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Real transparency facilitates participation

What does government transparency look like? To some folks, it’s a downloadable report detailing how City Council spends millions of dollars. Or opening up data from 911 calls and locations so that it can be modeled and used in new technologies.

But transparency is not only about having access to knowledge – it’s also using that knowledge to surpass goals. Transparent communities achieve goals faster. Why? Because real transparency provides the space for participation.

I recently facilitated a webinar on this very subject via an international democracy-building organization. I’d like to share some of the key points we discussed.


Here are three ways you can create a more transparent, participatory community for your government, political campaign, and/or organization: 

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Digital Digest 3.27.15


How Meerkat is Going to Change the 2016 Election for Every Campaign, Reporter, and Voter
Using Meerkat or Periscope, you can now livestream events with your phone. What does this mean for political engagement in 2016?

Personalization Algorithms are Subtly Confirming Your Own Social Biases
Are you a racist? No problem – there's an algorithm for that. #scary

The Urgency of Digital Organizing: Part Two
Will Conway discusses why well-organized campaigns should create ladders of engagement that change and adapt based on the engagement of their supporters.

Why Louis CK Turned Down $500,000 and Invested in Himself...Not Gatekeepers
Following your dreams sure sounds brave and ambitious, but what does it actually take? 


"Does being a leader, I wondered, just mean being accomplished, being successful? Does getting straight As make you a leader? I didn’t think so. Great heart surgeons or great novelists or great shortstops may be terrific at what they do, but that doesn’t mean they’re leaders. Leadership and aptitude, leadership and achievement, leadership and even excellence have to be different things, otherwise the concept of leadership has no meaning."

- William Deresiewicz, during a lecture on Solitude and Leadership in 2009 

Tweet Beat

^^ Application deadline is today

when no one captioned last weeks gif

Happy Friyay! See you next week.

Curated out of curiosity by: 
@angelargillis@whitaknee@abrahamhuie@henrymack & @wheresmysled.

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You're dynamic...and so is your story.

mklecture.pngLast week, I had the chance to facilitate five classes about storytelling at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. Over the course of three days, I worked with management students, teachers in training, and theater students. The classes ranged in size from over 100 students to eight, and each approached storytelling from a different perspective. I’d never had the chance to work with so many different groups in so short a time and used it as a bit of an experiment in personal storytelling.

I knew, both from experience and a myriad of talks like Brene Brown’s amazing discourse on the power of vulnerability, that an authentic story facilitates connection. And that this connection would lead to greater engagement from the students. No surprises there.

I decided to experiment with what version of my story to tell. I ended up sharing three completely different – but authentic – stories.

In the large management class, my story revolved around an episode that showed me the incredible power of a well-told story to inspire charitable giving. The story then followed the outline of the lecture, delineating my journey to discover what makes story so powerful, how to construct a strong story, and so on.

In the theater class, I focused on my struggles to balance my need for creative expression with my need to pay rent. I wanted the students to come away with the sense that finding authentic ways to express their creativity could, in the long run, be more important to their happiness than getting cast in a television show.

In the class for aspiring teachers, I focused on how I’d quit my job in 2012 and, through a series of misadventures, ended up teaching a 2nd grade Sunday school class. And how, in a rough moment with the class, story saved the day.   

And, finally, in a small management seminar, I elected not to share anything about myself to see what would happen. The answer: not much. The students didn’t participate. The professor even apologized, saying that they were usually quite talkative.

In all of the other classes, the students were active, curious and engaged. The theater professor even said that she had never seen the group participate with such openness and vulnerability.

This was far from a scientific study, but still illuminated a few key lessons for me around how to share our personal stories:

  1. Our stories are dynamic. I’ve read more than a few books about how to uncover and craft your ‘personal narrative.’ The assumption underlying their approach and exercises is that we’re heading for some defined version of a Personal Story. This ignores the fact that we’re changing all the time and, as we do, so does our relationship to our story. Embracing the dynamic nature of personal narrative means that we can craft our story in the moment, customized to the audience and situation.

  2. You will never be able to tell the whole story. Our lives are made up of billions of data points. Trying to incorporate everything will lead to an unfocused and overlong morass. Instead, identify key themes and episodes, then craft the story around them, making sure to speak to your audience’s concerns or needs.

  3. Tailor your story to your audience. As we walked to the class for aspiring teachers, the professor told me that the class really wanted rules and checklists. She urged them to think more creatively, to find authentic ways of relating to students and creating a love of learning in the classroom. Knowing only this, I located the parts of my own story--the right data points--that would both resonate with the professor’s goals and with the students. The result: a great, active discussion about story and authenticity in teaching.

