Category Archives: corporate

The Clanging Chimes of Doom – Bandaid Remade and Remixed

Reposting to get you in the holiday spirit…. The original post appeared on Nov 20, 2010…. Enjoy! 🙂

This is perhaps one of the most impactful and damaging songs in history. I heard it on the radio today and got pissed off like I do every time I hear it.

Apparently the image of Africa and Africans hasn’t changed much since 1984. Twenty years later comes Band Aid 2 — because every multi-celebrity charity pity song needs a remake…. Love the intro sound of a crying starving child and the astonished yet highly concerned British commentator.

I don’t even know where to start on the stereotypes and disservice that this song (and similar charity marketing and sensationalist journalism) has done to the image of Africa (the Continent) and Africans themselves. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in African countries and I could post photo after photo of rivers and rain there. And things growing.  I never heard any clanging chimes of doom while there. There are lots of people who are not looking out their windows onto “a world of dread and fear”. Many of my African friends won’t celebrate Christmas because they are Muslim, not because they are starving to death. And many others will celebrate Christmas, but not American or Euro style. Not everyone is sitting underneath the burning sun. Africa is not a giant desert. Can we please not show famine in Ethiopia and pretend it’s representative of the entire continent? There won’t be snow in Africa? So what? Gahhhhh!

Luckily there is the glory of social media to take the edge off the fury…. If you don’t like the original version, there are plenty of re-makes to be found on YouTube. I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry. Here is a selection of the, uh, finest. You be the judge on whether these are worse than the original…. Taking votes in the comments section.

Feed the World with Friends (I wish this were a joke) Version. Wow. Just wow. E for effort. C for caring. D for Do Gooders. But the singing makes me doubt the potential for quality in anything crowdsourced.

Bad 1980s Sponsorship Organization Commercial Photo Montage Version. The original didn’t have enough pictures of crying children and flies in the eyes so this kind person overlaid some of the best of the worst charity photos on to the video to encourage us to care.  (Commenter: So, there won’t be snow in Africa this year? And you say the only gift they’ll get is the gift of life? So, no shoveling, and no commercial holidays? Sign me up.)

Singing Cartoon Turkeys Version (aka PETA Version?)

Dance Aid – Do they know it’s Christmas (Rave Mix) Instrumental so you can dance at your Christmas Rave without feeling guilty because of the lyrics.

Winnipeg Tea Party Version? “Dedicated to the poor children of Winnipeg School Division 1. Children whose childhood is less happy because schools run by tyrants will not say the word Christmas….  Christmas… A holiday so terrible according to commies that it can’t be named….” Special appearance poster by the Folsom Street Fair (the grand daddy of all gay male leather events) whose attendees “mock your religion while demanding that you get rid of the word Christmas…” ends with “glad this baby (Jesus) wasn’t aborted… stop the ACLU”.

2006 College Version complete with a lot of bare midriffs and self absorbed cleavage and blowing hair and dramatic effects which turn into…. a drink infested Christmas party… which ends up in a teenage mums against war protest slash terror attack… and ends with… um. Well if you make it through to the end maybe you can tell me what the point was?

Chris Brown feat. T-Pain laid over Karaoke Instrumental Version (?!?!)  I’m still not sure which lyrics are more awful — these or the original…. this is as bad, maybe worse, than the homemade versions– hard to make it through til the end.

High School Christmas Concert Version with uh high quality filming. (comments section: 3 letters is all this will take. OMG. And 2 words: bloody awful)

1985 High School Talent Show Version. Has that Risky Business feel to it. As a child of the 1980s I’m digging the outfits:

Canadian Version with lots of Tim Horton promos in the background…. “In 1984 the top recording artists across Canada gathered to raise money from the famine in Africa… when the public viewed Canada’s version, the world decided it was best for Canada to just make a fincial (sic) donation instead.”

Hipsters in a Mansion Version (TV Allstars) (“Bless ’em, they seem to think the clanging chimes of doom are something to be cheery about.”)

People in a Toystore with Tambourine and Ukelele Version? Commenter: “Sick! Sick and WRONG! I LOVE IT! My favorite lines: “There won’t be snow in Africa this christmas” (nor in LA, nor Hawaii…???) and “Thank God it’s THEM instead of You” ??? and “Here’s to them underneath that burning sun” – the stupidest lyrics ever !! YOU GUYS ROCK”

Status Quo Video Vault Version (anyone else love and remember The Young Ones? “All the homos in the place goin’ mental now….” “HomeOwners you mean, don’t you….”)

The Clanging Chimes of Doom are Back and Better than Ever Version. Voice and video don’t sync. There’s a dude singing in a shower. There’s a fake adopted black baby. Make it stop.

I’m happy that at least some musicians in the 80s were on the ball.  High 5 to Chumbawamba.

Feed the WorldPictures of Starving People“In 1986, the anarchist band Chumbawamba released the album Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records, as well as an EP entitled “We Are the World”, jointly recorded with US band A State of Mind, both of which were intended as anti-capitalist critiques of the Band Aid/Live Aid phenomenon. They argued that the record was primarily a cosmetic spectacle, designed to draw attention away from the real political causes of world hunger.”


