We all spend a lot of time worrying about the kind of world our children are going to live in when they grow up. Sometimes the evening news is so bleak that just watching it makes us feel helpless. How, we wonder, can someone who’s “just a mom” – someone who’s already multi-tasking her way through a to-do list that never gets done – ever come close to accomplishing something that would make the world a better place?
I’m going to let you in on a secret. Mothers are the glue that holds society together. Every politician knows that the easiest way to get something done is to find a mother who wants to do it and get behind her. We may go through life feeling overwhelmed, but when we need to accomplish something we know how to get it done.
Can one person really make a difference?
I always thought it was unrealistic to believe that one person really can make a difference until I saw it happen with my own eyes. In the early 90’s, I was involved in the movement to support a Single Payer health care system for the State of California. One evening, I was invited to attend a political fundraising event for a Congressman from the east coast. I’d never even heard of the politician, but I wanted to meet the couple that was hosting the event in their home, so I agreed to attend.
This Congressman was facing a hard challenge in his reelection campaign because of his efforts to institute health insurance reform. Some of the largest insurance companies had corporate headquarters in his state and they were resisting his efforts to “improve” the way they do business. He came to Hollywood in the hopes of gaining support for his efforts.
I was extremely impressed with this intelligent and articulate man who was fighting for some of the same things that were important to me. At the end of the evening, I put my campaign donation check in the basket with many others. When the election results were tallied, the Congressman had won by an extremely slim victory – merely 21 votes. Perhaps it is unrealistic to think that my $50.00 gave him the edge to earn those 21 votes. But that donation funded an excellent lesson – just 21 voters decided the political direction of an entire state.
You’re already doing it!
Think about the things that we moms already do. We manage our households. We educate our children before and after sending them off to school. We sell gift wrap and magazine subscriptions to raise money for our kid’s schools. We sell Girl Scout cookies. The same skills we use for those ventures can be multiplied to a bigger scale to support a bigger cause.
How many people does it take to start a movement?
More than 500 years B.C., Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu explained: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” That ancient wisdom has lasted through the ages because of the basic underlying truth – YOU have to take the first step before you can accomplish anything – but once you take that step, you can accomplish everything.
It takes one person to start a movement – YOU. So take the first step, and then another, and then another. Once you start moving, others will join your pace. But while you’re taking those steps, there are two traps you must avoid in the minefield of change.
Delay does not mean defeat!
No matter how many “cheerleaders” you have in your life, there will always be somebody – or a lot of somebody’s – who make you feel that if you’re not getting fast results you’re failing. Don’t let these naysayers stop you. Just remember that when the tortoise and the hare ran the race, the slow and steady movements of the tortoise won the race.
You do NOT have to start an official organization!
Conventional wisdom suggests that you need to create a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization (NPO) in order to get things done. Creating a non-profit organization is a lengthy and complicated legal process that requires a substantial investment. While many people choose this option, they often find that by the time the paperwork is completed their energy is depleted. Once you get started, you have to raise funds for start up administrative costs. You have to rent an office, hire an accountant, file government forms on all donations and expenditures – and that’s just the first step. Once you begin to raise the funds to promote the cause you want to help, those administrative costs will eat up a sizable portion of what you bring in. Beyond that, running a NPO is a full-time job! Whether or not you’re a mom that works outside the home, you may not want this cause to become your full-time career.
The problem is that most individuals or organizations that you would approach for donations want – and deserve – to know that their donations will reach the intended source and be managed effectively.
Let’s assume that your goals go beyond standing outside a grocery store with a donation canister – which most people assume is not a legitimate means of fundraising. There’s a much easier option than shouldering the responsibility of creating a non-profit organization.
NEVER TOUCH THE MONEY!
You don’t have to accept donations for a cause in order to raise money for it. You just have to find a legitimate recipient that already has their NPO status in place. That NPO becomes your conduit for the funds you raise. Sometimes, the very cause you want to support is the appropriate recipient – which means that 100% of every dollar you raise will reach the source directly. Naturally, that NPO will deduct its own administrative fees. But you will have saved yourself an enormous amount of time, money and aggravation while still following your heart and doing something for a cause that matters to you.
This is the option I chose when I started The Campaign to Cure Deafness With Music – but more about that later.
Work at your comfort level.
We all know that one size never fits all. That same theory holds true when it comes to activism. There is a complete spectrum of levels of involvement that you can explore. Surely, one level will fit your lifestyle and enable you to accomplish your goal.
Community service opportunities will probably be the smallest scale projects. They don’t require travel and you will see the immediate results in your daily life.
State projects will most likely require that you join others who are already working toward the same goal. Someone in your community might already be working on this kind of project and you could join their efforts.