With these lessons in mind, crafting a personal story becomes less about defining and nailing down a structured narrative and more about identifying key themes and events, then empowering ourselves to construct stories appropriate to any given situation. This naturally brings up a few other questions:

  • How do we identify key themes?
  • What makes an event story worthy?
  • What are the basic principles of constructing a strong, customized personal narrative?

I’ve been thinking about those quite a bit and we’ll go into each of them over the next few weeks. Until then, let me know if you have any questions or personal storytelling tips!

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Digital Digest 3.20.15

Storytelling, zombies, millennials & more – a roundup of all the things we were into this week: 

Archiving the Wisdom of Humanity
Dave Isay, founder and president of StoryCorps, wants to “archive the wisdom of humanity” by recording the life stories of people across the U.S. Recently awarded the $1 million TED prize, StoryCorps released a new app that allows anyone to record an interview on their phone and submit the story for preservation in the Library of Congress.

What It Takes to Engage 20,000 Millennials in Five Months
GenUN harnessed the passion of thousands of millennials to build a youth voice for today's issues and grow future leaders. How’d they do it?

Why Leaders Are Easier to Coach than Followers
Research reveals people who identify as followers are actually less open to coaching than people who identify as either leaders or adapters.

The Urgency of Digital Organizing: Scaling Real Relationships
In part one of his organizing strategy series, our own Will Conway provides tactical advice for using technology to harness the power of peer-to-peer relationships to reach scale.

How Quickly Would a Zombie Outbreak Spread?
The area with the greatest one month zombie risk is.............northeastern Pennsylvania?

Tweet Beat

What we're listening to

That's all folks! Until next Friday...caption this gif:


Curated out of curiosity by @angelargillis, @whitaknee, @abrahamhuie, @henrymack & @wheresmysled.

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What you can do with your NationBuilder Voter File

What's in the NationBuilder voter file?

In short? It's everything you need to run for office, make scientific predictions about who will elect the next president, and research voting histories as well as demographics to understand trends amongst the electorate.

The Problem: Not all files are created equally

The 2002 Help America Vote Act required states to centrally administer voting records (before that, local officials could maintain their own official lists) to receive federal elections funds – but each state interprets the law in its own way, so there are inconsistent file formats and update schedules for voter files. Some states have even found more than 20 different ways to misspell the same major city!

The Solution: Consistency

At NationBuilder, we've created a standardized national voter file and make it available to any legally authorized users. It's a complete and regularly updated file for each of the United States' more than 190 million registered voters. We acquire data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia (and from many counties that update records faster or in more detail than state authorities), by file transfer, fax and mail requests, hand pickup or whatever it takes – saving candidates and researchers acquisition expense and data development resources.



Accurate and openly available list of eligible voters and their vote history, complete with actionable contact information, is crucial to free and open elections. And the fun part is what eligible voter file users can do with that file.

A comprehensive voter file informs you of who is engaged or not engaged in the political process and to what degree. Smart candidates have told us they personally filter and comb through the data to better understand their electorate. The file includes information like, how long a voter has been registered, how frequently they vote, which party primaries they are most interested in, and how to reach them in the best way, either by mail, phone or even email.

Advantages of the NationBuilder voter file:

  1. Regularly updated using the most reliable authorities. In the pursuit of accuracy, we go to straight to the source. Some Secretary of State offices maintain incomplete data or are slow to update files, so we often spend time with local counties to collect the most accurate and up-to-date information available.
  2. Uses a globally unique identifier. Our GUID for every person in the U.S. matches data about voters across accounts, products, campaigns, and research projects.
  3. Standardized formatting. Because it’s a uniform file format across all 50 states and the District of Columbia,data is clean and easy to use for research, outreach, and action.
  4. You'll own your own data. Everything you learn will be yours to keep so you can grow and develop according to your own values as long as it's legal. 

What you can do:

While there are some restrictions, you can do a lot with a file of 190 million Americans. Here are just a few things we've seen folks do with the file:

  1. Run for office!
  2. Build turnout and candidate preference models and predictions based on age, gender, contact types, names, voting behavior, political affiliation
  3. Engineer new civic applications that improve the democratic process
  4. Conduct polls
  5. Target and focus outreach and survey efforts for 501c3 or 501c4 organizations

What’s more exciting is all of the use cases we haven’t thought of yet, so get creative! If you’re interested in learning more we’d love to talk.

