Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Arts and Voter Registration Drives

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on..................."

It's hard to watch the news on television.  Senseless tragedies mingled with continuing political insanity as background noise to the ongoing polarization of America and the threats to a free press, democracy and truth itself.   That seems true no matter what side you're on.

And the threats aren't confined to America. The world faces increased authoritarianism, over population, climate change, wealth concentration, unbridled technology seemingly regulated only by greed - and the potential of war gotten out of hand, pandemics and God knows what else.  Add to that the reality that almost every human being on the planet has their own serious issues - be they health, financial, emotional or whatever.

It can be depressing and discouraging.

And hard to remind oneself that the world survived the Inquisition, the Crusades, the Plague, World Wars I and II, Hitler, Stalin, Mao and more.  And the odds are that we will survive the threats of today as well -- as nations, as individuals.  The problem is that History, Earth and Mother Nature exist on an almost infinite timeline.  We, unfortunately, don't.  Things are more urgent to us because time is so precious.

So, what can we possibly do in the face of all that is going on that concerns us?  We're not in control, we have limited power, lots on our plates,  and action is difficult to realize.

The Arts, of course, can and do, as they always have, call attention to what is going on, and increase awareness and generate momentum to action.  The Arts can play a role in aggregating individual responses to whatever threatens.   Those responses can take a hundred different forms.

One relatively simple thing we can do, is we can encourage people to vote.  To become aware of the issues and what is at stake, and then vote for candidates they believe will address those issues.   This November's election may be the most important election of our lifetimes.  It may well determine the future of the country and of our democracy for decades or longer.  We are in camps - at odds with each other as perhaps at no other time since the Civil War.  The upcoming election will tell us how we intend to grapple with the threat to who we are as a people.

But you can't vote, unless your registered.

And it seems to me that's where the Arts can most readily play some role.  We can use our venues, our performances and exhibitions, and our events to set up voter registration tables to encourage those not registered to do so, and to encourage everyone to vote in November.  It is very likely that most of the people who interact with us as audiences will already be registered.  But not all of them.  This may be particularly important targeting cohorts that may have a lower percentage of voter registration - including some multicultural groups and younger people.  We talk about being engaged with our communities.  What could  be more engaging?

Most states apparently have no, or very few, regulations or restrictions on registering new voters.  You would need to contact your state's Secretary of State, or Election Commissioner, or even your County Registrar of Voters about what you need to do to set up a voter registration table at your venue, event, performance or exhibition, and what the rules and regulations of such an effort might entail, but it would seem that this isn't a difficult process.  You need the voter registration forms and an action plan as to how to go about your drive.  There is support via the internet - just Google voter registration drives / booths - and you can also easily google your state's / county's voter registration offices to find out what rules govern action in your area.  I suspect that a couple of hours of a staff person't time could answer all the questions regarding such an effort, and then you can recruit one or two volunteers from your base - and they can't recruit others - to bring the plan to fruition.

We need to encourage people to vote in November.  Of course, we hope that those that come to our arts performances, events, etc. will vote for candidates who support the arts.  But there are, as everyone knows, bigger issues and much at stake.

This may be a very small effort, but over a few months, multiplied by hundreds, or even thousands of organizations around the country it can have a positive effect.   And it's something.  It may help to give us a sense that we have, at least, some control over the events that dominate the news.  And remember, we aren't the only ones out there who understand the importance of voting in November.  Everyone can appreciate this election's importance.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Does Your Organization Have a "Story" Bank?

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on................"

Stories have long been part of our "case making" process.  Though anecdotal, our stories, particularly of our supporters, audiences, volunteers, and donors complement other kinds of data and evidence we use to make our case to funders, the media, the public and our own constituent base.  The stories are important because they play to the human side of the equation, often giving context and meaning to our other arguments as to our value.

In advocacy, for example, we are encouraged, in personal meetings with elected officials, to always have someone with us who can tell a personal story as to how what we do has personally impacted them in a positive way.  That impact can be anything from an education, health or even emotional  benefit.  Stories give our arguments a human component and thus make other arguments more understandable and meaningful.

A Story Bank is a way to collect stories from people involved in our organizations and to organize and make those stories more easily and readily available.  Rather than having to identify an appropriate story every time we might have use for one, a Story Bank is a readily available, ongoing catalog of those stories, which can be used for a myriad of purposes.

In a post by Wendy Levy, Executive Director at the Alliance for Media Arts and Culture, she notes:
"A storybank is a mechanism for capturing and sharing stories in a variety of mediums. If we don’t capture our stories and share them, they’ll disappear.
But stories are more than just currency. They are footprints, chronicles of our collective human experience, exchanges, lessons, memories and maps."

I would urge every organization to set up a Story Bank as a repository of stories relevant to the organization.  Those can chronicle personal impact and value, can preserve the organization's history and legacy, and can categorize beat practices and past mistakes.  While data and evidence based decision making is essential, stories can give data and evidence meaning, and enhance how we use data and evidence to make smart decisions.  It is our stories, particularly of impact and value, that support the argument of the preference for the intrinsic value of the arts.

There are all kinds of stories:  Stories that changed the direction of a young person's life; stories that gave meaning and helped the health care of a senior; stories that helped to bridge divides between people in a community; stories about the sheer joy of beholding something of beauty; stories about well spent afternoons or evenings in the company of friends.  Our stories are unlimited and endless.  And they need a place to live.  They can help us, inform us, and remind us of who we are and what we do. They can be used as evidence, in reports and even evaluations, in marketing and publicity and to help form our best decisions.  And over time, they lend perspective to where we've been and where we're going.

So how do you set up a Story Bank.  Start by surveying your own staff and Board and ask them for their stories as to how the organization and the arts have influenced and impacted their lives, and why they value the arts.  This doesn't have to be complicated, nor do the stories need to be epic tomes.  A paragraph of a personally told anecdotal story is often enough. Try to start your story database there, then when you have that foundation, move on to your supporters, donors, volunteers, and don't forget the kids - whose stories are often the most poignant and impactful.

Finally, move to your audiences.  Send out simple surveys.  Set up a table at your event to encourage people to include their stories. Give them examples.  Make it simple, and fun.  Ask people if you can call or email them to do a very quick interview, then create a template of two or three interview questions designed to get their story.  Figure out ways to reward your story tellers.  Generally, people like to tell their stories.

Over time you will have created a Bank of Stories that you, your staff and Board and others can tap into to make the case for your organizations on multiple levels.  That bank can help the organization for years.  If possible, you can create a separate website to house all the stories and make it accessible to the public, to the media etc. - or at least include a story section on your main website.

The folks at FamiliesUSA - a site devoted to family healthcare - have created an excellent Toolkit, including video instruction, on how how to create, collect and manage a Story Bank.  Excellent resource.

Stories are powerful.  But you need to organize and catalog them to make them accessible to you - and others - so as to make them easily available and to capture their power.  They do little good hidden away and forgotten.  Give them the light of day.  This needn't take away precious staff time; it's a perfect project for a volunteer to organize.

Good luck.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit