Category Archives: Life

Posts about my family and personal interests and pursuits

Notes From All Over

Did you know that Techcafeteria isn’t the only place I blog?  You can find me posting on topics related to legal aid, technology, and my work at Legal Services Corporation at the LSC Technology Blog.  My latest there is about my favorite free task management tool, Trello.

I also do the occasional post on NTEN‘s blog, and they published my article on the history of Circuit Riders, the nonprofit-focused techies that got many an org automated in the 90’s, and my pitch for their new mission.  Related: I’ll be doing a webinar for NTEN this fall; an encore of the Project Management session that I did at the recent NTC. Look for that around September.

Next up here? I finally sorted out what bugs me about Dan Palotta, renowned fundraiser, rabble-rouser and keynoter at the NTEN conference last April. I should have that up in a day or two.

In non-blog related news, this is the month that my family finally joins me in DC.  We’ve rented an apartment in Arlington (within walking distance of LSC’s Georgetown offices) to hole up in while we look for a house to buy.  I’m flying to SF to load up the moving truck and say one last goodbye to the best beer on earth (Pliny the Elder, by Russian River Brewing Co.) (What? You thought I was speaking more generally?)

 

My Birthday Campaign: Justice For All

And Justice For All

Image by Steven Depolo

I’m sure that you’re all familiar with birthday campaigns: this one is a little different. For my birthday, coming up on June 1st, I want you to do something for me and a cause that is very important to me.  But I’m not asking for money, I’m asking for your voice. Here’s the deal:

Legal services (aka legal aid), is the offering of free legal counsel and services to those who can’t afford an attorney otherwise.  Many Americans know this, but they have no idea why it is so important. They might ask, “What’s the big deal?  In America, everyone has the right to an attorney” and the answer is that the court only appoints attorneys for those who can’t afford one in criminal cases.  In civil cases, that’s not a standard protection.  Here are some examples of civil cases:

  • A bank forecloses on a house.  The family living in the house has no place to go and can’t afford an attorney.  Even if the foreclosure is not legally justified, without legal help, they’ll lose their home.
  • An abusive parent hires an attorney and gains custody of the children.  The non-abusive spouse has no job and no resources to defend his or her claim, leaving the children in the hands of the abusive parent whom he/she divorced to protect the children from.
  • An Army Reservist is fired from his or her job. The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act protects service people from wrongful termination due to their armed forces commitments, but, without “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to mount a legal defense, what can an unemployed reservist do to address the firing?

These are all examples of common civil cases, and the challenges that our poor and working poor citizens have in accessing the justice for all that is promised in our constitution, our founding principles, and the pledge of allegiance that I remember reciting every school day in my youth (this is a birthday drive — I’m old!).

And, aside from addressing these injustices, consider what highly available legal aid for the poor can do to improve the quality of life in the community. In addition to misunderstanding the need for legal aid, there’s a poor understanding of how legal defense supports many nonprofit causes.  Our orgs do great work, but often undervalue the effectiveness of legal solutions in addressing systematic problems like poverty, disease and environmental injustice.

And this is what it boils down to:

Our nation is founded on the right for individuals to defend themselves from persecution.  That defense is contingent upon skilled legal advice and representation being available to every American, regardless of circumstance. My employer, Legal Services Corporation, tracks mountains of data on the effectiveness and impact of legal aid providers, and our research tells us that only 20 percent of those who qualify, financially, for legal aid are actually getting legal aid.  In the current economy, that translates to millions of people with no access to justice.

So here’s what I want for my birthday: I want you to tell everyone that you know what legal aid is, and why it’s important.  Make it clear that civil law lacks the level of protection that criminal law provides, but civil lawsuits can tear apart families, remove basic rights, and make people homeless. Explain that we can’t, as a nation, promote our democracy while we let it flounder, by depriving the increasing number of poverty-level citizens the freedom that our constitution promises. Freedom needs to be constantly defended, and many are deprived of the resources to defend their own.

Blog about this. Tweet it! Post it on Facebook and Google Plus.  Link to the resources I’ve provided in the links, or use some of the sample tweets and quotes below.

Hashtag: #Just4All

Most importantly, come back here, or ping me on Twitter, Facebook or Google+, and let me know how it goes. Tell me any good stories you collect about people who really didn’t know, or people who did, and were possibly saved by a legal aid attorney, or desperately needed one and didn’t know where to look.