Update Nov 29, 2010: And hey, it seems like Bob Geldof would totally agree with me on this post! I’m starting to gain a little respect for him. According to this Nov 29, 2010, article in the Daily Mail. Geldof, who penned the song 26 years ago together with Midge Ure, says: “I am responsible for two of the worst songs in history. One is Do They Know It’s Christmas? and the other one is We Are The World. Any day soon, I will go to the supermarket, head to the meat counter and it will be playing. Every ****ing Christmas….” The former Boomtown Rats frontman, 59, added: “Sometimes I think that’s wild because I wrote it. Or else I am thinking how much I want them to stop because they are doing it really badly.”


Black Friday

I’d like to design a new snow globe to represent the US holiday season. Instead of the nice calm winter landscape, I’d put a scene from Black Friday inside.
Investopedia explains in their What is Black Friday post that

Black Friday is a popular label attached to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day in the US. This day marks the beginning of the busy shopping season during which most consumers typically start their Christmas/holiday shopping.  

…The use of black in this case alludes to profitability, which is traditionally noted in black ink (losses are noted in red). Traditionally, brick-and-mortar retailers see a surge in retail sales on this day as a result of the holiday shopping, putting their books “in the black”. 

Doorcrashers, special deals and heavy discounts on the most highly sought after holiday gifts are often offered by retailers in order to lure consumers into their stores in the hope that they will purchase other, higher margin goods. Some bargain hunting consumers have even been known to camp out overnight in order to secure a place in line at a favorite store. The contents of Black Friday advertisements are often so highly anticipated that retailers go to great lengths to ensure that they are not leaked out to the public beforehand.”


But Black Friday is more than that if you unpack it a bit.

Camping out overnight in order to buy something non-essential? Wow. But wait, there’s more. Check out The Ultimate Collection of Black Friday Fight Videos.

But what is the tone and the intent of this ultimate video collection effort? Like a day time talk show, the videos provide a platform to scorn and judge the idiots mobbing, scrambling and fighting for the latest Twilight videos or screaming at each other over who cut in line at Walmart. You get to feel really superior after just a few seconds of this. What dumbasses, you think. WTF? Glad that’s not me.

You might also start to feel disgusted, terribly sad and confused that this is what it’s come to. This is the epitome of current US culture. This is where all that “American greatness” has led. This is what Americans are supposed to do to “improve the economy.” And this is the path of “development” that the rest of the world is supposed to be emulating.

After watching a few of the ridiculous videos, you might start reading the comments below and feel disgusted by the tone and slurs of the commenters. Yay. More “American greatness” to emulate. The comments might make you feel somehow uncomfortable about your own reactions to the videos. Are you no better than the commenters? It’s complicated.

The Occupy Movement has its own event called Occupy Black Friday, formerly referred to as Buy Nothing Day. It encourages people to avoid retailers and buy local.

It reminds me of an article I read last year called What Food Says about Class in America.

In the article, Adam Drewnowski, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington who “has spent his career showing that Americans’ food choices correlate to social class…argues that the most nutritious diet—lots of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish, and grains—is beyond the reach of the poorest Americans, and it is economic elitism for nutritionists to uphold it as an ideal without broadly addressing issues of affordability. Lower-income families don’t subsist on junk food and fast food because they lack nutritional education, as some have argued. And though many poor neighborhoods are, indeed, food deserts—meaning that the people who live there don’t have access to a well-stocked supermarket—many are not. Lower-income families choose sugary, fat, and processed foods because they’re cheaper—and because they taste good. In a paper published last spring, Drewnowski showed how the prices of specific foods changed between 2004 and 2008 based on data from Seattle-area supermarkets. While food prices overall rose about 25 percent, the most nutritious foods (red peppers, raw oysters, spinach, mustard greens, romaine lettuce) rose 29 percent, while the least nutritious foods (white sugar, hard candy, jelly beans, and cola) rose just 16 percent.

“In America,” Drewnowski wrote in an e-mail, “food has become the premier marker of social distinctions, that is to say—social class. It used to be clothing and fashion, but no longer, now that ‘luxury’ has become affordable and available to all.” He points to an article in The New York Times, written by Pollan, which describes a meal element by element, including “a basket of morels and porcini gathered near Mount Shasta.” “Pollan,” writes Drewnowski, “is drawing a picture of class privilege that is as acute as anything written by Edith Wharton or Henry James.”

There is certainly a difference between cheap food and cheap non-essential consumer items, but there’s also a correlation.

What does Black Friday (and its related elements) Say about Class in America?

The most dangerous place…

So, this ad by anti-abortion group Life Always is pissing people off in New York City. And I mean really pissing them off.

Apparently there’s so much controversy that the ad is coming down. I like that. Score one for public pressure over an offensive media campaign.

What I found really interesting is the story that Tricia Fraser, the mother of the girl featured in the billboard, is demanding that her daughter’s image not be used. (HT ColorLines – News for Action) (Disclaimer: this story is from Fox News so there’s always a chance that it’s not actually true…)

Ms Fraser says she didn’t even know about the billboard until a friend told her about it a couple days after it was up.

I would never endorse something like that, especially with my child’s image,” she says. She did sign a release with a modeling agency, but never thought her daughter’s image would be used in an anti-abortion campaign focusing on African Americans, she says. “I want them to take it down.”

