Friday, February 25, 2011

Enjoy Watching Sports on TV?

....if the answer to this question is YES, then you might recall the commercial featuring Michael Jordan called "Maybe." (For a refresher, you can watch it out at the bottom of this post).

Recently, Bradley Troast and EL Da'Sheon Nix remade this video to promote the Cabrini Madness tournament. Check it out below, and I hope it inspires you donate to your favorite team.

The Kids Are All Bright (my team), is sadly trailing in the tourney in 13th place. Help us climb the leader board before the first cut on March 20th!

Thanks for your support!

First, the MJ original:

And now the Cabrini Madness remake starring our own, EL Da'Sheon Nix:

Maybe from Cabrini Connections on Vimeo.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Case for Collaboration: From Cochabamba to Chicago

Last year for my senior thesis at Northwestern, I had the opportunity to research organizations working with street youth in Cochabamba, Bolivia. My fascination began when I studied abroad in 2008 for 4 months in Cochabamba and conducted ethnographic research with a group of youth who live and/or work on the city's streets. During that time, I also became aware of the vast number of organizations that exist offering support to these kids.

When I returned to Cochabamba a year later, I conducted interviews with the staff and directors of 8 organizations providing services to street youth. In these revealing conversations, it became apparent that many of the leaders of these organizations were unaware of what other nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were ALSO doing on behalf of these youth. The leader of one organization even explained to me that he viewed similar organizations as competitors, and even witnessed certain organizations arguing over the exclusive rights to photograph specific groups of kids to use in their brochures and websites to attract donors.

It became apparent that while these organizations shared similar goals, they did very little to help each other. At best, the organizations were operating in silos unaware of the work of similar organizations. At worst, organizations were wasting scarce resources by re-inventing the wheel or replicating programs that others had realized were ineffective. And it wasn't the fault of the organizations' leaders. In fact, they had really good reasons why collaboration between similar organizations wasn't practical.

In my research I identified a number of reasons why collaboration amongst non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and nonprofits is hugely challenging. I mention this now, because so much of what I learned about the environment of NGOs in Bolivia applies to what I am learning about the nonprofit atmosphere in Chicago. For issues ranging from immigration to health care to education, a variety of organizations exist with similar goals. Yet the amount that organizations are able to work together is limited.

Some of those barriers to collaboration include:

1. Lack of time/challenges in coordinating:
Organizations are focused on serving the populations they work with and are too strapped for time to reach out to leaders of other organizations.

2. Competition for resources:
Organizations doing similar work are competing for the same grants, funding sources, and donors. Thus just like McDonald's probably wouldn't be eager to collaborate with Burger King, organizations aren't always interested in collaborating with their "competitors" but instead see the nonprofit landscape as "survival of the fittest" organization.

3. Differing Priorities: Organizations often have different ideas about how to tackle their particular social issue. While some organizations are secular, others are religiously affiliated. While some provide handouts, others are adamantly opposed to this type of assistance. These all might be reasons why organizations don't want to associate with one another.

4. Lack of awareness: Organizations may not realize that other nonprofits doing similar work even exist or where they operate.

Tutor/Mentor Connection works as a catalyst trying to break down these barriers to collaboration for organizations focused on tutoring and mentoring (especially in the Chicago region).

Here are some of the ways we tackle each challenge and our logic for why collaboration is beneficial:

1.Lack of time/challenges in coordinating:
T/MC puts in the time to coordinate between organizations, reach out to other programs, and plan ways for leaders to convene and share best practices. T/MC also builds online resources so that leaders can easily and quickly access information T/MC has compiled from various organizations.

2. Competition for resources: Perhaps what we should be asking ourselves is not: "Is there competition for resources between organizations?" (the answer will always be YES), but instead: "Is there competition for CLIENTS for our services." Let me explain. If two organizations are competing to serve the same target population, then perhaps it doesn't make sense for both organizations to exist. BUT for big social issues like "helping urban youth succeed and graduate in Chicago" or "getting kids off the streets in Cochabamba" the demand for services is unfortunately, greater than the number of organizations able to supply help. So viewing other organizations as competitors really doesn't make sense.

The nonprofit industry is different from business because when there is more demand for our services, it generally costs us money. Each student in a program like Cabrini Connections, costs about $1,500 per year. Thus the more kids we help and the greater the demand for our services, the greater our expenses. It's important to keep this in mind when realizing that the survival of other organizations actually alleviates some of the expenses off of a single organization while working toward shared goals and allowing more people to be served.

However, it's overly simplistic to think that competition for funding is not a huge factor. Thus Tutor/Mentor Connection focuses on the ways that drawing resources or attention to one organization benefits us all. When one organization gets a grant that leads to media attention, tutoring and mentoring is spotlighted as a need in this city so all programs can harness this attention to get funding for their work. In addition, TMC works to organize events throughout the year that involve organizations throughout the city. By creating a "buzz" surrounding tutoring/mentoring, we all get attention (and hopefully resources).

3. Differing Priorities: Learning about other organizations' strategies can be helpful as programs share what works and what does not. Collaborating doesn't mean all organizations have to sign on to the same mission statement, and in fact, having different focuses may help get diversified donors.

4. Lack of Awareness:
T/MC has invested in creating a database of tutoring and mentoring programs in Chicago so that students, volunteers, donors, and programs are aware of what is out there. We also work to bring program leaders together via conferences, online forums, and email contact so that they are aware of the work other organizations are doing.