For my birthday, I want the world to know that, in America, freedom isn’t just a perk for those who can afford an attorney; it’s a right for all. And we still have work to do to secure that right.

Sample Tweets (add more in the comments!):

Right to an attorney not guaranteed in civil cases; homes, families, + jobs are at risk for poor. #just4all

How legal aid saves lives + families: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/16/us/16gideon.html?_r=2& #just4all

Is legal aid one of your NPO’s strategies? http://publicwelfare.org/NaturalAllies.pdf #just4all

Only 20% of those who need legal assistance receive it: support your local Legal Aid program. #just4all

Quotes:

 “Equal access to justice contributes to healthy communities and a vibrant economy. No community thrives when people are homeless, children are out of school, sick people are unable to get health care, or families experience violence. Likewise, when a person’s legal problem is addressed in a timely and effective way, the benefit ripples out and helps that person’s family, neighbors, employer, and community.”
   Chief Justice Carol W. Hunstein, Supreme Court of Georgia
 
“Equal justice under law is not merely a caption on the facade of the Supreme Court building, it is perhaps the most inspiring ideal of our society. It is one of the ends for which our entire legal system exists…it is fundamental that justice should be the same, in substance and availability, without regard to economic status.”
Lewis Powell, Jr., U.S. Supreme Court Justice
 
“The failure to invest in civil justice is directly related to the increase in criminal disorder. The more people feel there is injustice the more it becomes part of their psyche.” 
 —
Wilhelm Joseph
Director, Legal Aid Bureau of Maryland
July, 2003
 
“But more than anything else, we have learned that legal assistance for the poor, when properly provided, is one of the most constructive ways to help them help themselves.”
President Richard Nixon, 1974
 
“Equality before the law in a true democracy is a matter of right. It cannot be a matter of charity or of favor or of grace or of discretion.” 
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Wiley Rutledge, sometime in the mid-20th century

 

(Great) Mission Accomplished

Great News! I’ll be joining Legal Services Corporation as their Chief Information Officer in January. Those of you who read my Looking For A New Job post in August know that I had some pretty strict requirements for the next gig, and this one meets and/or exceeds them.

LSC is the nonprofit that allocates federal funding to legal aid programs across the country.  From their web site:

LSC is the single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans in the nation. Established in 1974, LSC operates as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation that promotes equal access to justice and provides grants for high-quality civil legal assistance to low-income Americans. LSC distributes more than 90 percent of its total funding to 134 independent nonprofit legal aid programs with more than 900 offices.

Great Mission: Long time friends know how motivated I was by Goodwill’s mission of helping people out of poverty, and as important as the environmental work that I’ve been supporting for five years is, there was a part of me that missed the component of direct assistance to people in need.  Don’t get me wrong — I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to support Earthjustice’s work.  I am an environmentalist, and I will continue to put money and resources toward supporting that cause.  But causes are both emotional and intellectual things, and social justice/helping people in need strikes a more resonant chord in me than the environmental work did.  I think it ties to the type of ethic that brought my mother to her work running a clinic for pregnant teenagers in downtown Boston.

Great Challenges:  Three things thrilled me as I interviewed for LSC.  First, data management is a critical work process.  Not only are grants based on data that communicates about the performance of the grantees’, but the organization is, in turn, measured by the effectiveness of the grantees.  There are compliance and communication challenges that will require some creativity to address. Data strategy is what I do best, and I can’t wait to get started on the work at LSC.

Second, the first thing we discussed in the first interview was the priority to move to the cloud.  As with any large org, that’s not a slam dunk, but as I believe that the cloud is where we’re all headed, eventually, it’s great to be working for and with people who get that as well.  It was a hard sell at my last job.

Finally, LSC does more than just grant funds to legal aid NPOs, they also support the strategic use of technology at those organizations. When I left a job in the early 90’s as a Mailroom Manager/Network Administrator, I did so because technology was my hobby, so I wanted to do it full time.  For the last six or seven years, my “hobby” has been supporting small and mid-sized NPO’s in their use of technology, through this blog, Idealware, NTEN, Techsoup and a number of other orgs that have provided me with the opportunities.  Once again, I can fold my hobby into my day job, which has to be as close to the American dream as it gets, right?