National causes can be divided into those that require a large scale operation and those that can be done by one or more in a remote location, but whose results will demonstrate benefits on a national level.
Global causes often have a lot of cache and get more media attention because there is a sense of romance to them.
Don’t you need a celebrity to endorse your cause?
We live in a world where celebrities have great credibility. It is ironic that actors who are famous for playing specific roles are often perceived to have expert knowledge in the fields of their characters expertise. Yet, actors and other celebrities are just plain folk like us. They have family and friends and face the same challenges as the rest of us. That is why so many celebrities are willing to lend their name-value to so many worthy causes.
If you live in or near a major city, you might have easy access to celebrities. But if you are in a small community, it could take a little detective work on your part to locate individuals who have a different sort of celebrity value.
Southern climates have a scattering of former celebrities who have retired there. Almost every corner of the country has a local television station, and local newscasters are local celebrities. At the same time, almost every celebrity in Hollywood or New York City grew up someplace else – which means they might have family living down the road from you that they might visit from time to time.
Just remember this: it’s not a matter of having a celebrity attached to your cause. You need the right celebrity for the right reason at the right time. If all those elements don’t fit together, you’re better off without a celebrity endorsement.
Don’t work against a problem – work FOR the solution!
It is rumored that Mother Theresa refused to participate in a march against war. Instead, she asked the organizers to call her when they held a march for peace. It may seem like a simple semantic difference, yet it demonstrates the importance of point of view to the individuals to whom you must appeal.
Too often, we focus on the negative aspects of a problem. Fighting cancer seems insurmountable and impossible to accomplish. On the other hand, finding a cure for breast cancer seems do-able. Given the finite aspects of time and money that we all have to juggle, it will be easier to get support for your cause if you design it to be positive and do-able.
When I created the Campaign to Cure Deafness With Music, I designed it with a specific intent to make people think about what I am asking them to do. Curing deafness is a positive goal that I believe is do-able. But using music to fund a cure created a scenario where something that is intrinsically unavailable to the deaf – beautiful, harmonious sound – becomes an ultimate goal for after the cure is achieved. But more on that later.
Treat your cause like a business.
People don’t donate time and/or money to a cause that appears to be disorganized. They want their efforts to matter just as much as you do. The way you present yourself will determine the level of response that you will receive.
Even though you are going to be approaching your cause as a part time volunteer, you need to lay the foundation for a stable base of operations. Find a spot in your home that you can dedicate to activities relating to this one thing. It can be a desk, or a table in your laundry room – it just has to be dedicated solely to this one activity.
The first thing you need to do is set up a SYSTEM. The easiest way to begin might be to purchase a few notebooks that can each be used for a specific purpose. The absolute MUST is a notebook dedicated to keeping a phone log of who you talk to, the date you spoke and includes notes of what you spoke about. If the call results in something you have to follow up on, record that in the notes AND put it into a separate notebook that is dedicated to follow up activities. You’ll also need to create a list of contact information for everyone you talk to or plan to contact in the future. If you decide to keep all of this information in the computer, make sure you set up separate folders and individual files so you can keep the information separate from everything else in your computer.
The reality of being a mom means that you’re going to be juggling your efforts along with everything else you do. A good system enables you to maximize every minute of the time you spend on your cause.
Make a plan.
No matter how heartfelt your desire to succeed, you don’t stand a chance unless you create an actual business plan. There are a dozen books and software programs that have step by step instructions for creating a business plan. While some of them may seem to tell you to provide information you think is irrelevant, you will be doing yourself a favor if you accept the fact that you need to know the answers to these questions if you’re going to mount a successful campaign.
Business plans will ask you to specify the details of how you are going to reach your target consumer (donor), how you’re going to sell your product (cause), how your income projections match your cost outlay (effort/hours worked). You have to lay out a marketing campaign and plan for growth. You’ll be amazed at how this kind of planning can help you define the actual boundaries of what you can realistically expect to accomplish.
Print business cards.
When you meet someone who can help you further your cause, you want them to remember who you are and how to contact you in the future. If you have to write your name and phone number on a scrap of paper, you’re not going to make a very good impression. But if you hand them a printed business card with your name, the name of your cause and your contact information, you will make a good impression and enable them to remember you in a positive light.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money. Find a local print shop that has a basic service – 500 cards for $25. If you want to design and print your own cards, find royalty free clip art online or design your own logo. Then purchase blank card stock at your local office supply store and print it yourself.
As with all things, the simplest business card is usually the best business card. You can design a logo or use a distinct font, but as a general rule the focus should be on conveying essential information that can help others remember you and respond positively to your cause.
