September, 2011

Long Distance

So much of stamina has to do with not thinking about what you’re afraid of and never looking up to see how far you have to go.  Letting fear in your head generates the kind of panic you can feel in your chest and arms.  Seeing the finish line far in the horizon – or worse not being able to see it at all – drains the confidence right out of you like a plug pulled on a very fast drain.  I say this like I’m a marathon runner or something.

I’m not. 

This picture is of me getting out of the water after a half-mile swim for the Danskin Triathlon in Pleasant Prairie about four years ago. Aside from childbirth, this is about as physical a feat I’ve ever attempted.  And I did it – swam across the lake in about 20 minutes, all the while fighting off my panic about being in deep water, in the weeds, with other women splashing and flailing about, people in kayaks telling me I was off course, and the other side looking like Tinker Bell’s light hovering several miles away.

Diana Nyad – long distance swimmer – talked about how she just focuses on the here and now, breaking a long distance into small chunks and keeping her head full of songs and ideas totally unrelated to the fact that she’s in an ocean with gigantic creatures and currents and chop, not to mention the Portuguese Man o’ Wars that eventually did her in on this last swim.

What I didn’t understand when I was swimming across the lake I have understood for a long time when it comes to work.

Almost since the beginning of my career, I’ve had enormous projects due in short amounts of time.  I have felt the physical panic that comes from looking up to see the finish line pages and pages away.  I’ve been defeated before I started thinking about all the dangers, the mistakes, and the risks.  I’ve frozen in place looking at a blank computer screen, cursor flashing, the outline of a federal proposal in the wee-est possible print on my desk, the points for each section stoking my fear and paralysis.  Sounds bad?  Yeah, I’ve had some bad ones.  But I learned from them.  One step at a time, that’s the trick.

When Diana Nyad described her strategy for swimming 103 miles from Cuba to Key West, it was actually kind of familiar.  But not in a sports way – in a work way.  On a big project, I always break the work into chunks, constantly work a list, keep focused on the task at hand, and don’t think about the sharks and other evils lurking – like bad data, lackadaisical colleagues, and indecipherable proposal requirements. I also make sure I’ve got the best equipment (no computer failures for me), solid connections to great resource people (a carefully tended Rolodex – metaphorically speaking), and a strong personal support system (husband who cooks).

Chunk, chunk, chunk.  Stroke, stroke, stroke.  Don’t look up until it’s time to walk on shore.

It works.  It really does.

Social Media: Does It Work For You?


I have a couple Facebook friends whose posts have turned me against causes I was formerly for.  Well, maybe that’s an extreme statement.  But you know what I mean?  The constant picketing, call to arms, re-posts of political articles.  Eh. At the same time, there are nonprofits, a couple that I know and love, whose posts are stiff and uninviting, posts where I can tell that a committee thought long and hard about just how to phrase their next message.  Another eh.

But there’s the opposite, too.  I have Facebook friends that post amazingly well-worded, often funny, sometimes poignant statuses.  And I follow a bunch of nonprofit organizations who also seem to ‘get it’ — they change up what they post from day to day.  Sure, there’s the advertising and organizational promotion, but there might be announcements about community events, reflections on issues, and an occasional splash of humor.  The nonprofits that I think do the best job on Facebook have a little joy and hope in their posts — so it’s not all ‘oh, God, look how bad things are.’

Facebook is just one little piece of social media.  Today, I was talking to a couple of nonprofit folks (Rochelle Dukes Fritsch from IMPACT and Janet Peshek from Cathedral Center, Inc.) who are putting it all together – Facebook, Twitter, Tweetdeck, LinkedIn – with all the enhancements in between.  How to do this and do it well is the topic of our next Planners and Grantwriters Roundtable – October 13th – at the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.  Sponsored by the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee, the Roundtable brings people together to yak.  Yep, yak.  We organize a panel of experts and then we encourage Roundtablers to have at it.

On October 13th, the topic is social media….yeah, yeah, there’ve been a million social media workshops.  This one’s different. THIS ONE IS REALLY DIFFERENT.

We’re going to ask 100 QUESTIONS.  We’re going to have a dynamite panel and we’re going to bombard them with questions.

So help us out.  Give us your questions.  Use the comment section below and send off a couple of ideas.  What do you need to know to make social media really work for you and your organization?


Equal Opportunity Isn’t Always Equal

Or another title could be, “Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes.”  Although I resisted it for years, I have finally become convinced of the wisdom of women and minority-owned businesses seeking designation as DBE’s (Disadvantaged Business Enterprise).  My business, Wilberg Community Planning LLC, has been a DBE for several years.  Initially, I’ll be honest with you, I sought DBE status because a local government official said to me, “It would be a lot less hassle to hire you if you were a DBE.”

DBE Decision.  So I went after the designation really as part of a customer service strategy.  This particular government official was a good and steady client who had to negotiate and finagle my contracts through the bureaucracy every time.  Not in my interest to be a high maintenance consultant, so I filed the paperwork.  This isn’t a simple deal, either.  Obtaining DBE status means #1 – you actually have to have a business that’s real and #2 – you have to be able to prove it with things like profit and loss statements, balance sheets, and lists of clients. 

DBE certification also requires sending the certification agency your personal income tax returns.  And then there’s the signatures and the notary and all that stuff.  They don’t let just anyone be a DBE and they don’t make it particularly easy.  Primary reason is that it’s too tempting for majority companies to set up paper DBE firms and game the system.

The Ethics of It.  At first, I was really bothered by the ethics of seeking DBE.  The primary reason was that I didn’t think I was really disadvantaged.  I thought other people/companies were more disadvantaged and deserved the designation but me, being a white woman, not so much.  This was during a period when I really had come to believe that my education and experience erased sexism, bought me a membership in the Good Ol’ Boys Club, and leveled my little playing field.  Hence, no need for DBE.  Right.

Now my thinking has changed.  The playing field — the big playing field — the one where the pros play – won’t get leveled without a major structural adjustment. Here’s my view — male/majority companies have had decades of implicit preference.  If we wait for the normal course of progress to balance things out, it’ll be the next Ice Age.

So What?  So I understand the complaints of students at UW-Madison who are torqued about UW-Madison’s efforts to admit more minority students.  And maybe it isn’t fair that they have to pay the price for decades of majority preference.  But we just can’t wait patiently for things to get better.  We have to make them better.  Last spring, only 3.0% of UW-Madison’s students were African American, another 3.6% were Hispanic. Not good enough.

“Group says UW-Madison admissions favor minorities,” JSOnline, September 13, 2011.