Why Organizations Should Discontinue Newsletters

Portfolio-newsletters

Obviously, if you do not have a website at this point in your organization’s history, we should talk about that first. More often, I encounter organizational clients who are not sure how to best utilize the resources they have which especially when it comes to their website and how to increase their visibility on the web. My first presentation is to let them know that they have been focusing on the wrong resources especially as it relates to distributing information to their readers using newsletters.

Rather than lamenting the lack of capital and financial capability, I scaffold and help them construct a translation process to change content into capital. One easy example of content that is not being used to its potential as a translatable commodity is the traditional newsletter. Allow me to use this old-school social media platform as a case in point.

Rather than the traditional print and distribution model, I suggest that your organization switch to a blog powered by a content management system (CMS). CMS is typically described as a way to organize and produce content on the web. Its less-hyped function is as a traffic magnet. Its power in this area depends on the CMS you choose AND the most important and abundant resource you have: Content. Your monthly newsletter is an important source of content. You may be wasting this resource confining it to 20th century methods of dissemination. The switch I propose will result in at least 3 key capabilities that aid the translation of this content into capital: Search, Sharing, and Marketing.

Gain: Search Capability
Archiving is an obvious feature in the digital space. Many organizational newsletter producers save a copy for download in PDF format from their websites. What is lacking in this is the ability of web users to query or stumble upon each individual article through search engines. Foregoing this wastes valuable potential connection points with your target audience.

A blog provides the enhanced ability to search or stumble based on actual content, organizational tags, categories, and concepts. The author of the piece may be a draw, not to mention the author’s own incentive to popularize the article. The references may be a draw. It is a common practice to mingle current events in your articles. People searching to learn more about a particular event will find your blog (or digital newsletter if you prefer).

Gain: Share Capability
Another important feature of a blog is the ability to add social media sharing tools automatically to each article. You can also add plug-ins that make logical and word-based relationships between your articles. This supports the linking and threading of content shared to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

An effective CMS like WordPress can allow your content to be seamlessly and easily viewed on multiple screens and multiple platforms to increase engagement. This means that those who like and share an article or picture share it to viewers who can join the experience on whatever device they choose. The addition of social media links means that any device becomes another distribution point. Your reach becomes exponential, not only because of its digital nature but also because of its convenience.

Gain: Marketing Capability
Consistent posts and new content on your site is a key to Google rankings. 500 words a day could increase your visibility and may make yours an attractive location for advertisers, partners, and your target audience. To accomplish this consistency, a CMS can be pre-loaded with articles that post each day. You already have a newsletter with multiple articles. Post them on a schedule. If you have themed or topic-based sections, set the Political posts to occur on a specific day and the Culture posts to occur on another day in the same pattern each week. Train your readers to expect a certain theme or topic on certain days.

If you are an association, this increases your ability to tell your story, promote events, and disseminate resources. If you are an educational institution, CMS allows you to continue educating, informing, and connecting your students while they study and your alumni after they graduate. If you are an enterprising individual, your “authority” and “klout” as an author may be bolstered solidifying your expertise.

For Readers Who Like Print
The beauty of CMS and plugins that are available is that you are able to present the content in different ways. Readers who are only interested in print can be supported to print an aggregated version themselves. Alternatively, the content creator can use plugins or code a “newsletter” creator that mimics the .pdf download option. In addition, individual articles can both be presented with multimedia bells and whistles AND printable stripped of graphics and menus. Moving to a blog from a traditional newsletter provides the most flexibility for traditional readers, new readers, and those yet to stumble upon your great content.

Are You or Your Org Guilty of Trickle-Down Community Engagement

A while ago, I was talking to a friend, another Executive Director, and he said, “Have you noticed that everyone is getting paid to engage us communities of color except us communities of color?” Sigh. Yes, I have noticed. I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and have come up with a term to describe it. Trickle-Down Community Engagement (TDCE). This is when we bypass the people who are most affected by issues, engage and fund larger organizations to tackle these issues, and hope that miraculously the people most affected will help out in the effort, usually for free.

In Seattle, if you’re a person of color and you walk down a dark alley late at night and you feel like you’re being followed, it’s probably someone trying to do some community engagement.