Great Additional Challenge: Getting there. As my new job is 3000 miles form my current home address, I’m going to be relocating, in stages.  I start in January; my family will follow me out when the school year is up this coming summer. If any of my DC friends know of a good six or seven month sublet or roommate opportunity within commuting distance of Georgetown, I’d love to hear about it.

Longer term, we’ll be looking to find a place in northern Virginia that, like our lovely home here in CA, has ample space for an active family of three and enough trees and nature surrounding it to qualify as a Natural Wildlife Federation backyard wildlife habitat.  Oh, and isn’t too grievous a commute to DC…

This isn’t a small step for me and my family, but it’s absolutely in the right direction.

Get Your IT In Order — I Can Help

While I look for that new job (see below), I’m available for IT consulting gigs.

Not every NPO has a full-time IT Director, and outsourced services can provide some guidance, but many of them aren’t focused on the particular needs of nonprofits.  I’ve had considerable experience running IT Departments, consulting and advising NPOs, and developing strategies for maximizing the impact of technology in resource-constrained environments. This gives me a unique skill set for providing mission-focused guidance on these types of questions:

  • What should IT look like in my organization? In-house or outsourced, or a mix? Where should It report in? How much staff and budget is required in order to get the desired outcomes?
  • What type of technology do we need? In-house or cloud-based? How well does what we have serve our mission, and how would we replace it?
  • We’re embarking on a new systems or database project (fundraising/CRM, HR/finance, e-commerce, outcomes measurement/ client tracking, virtualization, VOIP phones – you name it). How can we insure that the project will be technologically sound and sustainable, while meeting our strategic needs?

The services and deliverables that I can offer include:

  • Assessments
  • Strategic plans
  • Staffing plans
  • Immediate consulting and/or project management on current projects
  • Acting CIO/Director status to help put things in order

If you want some tactical guidance in these areas, please get in touch.

 

Looking For A New Job

Today is my last day at Earthjustice, coinciding almost exactly with my first day at the job five years ago. Some of you might ask why I would leave one of the best orgs on earth, and I’ll discuss that below.  But, right up front, I want to tell you about the two things I’m looking for and ask you to be on the lookout for me. Here’s my resume.

First, A CIO/VP/Director Technology position that meets the following criteria:

  • Serves a mission that improves lives.  I’m not terribly picky about which mission — social/economic justice, environmental, educational, etc. Nor does it have to be a nonprofit, if the for-profit has a social good component factoring in it’s bottom line. I’m a big believer in social enterprise models, and my combined business/NPO background is well-suited for that environment.
  • Presents a good challenge.  A decent sized company, somewhere between 200 and 2000 employees, with multiple locations.  I have a strong background putting in the standard data and communications systems, but I think my best talent, as demonstrated by my work at Lillick & Charles and Goodwill, is in data strategy and integration. So my dream job includes, but is more than just managing the staff and systems.  I want to take an organization closer to their mission via their technology.
  • Pays enough for me to be the sole provider for my family.  Not looking to be wealthy, but my partner has the harder job doing the homeschooling, so we need to get by on one income.
  • A direct report to the CEO.  This is my new requirement; I used to think that it was acceptable to report to the COO, but my recent experiences have proven that organizations that don’t consider technology an important enough topic to sit on the executive team don’t get technology. You can install servers from middle management, but you can’t sufficiently prepare for and oversee the organizational change required for putting in strategic systems like CRMs and information management tools. I’m not power-hungry, and I have no care to dictate strategy. But deploying technology requires collaboration and cooperation across departments, so I need a position that puts me on the team that sets organizational priorities and direction.
  • Any geographic location. Most of these jobs are on the east coast, and we have lots of family there, so, while we love the SF Bay, we’re willing to relocate.

Finding this job won’t be a slam dunk, so I’m also looking for temporary gigs to keep my family afloat while I look for this position.  I’m best suited for Acting CIO/Project Management work or IT management consulting. But I’m open for all sorts of things, and, as an IT Generalist with plenty of hands on installation and development experience mixed in with the management skills, there are a lot of things that I can do.

So why did I leave the best org on earth? It’s not because I don’t deeply respect the work being done at Earthjustice, and I’ll miss the people, particularly my staff. In some ways, it’s because I was spoiled by other jobs.

