Posts Tagged ‘community’

Nonprofits, Community and the Power of a Story!

The Most Overworked, Underfunded ‘Army’ in American History:   An example of the POWER of film in telling our nonprofit and community stories.

Some may wonder why I am posting a movie review today…. Movies are magnificent venues for sharing our stories with the world,  Where film can be very powerful:  A brief video presentation on your website, A short video of your community members, volunteers or clients talking about the work our organization does can engage a new supporter.  A five minute film telling the story of your organization, your people that includes a specific, genuine and moving ask to to invest (time, talent and/or treasures) can move someone to take action and get involved.  Using clips or soundbites from famous movies, television or video can make a  presentation say WOW to your audience.

One of my clients, Gideon’s Promise had the opportunity to have a documentary film maker follow their organization for three years, and the result is the beautiful and powerful film, Gideon’s Army. The young lawyers featured in the film are truly — everyday — the heros they are in this film.

Part of their success is that they are supported by a dynamic 501 c 3 nonprofit organization. Gideon’s Promise trains, supports and mentors the lawyers featured in this film, and many more to be able to stay in the work. Gideon’s Promise is building a network and community for build a new cadre of talented, supported lawyers who have a rich community of peers, faculty, alumni and community leaders investing in them, as lawyers and as people.  Since the film just came out it will be interesting to see what the long-term benefit will be to support the field of indigent defense.  I am interested in following this, studying it and really learning about what it means for a community organization to become an “overnight film sensation.”  And with so many deserving lawyers how will attorneys be selected from such a deep pool of talent.   Even prior to the film being made the requests to join the training far outweigh the limited resources needed to fund every DESERVING, talented and passionate young lawyer who wants to participate in the program. To learn more and to get involved go to http://www.gideonspromise.org.

I would look to share this film with you and 1) Hear your thoughts, ideas and stories 2) hear you ideas about what you can do to support your cause with photos, film, stories and 3) what you thought about the film.  I would personally LOVE to hear for you, your colleagues, your friends and families.  Please share.

I know the folks at Gideon’s Promise would love to hear from YOU!

The Most Overworked, Underfunded ‘Army’ in American History
HBO premiered the documentary Gideon’s Army, a searing look at the ways courts fall short on the Sixth Amendment right to counsel.  Gideon’s Army is still available on HBOGO/HBOOnDemand and is playing at film festivals across the Nation.  (Martha’s Vineyard this week!)

highlighted  below is the Trail from Gideon’s Amry  and a 8 minute Op-Documentary the New York Times created about the film.  Check they out and PLEASE take a minute to let me know your thoughts and impressions.  Looking forward to taking to you.  Glorious Mondays All.  Enjoy a great week.

Gideon’s Promise – Gideon’s Promise|

http://http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=99HMxN94bEcNew York Times Op-Doc -True Believers in Justice


Foot Soldiers in the Battle for a Fair Shake

Defending the Underclass, in ‘Gideon’s Army’

NYT Critics’ Pick



Brandy Alexander is a public defender in the film “Gideon’s Army.”

Published: June 27, 2013

The title of Dawn Porter’s stirring documentary,“Gideon’s Army,” refers to the legion of idealistic public defenders fighting for equal justice in a land where not everybody can afford a high-priced defense attorney. That army is named after Clarence Earl Gideon, who was arrested in 1961 for stealing soda and a few dollars from a pool hall in Panama City, Fla.

More About This Movie

Gideon’s Army


Travis Williams, a public defender in “Gideon’s Army.”

Convicted of theft after representing himself at trial, Gideon appealed the verdict to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled unanimously in a landmark 1963 decision, Gideon v. Wainwright, that the right to counsel in criminal court is fundamental to the American system of justice.

The decision ushered in a nationwide system of public defenders representing clients who are too poor to pay for their legal defense. Today the disparity between the haves and have-nots is such that most of the 12 million people arrested in the United States each year will be represented by one of the country’s 15,000 public defenders.

The processing of these cases, in which most of those arrested plead guilty to reduce their sentences, lacks the high drama of television shows like “Law & Order” and its spinoffs. But thousands of lives are in the balance and can be destroyed even before trial. June Hardwick, a Mississippi public defender, cites the case of a skilled laborer who lost her house, job and possessions while in pretrial detention because she couldn’t afford bail. (Ms. Hardwick has since left the profession to go into politics.)

