How to Raise Money, Creatively

•January 19, 2008 • 2 Comments

Just a few random thoughts on fundraising: 1. Sometimes it must be possible to forget about money and (a) barter for the goods or services you need, or (b) get in-kind contributions to meet your operating needs. This probably won’t work when it comes to things like salaries, rent, consulting fees, or utility bills. However… 2. Brainstorming often works, even when it comes to dealing with money problems. Look for new appeals, new audiences, and new promotional media. You can do simple, old-fashioned brainstorming on one of those subjects. You could try a formal idea-generating method like SCAMPER, attribute listing, or morphological analysis. 3. Don’t fundraise without knowing some copywriting principles!!! I don’t care how small or cash-strapped your organization happens to be. Maybe these thoughts will spawn some creative and practical thinking on how to get the resources you need. Let me know what you think, or what ideas you get. My idea is to look for ways to generate resources for my own humble group – IdealistDC.


Books the World Needs

•January 19, 2008 • 2 Comments

I’m doing a bit of market research on some books I’d like to write. Not much point if there’s no market right? Well, I’m hoping my blog readers will be willing to offer some comments on these ideas:

1. The Little Book of Bad Ideas – Catalogs the social and personal costs of ideas including astrology, God, free will, responsibility, self-improvement, homeopathy, and lotteries. There will also be a chapter on the concept of “social pollution” and a chapter on the cognitive biases and cultural factors that support the birth and survival of bad ideas.

2. Social Pollution – While #1 is mostly a sociological trivia book, Social Pollution is a study of the subject, the causes, the consequences, prevention, and remediation. Think The God Delusion for culture and you get the idea.

3. The Worldchanger’s Toolbox – Problem analysis, planning, idea generation, decision making, social marketing, persuasive writing techniques are explained in detail with instructions for applying them to advocacy, fundraising, political campaigns, program and policy design. Also includes a primer on copywriting, on the psychology of selling, and on the diffusion of social and technological innovations.

Making Small-Scale Activism Efforts More Effective

•January 18, 2008 • 1 Comment

This is the very-long season of selling candidates and ideas, including a candidate’s ideas, a party’s ideas, or a group’s ideas for policies and programs. The usual methods of creating and selling political ideas are well known to political activists, though some simple principles for creating and selling ideas may have been overlooked.


  1. Analyze Challenges – Ask plenty of questions about the nature of the issue, the social environment, and the likely solutions. Michael Michalko’s book Thinkertoys contains some of the best questions.
  2. Define Good Ideas – The social environment, the time frame involved, and your organization’s resources will help define what counts as a good idea.
  3. Steal Ideas – Look for ideas in advertising, products, commercial services, magazines, novels, government programs, and other organization’s projects.
  4. Think Creatively – Use brainstorming techniques or systematic idea generation methods get new ideas. Many good creative thinking books describe idea generation techniques that are both effective and easy to use.
  5. Think Design – Ideas have to fit the culture, economy, and political climate of the community. Test ideas for their fit with the social environment
  6. Think Marketing – Ideas generally need to be sold. You need to raise money, recruit program participants or get people to vote for something by selling them on your idea’s benefits. Books on social marketing and on copywriting principles can help.
  7. Find Leverage – Look for an audience, geographic location, or specific action that will have the greatest impact for the time and money that you can devote to a change effort. Focus on the highest impact focal point that you can identify.

Odd Activism Questions

•January 16, 2008 • 1 Comment

Random input is a popular brainstorming technique, described in several books on creative thinking. I just thought I would share some random input, in the form of seemingly silly questions:

1. How is a fundraising campaign like a wedding?

2. How is an education campaign like a lizard?

3. How is activism like housework?

4. How is fundraising like jogging?

5. How is a social service agency like a street gang?

How do you answer such questions? Ask yourself about the attributes or characteristics associated with, for example, lizards. Take each item on your list and see if the suggest a new way of running a public education campaign.

If any of those five crazy questions prompts some useful ideas, please leave me a comment.

Public Education and Social Change

•January 14, 2008 • 3 Comments

Public education campaigns are an important part of many social change efforts. People need to know about the problem – how big it is, how much it costs, who is affected, why the problem exists, what exactly can be done. Magazine ads, press releases, television and radio advertising (if you can afford it!) are all good ways to get a message across. But there might be better ways. A little creativity is called for here. And budget issues might force you to be more creative.

