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.

Designing and Selling Policies, Part 2

•December 12, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Last time I mentioned a few elements of creative social policy, creating one and selling it. You want to be able to identify the real problem, brainstorming, and borrowing ideas. This post includes notes on designing social policies and selling them.

Design Thinking – Before getting too deep into creating a new policy or advocating a policy consider the resources that would be available to implement the policy. Of course the most important resource is going to be money, but people are also important – will enough people be available for enough hours to actually implement the policy? When in doubt it might be wise to assume that there won’t be. What elements of the social environment need to be accounted for in thinking about this new policy we need? Consider values, beliefs, education level, technology, physical infrastructure, and general economic conditions. You will have to determine exactly what factors need to be considered in each particular situation.

Selling ideas – Whatever the policy idea is, someone else will have to implement the policy, by voting for it, creating new regulations, or something else. You’ll invariably have to depend on selling the idea through advertising, public education efforts, demonstrations, and other means. Search various combinations of audience, location (to place ads or stage demonstrations or whatever) and medium. YouTube videos of bawdy “activist” songs might be just the thing for your particular cause and target audience.

Businesses sell things all the time, often just an image or feeling. Maybe stealing ideas from the business world (sidewalk sales, advertorials, et cetera) would work. An adversarial is a promotional essay that reads like an editorial.

Designing and Selling Policies, Part 1

•December 8, 2007 • Leave a Comment

Activists sometimes want new policies enacted. Sometimes they create a new policy idea and try to sell

the idea to lawmakers or voters. The creation and selling of new policies are two undertakings that call for systematic problem solving by activist groups. 

Policy ideas are usually meant to solve a social or environmental problem. A little problem analysis can seperate symptoms from problems. Good problem analysis starts with good questions. Michael

Michalko’s brainstorming book Thinkertoys offers questions for studying your problem. Buy a copy and check out the section on Phoenix Questions and the chapter on exploring a challenge.

(WARNING: Sometimes the “real” problem can’t be addressed by ANY policy. Human nature is one example of such a problem. The complexity of many organizations is another example. Other “problems” are invented by a political ideology: “Capitalism is the problem!”  Some problems can’t be addressed because nobody knowss how to solve them. Drug addiction seems to fit into this category.)

Getting an idea of what problem to address with your policy is only one step in the process. You might have an idea about the policy that’s needed. It may also be true that you don’t really have an idea to present and need to do some brainstorming. 

Once you’ve come up with a policy idea, whether by borrowing or brainstorming, you’ll need to convince people that the policy needs to be adopted. The selling of your idea to politicans or voters is

another opportunity for creativity. Resource shortages may force you to get creative about the advertising medium, the message itself, event he audience to target with your message.

Designing Effective Programs

•December 5, 2007 • Leave a Comment

So, lets change subjects from talking about rasing money to the subject of program design.

“There needs to be a program for that issue in this town.”
“We need to launch a project to deal with ______.”

Social problems and social opportunities often get handled by new programs or projects. Some are run by the government, some by nonprofits.

Program design calls for problem analysis, so you can be more confident that the program is going to help fix the problem, or take advantage of the opportunity. When it comes to program design there are really two options – design a new one or borrow and adapt one that alredy exists. Regardless of the approach you choose, there are a few things to do. Always state your challenge explicitely. Be aware of the available resources. Know the social environment.

Those last two steps can be facilitated with aproblem analysis technique called “Appreciation.” The details are explained at, which also describes other problem analysis tools. You should  also take some time to study the problem itself. Try using the 5 Why technique, also explained at Try to framw your challenge in different ways, such as curing or selling, or marketing.

Try to maximize the number of times people DON’T need help instead of maximizing the number of people who need help and get it.

New Ideas About Fundraising

•December 3, 2007 • 1 Comment

Nonprofit groups sometimes need to raise money, recruit volunteers, or get in-kind contributions. All three effrots really represent different ways of getting the resources the organization needs to achieve its goals. With that in mind, I offer a few thoughts on creative fundraising. The advice could apply to soliciting in-kind contributions or to recruiting volunteers. You’ll have to decide for yourself if it is true.

Some of you will have thought about getting grants for projects. Don’t get too creative here! There is a formal process to be followed, and no real alternatives exist. Making your grant application into a YouTube video may qualify as creative, but it makes more sense to figure out how to write a grant proposal. I think, and correct me if I’m wrong, that most grant-making organizations are very conservative. 

But, back to creative fundraising…

Take a few minutes to do nothing but think of as many techniques as possible for raising the money you need. This is brainstorming as practiced by most of us. Don’t censor your ideas. Don’t be afraid to get crazy. You might come up with somwthing that’s both new and realistic. Expect the ideas to emerge in a raw form that calls for some refinement.

Use business tools and techniques as starting points for your brainstorming efforts. Use sidewalk sales, coupons, vending machines, white sales, and otehr marketing tools to inspire you. Start by picking the next marketing device that you see. What features and characteristics come to mind? Write them down? Look at each feature or characteristic and see if any new ideas appear.

Try to restate your challenge. The obvous challenge here is to raise X amount of money. You could think in terms of raising time, talent, or knowledge. You could go back to an old fundraising standby and solicit contributions that you can sell at a yard sale.

Try to modify or expand the usual fundraising techniques in osme way. What else could you do with a yard sale featuring donated goods? How else could you run a bake sale? Again, your initial ideas are likely to need some work before they are usable.