I applaud Ms Fraser for her reaction. I’m glad that she had access to the image and that she had the wherewithal, the courage and the strength to stand up and say “take it down.” I’m glad that the context in the US was such that she was able to do that.

It made me think about all the children’s photos taken in “developing” countries and then used externally (eg., not in that country) in various campaigns by INGOs and advocacy agencies. What if this child was from rural Uganda and her image was being used in a campaign around AIDS or child trafficking or another issue that can be stigmatizing? Would her mother have a real choice in how her image was used? Would she even know how the image was being used? Would she have the power to get the image removed if she didn’t agree with the campaign’s message or if she didn’t want her child associated with it? And how would she be viewed by the INGO or advocacy agency if she made a fuss about it?

How many aid agencies and their PR or marketing firms can say that they share their messaging and the use of children’s images with parents and communities to ensure that parents are OK with it? The images are likely taken with no remuneration for the children and families. When people ask to be paid, they are probably told that “we are a non-profit, we won’t be making any money from the image” or that the family should be grateful that they are able to give back to the INGO in this way (the INGO has been helping them a lot after all…), and that their image will allow the agency to raise money do some more good work.

I understand, in a way, how this all works and why it is how it is. And there is a lot of complicated stuff inherent there. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling uncomfortable about it.

People are not Props

Oh, You People and Your Damn T-Shirt Donations

happy recipients! it must be good aid!

A couple days ago @aidhack alerted the “twittersphere” of the fact that World Vision USA was sending it’s habitual 100,000 misprinted NFL Superbowl Loser T-shirts to 4 countries where the organization works. This year it’s not Haiti that gets the loser t-shirts, it’s Armenia, Zambia, Nicaragua and Romania. (And seriously, with all that Superbowl cash, you’d think they could come up with a decent freaking design on those shirts, wouldn’t you? The ugliness of the shirts just makes this all that much worse).

Righteous indignation was felt. Eyes rolled. #facepalms and #headdesks and #heavysighs exploded.

Not another 1 million shirts!

Much drama and many tweets ensued, leading to several people commenting on World Vision’s website to criticize them for this vivid example of bad aid.

Amy from World Vision commented back,

I’m hopeful that I can answer some of the possible misunderstandings about our shirt distributions, especially as they compare (or more accurately, don’t compare) to the efforts of groups like 1 Million Shirts (particularly as it was first starting out). As many of you know, World Vision’s work has a comprehensive scope. We do long-term development in communities where we build relationships, often for up to 15 years. Our distributions of supplies, including, sometimes, new clothing and new shoes, are not standalone projects in isolation… [and so on and so on]

Everyone (possibly scarred from Jason Sadler’s “Hat-o-rade” video and thrilled at this more mature type of engagement) applauded Amy for engaging in the discussion and addressing the questions. But her response did not satisfy. The drama continued. @bill_westerly suggested that they burn 90,000 of the shirts and sell the remaining ones to hipsters in New York City who would get a kick out of having an ironic limited edition ‘loser’ t-shirt and purchase them at extreme prices and the money could be donated.

@saundra_s wrote a kick-ass post going into great detail on why World Vision will continue doing gift in kind programs till the cows come home…. GIK is like, a quarter of their total revenue, meaning it keeps their overhead waaayyyyy down. And the government provides incentives for corporations to make exactly this type of donation – win win for the INGO and the corporation.

Saundra collected several posts on her website, noting that although the #1millionshirts episode sparked some 60 blogposts, This example of a giant, old, influential organization that knows better doing classic bad aid only got about 6 posts. What’s up? She speculates, with much wisdom, that the reason there are so few backlashy posts aimed at World Vision is because people are scared to criticize them heavily due to their influence in the INGO sector. (Actually maybe bloggers were reducing their attention proportionally? 60 posts for 1,000,000 shirts, 6 posts for 100,000 shirts….jk). Here’s Saundra’s Radio Silence post and her list of posts related to the 100,000 shirts debacle.

One of those posts is by Ida Horner. It’s called World Vision USA and those 100,000 Tshirts. Ida mentions another World Vision project that sounds like a real winner:

“If you live here in the UK you may recall a programme in which 8 Millionaires were sent to SW Uganda to share their business skills with a village under the supervision of World Vision. The WV country representative took these millionaires to task over simply giving things to the community as opposed to working with them to come up with long term solutions!”

And that raises for me a clear thing here. I would bet you that the country director who took those 8 millionaires to task for their handouts was doing some #heavysighing, #facepalming and #headdesking when the fund-raising team informed him that those 8 millionaires would be arriving to his office on a big PR trip. And I would bet you that the program staff who have to manage the distribution of those 100,000 loser t-shirts are equally as annoyed with their marketing and fundraising teams for continuing to get that 100,000 loser t-shirts donation. (I certainly would be).

People forget that the gap between program and fundraising teams is huge and very contentious. I bet some people are secretly cracking up (over secretly consumed alcohol) at all the blogger heat World Vision USA’s marketing and PR teams are probably under for those 100,000 loser shirts. And secretly dreading the shaming they will face at the next INGO meeting with their program peers.

