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.

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