Feel free to email us or give us a call at 213.394.4623

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NationBuilder control panel improvements

We just rolled out a few usability improvements to the People and Finances sections. If you use the control panel a lot, these updates should save you a good bit of time.


Single person view. Now, when you view an individual person’s profile, it keeps the current filter active, allowing you to page through each person one at a time without having to open a thousand tabs. This can really streamline your workflow. For example, let’s say you’ve filtered for everyone you need to call today – instead of creating a list and going into call mode, you can just use single person view to log all the information as you speak to folks. And that's not all! Read about the improvements here.

Simplified finances section. All of your financial transactions are now in one list, including monthly donations, installment plans, expenditures, and invoices. You can also filter, export, and see a running total. Previously, it could be difficult to generate certain financial stats, but the running total should take care of that (and more), all detailed here.

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Updates to Finances: running totals and more!

We're excited to announce an update to the interface of the Finances section that makes it more useful and more consistent with the rest of the product.

The first thing to notice is that there is now a running total of all your transactions. This running total will always be accurate for the transactions included in your filter criteria. For example, if you want to see how much money you've raised in any amount of time, you'll just need to add a filter criteria for transaction date. You'll be able to use date ranges, including relative ranges like within this year or in the last 30 days. 

Here's an example of filtering for donations made within the last month:

filter for donations made within the last month includes running total

If you accept monthly donations or installment plans, the running total gives you access to much more insight into your finances than you've had before. You can see how much you raised from monthly donations in January by filtering for monthly donations within the last month. Add the installment plan donation type and you can see how much you raised from all recurring donors in January.

Filter criteria to find all recurring donations made in the last month:


Changing the time frame to within this month will show how much you've raised so far in February.

Another addition is the ability to export the results of your searches, which allows you to get a more tailored version of your financial transaction history.

Finally, we've added the ability to track expenses in NationBuilder. In order to add an expense, just click on +Transaction, then enter the person you've paid the expense to, and the information about the expense. If you'd like to import expenses, please email help@nationbuilder.com.

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People section updates simplify workflow

The People section just got smarter. Now you can create a universe and engage everyone in that universe within the same browser window.

people section

A few ways the new single person view simplifies event planning and followup:

  • Want to reach out to recent donors and invite them to an event? Create a filter click on the funnel to begin filtering and use single person view click the person icon to view individual profiles to log a contact, RSVP for the event, and accept ticket payment over the phone.
  • Did you remember that only 50% of RSVPs typically show up to an event? Target them for reminder phone calls and log the contact.
  • After the event, beef up your online engagement by inviting attendees to join a rapid response team. 

Using single person view, you can edit all aspects of a profile before moving onto the next person in the filter. Consider using this workflow rather than call view or data entry view in a list.

Since you'll never need to open multiple browser windows, you'll also find this is a better alternative to Dashboard > Followup view. 

Let us know how you streamline community engagement. 


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Why Every Nonprofit Should Organize

Does your nonprofit engagement strategy consist of a weekly email blast alongside the occasional Facebook post? If the answer is yes, you’re not alone! As a nonprofit organizer, I see hundreds of organizations struggling to answer the same question: How can we engage our community in a way that mobilizes people to take action?

Community building is essential for nonprofits, because you can’t move the needle on important social issues without an engaged and committed supporter base. Yet, many organizations default to a mass marketing approach that is focused on list building and email open rates, overlooking the most important ingredient to change - empowerment. 

Many nonprofits struggle to get to know their supporters, identify effective ways to engage them, and leverage the full potential of their network. Community organizing has the potential to address these challenges.

Popularized by the Obama campaign, organizing is a completely different model that focuses on relationship building instead of list building, prioritizes peer to peer asks instead of institutional asks, and values empowerment over brand loyalty.

By applying the key principles of organizing to your engagement strategy, every nonprofit has the potential to make a much larger impact.


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2014 Word of the Year

Merriam-Webster recently announced the 2014 word of the year: culture. The criteria required to earn such a title? Sheer number of internet searches. Apparently, “culture” made a lot of folks curious this year.

Joshua Rothman at The New Yorker outlined some of the possible reasons behind this existential quest for culture. His theory? "More people looked up culture this year because it’s become an unsettling word.”

Rothman speculates our yearning for definition derives from the fracturing of our current society. (Honestly, Rothman’s description leaves me with the visual of America as a 21st century Humpty Dumpty – we’re all the King’s men, clinging to the pieces and jamming them together with superglue.)