Check these posts if you don’t know what I’m talking about:

The Great Divide – (and continual tension between marketing/fundraising and program implementers)

This is for my Corporates. Lesson 7: A hand out is a hand out is a hand out (about, yes, you guessed it, it’s about hand outs)

This is for my Corporates. Lesson 6: Win-win or Forced Marriage (about those giant gifts that those corporate fundraisers get that the program people want nothing to do with)

The thing is, people will take most anything if it’s free, and they will always take free t-shirts. But it doesn’t mean that it’s the best way that money and effort should be spent. Or that it does much towards ending poverty.

The Week in Badvertising (aka ‘scuse me while I vomit in my mouth)

I’ll start by saying I have an extreme aversion to commercials. I pretty much do whatever I can to avoid them, along with malls, Disneyland et al. and Hallmark holidays. So maybe this is just hitting me a little hard since I haven’t built up enough immunity to tasteless PR gimmicks.

But seriously. Seriously? Seriously?!?!?!?

Exhibit 1. Kenneth Cole. The ever suave and edgy designer thinks it’s OK to promote a new spring line off the backs of Egyptian protesters. Oh come on, he implies, it was just a joke. Lighten up. Wake up, asshat. Not funny.

Exhibit 2. Groupon. Well I have never heard of them before, so I don’t know if they are supposed to be funny or edgy or what. They bring together two totally unrelated things, and try to make some kind of joke out of it. Sorry. Didn’t get it. Didn’t find it funny at all. I’m probably not worldly enough to appreciate this high art.

Exhibit 3. The Girl Store. Yet another example of how to dehumanize people and use them as props to further your (and, in this case, supposedly their) cause. That sleazy intro is just a gimmick, you know, an attention grabber. It’s OK to use a child trafficking theme if it’s for a good cause, right? What? “Buy a girl before someone else does?” Um. Resounding “no.” No. No. No.

Apparently bad taste is better than no taste. Stay classy, folks. All of you. Glad I never bought any of your stuff.

(Going to go re-read “This is for my Corporates: #4 People are not Props” out loud while I sulk in my little corner). Gaaaaah.

Caught between Growing Up and Waking Up

As I get older I’m trying to mature. To not harbor the younger rebellious me’s feelings about the injustices of how things are set up. To understand the give and take of the real world. To realize that “that’s how the world works” and “the poor will always be with us”. To remember that it’s bad to take an us vs. them approach. To realize that we need the wealthy and the corporations as partners to change the world. To believe the new head of USAID when he says that Coca Cola and the military are at the core of the new development community (as I heard via Twitter this morning).

And sometimes when I’m out in a community with people who are generally doing OK, it doesn’t hit me so hard. Often people in poor communities have resources that we lack in the “North” or the “West” or whatever you want to call those of us who live in Europe and the US and don’t worry so much about poverty in our own lives.

Sometimes I’ll sit and fantasize about one day having a little house somewhere out in a beautiful place, where my neighbors and I will walk slowly and greet each other and stop to chat in the evenings on our way home from our day’s tasks. I’ll take cold bucket baths as the sun rises, adding a pan-full of hot water to my bucket on especially chilly mornings. I’ll buy out-of-this-world homemade afternoon snacks from a little tienda or kiosk down the hill, or from a crinkly smiley old woman by the side of the road. I’ll cook fresh food (purchased every day or so, not once a week in bulk), over an open fire outside in back of my house under a tin awning. I’ll wake up early most mornings and open my front door and my wooden shutters to the sound of the birds and a view of the mist lifting off the mountains that surround me. I’ll have an un-spayed-or-neutered dog that will sleep outside to guard the homestead, a couple of cats to keep the mice population down, and maybe some chickens in a little coop. I’ll take a voluntary vow of poverty and live a simple life with few material possessions.

Buuuuut then it always seems the fantasy dims…. I’ll talk to someone whose brother accidentally hacked off his finger when working out in the fields and ended up losing his hand because he couldn’t get medical treatment. Or several people will be missing from a workshop because they are at the hospital getting treated for malaria.  Or I’ll meet a girl who’s pregnant and married at 13 or 14, shy and visibly miserable. Or some children whose feet and ankles are swollen and full of sores. Or hear of a terrible road accident where several people died. Or meet people living in makeshift houses in a precarious zone because they were kicked off their land. Or talk with a teen-aged boy whose only dream is to get out of the community to someplace where life is really happening and he can achieve his dreams.

Oooor I’ll spend time in a country being overridden by big companies and corporations. I’ll see the ladies who used to sell their delicious homemade juices being pushed out of business by a soda company. I’ll see their babies drinking powdered milk or bright orange Fanta from a baby bottle instead of nursing at the breast. I’ll see people eating imitation Doritos instead of fresh food. I’ll hear about an oil line passing through a pristine forest or an ecological disaster topping the BP oil spill, yet no one talks about it. Or someone will tell me about logging and mining companies devastating a particular part of the country I’m in. Or I’ll sigh at the plastic bags littering the side of the roads. Or my stomach will feel ill at the conflicts fought because of dictators propped up by Western governments.