The film devotes most of its attention to Travis Williams and Brandy Alexander, public defenders in Georgia who dedicate their lives to representing America’s underclass. It is emotionally grueling work in which both struggle to maintain their humanity. In the words of Mr. Williams, who handles 120 cases at a time and has no room left for a personal life, “Everybody’s in an emergency state.”

Some of the defenders’ strongest support comes from the Southern Public Defender Training Center, whose charismatic leader, Jonathan Rapping, offers practical instruction and group sessions at which the public defenders air their frustrations and share their war stories. Mr. Rapping praises them as “foot soldiers” who will eventually change “this unjust, cruel, inhumane criminal justice system.”

The public defenders know only too well that many, if not most, of their clients are guilty. Ms. Alexander recalls that one threatened to kill her if she lost the case. Another bragged about raping his 12-year-old daughter. She muses out loud that some people seem to be born bad.

Gideon’s Army” examines two cases of armed robbery, for which conviction in Georgia carries a minimum sentence of 10 years without parole and a maximum of life imprisonment. In both cases, the movie doesn’t try to assess innocence or guilt but to show its lawyers mounting the best defenses possible with minimal resources.

Mr. Williams represents Branden Lee Mullin, a young man who robbed a pizzeria of $96 with his best friend. Ms. Alexander’s 17-year-old client, Demontes Regary Wright, is arrested by a swarm of police officers in a raid and charged with armed robbery. Mr. Wright, she says, is exceptionally bright. If he succeeds in avoiding prison, she believes he has the potential to lead a productive life. The film’s last 15 minutes are devoted to his trial, at which she tries to establish “reasonable doubt” about his guilt.

“Gideon’s Army” is a bare film with no narrator and a minimal soundtrack. That’s all it needs to grab you by the throat.

Gideon’s Army

Opens on Friday in Manhattan and will be shown on HBO starting on Monday at 5:20 a.m and 9 p.m.

Directed by Dawn Porter; written by Ms. Porter and Matthew Hamachek; directors of photography, Chris Hilleke and Patrick Sheehan; edited by Mr. Hamachek; music by Paul Brill; produced by Ms. Porter and Julie Goldman; released by HBO Documentary Films. At the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. This film is not rated.

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Collaboration. It was the hottest “buzz word” of the last decade — And if you ask ten people to describe it, you could get ten very different answers.  Collaborations are going to be a driving force in building stronger relationships and stronger communities. In the new decade we are in the “perfect collaboration storm:” energy around our “community visions”, enormous critical community needs, myriad of new nonprofit organizations, and desire for greater impact. This can only happen if we work together.  Our community is whole and interconnected; we can’t create a powerful vision in silos.


Jump start your collaboration efforts by asking powerful questions.

“What is the highest potential for our collaborative relationship (organizationally AND individually)?”

“If this collaboration is successful, what is possible for our organization, our relationships, our community?”

Create a vision to begin the collaboration because, the real work (and joy) is as much in the collaboration PROCESS as it is in the final destination.  As Rosebeth Moss Kanter states in her compelling article, The Enduring Skills of Change Leaders, “Years of study and experience show that the things that sustain change are not bold strokes but long marches — the independent, discretionary, and ongoing efforts of people throughout the organization.” Collaboration is an intentional process rooted in TRUST, COMMITMENT, PURPOSE, and SHARED VISION.  Since the word “collaboration” is ubiquitous, descriptions of difference models are helpful, so I have highlighted some of the most prominent ones below (from least to most formal):

COALITION An alliance, especially a temporary one, of people, or organizations formed for a specific goal and specific set of objectives. A coalition is joint action where each organization or person operates in their own self-interest. A coalition is a coordinating effort, joining forces together for a common cause. The relationships are informal and each organization operates separately.

COLLABORATION A mutually beneficial and well-defined relationship entered into by two or more organizations to achieve results they are more likely to achieve together than alone. (Michael Winer & Karen Kay, Collaboration Handbook: Creating, Sustaining and Enjoying the Journey) There is a commitment from organizational leadership; a shared vision; a mission and set of goals (both Process and Impact); and a process to evaluate impact.