The following list of principles could help you develop better public education campaigns:

1. Leverage – What medium will let you reach the most people who need to hear your message, for the money you can spend? What specifically can you communicate that will have the most impact? Research or think. Don’t guess or assume.

2. Design Thinking – Design the message for the audience and not for your group or to copy something cool/touching/edgy that you’ve previously encountered. Your message has to consider the norms, beliefs, and attitudes of people who are going to get the message.

3. Marketing – You have to sell, sell, sell. It might be regrettable that people have to be made to care about the facts of a certain issue, but that’s the way the world works. If you want your message to stick, study copywriting principles and social marketing.

4. Science – At least use relevant facts about an issue. Maybe Americans use 40% of the world’s resources while being only 5% of the world’s population. So what? Maybe the rest of the world is too poor!

Use these principles when designing or redesigning a public education campaign. Consider all four principles when you use the idea generation tools I’ll write about next time. I’ll also apply these principles and tools to public education campaign about critical thinking. Real applications of my abstract ideas!

Don’t forget that public education is different from advocacy, though there is certainly going to be some combining of objectives – publicize the costs of global warming and convince them to take step X or make change Y.

Effective Advocacy Principles

•January 7, 2008 • 1 Comment

Advocacy efforts depend on lots of things for success – good ideas, hard work, money, effective marketing, and many other factors that are more or less controllable. This post is about four principles, the use of which can influence a campaign’s chances of success. The example of advocating for household use of solar energy technology should make these “effective advocacy principles” more concrete.

1. Facts – Facts can change perceptions or, maybe, spur people to take action. The more the facts relate to real life, the more likely people will be swayed by them. For example, you would be wrong if you think I care about a lifestyle that produces X tons of greenhouse gases a year. I do care about the potential cost savings I could realize by installing some solar power equipment.

2. Logic – Simple logic, as in avoiding common logical errors in your reasoning has to a priority. You can also use logic against your opponents. Trust me when I say it won’t be hard. But, back to the solar power example: Try to promote it through a ballot initiative (to offer a break on property taxes perhaps) that encourages people to use solar power. A logical sound argument might help make the case, once you‘ve managed to get our attention. .

3. Marketing – All advocacy is about selling. You want to sell some political action, or some lifestyle change, or something else. How do you do that? Convince people that there is something in it for them. Most of us don’t care what moral imperative you think you’ve discovered and embodied in your proposal. We might philosophically agree with , for example, the need for wider use of renewable energy. We are definitely interested in what‘s in it for us. Present a compelling case that we’ll get concrete benefits from putting solar panels on our roofs and, we’ll be (a little) more likely to do it.

4. Science – Use scientific concepts, principles, research, and theory promote your cause. Psychology’s been heavily used in advertising and in persuasive writing. Study copywriting. Dig up stuff from the natural sciences and social sciences. Use what you dig up to strengthen your idea. Use what you’ve learned to strengthen your sales pitch. Allay my fears that I won’t be able to run the microwave and TV at the same time on a cloudy winter day. Isn’t that what can happen if you depend 100% on solar power?

Be a Better Advocate for Your Cause

•January 4, 2008 • 7 Comments

Activists want to sell ideas – conservative ideas, liberal ideas, environmental ideas, and many other types of ideas. Social change necessarily depends on getting ideas and selling them effectively. Promoting new beliefs, laws, lifestyle choices, policies, programs, regulations, and values could (One hopes!) be done more effectively with the right tools and techniques applied at each stage of the process. This post is about new tools and techniques that can be used at each stage of the advocacy process.

1. Defining the Problem – What problem are you addressing here? What, specifically, do you want to accomplish? Thinkertoys and Cracking Creativity (both by Michael Michalko) describe some easy techniques for exploring a problem, or challenge if you like to keep things positive. Using one or two should give you a much clearer idea of what you want to do or need to do.

(If you are getting into the advocacy game after the challenge and general approach have been defined you can still use the tools and techniques referenced in the following sections.)

2. Defining a Good Idea – Take a few minutes ahead of time and think about the criteria that define a good idea. You need to at least spend a few minutes considering your audience, your resources, the social environment, and the timeframe in question.

3. Generating Ideas – Traditional, informal brainstorming could come into play at this stage. You know how to do that sort of brainstorming. You may not know about the many, many techniques that exist for generating ideas. Thinkertoys and Cracking Creativity describe many brainstorming tools. Try two of them, one traditionally “creative” and one systematic.