I’ll read about events like the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) happening this week in New York City. Where the corporations that we used to protest against en masse are now the owners not only of the global market, but of the world’s aid and development work.  I don’t know. Maybe they have always been the owners and I didn’t know enough to realize it. But when did we all sell out and stop protesting it? When did we accept it as the only way forward? When did we stop asking the hard questions and just let them invite us to be wined and dined in fancy hotels, and actually pay $20,000 (can that be right?) for the privilege to sit in the room with them and tantalize them with a new innovation or a catchy new slogan so that we can access their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) crumbs?

When did we stop demanding some kind of accountability from them for how they do business? When did we buy into this? How did it happen? When did we fall for this? When did Corporate Social Responsibility become charity rather than actually preventing the damage that corporations do or forcing them to be ethical in how they do business? And does demanding accountability even make any difference at all, since things like boycotting sweatshops and campaigning against cell phones often end up actually hurting the very people that we want to help, and they don’t seem to actually make any kind of impact or bring about the change we are seeking?

I can’t help but feel really de-motivated reading about CGI and the MDG Summit and the UN Digital Week events happening this week. I feel like we are all getting hoodwinked. It’s difficult to negotiate when the power balance is so much in favor of one group. When one group holds all the cards and when they also own most of the world’s political leaders and the media. And, as several have already pointed out this week, the people that everyone talks about, the people everyone says we need to listen to, the people we’re all supposedly interested in helping, are not anywhere near the venue.

It’s possible that I’ve misunderstood the situation, that in my immaturity I’ve misunderstood how CGI works and what its purpose is. That I’m acting like a teenager and not willing to listen. But let me tell you, from the outside it looks, as I said yesterday, like a big love fest of the rich and famous and powerful who get to decide the fate of the world.

So today instead of fantasizing about my vow of poverty and living the simple life, I’m fantasizing that I’m in New York. I’m pretending that I’m Zack de la Rocha and I’m walking into the CGI meeting looking like a rock star. They all think I’ve grown up. That I’m the next Bono. But then I get on stage, and I break out into that song Wake Up. I’m rap-screaming (in pure Zack style) “What do I gotta, what do I gotta to do to wake you up? to shake you up? to break the structure up?”

I know, I know, I know. Waste of time. Grow up and simmer down and stop wasting your breath…. Because this is the new world order and no one is waking up any time soon.


Postscript:  This video narrated by Slavoj Zizec and animated by the team at RSA sums up a lot of what’s bugging me… thanks to @michael_keizer for tweeting it.

This is for my Corporates. Lesson 6: Win-win or forced marriage?

I’m really pleased to welcome my new friend J. who blogs at Tales from the Hood for a first guest post here on ShotgunShack!

J. gives us Lesson 6 in the This is for my Corporates Series.

Click for Lesson 1: Watch your LanguageLesson 2: Y’all really believe in that vision sh*t?Lesson 3: What’s ‘The Field” Got to Do with It?Lesson 4: People are not Props, Lesson 5: How to Kill what your Non-Profit Had Going for It and Lesson 7: A handout is a handout is a handout.


If you happen to be a big manager at the head office of a big non-profit organization, and you’ve been brought in from the corporate sector to show those wishy-washy bleeding heart non-profit suckas how it’s done, this series* is for you.

Lesson 6:  Win-win or forced marriage?

For those of you whose job it is to raise support of different kinds for your organization from for-profit corporations, I’ll go out on a limb and guess that probably the hardest part of your job is getting your very own colleagues over in the programs department to support you. I’m guessing that you’re more than just a little bit frustrated by the push-back and the foot-dragging and the nit-picky nay-saying over what probably seem like obvious “win-win” ideas to you.

So let me give you a heads up. Here are a few things that you should know about aid-worker culture while you attempt to persuade us to work with you as you go about your job of working with corporations to gain their support for your employer’s programs, whether through cash grants or gift-in-kind (GIK).

That don’t impress me much… We don’t really care who you sat next to at what roundtable and what Fortune 500 corporation they’re the CFO of. We’re not interested in hearing the long history of your schmoozing so-and-so. It doesn’t impress us to know that your “contact” plays golf on Tuesdays with the President…

Yeah, yeah, we understand that these things are important in your world and that schmoozing is an important skill. We don’t want to disrespect the hard work you’ve done cultivating relationships with your potential donors. But often it feels as if you’re coming to us with the expectation that your schmoozing is what will make our decisions about which opportunities to pursue and which to leave on the table. However, you should know that from our perspective the thing that matters most and that should trump all other considerations is:  what is good for participants in our programs in the field?

And so, when you come to talk to us about corporate opportunity X that you’ve been schmoozing and wining and dining and playing golf over, what we really want to know right up front from you is: what is on offer and under what conditions? From our perspective it begins and ends there.

Forced marriages. Similarly, it’s a huge turn-off when somewhere near the beginning of your pitch to us is the issue that “this relationship is hugely important.” Maybe if we agree to take a grant to do this kind of lame project, this corporate donor will “trust” us and work more with us in the future on projects that are better. Maybe this is a very high profile corporate donor and having them on our organizations’ corporate CV will make our employer look very good. Maybe the amount of money or value of GIK on offer is so large that the executive team really wants to find a way to say “yes.”

