Making an Impact – Locally, Not Just in Texas and Beyond

The start of Texas Legislative 83rd Session this week and a new federal administration leaves me thinking about the impact decisions made at these levels will have on local efforts to ensure our communities are offer healthy and safe lives filled with opportunity for our citizens.  How will people at the local level continue to feel empowered to create change in their communities regardless of the results of the legislation determined by these bodies? While some legislation will be moves in the right direction (hopefully) there will also be results that cause frustration.

An interesting moment of reflection came to me when I read Jonathan Tilove’s First Reading in the Austin-American Statesman this morning. It included an attempt to explore the state of the Tea Party post election season. Julie McCarty, president of the NE Tarrant Tea Party, in response stated: “The tea party at a national level is not manageable. … No, I’m not happy about how things have gone nationally. …. But when I keep my focus local, things work. That’s what I would encourage all those who are frustrated with the political scene to do”.

Focus on the impact you can have locally.

While McCarty wasn’t talking about impacting the issues important to us via what non-profit organizations to support, it still applies. I have long been a proponent of Give Where You Live. I believe that when we experience the impact we can have, it fuels us to seek other ways to help better our communities – and to give of ourselves.

The services local non-profit organizations offer directly impact the health of our community. Therefore, it is important for us to contribute by giving locally first. And to trust that our gift is multiplied and has a greater reach than just what we are able to see.

Define “Local” and “Giving” for yourself.

For most the definition of “local” is the direct community we live in and the surrounding region. One definition could be the “Austin – Travis County – Central Texas” area. But for others the definition of “local” is defined within one specific issue or cause. If your core cause is to fight blood cancer, then supporting your local community may be acting as an advocate for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Define “local” for yourself.

In Austin there has been a lot of time and energy spent around the difference between how people give – financial gifts or the gift of volunteering. There has been a question as to whether or not Austin is a “giving city” because it ranked lower in monetary gifts than other cities. And too often I hear the intent to give when a specific income level is acquired. But I believe you should also give time if you have it.

The benefit of giving time and then money to an organization is you have the opportunity to experience some of the work that an organization is doing. You can see what type of impact your gift will make. In the end, if you can’t make a financial gift to every organization you volunteer with, don’t underestimate the gift of your time or expertise.

I ask that we all commit to giving in some way at a local level this year – to impact the community and issues we care about. In the end, what happens at the state and federal level may not be something we always agree on, but we can always have a positive impact on our local communities. How will you do that? Email me or leave a comment if you want a suggestion – I am happy to help. Besides, it feels good to give!


What Susan G. Komen Did Right

The last two days have been filled with articles, tweets, Google+ and FB posts about what the Susan G. Komen Foundation did wrong. People were angry to learn they had chosen politics over what we believe their mission is: to help ensure access to early detection for women, help those struck by breast cancer, and to fund research to eradicate breast cancer. Many people voiced their opinions and in the end Komen reversed their decision to de-fund Planned Parenthood. But in the meantime, I started thinking about what Komen really does: marketing.

A quick review of the Komen website and last annual report yields no mission statement, but they frame their annual report with a focus on: Ensuring Quality Care for All, Empowering People, and Energizing Science. And a quick review of their annual report also tells us how they spent their budget:

12% – Administration
8% – Fundraising
7% – Treatment (Ensuring Quality Care for All?)
15% – Screening (Empowering People?)
24% – Research (Energizing Science?)
34% – Education

Now, this isn’t a bad breakdown… pretty impressive if you consider they spend only 20% on what is traditionally considered “overhead” (via administration and fundraising line items). But note that most of what they do is not treatment, screening, or research. Most of the money they spend goes to “education”. I may be jaded, but to me “education” is a fuzzy word. “Education” can be “outreach programs” which can also be marketing.

Susan G. Komen is the Pink Behemoth. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But in October, everywhere I go, I see pink. Komen raised the visibility of the issue, engaged those who have been affected by breast cancer, and built a $460 million empire on those pink ribbons, bags, hats, and tees. Komen is a marketing machine.

If any non-profit out there needs an example of what your marketing and communications teams can do, if given the resources, it’s Komen. Through marketing they raised the profile of the issue, which helped to raise the number of advocates, which helped to raise the money, which helped to put them in the position to fund organizations that can be the “boots on the ground” to fight the war against cancer through screenings, treatment, and research. That is pretty amazing.

Do I believe Komen is altruistic or as infallible as we would all like to believe non-profits are? No. I think the last few days have highlighted some primary key problems with non-profits:

1. Trying to be more than they should be or are set up to be.

2. Not creating enough diversity at the Board and Senior staff level to offset any personal and political agendas.

3. Believing that people will support an organization because of the “issue” and that the non-profit is on the “right” side of the issue.

The Pink Behemoth isn’t perfect, but no organization is. But if we understand that what Komen does right is marketing, then we can all learn some lessons here and appreciate the value of how far investing in good communications teams can go. And yes, it can go pretty far.

Santorum’s Struggle with Personhood and Choice

This morning I read an article about how Rick and Karen Santorum went through a terrible health scare in 1996. It involved their unborn child, in the second-trimester, and making a decision to save Mrs. Santorum’s life at the cost of carrying a fetus full-term. I feel badly that this family had to go through this experience; I am sorry Mr. Santorum had to make an incredibly difficult, heartbreaking and personal decision based upon the well-being of his wife and their family. Mr. Santorum had to make medical decisions that resulted in choosing the life of his wife’s over the possibility that his unborn child may live. The concept of  “personhood” was real for the Santorums, it was personal, and it was medical. It was not mandated by law in 1996.

Rick & Karen Santorum

Rick & Karen Santorum - Image by Gage Skidmore

This is something I find interesting… Mr. Santorum’s decision to save his wife’s life, while difficult, was a choice he had. It could have gone the other way. He could have chosen to test “fate” or “faith” and have the doctors treating his wife not induce labor and try to keep the fetus and his wife alive through the pregnancy.

I am sorry Mr. Santorum had to make such a difficult choice – to save Mrs. Santorum’s life they had to induce labor of a fetus that doctors told him would not survive outside the womb. In the second trimester, there are three abortion procedures used, one is an Induction Abortion. I am sorry incredibly private decisions they made about their family and a medical crisis has become fodder for the public. However, I am glad that at the time, they were able to could make a medically sound decision, a private choice and without government interference.

If Mr. Santorum’s desire to have state and federal “personhood” laws go into effect, he has signed on to support this, it would mean that any products and activities that kill or destroy human beings “at any stage of development” will be murder, as long as it was an innocent “human”. This would include inducing labor, when the doctors specifically state that the fetus cannot survive outside the womb, to save a mother’s life. And that would have meant that Mr. Santorum’s painful and personal decision to save his wife’s life and keep their three children’s mother alive would not have been his to make at all. Rather it would have been the government’s.

It’s a shame it appears hypocrisy, pandering and power-mongering is winning over practical life experience.