No matter which way you go, the following information should be legibly presented on your card:
Name of your cause
Your name (title optional)
It is very important to note that you do NOT want to include your home address on this business card. There are some occasions where you will be handing your business card to strangers. For safety reasons, NEVER GIVE OUT YOUR HOME ADDRESS!
You need a website!
In the 21st century, no venture of any kind is considered legitimate unless it has a website. Fortunately, there are services like www.GoDaddy.com that will enable you to register a domain name for your website at a very low cost. For an additional fee, they will host your site, too. A simple search online will also lead you to web page templates that you can buy and adapt to suit your own needs.
If all this seems beyond your skill set, turn to a friend or family member who has a friend or family member who can build a website. If that fails, look around your neighborhood for a tech-savvy teenager who needs to make a few dollars for spending money.
Your website should be visually appealing yet very simple. You need to tell people who you are, what your cause is all about, what they can do to help your cause and how they can contact you for more information. That’s all you need – and it can all fit on one page.
Learn how to talk to the media.
Advertising is expensive, but publicity and public relations are free. The catch is that you have to learn how to contact members of the media and get them interested in what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
You will need to write a press release to explain who you are, what your cause is, why you’re involved in it and why everybody else will care about this cause, too. I suggest you keep it short and sweet – no more than one printed page. Reporters really do look for the who/what/where/when/why/how details in a press release and if you don’t give them all of that information they will most likely move on to the next one. Always remember to lead with your most important statement and include one or two “quotes” from you that they can include in an article.
Next, you need to distribute your press release. If you’re going to limit your reach to the local media, you can do that by yourself. The contact information of local broadcast outlets and print media will all be available on their websites. However, if you want to have a bigger impact and reach a national audience, you need to use a fee-for-services press release delivery service like PR Web (http://www.prwebdirect.com).
When media sources contact you for more information, you need to be prepared to discuss your story in their language. Media is driven by short, descriptive phrases known as “sound bytes.” You might not recognize the term, but you know what they are because you see them in every news report. When a clip is shown on the news, someone has edited a 30 minute speech or press conference down to the most important moments. Those 10 to 15 second comments are called sound bytes. Reporters and segment producers know them when they hear them, so you should be prepared to hand them two or three when you speak with them.
As always, you have one opportunity to make a good first impression. Media sources will decide within 30 seconds whether or not you are going to make a good source for them. From the moment you start talking, make every second count.
If you are blessed with television coverage, you need to forget all the girl things that always overwhelm us when we come face to face with a camera of any kind. It doesn’t matter what you look like (although I highly recommend dressing well and putting on some lipstick). What really matters is how you present yourself. If you get an opportunity to tell the world (or your local community) about something that is important t you, keep all your focus on being confident and articulate.
Even though we live in a world where press conferences seem to be a common occurrence, taking this kind of a step could wind up doing more harm than good. When assignment editors go through the list of press conferences being held on a given day, they have to balance their resources by sending their crews to the most important press conferences. There is nothing more disheartening than calling a press conference that nobody attends. As a rule, its best not to play the press conference card unless you have something really big to announce – and someone with enough celebrity status to make the announcement.
One final thought. If a member of the media helps you share your message with the world, take a moment to write a simple thank you note. Journalism is a tough gig and a simple gesture of appreciation will make them feel that you value the contribution they have made to your efforts.
Word of mouth is the most powerful selling tool in the world.
Think about how many things you’ve heard about while standing in the playground talking to other moms while your kids played. While it might have seemed like idle small talk, advertisers believe it is one of the most powerful tools they have – Word of Mouth Marketing. In the past decade, dozens of ad agencies have devoted themselves solely to the practice of helping brand managers create “viral” campaigns that will promote word of mouth for their products and services.
Lucky you – moms are already experts at word of mouth. We run phone trees at school for the PTA. We have the play date pool of moms on our speed dialers. We have pediatricians who might let you place a flyer on their bulletin board. We have personal relationships with pharmacists, grocery store managers, auto mechanics, dry cleaners and coffee shops – all of whom have bulletin boards of some kind. We have neighbors, all of whom have their own set of relationships they can talk to on behalf of your cause.
Most important of all, we have the email address of anyone who has ever sent us a message – and many of those have cc lists of names attached to them. While I would never encourage anyone to just contact the names on someone else’s cc list, I would definitely encourage you to ask those individuals to pass the information on to their lists for you.
Last, but certainly not least, I will encourage you to do something our mothers always told us we must never do – TALK TO STRANGERS! Instead of staring ahead blankly or reading the latest trash tabloid while you’re standing in line at the grocery store, start talking to the person behind you. Give them a card and ask them to visit your website – then ask them to pass the information on to anyone they know who might be interested. Remember: you’re NOT giving out your home address on your business card – just your phone number, email address and website – and most of the people who have your phone number will never call you.