We’re not naïve. We understand that these are very real considerations and that give-and-take is just a part of how the real world works. But when these kinds of issues – rather than what is good for the communities where we work – drive decisions, it makes us feel dirty. When the importance of a relationship with corporation X in the US or Europe takes priority over what’s good for the field, it makes us feel like we’re being married off without consent so that you can collect the dowry and get in good with the big boys.

Changing “game-changing.” We can smell a sales-job a mile away. Particularly when you say something like, “this is potentially game-changing.” Once you utter those words, we know you’re talking smack. Why? Because in our view the real “game” of relief and development work is out in the field, where the rubber meets the road, in the communities where we work. Unless you can convince us that you have credentials in that sphere, you don’t know the game well enough to play, let alone change it.

Two hearts livin’ in two different worlds… Simple, but important. Many of you earned your street cred in the for-profit corporate world by persuading people to go along with your ideas. Maybe in sales. Many of us earned our street by going into impoverished, depressed, sometimes terrible places where it was our job to listen to local people, to analyze problems, to consider operational contingencies, and to consider ideas from as many angles as possible before undertaking them. A lot of what we do even amongst ourselves will often feel like so much picking apart of ideas, semantic hair-splitting, fretting about what might go wrong. Remember, for every Business Roundtable or AMCHAM meeting that you attend, we also attend a coordination meeting in the field or a technical working group. For every corporate grant win that you get to feel proud of in your world, we potentially have to endure glowering looks of colleagues in other agencies or host government counterparts for having sold out.

In short, your win is sometimes our loss. What’s more, a win between corporation X and NGO Y in a developed country can mean a distinct loss on the ground in poor communities. We’re not trying to be difficult. But until the people we work with on the ground in communities finally have a seat at the table, it is our job to do all we can to keep those losses from happening.


More Lessons in the This is for my Corporates series:

Lesson 1: Watch your language

Lesson 2: Y’all really believe in that vision sh*t?

Lesson 3: What’s “the Field” got to do with it?

Lesson 4: People are not props

Lesson 5: How to kill what your non-profit had going for it

Lesson 7: A handout is a handout is a handout

*The Lessons here are based on carefully recorded participant/observation sessions among myself and subjects working in a variety of non-profit settings. In order to qualify as a “Lesson Topic” each conversation point must have been heard at least a dozen times per year over a 15 year period. New Lesson Topics are being compounded daily. If you would like to suggest a topic, hit me up.

This is for my Corporates. Lesson 5: How to kill what your non-profit had going for it

This is Lesson 5 in the This is for my Corporates Series.

Click for Lesson 1: Watch your Language, Lesson 2: Y’all really believe in that vision sh*t?, Lesson 3: What’s “The Field” Got to Do with It?, and Lesson 4: People are not Props.

If you happen to be a big manager at the head office of a big non-profit organization, and you’ve been brought in from the corporate sector to show those wishy-washy bleeding heart non-profit suckas how it’s done, this series* is for you.

Lesson 5: Purpose Motivation is stronger than Profit Motivation

As different as the corporate and non-profit sectors are, and as hard as it is to get us to change and see the corporate light, you’re going to have to work with us if you plan on sticking around at a non-profit.

We got connections. We got social capital. We got experience in the field. A lot of us actually really do know what we are doing. Plus, we’re your access point for your donor magazine stories and your PR photos. If you learn how to talk with us… if you spend some time on the ground understanding that the challenges we face are not simple and that the root of the challenges is not our lack of a corporate mentality… if you remember to see that the bigger goal is the VISION not the MONEY… if you avoid exploiting the people in communities where we work for your marketing campaigns, we will probably get along just fine after the initial hiccups.

If you leave your ego at the door and come in to learn and converse rather than demand and mandate, people will eventually welcome you. We’ll learn some of your corporate ways too, we’ll blend them with our non-profit ways, and we’ll do even more quality work, all of us together.

Well, that’s my logic anyway.

But if you’re still thinking that what a non-profit needs is a good corporate shake up, some good old fashioned business models, then watch this video The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. It’s based on Dan Pink’s book Drive, and it speaks in a language that may be closer to corporate speak than what I’m capable of.

Pink writes that that for simple, straightforward tasks, the old model, the carrot and stick idea works; paying people a reward to do better works. But when a task gets more complicated and requires conceptual and creative thinking, those kind of motivators don’t work. (Note: He says that you should pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table and allow people to focus on the work itself, which I totally agree with.)

Skip to minute 5 of the video for Pink’s conclusions.  He says that there are 3 factors that lead to better performance and personal satisfaction: autonomy, mastery and purpose. He says that more and more, businesses and organizations want to have a “transcendent purpose” because it makes coming to work better and is a way to get better talent.

He says that “When the profit motive becomes un-moored from the purpose motive, bad things happen.” “When the profit motive becomes unhitched from the purpose motive, people don’t do great things.” “Companies that are flourishing are animated by purpose.”

The majority of work that non-profit employees (except perhaps the finance and administration departments) do is not factory work. Not repetitive. Not mechanical. The majority of our work is relationship building, knowledge management, co-designing and complex problem solving. And we already have a purpose. That purpose is what brought most of us to work at the organization. We have a vision we are working towards, and it’s a lofty one.