“Psst…hey buddy—Go Hawks!—you want to attend a summit? It’s about economic inequity. We need your voice.” “Daddy, I’m scared!” “Stay calm, Timmy; don’t look him in the eye.” “Come on, help a guy out! Here, you each get some compostable sticky dots to vote on our top three priorities! You can vote on different priorities, or, if you like, you put more than one dot on—” “Run, Timmy!”

This is why you should never take your kid down a dark alley in Seattle.

Needs Assessment, Ownership and Community Engagement

There are several reasons why TDCE happens. First, the nonprofit sector has all sorts of unwritten rules designed to be successfully navigated only by mainstream organizations (See “The game of nonprofit, and how it leaves some communities behind.”) Second, 90% of funding in the nonprofit world is relationship-based, which screws over marginalized communities, who have much fewer relationships with funders and decision-makers. Third, due to existing definitions, many organizations led by marginalized groups “don’t have the capacity.” They’re “small and disorganized,” they are “not ready to be leaders in these efforts.” Fourth, community engagement has been seen as the icing on the cake, and not an essential ingredient, so it is always last to be considered. Fifth, many funders and decision-makers focus on sexy short-term gains, not effective long-term investments.

Look, I’m not saying anyone is intentionally trying to discriminate against certain communities. Everyone is well-intentioned. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and cultural competency have risen to the front of people’s minds. Organizations are scrambling to talk about these issues, to diversify their board, to get community input. That is all great and all, but it has only been leading to marginalized communities being irritated and frustrated. Every single week, we leaders of color get asked to provide input, to join an advisory committee, attend a summit, to fill out a survey. Because of this well-intentioned mandate to engage with communities, we get bombarded with requests to do stuff for free.

Trickle-Down Community Engagement is pretty dangerous, for several reasons. When people who are most affected by issues are not funded and trusted to lead the efforts to address them:

It perpetuates the Capacity Paradox. The Capacity Paradox is when an organization cannot get significant funding because it has limited capacity, so it cannot develop its capacity, which leads it to not being able to get significant funding, which means it can’t develop its capacity. This greatly affects organizations led by communities of color and other marginalized communities. And then they can’t be as involved, which leads to ineffective efforts to tackle issues. (See “Capacity building for communities of color: The paradigm must shift.”)

It’s annoying as hell. In every single issue, I keep seeing larger, well-connected organizations getting significant funding but are not effective at engagement. So they pester us smaller ethnic-led orgs to help. I was asked by a collective impact backbone org to be involved with planning a summit to engage communities of color. I advised them not to do it, and told them that I’ve been to far too many summits that suck (See: “Community Engagement 101: Why most summits suck.”) Next thing I knew, they organized the summit anyway, asked my organization to help with outreach, and asked me personally to translate their outreach material into Vietnamese! All for free, of course! (“Run, Timmy!!”)

It’s intrinsically wrong. We, above any other field, must act on the belief that people most affected by inequities must be leaders in the movement. It is the right thing to do. Imagine a group of men leading an effort and making important decisions on women’s issues like reproductive health, and then asking women to come give feedback at a meeting. Or a bunch of idiots who don’t know anything about science leading a committee on climate change and asking scientists to come testify about global warming. These scenarios are ridiculous, which is why they happen in Congress.

Most importantly, it doesn’t work and is even counterproductive. If TDCE actually works, then we’d have little to argue about. But it does not. Well-intentioned but useless and sometimes even harmful stuff get voted on and implemented. For example, at a meeting I was invited to someone said, “We need to put 100% of funding into early learning instead of splitting it among early learning and youth development” and I had to remind them that “Many immigrant and refugee kids get here when they’re older than 5, so they’d be screwed if you only invest in early learning. We need to support the entire continuum of kids’ development.” (See “Youth Development, why it is just as important as early learning“) Unfortunately, by the time a mainstream organization finally gets to that community feedback forum or summit to get feedback on their well-intentioned but crappy plan or policy, it is too late.

Trickle-Down Community Engagement sucks and is insulting. The sector needs to stop only supporting major organizations and hope that magically the people disproportionately affected whom we don’t fund will join in. Or at the very least, we should stop whining about it when they don’t. We organizations led by marginalized communities are tired and irritated at excuses like “We can’t invest in you guys because you’re too small,” coupled with the constant requests for us to be involved. Don’t just give three drops of water to your rainbow carrots, wonder why they aren’t growing, and then whine about the lack of color in your salad.