Perhaps it’s my optimistic side, but I’m inclined to disagree with such a pessimistic analysis. You see, maybe the internet searchers of 2014 just wanted a place to belong, a place to be recognized and remembered – a community. By searching for culture in general, they were just looking for a culture they could connect to. 

When People Search
Have you heard of the #MuseumSelfie? Once a year, Museum professionals cringe at the scourge of visitors running rampant through galleries, taking photos of themselves next to priceless artifacts. Sound silly? Let’s look at the statistics from Tweet Archivist:


Over one hundred million impressions in 24 hours. Twenty thousand tweets. Sounds to me like thousands of people were using the hashtag to take part in a larger movement that engages these cultural institutions. What would happen if museums embraced the #MuseumSelfie and built a community out of it?

Perhaps society’s interest in culture isn’t a passive disgust with how things are, but a nation-wide extension of arms toward something bigger than ourselves. To Rothman’s credit, he did end his analysis on a high note saying, “Confusion over its evolving meaning is a good reason to look up “culture” in the dictionary, but so is an interest in understanding the world and making it better.” 

What’s next?

It’s 2015 and people are looking at their current surroundings to make connections. If you are an organization it means your supporters want to belong – really belong. They don’t just want an email once a month, they want to be part of your community. They want to know the other people who are part of your community, so give them a chance!

There is a lot more to be said on this topic, but I’m going to boil it down to a single fact:

Fact 1: According to a study by Walden University 82% of adults reported participation in positive action towards social change in the last six months of 2014.

The current adult population not only cares, but it is actively working to give their time, energy, and resources to support causes they care about.

Try and get them engaged. Pay attention to the silly hashtags. Talk to them like people and treat them like a friend. Introduce them to each other and give them real actions (not just donations) to contribute. Let them be a part of your culture and they won’t let you down.

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Building community one story at a time

210742_483653044987035_1291169634_o.jpgTwo years ago, I found myself sitting around a dinner table with some truly impressive people. One started LA’s premiere social impact focused co-working space. Another had recently published an op-ed in the New York Times and was writing a book about his experience transitioning from Wall Street to founding a nonprofit. A third started a massive electronics recycling social venture. They were gathered to discuss increasing the profile of the LA social entrepreneurship scene.

Me? I was there as a guest of my friend who had just started working with the White House on introducing a new model of social impact funding.


In most crowds, I’m no slouch. I have a background in nonprofit management and consulting along with a growing profile as a storyteller and solo performer. But it was all so unfocused. I’d been working on an idea that would combine my passion for story with my commitment to making the world a better place. But it was still a half baked thought cloud.

So everyone’s going around the table introducing themselves and I know that it’s going to get to me eventually. Suddenly it’s my turn and I have no idea what to say. My eyes roam around the table at all of these amazing people illuminated in the faint glow of candles, and my mouth opens.

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My Obsession with Stories

pugs_n_things.jpgSix months ago someone asked me to share my story. I’ve made story maps and timelines before, but had never shared my story to a near stranger. I started thinking about my personal narrative and realized the way my life intersects with and influences other people is a huge part of who I am.

I’ve seen stories drive people to take action, connect emotionally and strengthen the bonds between people. Stories are a connective tissue between humans, and when you share your story – the authentic, gritty version – with another person, you connect on a much deeper level.

So, how can you use stories to connect with your own community?

Be the first to share.
Become a leader. Break the ice by sharing your story first. Storytelling is what made me realize it was possible for me to be a leader, because people cared about my story. Leaders are inherently striving to make change happen, and stories do that; they’re compelling, motivating, and inspire people to take action.

Be authentic & keep it real.
Sounds easy enough. But sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of your story, that’s often the hardest part. To be blunt, if you’re not being honest – if you’re not “getting real” – people will probably find it challenging to feel connected to you. To motivate people to take action, they need to care. When you connect on an emotional level, you inspire people. 

Create a safe space for others to share their stories.
Everyone in your community has a story to tell, so give them a space to be heard. Technology makes it easy to do this on a much larger scale, so anyone can share their story at any time, in any place.

The Bully Project provides a space for their community to share their stories and connect with each other about their experience digitally. All you need is a computer, or a phone, and you can connect in a way that feels personal, but lives online. 


Make sure you’re telling a story.
Everyone has a friend, family member, or someone they met out in the world who thinks Facebook is the only space for storytelling, but is actually the worst oversharer of all time. Don’t be that guy.