4. Evaluating Ideas – An informal process of comparing your list of ideas to the criteria that define a good idea. Many ideas are rather weak in their original form. Don’t worry about that! Take promising ideas and reinforce them. offers some guidance on strengthening your ideas.

5. Deciding What to Do – Taking time to formally study a decision is usually a good idea. Some decisions are simple enough to make without much research or analysis. For the other decisions that come at you, there is a need to develop a formal method for deciding what to do. The “Decision Making” menu option at mind summarizes many decision analysis techniques.

6. Doing Something – This is the obvious last step in any advocacy effort. This is also a subject for another post. I’ll describe some principles and practices that can lead to better results.

Remember, even a small improvement (however defined) in two or three parts of the process could really make a difference! Who wants to study these techniques and apply them to a real project? I do!

Getting Better Social Change Results

•January 2, 2008 • Leave a Comment

The beginning of a new year brings with it a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how our social change efforts can be improved. Sustainable businesses need to innovate and advertise and promote. Nonprofits need to raise money and develop new programs or projects. Social marketing campaigns are always starting up. Activists and nonprofit managers are interested in public education and advocacy efforts, that are maximally effective.

Tools for generating ideas and solving problems can help, and there are certainly plenty of tools! That’s what this blog is about – informing the socially conscious about the tools and their applications to social betterment.

The beginning of a new year offers me the opportunity (excuse?) to change the focus of my posts. I’d been focusing on he tools and techniques. Now, I’m going to focus on goals common to social activists. This list matches those goals and common variations on them:

1. Advocacy – development of new strategies and tactics

2. Fundraising – including in-kind contributions and grants

3. Program Design – including policies and projects to implement or “sell” to an audience

4. Social Marketing – cause marketing, public education campaigns

5. Sustainable Business – process redesign, products, services

A little bit of systematic, formal problem analysis and idea generation might lead to better results – more money raised, more votes, fewer people doing (insert your favorite bad behavior). In the next few posts, I’ll focus on advocacy efforts – how to create and sell new ideas about social policy, consumerism, diet, or any other issue area.

Brainstorming Applications

•December 20, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Last time I wrote about brainstorming techniques that would help social innovators and activists to get better results. This post builds on that idea with some advice on what sorts of social innovation or activism tasks can be helped by using various brainstorming techniques. You’ll need to do a little homework after reading this post, and might need a reference source while you read. I suggest for information on the brainstorming techniques I’ll mention here. Here is my brief guide to common tasks and a brainstorming technique to use with each:

1. Advocacy – random input for demonstration tactics and messages

2. Education – morphological analysis for alternatives to the usual component parts

3. Fundraising – random input for strategy and tactics; provocations

4. Policy – morphological analysis, SCAMPER

5. Program design – provocations, morphological analysis, SCAMPER

6. Social marketing – random input, morphological analysis

Provocations and random input are described in Edward De Bono’s book Serious Creativity. Random input, SCAMPER, and morphological analysis are covered in Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko.  So, get one of thsoe books or have a look at

Brainstorming and Social Betterment

•December 18, 2007 • Leave a Comment

This post just serves to reinforce my claim that social activists could get better results by applying a few simple, but formalized, brainstorming tactics to their plans. Social marketing, advocacy, public education efforts, social programs, policies, and fundraising could always benefit from new ideas. We need new idea about how to do those things and we need new ideas to promote/sell.

Many, many formal techniques for generating ideas exist. Just read Michael Michalko’s books Thinkertoys and Cracking Creativity and you‘ll learn more techniques that you ever imagined. Learning two or three of the techniques could only help any activist or nonprofit manager. With that in mind, I‘d like to suggest two techniques that are relatively powerful and easy to use:

1. Fantasy questions – There is more than one way to use “pie-in-the-sky“ thinking to generate viable ideas. I only want to draw attention to two specific questions inspired by a book called Why Not?

– How would you solve the problem if there were no practical limits on the money that you could spend? Answer that question in detail and see if some form of that idea might be implemented in the real world.

– How could people be made to absorb the full cost of their behavior?

2. Random input – State your challenge. Turn to a random page in a dictionary and pick the first noun on the page. That word should conjure up some facts, features, and associations. List them and think about each one in turn. One or more item on the list should lead to a new insight into how to solve our problem.