:

activismcontinuum

When considering the various aspects of activism in this light, there seems to be less difference between slacktivists and people of low involvement (which I have labeled “passive activists” for lack of a better term) than one might think. If a person is going to get involved, he or she is going to get involved. Those who are not, will not. Our challenge, as nonprofit organizations, remains the same as it always has: how do we increase the level of involvement within our base of supporters? I think what throws us off is that we have answered this question for traditional methods of activism. We know how to gain support and there is historical data to show what works, who participates, etc.

I think we have yet to figure out how to effectively engage people using technology, or at least I think that we are mostly infants in these particular skill and mindsets. I also don’t think there is a simple or fast solution to the issue – I think we will have to experience growing pains and pay for our knowledge with our mistakes as is typical of the human condition.

So my final thought, all things considered, is that we should refrain from bashing people for slacktivism. Figure out what your organization can do to increase their involvement in ways that they are able to handle. Ask me to participate in a one-time online focus group. Ask me to donate $5. Ask me to email my senator (and make sure you give me a way to look up the address easily).

A slacktivist might just be the pebble in your organization’s pond that sets off desired change. Don’t ignore or dismiss him or her because of an inability or lack of desire for high involvement.

DownsidesoftheStaycation

At the ripe old age of 13, my mother taught me to knit. Not a hip hobby at the time, but I absolutely loved it. Growing up, my mother made a lot of our clothes, and always gave away hand-knitted hats and scarves as Christmas gifts, which became all the rage among my friends in college. Following in my mother’s footsteps, my love for knitting eventually turned into a love for sewing, and (gasp!) cross-stitching. My husband’s late grandmother, Mary Muench, most recently introduced me to my latest passion – crocheting.

While it may seem on the surface a strange choice of hobbies, I’m actually not alone! Pittsburgh has an incredibly active movement of young crafters who not only share their talents through classes and markets, but also get together regularly to sitzombie around, talk, and work on their projects together. (Check out the Pittsburgh Craft Collective, and you’ll get the idea.) While this may seem like an old fashioned quilting bee this modern version, now commonly known as the “stitch and bitch” has given new life to good old fashioned hobbies, and the results are pretty amazing. While old standby projects such as quilts, hats, mittens and aprons are still made, add to that list crocheted zombies, and ninjas…

To see this new era of crafting at its finest, make sure to check out the SouthSide Works Exposed market this weekend, July 10-12. It promises to be an amazing mix of a music festival, artist’s market, and sidewalk sales … but most of all a celebration of art in life. The setting for the event is in and around the Town Square of SouthSide Works. More than 70 local artists and craftspeople will be selling their amazing wares including ceramics, paintings, jewelry, clothing and more.

The SouthSide Works Exposed market is just one of many events hosted by Pittsburgh’s “I Made It!” nomadic markets, which travel from site toil_430xN.75473146 site bringing new crafts to communities throughout the city. Another highlight on the indie craft fair circuit is the annual “Handmade Arcade” traditionally hosted in November, just in time for your holiday shopping needs. Who wouldn’t want a yellow gingham apron featuring a squid holding a mixing bowl? (Featured crafter is Pittsburgh’s own Cleo Dee who boasts “blood, guts and craft.”)

Before you throw away those old knitting patterns, head out to the SouthSide Works Exposed Market this weekend and see the incredible things people are creating right here in our fair city of Pittsburgh. You’ll never look at yarn the same way again.

That was then, this is now.

I just finished reading a fascinating, revelatory book by Clay Shirky called Here Comes Everybody.   shirkyIt’s about the radical changes in this brave new world we’re inhabiting when it comes to things like communications, organizing, publication…

We all know it’s going on.  From texting to blogging to Facebook to tweeting, everything’s different from the way it was last century, last year, heck, almost last week.

For old folks like me, we know Web 2.0 is out there, we may even use some of the tools, but we don’t really “get it.”  In fact, to some extent, we never will.  For example, at my house we have grad students living next door to us.  My wife and I have been stunned by how unfriendly they are when we pass in our back yards.  But our son explained to us that they’re not being rude, they just don’t interact with people that way – the way that we do.  They do it through technology.  Our son understands this because he’s 21.  And, at 21, he already feels a gap between himself and high school students!