As I said, everyone is well-intentioned. But Trickle-Down Community Engagement is harmful, and we need to all be aware of it and put a stop to it:

Funders: Review your investments for every priority. Are the issues you are trying to address disproportionately affecting some groups? Are those groups getting equitably funded and supported or are you just giving them token funding? Are they leading the effort or just playing bit parts on the side? If you are funding mainstream organizations to address challenges affecting marginalized communities, look at their budget request to see how much of it is to be shared with partner organizations that are led by affected communities. Stop being fooled by well-intentioned mainstream efforts that claim to represent marginalized communities but that are only tokenizing and using them. I’ve seen a well-funded coalition list over 80 diverse organizations as member, but on closer examination, several of these groups aren’t aware that they are members, or they no longer even exist!

Donors: See above paragraph. In addition, know that organizations led by marginalized communities tend to be smaller, so they need your support more. Unfortunately, they don’t have the same relationship with you or the same marketing and development capacity as bigger and better known organizations. Seek them out. Your support matters.

Mainstream organizations: Sorry, it seems like I’ve been beating up on you a lot. That’s not my intentions. You guys do awesome stuff and play critical roles. But review your projects and budgets, and examine your role and the dynamics you are contributing to. Are you building in funding to share with community partners, or are you just asking people to do stuff for free in the name of “community engagement”? Are you siphoning funding to address issues that other nonprofits should be tackling but they don’t yet have the capacity? Are you mentoring smaller nonprofits through strategic partnerships? Are you serving as an advocate for these groups, since you have better relationships with funders?

Organizations led by marginalized communities: Learn when to say yes and when to say no. I’ve seen too many small nonprofits agree to do outreach, to be partners, to even run programs for tiny amounts of funding. I’ve done it myself. My last organization, when it was much smaller, partnered with a bigger org who could not reach students of color. They asked us to organize a 2-hour workshop for over 100 diverse kids each month for a year. You know how much we got to do that? $2500 total, and we had to itemize and have receipts for every pencil we bought! The big organization who “partnered” with us got all the credit, of course. All of us can be so naïve, signing on to coalitions without researching first, lending our names to summits without due diligence, doing outreach and translation for free. It just perpetuates a terrible and ineffective system that continues to leave our communities behind. Learn to say no, to give feedback firmly, and to build strategic relationships.

Equity, diversity, inclusion, community engagement, etc. those are all good, but they can also be irritating, misleading, and even harmful if not done right. Trickle-Down Community Engagement is an example of good-intention poorly executed. If we want marginalized communities to be engaged, we need to fund and support them directly to be engaged. Community Engagement cannot be the icing on the chocolate cake of equity and social justice. It is the chocolate!

How to Have Fun as a Social Worker

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Forever ago, I wrote an article extolling the virtues of  fun in social work. What I didn’t touch on was what that looks like or rather what fun as a social work can look like since we all have different definitions of fun. I’ll break it down into what we can all do as individuals and what supervisors and the organization can do as a whole to support a fun, thriving work environment. Again, for those who’ve forgotten or never knew, having fun (aka playing) leads to increased creativity, innovation, and productivity. There’s no reason to be a stick in the mud, especially if you want to excel at what you do.

As individuals:

  1. Share the funny: youtube videos, newspaper cartoons, something hilarious that someone said (while still being mindful of feelings), etc., etc., etc. It’s quick. It can be sent with the click of a button. Even a brief laugh can up the endorphins and provide the necessary motivation to continue with the day.
  2. Exercise breaks: Do some pushups between notes, take a walk around the building or even better outside during a break, challenge your boss to an arm wrestling competition. Exercise also boosts endorphins, and if you sit a lot help combat all the problems that go along with that.
  3. Jam out to some tunes: Play your favorite music while writing notes. Listen to it in the car on your way to a home visit or meeting. Utilize it during therapy sessions with clients. There are a million ways music can create a more fun and therapeutic work environment.
  4. Books on smart devices (this is assuming most people no longer do books on tape or CD): Great if you have to spend a lot of time driving for your gig. Or you’re waiting for a client to show up. Veg out to something mindless or learn a new language. The sky’s the limit!
  5. Movies: If there’s an extra computer in the office put one on while writing notes. Use them for therapeutic interventions with clients. There’s plenty of inspiration on film out there.