Devote your time to something that really matters to YOU.
It should go without saying that whatever cause you undertake should be something in which you are personally vested. It’s going to take a lot of time and effort to accomplish your goal. That’s why it’s essential for you to select something that has significance and meaning in your life.
People like to have a face to put with a story. This is why you’ll always hear politicians make reference to ordinary people in their speeches – individuals illustrate great concepts and frame them in a context that is easy for everyone to understand. Seeing a face attached to a cause introduces the element of emotion and enables us to care about that cause on a more personal level.
Now, if the face on the cause belongs to you or someone you love, it personalizes your cause to the people you are reaching out to for donations or action. Instead of “help these faceless strangers” it becomes “help Sally and the 2 million children like her.”
The Campaign to Cure Deafness With Music
I have already made reference to one of my personal causes – The Campaign to Cure Deafness With Music. This cause grew inside of me for many years. Twenty-one years ago, my oldest son was injured by medical malpractice at birth and left with multiple disabilities. Although he is profoundly deaf, he decided at a very early age that he wanted to play the piano. In spite of the fact that another disability renders him unable to read music, he taught himself to play and started composing music. I have tracked deafness research for more than 18 years. When I found the team that I believe has the ultimate cure, I decided I was going to raise money to help them fund that cure. Not long ago, I found Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Zheng-Yi Chen and his team. Working out of Massachusetts General Hospital, they have managed to regenerate inner ear hair cells in rats and now need to develop the pharmacology that will restore hearing in humans.
www.HelpMeHearMusic.com was set up to raise money for Dr. Chen through the download of a song. There is also a direct link to the established NPO that can accept any contributions. In the next stage of my campaign, I am going to reach out to music industry professionals and ask them to make a tax deductible donation of 1% of the profits from a song or an album or a concert. My reason for approaching the music industry is quite logical. “At a time when income from music sales is declining, there is an untapped market of nearly 10% of the population of the world. If these individuals are suddenly able to hear the joys of music, they will comprise an extremely loyal customer base – especially if the music industry has funded the cure.” (By the way – that quote is a sound byte!)
If all of this seems like too much of a burden for you to shoulder by yourself, consider gathering a team of like-minded moms to tackle the problem together. There’s “safety” in numbers, and the more minds that come together in a brainstorming session the more usable ideas you’re likely to come up with.
Give yourselves a name and include it as a sound byte in all of your correspondence or conversations – The Pine Street Parents Project, or Moms on the March, or something catchy that has a connection to who you are and what you want to accomplish.
You should also consider involving your older kids on the project. If you organize a fundraising event, let them help you in the planning stages. Any child over six can work a stapler without impaling themselves or others, while teenagers can shoulder larger responsibilities. It should go without saying that you must never put any child in a position that is beyond their skills – and NEVER let them do anything that could possibly result in a dangerous situation. I personally believe it is inappropriate to let children solicit donations from anyone.
On the other hand, sometimes the mere fact that your kids are around to witness your activism can be inspiring and educational. For more than a dozen years, I was an aggressive activist on behalf of children with special needs. The Los Angeles Unified School District was undergoing a transformation (encouraged by a court ordered consent decree) to move special ed students out of segregated classrooms to a full inclusion model. As you might imagine, there was a bit of resistance on the part of many teachers and administrators. Having been appointed to the Special Ed Commission and Community Advisory Board (as well as working on a committee of the consent decree), I needed to speak at a number of school board meetings. My kids knew that on those days their after school activity was to sit in the board meeting, quietly do their homework and read a book when they were finished. It never occurred to me that they might actually be listening.
One day, my family was in a restaurant waiting for a table. One of the school board members was on their way out when my (then) 8 year old son stopped her, introduced himself and started to discuss something that had happened at the last meeting he’d attended. He didn’t think the board members were paying full attention to some of the speakers and thought that was rude. He suggested that she ought to tell them that. The look on her face was priceless – and at the next meeting she waved to my three little boys and paid full attention to every parent that spoke. She learned a lesson from my son – but he learned that you should speak up and hold your elected officials accountable.
A mother’s work is never done!
If you’re at the stage of motherhood where the daily routine is just too demanding for you to take on a project of significant dimension, you might consider doing something simple – something small.
Join committees at your child’s school or your Church group. Speak at public meetings and present “the mom’s point of view” on topics that impact your community. Take the time to attend meetings of local candidates for political office and ask questions – ask the hard questions – about how moms can expect their attention if they’re elected.
Whatever you can do, do. Whatever you can’t do, put off for a later date. You and your family are your first priority and we all understand that you’ll get around to saving the world when you can. In the meantime, rest assured that some mom somewhere has your back.
Change The World!
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