So, considering that autonomy, mastery and purpose are what seem to motivate people. Considering that purpose motivation makes for better outcomes. Ask yourself: Are you actually killing off one of the best things your non-profit had going for it? Are you dooming the organization that you’ve come in to improve because you are shifting the organization’s focus from the vision to the money, and you are making profit motivation overshadow our existing purpose motivation?

Why would you want to do that?


More Lessons in the This is for my Corporates series:

Lesson 1: Watch your language

Lesson 2: Y’all really believe in that vision sh*t?

Lesson 3: What’s “the Field” got to do with it?

Lesson 4: People are not props

Lesson 6: Win-win or forced marriage?

Lesson 7: A handout is a handout is a handout

*The Lessons here are based on carefully recorded participant/observation sessions among myself and subjects working in a variety of non-profit settings. In order to qualify as a “Lesson Topic” each conversation point must have been heard at least a dozen times per year over a 15 year period. New Lesson Topics are being compounded daily. If you would like to suggest a topic, hit me up.

This is for my Corporates. Lesson 3: What’s “the Field” got to do with it?

This is Lesson 3 in the This is for my Corporates Series.

Click for Lesson 1: Watch your Language and Lesson 2: Y’all really believe in that vision sh*t?

If you happen to be a big manager at the head office of a big non-profit organization, and you’ve been brought in from the corporate sector to show those wishy-washy bleeding heart non-profit suckas how it’s done, this series* is for you!

Lesson 3: Get your ass to the field

The actual work that non-profits do on the ground is about as different from their commercials as the size and color of the close up Big Mac you see on the McDonald’s commercials vs. what you actually get when you eat there, but in a different way. (Not that I ever eat there, just trying to make a point).

Those 30 second bits you see on TV are, get this, ADVERTISEMENTS designed to create an emotional response so that people will donate money.  So don’t believe them, even if you are in charge of making them. (And I get into that in another post)

Go to the ground to understand reality. Leave your tidy office full of giant glossy posters of beneficiaries, and ethnic touches from around the world, and hushed tones of people answering donor calls and go see the actual work on the ground. It’s like breaking out of a stifled photograph and walking into a complex and layered 3-D movie. Like going from Cliff Notes to the depth and beautiful prose of a good novel.

You need to do that to have any kind of nuanced understanding of how the pieces of this thing we call “development” or “humanitarian aid” fit together. You’ll see things that amaze you. You’ll discover a respect for people that you never had. If your organization is any good, you’ll see that the actual work being done is way more complex than what the commercials tell you and it will take you awhile to process that. (Note: I am not saying good organizations should have stupid commercials, but currently stupid commercials are the norm in the world of non-profit work.) You’ll see things that piss you off, internally in your non-profit and externally in the community. And if you are sharp, observant, chill and open to listening, you will better understand why those things happen.

I don’t know about you, but if I were going to manage something, I’d sure as hell want to know what I’m managing. And if I were going to solve problems, I’d want to know what the roots of those problems are, and what’s been tried in the past to resolve them, and if the attempted solutions didn’t work, I’d want to discover why. Hint: It’s probably not because everyone is stupid and incompetent (though some people definitely are… the trick is knowing who is and who isn’t). It’s probably because the problem is complex. Or because people are stuck thinking about it in an old way. Or because power dynamics don’t allow the problem to be addressed. Or because of the multiple pressures put onto people from all sides. Or due to inherent contradictions in the system. Or any one of a million other things.

The quality of your work, and the leadership and support you can give to the rest of the organization will improve exponentially after you go to the field. So do it. As soon as possible. Please. It’s hard to take you seriously until you have.

Get the bigger boss to authorize you to really work on something in the field, to work with a team to really get something implemented. I knew a guy once who became a general manager at a hotel. As part of his training, he had to work a week or 2 in each of the departments. He did laundry. He did restaurant and room service. He worked the front desk. Something like that would help you get a sense of things.

Spend some time there, on the ground. But don’t go to the field in a bubble. Don’t stay in the office. Don’t do short day visits to see a ton of showcase projects and children dancing in traditional costumes. Don’t let the local office do that to you. Spend time in communities too.

And while you are there, don’t feel sorry for people. Nobody needs your pity, it just gets in the way of things. Most people probably don’t feel sorry for themselves, so why should you? They’re getting by just like everyone is. So respect people and their dignity. You and your agency are just one small part of their lives except in really extreme cases.

And don’t be surprised if you arrive to a health center or a community and there are 500 people there to welcome you. That is normal. That is what people do. Don’t be blinded or sidetracked by the pomp and ceremony. They do it for everyone who visits. You’re not special, and it has nothing to do with the quality of our programs or the quality of your work.

Be open. Learn. Observe. Ask. Share meals in the community and at the office. Stick around long enough so that you are not the center of attention all the time. Sit on the ground if everyone else is. Stop taking pictures and just experience things. Take a bucket bath. Sleep in a hammock. Ride public transportation or in the back of a pick-up truck. Eat street food. Share an office and a computer. Figure out how to meet your deadline when there’s a 24-hour power cut or when it takes 6 days for you to get someone’s signature on something. Go to someone’s house for dinner. Shift the focus to the real core. To people. Don’t get frustrated that things aren’t moving at your pace. Understand that your pace isn’t the pace of most of the rest of the world and deal with it. Learn from people you work with. See what the work is all about, spend time listening.

