Sunday, March 29, 2015

Drain the Swamp to Get Rid of Alligators

If you skim through articles I've written since 2005 you'll see a growing use of visualizations to communicate ideas. Many of these start as scratches on a tablet as an idea comes to me, then are converted to power point.  I've been lucky to have interns from IIT and other universities work with me for a few weeks every year who have used their own talent to convert some of my essays into new graphics. This page shows work that has been done.

However, these interns are only with me a few weeks in the winter and spring. I come up with ideas all the time but don't have the talent to communicate these as effectively as I'd like.  Here's an example.

I've used maps to show where poverty is concentrated in Chicago and to show where existing tutor/mentor programs are located. You can see many map stories in this in this blog.  In addition, you can see maps in many of my blog articles I've written about how poverty affects  health, student aspirations, education performance, etc.

In other articles and in this section of my library I show challenges that non profit tutor/mentor programs face in finding the talent and operating resources to build and sustain constantly improving long-term programs.

Since I started the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 my goal has been to help all of the non-school tutor/mentor programs in the region get the operating resources they need while helping new programs grow in areas where more are needed. While many of my peers have said "I like what you do," most have said, "When I'm able to get my own program stabilized, I'll help you do this".

I've always said to myself, "They will never help me help them, because by themselves they can't solve the funding and resource flow problems facing most smaller non profit organizations."

So a couple of years ago I was thinking about this and I thought of the saying "I can't drain the swamp because I'm up to my neck in alligators".   How could I visualize this?  Well I started scratching out some ideas. I used a free drawing application (here) to create these graphics.

So here's the first image I thought of. I'm in a boat in the middle of a swamp. The boat is leaking water and I'm surrounded by alligators.  

Operating a small non profit feels like this. I'm surrounded by challenges and don't have the manpower to solve all of the problems facing my kids, volunteers and the organization. In this analogy, the swamp represents the high poverty neighborhoods where our kids live and where we operate. Parents, schools, kids and non profits are surrounded by all sorts of problems. Violence is just one of these (see articles)

Through the actions of the Tutor/Mentor Connection I've been trying to "drain the swamp". This graphic illustrates this.

This next graphic shows how many of the 170-plus tutoring and/or mentoring programs in the Chicago region face the same challenges every day.

So what if many non profits were working together to overcome the challenges we each face. What if leaders in business, faith groups, politics, sports, entertainment, etc. were working with us? 

We could be building greater daily attention for ways to help build student aspirations and learning habits while also building support systems that expand the network of adults and learning opportunities available to kids in every high poverty neighborhood.

Through the collective efforts of many people we could be helping more volunteers connect with kids in tutor/mentor programs as school starts each year. We could be encouraging more workplace donors to support these programs during workplace fund raising campaigns in the fall. We could be bringing more people together to share ideas and give recognition to programs in November. And we could be using this November attention to encourage more year-end donors to seek out tutor/mentor programs in different neighborhoods.

What prevents this from happening? A major obstacle is that each organization is promoting its own "brand" identity and each is competing with all others for scarce resources. How can they spend time promoting the big picture of how volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs are needed in all high poverty areas of Chicago, when every good marketing consultant tells them how important it is that every message promotes their own brand?

I'd like to offer my own leadership of Cabrini Connections from 1993 to 2011 as an example of what's possible. We started with 7 volunteers and 5 kids and no money in January 1993. We launched the Tutor/Mentor Connection the same year. In this page you can see newspaper stories generated by T/MC events and activities. I've another set of articles, not on a web page, showing media stories where Cabrini Connections was the feature. Between 1993 and 2011 we raised more than $6 million dollars, starting with $114k in 1994, then $225, in 1995, and maxing at nearly $500k in 1999 before the financial, natural and man-made disasters of the 2000s caused revenue to dip to as low as $350k each year from 2001-2011.

I think that by talking about the need for all programs, and organizing events like the May and November Tutor/Mentor Conferences, I was able to draw donor and volunteer attention to our Cabrini Connections program that I might not have attracted by just leading a single program and talking about my own "brand". I think other programs could talk global and support collaborative events, like the conferences, as part of a strategy to draw more attention to their own brand.

So now that I've laid out my thinking. Who is willing to volunteer their talent to turn this into a new graphic, animation, video or some form of communication that will draw thousands of people to read it, reflect on what the meaning is, and find ways to support the growth of tutor/mentor programs this year in Chicago or any other city in the country?  

I've been coaching my interns in the Tutor/Mentor Connection forum. I encourage you to introduce yourself there if you'd like to offer your talent.

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