This type of collaborative action through a decentralized organization is not widely practiced within the non-profit sector. Not in Bolivia, and not in Chicago. Perhaps that is why we have always struggled to find the type of funding needed to operate Tutor/Mentor Connection.

But it seems that in the age of electronic collaboration, it is the direction where the nonprofit sector NEEDS to head. This infographic illustrates "the new culture of collaboration" and refers to some of the benefits of collaboration in the digital age.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Worthwhile Experiment

What began as a personal experiment by Sasha Dichter, director of business development of Acumen Fund, has launched into a campaign to reboot Valentine's Day as "Generosity Day."

The "generosity experiment" began when instead of saying "no" to someone asking for money on the street, Dichter gave the man a few dollars. He decided that for one month, he would actively say "yes" to every panhandler, request for a charitable contribution, meeting invitation, or even email he'd been avoiding in his inbox. He describes the experiment as "transformative."

Propelled by his month-long personal experience, Dichter decided to launch a campaign to make Valentine's Day about more than romantic love, but about sharing love, generosity, and kindness to all those around us. As Dichter writes on his blog: "The goal is to spend Valentine’s Day being more generous, giving more money, sharing of yourself, being of service. All acts of generosity, small and big alike, count. But you have to say YES to everything that’s asked of you, all day long! It’s about creating more generosity in the world, and becoming a more open person along the way."

Dichter offers some ideas for Generosity Day including:
  • Give to people on the street.
  • Tip outrageously.
  • Help a stranger.
  • Write a note telling someone how much you appreciate them.
  • Smile.
  • Donate (more) to a cause that means a lot to you.
  • Take clothes to GoodWill.
  • Be patient with yourself and with others.
  • Replace the toilet paper in the bathroom.
I hope you'll join me in celebrating Generosity Day. I think I'll start by sharing some of my Valentine's Day chocolate...that might be a little out of my comfort zone, but I think it's a worthy experiment!

If your generous spirit inspires you to SHARE with a cause you care about, please consider giving a tax deductible donation to Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection through our main donation page or support your favorite Cabrini Madness Team.
Thank you!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Cabrini Madness: Game On!

The Super Bowl is now behind us, which means another tournament has begun:
Cabrini Madness 2011!

Be sure to watch the first 2011 Cabrini Madness promo video, "Training Days."

Training Days from Cabrini Connections on Vimeo.

Visit each team's page to view their roster of volunteers, staff, students, board members, and outside supporters:

You can also keep track of tournament news and updates via the main Cabrini Madness page.

Even if you aren't able to donate, you can help out by promoting your favorite team (or Cabrini Madness in general) through your Facebook page, Twitter account, or (gasp) even talking to people in person. Cabrini Madness isn't just about raising money. It's about giving people an opportunity to introduce the program and the organization to those in their networks. The more people that know about us, the more supporters we will have for the kids in our program and for the work that Tutor/Mentor Connection does throughout the city of Chicago.

Cabrini Madness is a great example of how programs can use innovative, interactive, and fun strategies for fundraising. The idea for the tournament was developed last year over a dinnertime conversation between EL Da'Sheon Nix and Bradley Troast. Now, after a successful first season, the tournament is in its second year.

Cabrini Madness also exemplifies how outside events, holidays, and even sports tournaments can be leveraged in creative ways to draw attention to nonprofits. Although most small tutoring and mentoring programs do not have the budget to advertise on a grand scale if at all, using widely recognized events to pull people to programs is a great strategy for catching people's attention and interest. For an easy reference, see this article on national events that might be creatively geared toward supporting tutoring and mentoring programs.

You can read more about the "annual calendar" that Tutor/Mentor Connection has developed in Dan Bassill's recent blog article about T/MC's strategy to engage businesses throughout the year with continual investment.

Thanks for your support and good luck to all of the teams in this season of Cabrini Madness!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

T/MC: A Virtual University

Along with many Chicagoans, I am surviving "Snowpocalypse 2011" and "Thundersnow" by working from home today. Amazingly although I am stuck at home, I do not feel cut off from the world as I may have during a snow day of decades past. Thanks to the internet, I can still connect with my co-workers, visit T/MC websites, and correspond with people through emails.

T/MC's sites make it so that anyone from anywhere in the world can access the information--regardless of location, remoteness, and even weather conditions. This type of online, equal access learning and capacity building seems to be the wave of the future. Resources like podcasts and TED talks are great examples of how the internet makes learning available to more people in more places (and not limited to those who can afford more traditional educational opportunities).

In many ways, what Tutor/Mentor Connection has developed online is a "virtual university" for people who want to learn all there is to know about creating, implementing, and supporting tutoring and mentoring programs. Many articles and presentations have been created by Tutor/Mentor Connection, but our sites aren't limited to T/MC ideas. We also compile the articles, blogs, website links, and best practices of others from all over the world. This animated Resource Map is a good starting place to navigate the vast array of information on T/MC sites.

Dan Bassill's recent "Decade Ending" blog articles outline what it has taken to create this type of "virtual tutor/mentor university." It has taken a lot of dedication and work, without nearly the level of funding that similar tutor/mentor networks in smaller cities rely on. Tutor/Mentor Connection is constantly seeking ways to get corporate and foundation partnership so that we can continue offering online learning opportunities that lead to more high quality programs for at-risk youth reaching more neighborhoods and communities.

In his recent blog posts, Dan Bassill encourages people to spend a bit of time during their snow days to puruse the resources on T/MC sites. This is a good opportunity to see what we're all about and spread the word to others!

Stay warm and safe!