And don’t ever say things like “Well, why don’t you just…?” Yep, and why don’t you just tell the Tea Party the truth about Obama’s birthplace. Or just provide more resources to urban public schools that are under-performing. Or just get people to eat healthy and start exercising. Or just bring the troops home.

The world of non-profits is a funky place. It’s not like where you come from. In order to do your job well, you need to understand it. Don’t barge in and drop your corporate solutions on everyone. Organizational culture is hard core at non-profits. And that will frustrate you immensely. It frustrates us too. But sometimes there are real reasons we don’t do things how you’d imagine we should. And you need to understand things in order to sort the bullshit from the reality.

So spend at least 6 months to a year listening, experiencing, and learning, because it will take you at least that long to even begin understanding. Then you’ll be able to talk and listen to people in a genuine way from the right place, from the stomach, from the heart. When you know what you are talking about, and people trust you, THEN when you ask them questions about why they don’t do this or that, they may give you a real answer instead of one designed to please you or one that avoids outing their colleagues. Blend your business savvy with your gut and your heart and you’ll be a huge asset to everyone, in the non-profit sector… or even back in the corporate world.


More Lessons in the This is for my Corporates Series:

Lesson 1: Watch your language

Lesson 2: Y’all really believe in that vision sh*t?

Lesson 4: People are not props

Lesson 5: How to kill what your non-profit had going for it

Lesson 6: Win-win or forced marriage?

Lesson 7: A handout is a handout is a handout

*The Lessons here are based on carefully recorded participant/observation sessions among myself and subjects working in a variety of non-profit settings (often with some spirits that loosen the tongue). In order to qualify as a “Lesson Topic” each conversation point must have been heard at least a dozen times per year over the span of a 15 year period. New Lesson Topics are being compounded daily. If you would like to suggest a topic, hit me up.

This is for my Corporates. Lesson 2: So y’all really believe in that vision sh*t?

This is Lesson 2 in the This is for my Corporates Series. Read Lesson 1: Watch your Language.

If you happen to be a big manager at the head office of a big non-profit organization, and you’ve been brought in from the corporate sector to show those wishy-washy bleeding heart non-profit suckas how it’s done, this series* is for you!

Lesson 2: Don’t lose sight of the larger goal.

I don’t know what the corporate sector is like, but a lot of people who work in aid and development are in it because they believe in a vision. (Note: I normally only hang out with people who give a shit, so this post may be slightly biased towards their frame of reference.) They believe in making the world a better place. (Hell, maybe you’d even say you joined the non-profit world from the corporate sector because you wanted a job with meaning.)

Local aid and development workers want to push their countries forward, to improve health, education, human rights, and the  political and economic systems. They’d like to see their country progress to be more self sufficient. (Plus development organizations often pay more than government, though much less than the UN, and people feel they can actually make a difference at an NGO, rather than what they can accomplish working in government). Foreigners working on the ground, the ones I hang out with at least, want the same thing, to work towards the vision.

People who work with development programs don’t see growth and branding and marketing as a means to grow a business and make shareholders happy. They see them as a means to an end. That end is the vision, the larger goal. A lot of times they feel more accountable towards communities and the countries they live in than towards you and your donors over there in the head office, or in Europe or North America or wherever, regardless of who those donors are.

When the head office sends out congratulatory emails for huge grants raised and no emails for huge numbers of lives improved via small grants, it seems like all the head office cares about is money. When you focus only on the cash, we see you as trying to grow the organization for the sake of growth. It starts to sound like you view people on the ground as your personal employees, working for you to raise money for your own glory, instead of us all working together to implement programs to achieve the vision we signed on to when we started working here.

When you talk about needing to raise our profile, bring in more donors, do advocacy, and get more money, remember that we are doing that for a reason: to improve more lives. More often than not, unless you are speaking at a big event to lots of staff to motivate them, you forget that last bit of the phrase. You lose sight of the larger goal. And people roll their eyes at your empty words. The vision seems like an afterthought and that bugs us.

We are not naive. We know that we need money to run our programs. We probably understand that even better than you because we are the ones suffering budget cuts and skimping by to stay within overhead rates and trying to explain those cuts to communities and local partners. But here’s the thing:  the point is to raise money to do programs that will help to achieve the vision, NOT to do programs so that you can promote them in order to raise money. You twist it around backwards sometimes.

And that rubs us the wrong way. Most of us really do believe in that vision shit.


More Lessons in the This is for my Corporates Series:

Lesson 1: Watch your language

Lesson 3: What’s “the Field” got to do with it?

Lesson 4: People are not props

Lesson 5: How to kill what your non-profit had going for it

Lesson 6: Win-win or forced marriage?

Lesson 7: A handout is a handout is a handout

*The Lessons here are based on carefully recorded participant/observation sessions among myself and subjects working in a variety of non-profit settings (often with the helpful prodding of my assistant Al Cohol). In order to qualify as a “Lesson Topic” each conversation point must have been heard at least a dozen times per year since 1995. New Lesson Topics are being compounded daily. If you would like to suggest a topic, hit me up.