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September 2008
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November 2008

Sequoia Capital Review of the GDP projections and impact on Funding: How does this work out for Nonprofits

There are lessons to learned for us looking to move our nonprofits into better position for the downturn. It should not be surprising but our lessons and challenges are going to be shaped by the trends in the powerpoint but our approach and outcomes are going to need to be different for 2 reasons.

1. We have a huge opportunity to reshape policy, culture and legislation over the next two years (at least).

2. Survival of our groups is important but in the nonprofit sector and advocacy and campaign world there is a sector relevance that relates to public attention. Going to ground to survive will result in our groups disappearing from the radar and then exacerbating the loss of relevance and funding.

Good strategy is good strategy and I don't think they are really offing much of a radical shift form typical business advise. cut costs and focus on core values. I am interested in two things.

What is different?  What strategy did you shift because of the economic downturn? Why is the logic behind that recommendation shifted because GDP is now likely going downward?

Van Jones - The Happy Network Effect

The publisher apparently only spent a few grand on publicist and that ended up crashing for some personal reasons. Van Jones really did just lean heavily on friends and groups that they had worked with over the years. Great story.


Jones ultimately attributes the success of the book's marketing campaign to what he calls the "invisible network of networks," and he thinks this "network effect" is here to stay.

"There are too many products coming from too many directions, people ignore the hype," he said.

"But if you're in a network that's about respect and reciprocity, people will take action.

Peek at the Network-Centric Obama Campaign

It is nice to see the ways that Obama and McCain are wrestling with the new network collaborative power fueled with modern tech.  This is a good peek into what happens in a campaign that focuses on pushing power to the edge vs. the campaign that tries to pull resources to the center.

The most interesting element that will playout in 2009 will be what happens with all these new workers and volunteers from both parties.

They will come to issue advocacy with new expectations on self-control and the power that they should have to organize and influence the local face of the campaign. They have "tasted" the new flavor of engagement and they are not likely to be interested in going back to being direct mailed at....

If they are not plugged in effectively to the next set of issue campaigns they will:
a. revolutionize old traditional groups.
b. simply start their own groups
c. disengage.

The choice of how they act and how organized issue groups react to this new blood is going to be up to us.   But change is coming.


The Obama campaign has a CTO, Michael Slaby, and a web team that includes Dean-campaign veteran Joe Rospars as New Media Director and Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, who helps coordinate online organizing. But the system works like a pyramid, with state officials given access to a lot of functionality, and growing numbers of people below them, down to the volunteer level, allowed fewer and fewer functions, depending on what they need and how well they are known or trusted. The Obama system learns as it goes along, allowing volunteers to feed information gleaned from their work back into the database via their web browsers. Campaign staffers at the local, state, and national levels can see which volunteers do the most work and get the best results, making the organization more efficient over time. Nationwide, has more than 1 million individual user accounts and has been used to promote over 75,000 campaign events.

In Rockingham County, Adamson's group began by recruiting additional volunteers by phone, using lists available through the Obama and North Carolina Democratic Party websites. Working from their own homes, making local calls on their own phones via information pulled from the virtual phone bank, and entering data back into the system, they built a team to canvass the five precincts each divided into smaller areas called "turfs," with about 500 voters apiece, assigned by the campaign. More volunteers were signing up as this article was being reported in mid-September; Adamson, the leader, has not met them all in person.

The first big job Adamson's team undertook was voter registration. The system generated "turf packets" that each team member could pull from the website, which included maps and the locations of houses with unregistered voters. The team doesn't waste time knocking on every door, but goes instead to targeted homes identified by the campaign's database.

Here is an example: New School...

Not new...

Thinking about what details small transactions can reveal.

Here is an amazing example of the power of getting into the workflow of your target audience.

It is actually very network based approach to gathering information and data.  It gathers data on a pull rather than proactive basis.   This example is a bit creepy but the thinking behind it fascinates me.  Setting up laundry mats to gather data is really smart.

What does this type of thinking inspire in our context?  What are the "tells" in the way the public operates on opinions and personal behavior that will offer you tons of information that would be impossible to actively go out and collect and filter?  What are the transactional data points in a network of people working together on a campaign that might be worth monitoring to reveal what is going on deep out of site?  What are the "shadows" and "traces"  of new campaigns and collaboration starting to take hold in a network?    How many of these types of data gathering transactions do we need to set up across the environmental, peace or social justice movements to reveal sector wide trends? 

Thinking like this would enable us to capture feedback that would be to difficult or to expensive to gather in traditional ways.  What if you could offer financial and budget services (see trends in budgeting) or event planning and logistics services to see trends in organizing? Or phonebank lists to reveal organizing strength?

In our sector, allies horde so much of the data that they should collaborate on that it will take "embracing the Meshugganah" to get around the organizational impedimates to createing collaboration and syncronization mechanisms on the network level. 


One of the most interesting operations was the laundry mat [sic]. Having lost many troops and civilians to bombings, the Brits decided they needed to determine who was making the bombs and where they were being manufactured. One bright fellow recommended they operate a laundry and when asked "what the hell he was talking about," he explained the plan and it was incorporated -- to much success.

The plan was simple: Build a laundry and staff it with locals and a few of their own. The laundry would then send out "color coded" special discount tickets, to the effect of "get two loads for the price of one," etc. The color coding was matched to specific streets and thus when someone brought in their laundry, it was easy to determine the general location from which a city map was coded.

While the laundry was indeed being washed, pressed and dry cleaned, it had one additional cycle -- every garment, sheet, glove, pair of pants, was first sent through an analyzer, located in the basement, that checked for bomb-making residue. The analyzer was disguised as just another piece of the laundry equipment; good OPSEC [operational security]. Within a few weeks, multiple positives had shown up, indicating the ingredients of bomb residue, and intelligence had determined which areas of the city were involved. To narrow their target list, [the laundry] simply sent out more specific coupons [numbered] to all houses in the area, and before long they had good addresses. After confirming addresses, authorities with the SAS teams swooped down on the multiple homes and arrested multiple personnel and confiscated numerous assembled bombs, weapons and ingredients. During the entire operation, no one was injured or killed.

Lesson summary from the financial crisis.

This is an absolutely brilliant. Deepak Bhargava, Center for Community Change finally creates the right narrative that has driven the US economy into this mess. I have been waiting to see how this would play out and which party might be able to build the right narrative that makes it clear.  Deepak nails it.   We have watched groups advocate for change on lending for years.  Hopefully, this is the moment that helps people listen to Center for Community Change as a fresh voice from Main St. 

I recommend the complete read.


Abuse and exploitation of poor people of color eventually harms everyone.  Predatory lending stripped wealth and homes from low-income communities across the country –but calls for reform generally fell on deaf ears in Washington.  Let’s be clear: the reason for this inaction is that the predators were wealthy and mostly white, and the prey were poor and largely people of color.  As is often the case, however, poor people of color were the “canary in the coal mines” for techniques that ultimately were used on a broader population through the sub-prime crisis and brought about the meltdown of balance sheets.

Ironically, some conservatives are now telling the ridiculous story that it was irresponsible borrowing by poor people of color and activism to promote community reinvestment that resulted in the crisis.  Progressives should be pushing out the message that, in fact, we are all paying the price for the failure to crack down on predatory lending because many perceived it to be “not their problem,’ while others profited from it.  We are –really!—all in this together, and when our policy fails to attend to the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, there is no escaping the karmic boomerang.