STRATEGIC ALLIANCE An agreement between two or more people or entities stating that the involved parties to achieve a common goal. Strategic alliances usually make sense when the parties involved have complementary strengths.  The purpose of an alliance is to (1) achieve joint strategic goals, (2) reduce risk while increasing rewards and/or, (3)leverage resources. This term is usually used to describe a nonprofit/business relationship and is used to describe a host of activities from sponsorship to cause related marketing to social marketing.

JOINT VENTURE A separate legal entity formed by two or more parties to undertake economic activity together.  The separate entity may be purposefully created as a partnership, limited liability company or corporation (either for-profit or nonprofit).There must be a legal entity. If there is no legal entity for the joint venture, the partnership is a strategic alliance, and not a joint venture.

MERGER The legal act of combining two or more separate corporate entities into one corporate entity with a single governing body.

1. Create a Collaborative Intention– A successful collaboration is an intentional collaboration. People respond to the others around them, if the leadership is really committed to the success of the collaboration that enthusiasm is infectious.  If we engage with a commitment to creating what is possible, people are energized. If we show up with, “let’s get this checked off the list”  “the funder asked us to do this” or “we are mandated to do this, let’s just get through it”  that is exactly what you will get – something to get through.
2. Create a CULTURE of Clarity Mutual Respect and Trust – Start every collaboration with the end in mind.  Questions to ask:
  • What is our vision for this collaboration?
  • What do we want to accomplish?
  • How will we do it?
  • How will we hold ourselves accountable?
  • How will we measure our success, impact?
These five questions are a great starting point.  Create a space for for everyone’s voice to be heard  and that all “elephants in the room” are honestly identified and discussed.  Create a set of group values that will guide your group’s work (examples: candor, confidentially,humor, active listening — and describe them!).  Most importantly, commit to creating a safe enviroment for people say their truth. As James Tamm and Ronald Luyet express in their book Radical Collaboration, “Awareness + Honesty + Openness = Truth.  To truly collaborate you need to be both 1) more than a little vulnerable and 2) aware – aware of the content, tone of voice and body language.  People listen, however when our content is not congruent with the tone of our voice and body language, people won’t respond.  The impact of tone and body language is more powerful than words.  Creating a culture of candor and honest pays off. And, every strong collaboration has conflict. Healthy conflict and a commitment to actively listening to where someone else is coming from is essential to building collaboration.
Politeness is the poison of collaboration – Edwin Land
3. Be Intentional about Goals and Accountability – Ensure that your meetings create a “commitment to action.” Ensure to allow for flexibility.  Collaboration is a fluid process.  If you have a less formal (non-contractual) agreement  craft a Memorandum of Understanding, just to make sure everyone is one the same page.  And prior to every meeting create a formal or informal agenda that includes:
  • The obvious: place, time, date, directions
  • A list of who has committed to attend
  • Time for a check in (everyone participates!) Some sample questions: How have we moved closer to achieving our vision/outcomes? What are we proud of? What is the most important thing you think we need to accomplish during the meeting?
  • What issues will be discussed during the meeting — What will the group be doing and is it for information, discussion or decision?
  • Summary of actions from previous meetings
  • A summary of achievements to date, and,
  • A section to record what actions the group committed to during this meeting.(Review and clarify the Action Items)

4. Develop a Process to Evaluate The Collaboration’s Progress – Michael Winer and Karen Ray recommend both a Process Evaluation and a Results Evaluation.  You can create one on a single sheet of paper, and some of the questions can include (but are certainly not limited to) Process: What did we set out to accomplish? What milestones did we meet and what helped/hindered their accomplishments? How did we create a communication process between members/was it successful? How did we live the organizational values that we created? Where could we have improved? Results:  What were the desired community benefits and how will we know we were successful? What activities did we do? Who benefited and how?

5. Celebrate Success!– Make sure to celebrate your accomplishments.  Invite people from the community to your meetings to talk about the impact your work has had. Invite leaders/Board members from partnership organizations to talk about the impact the collaboration has had on their work. Have a party.  Make a toast. acknowledge everyone’s efforts. Engage in ALL four of the key components for successful collaborations: PLAN, IMPLEMENT, EVALUATE, & CELEBRATE!

The theme of my next series of Blog Posts will be collaboration. I am interested in hearing about YOUR collaboration experiences?  Successes? Opportunities? Missed Opportunities? “Real World Applications?” — Please take a minute to share your experiences, I would love to hear them (and use your wisdom to share with others!)

(And, on a special note, Community Driven Institute Friends –THANKS for everything!)

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