Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Three Great Organizations: ISS, Grassroots Fundraising Journal and Media Alliance

I'm in North Carolina right now helping the Institute for Southern Studies to develop a comprehensive media strategy to support its work and revive its award-winning magazine Southern Exposure, which was important resource to me when I was an activist and organizer in North Central Florida, a million years ago.

More personal/political news: Last week I was elected to two Boards of Directors - Media Alliance and the Grassroots Fundraising Journal. Both are tremendous progressive organizations that I'm proud to be a part of. I'd like to use this as an opportunity to tell you about them.

I've been involved with Media Alliance, whose mission is to build a more just and open media system, almost since the day I moved to San Francisco in August 2000, helping to organize a protest of the National Association of Broadcasters convention.

Recently Media Alliance - which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary - took a big financial hit when its health insurance provider canceled coverage of freelancers enrolled in a unique program offered through Media Alliance.

How people or organizations react to bad times reveals a lot about their characters. Media Alliance could have done what some organizations have done in similar circumstances, which is to hide from criticism and pass the bad times on to their constituency. Instead throughout the crisis the staff of Media Alliance thought first and foremost about assisting freelancers affected by the loss of health coverage and staff devoted tremendous energy to assisting them in the transition.

I was hired as a consultant to help Media Alliance create a strategy and locate new funding in a time of financial crisis. The Media Alliance Board developed an aggressive 2-year strategy of expanding its work as a statewide intermediary, traning community based organizations to participate in media policy debates, while continuing to directly mobilize Bay Area activists around such issues as municipal Wi-Fi.

We took that strategy to three funders, two of whom were entirely new to Media Alliance. Not only were we successful, but the two new funders together tossed in an extra $25K just because they liked the proposals so much. It's a tribute to the effectiveness of Media Alliance and Executive Director Jeff Perlstein that the organization can be so frank about its position and still win new support.

The membership meeting at which I was elected was perhaps smaller than in previous years, yet there was no sign of bitterness. Indeed, the mood was hopeful, fueled by the knowledge that the media justice movement is at last maturing into a force that could transform the media landscape. Media Alliance has been a big part of that.

If I have less to say about Grassroots Fundraising Journal, it's because they have a simpler recent history and mission - to create and distribute accessible materials that teach people how to raise money. When I was learning my trade as a fundraiser and organizational development strategist, the Grassroots Fundraising Journal taught me many of the nuts and bolts, speaking in a language and with values that I shared.

Shortly after we moved to San Francisco, my wife Shelly worked briefly at the Journal and I got to know founders Kim Klein and Stephanie Roth quite well. Kim, in case you've never heard of her, is the authority on raising money to support social-justice organizing and author of the definitive guide Fundraising for Social Change. As Kim steps down from her position as publisher of the Journal, I'm proud to be on Board and helping with the transition.

And it's great to be helping three organizations that have each provided help and inspiration to me in the past.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Independent Press Association: A "Hard-Hearted Corporation"?

Where have I been?


What am I working on?

I'm helping the Institute for Southern Studies create a strategic plan for its publications program; raising money for Alternatives for Community and Environment; writing a business plan for Media Alliance's earned income programs; helping the Utne Institute design its programs; writing articles for AlterNet, Public Eye, Utne, and Mothering Magazine; and editing technical assistance manuals for the Independent Press Association.

Speaking of which, the IPA is the subject of a major investigative piece in this week's SF Weekly: "Pulp Friction: The Independent Press Association was founded to champion alternative magazines, but now its members say it has become the kind of hard-hearted corporation it once opposed."

The article - which covers the meltdown of IPA's newsstand service and a growing conflict over the identity of the organization - is very, very fair. I don't have any comment on how the Indy Press Newsstand Service disaster was handled; IPA members are the authority on how they have been treated as members - and to get a sense of that, you should read the article.

It's not just the IPA: for years non-profits have been pushed (and have pushed themselves) to start businesses and adopt a more business-like culture that includes financial incentives and high executive salaries - with very mixed results that have included massive scandals at once-trusted non-profits like the United Way and the Red Cross.

One aspect of the big picture here is that while there is a growing rhetorical commitment to helping non-profits develop social venture strategies to fund their work and accomplish their missions, the reality is that foundations and other sources of non-profit capital don't yet know how fund most creative social ventures: they lack patience and long-term commitment, and don't pay enough attention to developing management and infrastructure.

At the same time, social ventures tend to recruit from the corporate sector for management and leadership, when in trouble looking for a savior - only to find that such people often don't get the real mission or culture of the organization, or the difference between non-profit and for-profit goals. They solve some problems but create others, sometimes in the process betraying and disillusioning the very people they're supposed to serve.

What's the solution? It's too easy to reject the notion that non-profits might use the tools of the marketplace to accomplish their missions; indy magazines, no matter how left-wing, are fundamentally entrepreneurial entities, and organizations like the IPA need to get members into the marketplace in order to spread their ideas. What we really need is a "third culture" that combines patient capital and entrepreneurial sophistication with real commitment to social change as well as accountability to the people who depend on non-profits for services and a voice in public affairs. It's larger than any one organization; we need training, networks, and more. It's a system and an idea that will have to emerge over time and through trial and error.

P.S.: I still plan to report more on the purchase of Utne Magazine. Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 03, 2006


This just in:

TOPEKA, Kansas, (June 2, 2006) – Ogden Publications, Inc. announced today that it has acquired Utne magazine, the nation’s leading digest of alternative ideas, from LENS Publishing Co., Inc. and Nina Rothschild Utne. Launched in 1984 by Eric Utne, Utne magazine is a bi-monthly magazine with a paid circulation of 225,000. Utne reprints the best articles from more than 2,000 alternative media sources bringing together the latest ideas and trends emerging in our culture.

Ogden Publications publishes Mother Earth News, Natural Home, Herbs for Health, The Herb Companion and seven special interest magazines. “Utne is one of the most respected publications in America and we feel deeply honored to make it part of Ogden,” said Bryan Welch, publisher of Ogden Publications, Inc. “This makes us the largest and most influential media company in the conscientious lifestyles and environmental awareness fields. Public interest in living more sustainably is growing faster than ever and we expect to grow with it, creating an important resource for today’s consumer.”

Judy Rudrud, Utne’s prior president and publisher, will continue to operate the magazine as general manager from its offices in Minneapolis. She will be responsible for marketing, public relations and merchandising for Ogden’s magazines. “We are thrilled by the possibilities that this acquisition creates for the future of Utne magazine,” said Rudrud. “Our loyal readers will benefit from the magazine being part of a company that is aligned with our values.”

Chair and Chief Executive Officer Nina Rothschild Utne will assume the title of Editor-at-Large for the magazine and continue writing her column, as well as provide editorial and strategic consulting. “We are energized by this purchase and confident that our mission will continue with integrity,” said Utne.

Ogden Publications will begin publication with the July/August issue.

Utne is a client and I've been watching this deal unfold (from a distance) for months. What will this mean for Utne's brand and future editorial direction? Stay tuned....I plan to get a comment from Nina and Judy at some point in the next week.