As supervisors/organizations:

Remember your employees matter too: While ultimately it is about serving clients, it’s your responsibility to make sure you have a staff that’s capable of doing so and that means cultivating an environment of support, inspiration, creativity, and of course, the theme of the article, fun!  Utilize your employees’ passions to more thoroughly serve the organization’s mission. While it may not always fit into a neat, tidy, organized job description it is more likely to benefit both the employee and clients when the employee is passionate about what they’re doing. And one thing we should be well aware of as social workers is that life is not neat, tidy, and organized.

  • Creative corners: Speaking of cultivating creativity, set aside space and time each week for employees to work on a creative project of their choosing. It could be for the actual work environment or for themselves. If that seems frivolous, remember that creativity is what leads to lasting change, as well as job satisfaction. There are businesses that set aside up to half a work day each week for employees to work on a creative project that had NOTHING to do with their actual job and it was found that productivity in their workplace increased significantly, as well as innovative thinking and solutions to actual work challenges.
  • Office Olympics: I don’t remember where I ever saw or heard about this but I’ve been itching to race down a hallway in my rolley chair ever since. It could be an annual tradition. Hmmm…
  • Secret Santas, office potlucks, funny employee awards, happy hours, etc., etc., etc. There are a million fun little ways to boost workplace morale. Find the ones that work for your environment and utilize them often. It’s all right to not spend every single moment working. More work gets done that way anyway.
  • Encourage wellness. Don’t ask your employees to work crazy long hours. Provide incentives for physical exercise. Provide emotional support for those tough days that are a given for social workers. Provide surprise days off. Hold yoga or dance or whatever classes on the job site.

There are an infinite amount of ways to have more fun as social workers or in a workplace in general. These are just a few to get you started. It may seem that this would be a waste of time since often there isn’t enough time to do everything that needs to be done as a social worker as it is. However, it’s more likely that taking the time out to take care of yourself (the much lauded self-care) and your employees you’ll find more time to do the social work. Besides helping others should be fun, not work. Maybe the name social work should just be changed to social fun!

Why Pharmacists Are at the Centre of Future Healthcare

In today’s changing medical world, the pharmacist is becoming more important. In many ways, pharmacists are becoming more like mini-doctors, depending on their education and training. Some pharmacists in the United States and UK can even offer some medical advice and prescribe limited medications. This flexible license is vital to the ever-changing and expanding medical world.

Is becoming a pharmacist a viable career? With today’s medical costs rising, becoming a pharmacist is one way to help people without the high costs of 12 years of medical school. Most pharmacists also make a decent salary, making the investment worth it.

Take a look at how the role of the pharmacist is changing below:

Market Concentration

PharmacistOver the next 10-20 years, general practitioners will fade away. What used to be prescribed by practitioners will now be able to be prescribed by pharmacists. Hospitals and doctors will stick to consolidated offerings and specialized treatments. A few organizations may even buy out smaller doctor’s offices.

Self reliance

The economic downturn has made many people less likely to visit an actual doctor. This means that many people will turn to their pharmacist long before they ever step into a doctor’s office. Patients are looking for prevention and self-care methods, rather than treatments like they wanted before. This will enabled pharmacists to become involved with lifestyle management.

Medication Therapy Management (MTM)

Medication Therapy Management is a new role for pharmacists. This is an important role that will only become more important as the decade progresses. MTM is designed to help patients receive the best treatment options for their unique needs, and the pharmacist can take on that role with ease.

Pharmacogenetics

Could medications be used based on the genetic makeup of a person? In modern medicine, the practice is not widely used, but in the future, it is likely that many medications will be offered based on genetics. Pharmacists will be able to help provide the flexibility necessary to identify which medications belong with each unique set of genetics. Pharmacists have a chance to lead along with scientists to discover the true benefits of genetic-based medications.

Primary Care

One new role for the pharmacist is the role of primary care. With the new ability to dispense certain medicines and provide an advice-based role, many pharmacists are uniquely qualified to act as primary care providers for many low-risk patients of any age.