So, I’ll ask you all the same question that inspired this blog, what is your story? Share it with me, with your community, or with the world and let us know what happens!

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How to use tech for constituent engagement


Whether it's on the congressional level or the municipal level, NationBuilder puts people at the center of your website and communications tools, so you can keep track of projects and constituents without letting anything fall through the cracks. Using technology to engage your constituents means you can be more proactive about solutions, and your community with thank you for it. 

If you're just getting started, use this guide to make sure you're getting the most out of NationBuilder's features. 

  1. Generate feedback using surveys. Surveys are an easy way to determine constituent priorities and collect data. Ask questions, collect feedback, and interact with the people who respond. Answers are appended to individual profiles and can trigger workflows for your team. 
  2. Crowdsource suggestions. Use a Suggestion Box page to collect inbound service requests for things like potholes, graffiti, etc. People in your community have the ability to add photos via desktop or mobile.
  3. Send SMS Text Updates. Whether it’s a road closure or a street sweeping reminder, using text messages to keep your constituents in the loop works – because they’ll actually read it. And you can use this feature in a variety of ways, like a school in Philly that reminds parents about upcoming exams via text to improve student performance.
  4. Use Contact Types to log casework. Imagine knowing an individual has an open complaint or service request before she comes into a meeting with the Mayor. When cities use "Open, Referred, or Closed" contact types to log casework, it’s easy to track and resolve issues quickly, creating happy constituents.
  5. Collect RSVPs. Keep track of the people who attend council meetings, public forums, community events, etc. and personally thank them for their support.
  6. Launch a petition. Quickly build consensus and support for council projects by asking people to sign a petition. Tag everyone who signs and you know who you can count on to help see the initiative to completion.
  7. Find your social influencers. Sort people based on Klout score or highest number of Twitter followers to identify your most influential supporters – reach out to these people personally and ask them to lead in the area where their voice is strongest: online.
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Find the Export Button: Why it's important to own your own data

In June of 2013, a blogger by the name of Bohemea lost 2 blogs, 100,000 pieces of content, and 150,000 followers in an instant, without warning. No, it wasn't a cyber attack or vengeful hacker or because she accidentally hit the "ruin my life" button on the internet – Tumblr removed her content. The popular blogging platform where she hosted her content and managed her brand deleted the data because, out of her 100,000+ posts, five were accused of potentially using copyrighted material. The worst part? Bohemea had to start over from scratch.

You might think this cautionary tale is a rare occurrence but, as digital technology becomes a bigger part of every interaction, it’s alarmingly common – which begs the question: Do you really own your data? And if you don't, what should you do about it?


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Talib Kweli makes the case for why every creator should take control of their own financial destiny

Brooklyn born hip-hop artist Talib Kweli recently wrote an article titled, “Why I Left The Major Label System,” and I’ve read it several times. Not because Kweli is brave enough to call out a number of instances in which major labels dropped the ball, but because he unabashedly details his own struggle to both create art he is proud of and earn a living. He narrates personal trial and errors with such sincerity, it sort of feels like he’s patting you on the shoulder while saying, “Listen, from one creator to another, here’s what I’ve learned…”

If you’re an artist, entertainer, or creator of any kind, really (looking at you, *person at a desk in a corporate office daydreaming about that thing he really wishes he could do*), I highly encourage you to pour over his post in its entirety. For those of you particularly short on time, below is my attempt to summarize a few of his most compelling points.

The future is ours yours.
Thanks to Okayplayer.com, a progressive urban music site, Kweli developed a large online fan base in the early 2000s – but the music market was changing. “By 2008, it was no longer enough to let someone else control my online presence,” he says.As the music industry began to drastically decline, partially due to an ignorance about how the internet worked, it became clear to me that I’d better gain control over how I was being marketed and promoted digitally.”

So, Kweli joined Myspace because “their focus on music as a connector of ‘friends’ made perfect sense for artists with an independent mentality.” Connecting with and engaging fans on the platform created more awareness around his work, which quickly translated to more sold-out shows. “Myspace allowed me to reach my niche fans directly for free, rather than have some label invest hundreds of thousands trying to canvas the entire market.”

Even with a slew of fans and 14 years of music making under his belt, Kweli was still relying on other people – lawyers, label reps, accountants, and managers – to make important decisions about his career. But it wasn’t working, and Kweli realized he had to take control of his own financial destiny. So, how can other artists in the same boat expect to have a fighting chance without major marketing dollars?

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