The world is a very different place.  Mass amateurization and collective wisdom (notice that the link I inserted above for explaining Web 2.0 goes to Wikipedia, a poster child for these changes) are replacing dedicated, authoritative (also, sometimes, authoritarian) sources for news.  We are relying on the self-correcting collaboration of the masses for the dissemination of knowledge.  And the centuries-old model of filter (e.g., evaluate for accuracy, relevancy, etc.) first and then publish has been turned on its head as the Web has become a medium in which we publish first then let external forces filter the information after the fact.

But back to Twitter.  Who cares that you just left the coffee shop, or you’re going to get a haircut this afternoon, or you’re telling a snarky little in-joke that I don’t understand?  I certainly don’t.  But that’s just the point.  I’m not supposed to.  Those of us who don’t “get it” see all this as public communication.  But it’s not.  It’s just chatter among friends, across cyberspace instead of across a table, but not intended for those outside the small circle.  And once you understand that – once you realize that even though this overwhelming barrage of messages is out there for all the world to see, they’re only meant for an infinitesimal, carefully selected group of people to actually look at – this whole thing starts to make sense as a way for a new generation to communicate.  Those of us from the old school have been confused by thinking the medium is the message, but it’s not.  The message is the message.

And this is just the insignificant beginning.  Twitter is saving people who are unjustly imprisoned.  Twitter is leading to election protests that stress entire governments.  Twitter and the new organizing and communications power of Web 2.0 are changing the very framework of how society functions.

bandwagon Don’t underestimate this, and don’t forget it.  If you want your nonprofit to be meaningful in the future, Web 2.0 is one bandwagon (remember those? – I don’t!) you’d better figure out how to get on.

My name is Laura Rentler and I am interning at the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management this summer.  Currently, I am a junior at Robert Morris University where I am majoring in Marketing and Hospitality and Tourism.  I will also be receiving a certificate in nonprofit management through American Humanics.  To receive this certificate, students must complete a 300-hour internship with a nonprofit, attend a conference, and take two courses on basic nonprofit information.  A few of the BCNM staff members were in charge of teaching the class at Robert Morris University, which is how I got this great opportunity of working here for the summer. 

I remember in my junior year of high school I told my Mom that I wanted to be an accountant.  She was shocked and knew that I had a different calling in life.  Well, she was right.  My senior year of high school, I was asked to be the keynote speaker at a luncheon for the Highmark Caring Place.  My family and I attended the Caring Place in 1998 after my father passed away.  The Caring Place helped me grow as a person, so I was honored that they would ask me to speak in honor of them.  After I delivered my speech, one young high school student came up to me and said, “I know how you feel.  I lost my father and I haven’t gotten help for it.” You could tell this particular audience member was really touched by my story and could relate in some way.   After that moment, I instantly knew that I wanted to be working in an environment where I could make a difference in people’s lives.   I can’t tell you what came over me that day that possessed me to choose the nonprofit field, but I knew that this was my calling. 

When I got home from the luncheon, I told my Mom that I wanted to work for nonprofits the rest of my life, and she was thrilled.  I told other family members and friends and kept getting the same comments and questions:  “Why would you want to work for a nonprofit; you are not going to make any money.” To this, I would always say that I want to make money to pay the bills and provide for myself, but I also want a job that I love doing. I want to be one of those people that comes home from work and says, “I love my job!”  Let’s just say that I didn’t get the reaction out of them as I did from my mom, but then I do come from a family of financially oriented people.

Overall, I feel happy with the direction I’m taking, but I still have questions:

  • Will I find a job after I graduate?
    • I know Pittsburgh has a large amount of nonprofit organizations, but many agencies it seems have small staffs that tend to be loyal.
  • Is there opportunity for career growth in the sector?
    • It seems like it is more difficult to progress into a higher position since many organizations are small and folks seldom leave. Of course, I realize that most sector professionals had to start somewhere, but I don’t want to put in years of energy to realize there was a glass ceiling all along.
  • Will I have a salary even if the organization is struggling?
  • What happens to an agency if it raises less and less money every year?

I don’t think my concerns and questions are any different than other college students as they near graduation.

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