Pharmacists as Doctors

In the past, the pharmacy was simply for dispensing medication. However, today, the pharmacy is more of a community health center, offering health screenings, immunizations, and more. This hybrid between pharmacy and doctor’s office is something that is only beginning to emerge, but has the chance to become a community-based medical center that provides for all patient needs.

Prevention

Prevention is something that the medical industry hasn’t really focused on before now. However, with patients living longer and healthier lives, prevention becomes more important. Nutraceuticals, are foods and food products that provide medical and health benefits on more of a preventative role. This is something that a pharmacist can provide to patients- perhaps even uniting with fitness centers for a total health approach.

The role and future of pharmacists is changing. Rather than simply being pill pushers, the profession is changing and taking a more active role in the prevention and curing of medical illnesses. The pharmacist of today is able to interact directly with patients, offer medical advice, and help a patient take an active, preventative role in his or her health.

Is Your Candle Burning from Both Ends: Examining Burnout and Self-Care

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“You can’t help others until you first help yourself”. “Don’t burn your candle from both ends”.

I used to hate those cliches, but when it comes to therapist wellness, it’s true.

My first experience with burnout happened just 3 short months after graduating with my Master’s degree. I move across the country, and I dived head-first into the real-world of therapy. My eyes were opened to a whole new world of disillusionment that I could never have been prepared for.

I experienced an episode of burnout, and I know it won’t be my last.  Along the road to getting my licensure as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), I encountered things that would make even the most resilient people burn out, if not get a little crispy around the edges.

  • I saw ethics violations and fraud that hurt clients and the entire mental health system is full of corruption.  I reported a provider to a licensing board, lost my job and relocated.
  • I’ve had 5 jobs in just over 2 years. I worked overtime at roughly $15 an hour with student loan debt weighing heavily in the back of my mind. One agency I worked for, closed suddenly overnight after a few weeks of my pay checks bouncing. I also had to pay for weekly supervision in order to keep my associate license.
  • I worked in homes with roaches, smells and sights that seemed to be right out of horror movies. I saw the effects of child abuse and sat back and felt hopeless when CPS couldn’t help. Poverty, inequality and suffering were in my face every day.
  • I got physically and verbally attacked by clients. I was providing services in rural areas where guns were prevalent and cell-phone service was not.
  • I frequently felt undermined by administrators. I was told that the letters after my name didn’t matter, even though I had worked so hard for them. I was told I needed to “earn my stripes” even though I had education, experience, and a license.
  • I was on-call for emergencies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. I came to associate my ringtone with crisis and would cringe when I heard it.

These things do not make me a martyr. These are the typical experiences of a new therapist.  I share them in the hopes of increasing awareness, decreasing the isolation and shame other therapists feel. I hope to open the door to discussions about how we can make systematic changes to make things better.

Improving the workplace for counselors, and in turn, improving services for clients with mental health needs will be a forever on-going process. This topic could easily be it’s own post, book, or series of books.

In the mean time, how will you stay healthy, engaged, and able to serve your clients?  Here is what has helped me along the way:

  • Embracing the inevitable and learning to recognize the signs of burnout. Burnout will happen. Be ready and keep a look-out.  It can mean feeling exhausted, numb, hopeless, helpless or depressed.  It could mean feeling anxious, panicked and unable to sleep.  Other signs include relief when clients cancel sessions, dreading going to work in the morning, client-blaming, or being sarcastic, cynical and resentful.
  • Receiving lots of supervision from other therapists.  One-on-one direction from therapists with more experience than me was priceless.  Group supervision also helped decrease my sense of isolation and boosted my confidence.
  • Becoming a regular therapy client. I believe therapy is effective for helping people cope with a stressful life.  That is why I’m a counselor, and it is also why I am not afraid to seek counseling for myself.
  • Taking steps toward basic self-care. Keep eating, exercising and sleeping habits healthy. Avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Maintaining relationships with family and friends. Build your social support network. Stay connected to your community.
  • Taking time off. Get out of town or turning off the phone. It’s ok to un-plug and relax, even if it is just for a few minutes.
  • Seeing the big picture.  Every therapist has a vision and a reason they entered this field.  Remind yourself of it.
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