In the 90’s, I architected a data strategy for a commercial law firm that, by 2000, had all data systems integrated for single data entry, with other systems being automatically updated, and most applications, including the Intranet, hooked into Outlook — document management, CRM, voicemail, etc.  It thrilled the efficiency geek in me to have a clean, managed data platform and an easy to use portal, a bit ahead of the rest of the corporate world.
At Goodwill, I built an intranet platform that eventually included a sophisticated retail management and reporting system that served Goodwill’s thrift needs far more directly than any commercial product.  I started the e-commerce business, which is now the most profitable store there, yielding the highest-paying jobs for their clients.
In both cases, my technology planning, strategy and creativity came into play, and the results were measurable.  I realized soon after I landed at Earthjustice that what was wanted from IT was something less challenging.  Earthjustice is an organization that does amazing legal and advocacy work protecting the environment, and the people who work there are brilliant.  But, so far, they haven’t been focused on using technology to manage or analyze the case work. Accordingly, I got to do some great work there, including greening the server room and rolling out VOIP and video.  But the work wasn’t as transformative, or as demanding of my talents, as work I’ve done elsewhere. It was all about the infrastructure and not so much about information.
It was a great comfort knowing that, at the end of the day, even if they weren’t using technology the way that I thought they should, they were still an amazingly effective organization doing some of the most important work of our time.  That tempered my frustration, and carried me through five years.  I think they will reach a point where they see more value in data and document management systems — presumably, my successor there will get to take on those projects. I’ve brought the technology to a stable point and built a good team to manage and support it, so this is a good time for me to move on.
If you’ve read this far, then you are likely a member of my extended nptech network and a friend. I’m not going to get the type of job described above by submitting cold resumes: I’m asking you to alert me to opportunities and, if possible, refer me in to the ones that fit. I’m counting on your help.
And if you’re an IT Director looking for a great job with an amazing org, you should check this opportunity out.

Goodbye, Tommi Campbell (Mom)

mom_80_birthday

Tamara (Tommi) Groen Campbell passed away on Thursday. She was 81, and this was no surprise. A combination of pulmonary disease and heart trouble had created a well-predicted situation. A pragmatist to her dying moment, her death went well according to plan. She saw everyone that she wanted to see, said everything that needed to be said, and, finally, constrained to a chair with the two tanks of oxygen that couldn’t get her quite enough air, she decided that she was done.

She was quite a woman, and her story, which deserves a much broader telling, is one of overcoming extreme adversity to live a life of service and, ultimately, happiness.

She was born Jewish in the Netherlands in 1929, and she was chased out of her home by the Nazis. She recalled being ten years old and wearing the Star of David on her arm; not being allowed to cross the street; being harassed by the SS while playing in a tree.

The trip to the United States was quite dramatic. The day before they were scheduled to leave, her mother received a call from someone claiming to be SS, telling them that their seats on the train had been reassigned. When my grandfather came home from work, he called them back to ask why, and they didn’t know what he was talking about. The next day, unsure of whether they’d be able to travel or not, they showed up at the train station and took their seats. They never learned who had called or why.

My grandmother was ill through the two month trip across Europe and the boat ride to the states. They were turned away at Ellis Island and lived in Cuba for a few months before making it to New York. Once settled, my grandmother left her husband, who had been cheating on her before and after the war. My mother worked through high school, taking care of the house and her younger brother and sister while her mother worked as a seamstress. She worked her way through college doing the same thing, ending up with a nursing degree.

Her first marriage, to Bob Wadsworth, had its challenges. Shortly after I was born, but before my sister was, her father’s second wife died, and their two children (my half-aunt and half-uncle) came to live with us. The elder of the two proved too much to handle, and she eventually went back to live with her aunt. After all of this, my father started drinking, and proved to be a violent drunk. She left him when I was eight.

We moved to Brookline, Mass., where she worked and raised us as well as she could. There were times when we were only sustained by the child support, but she eventually found work as a nurse. By the time I was a teenager, she was running a clinic for pregnant teenagers in downtown Boston. The friends she made in Boston proved fairly Bohemian — long haired astrologers and members of the touring cast of Hair. She ran a coffee house called the Damaged Angel, and met a lot of folk musicians who I still listen to today,. I remember being twelve years old and going with her to Love-ins at the Boston Commons.

Around this time, she also met Chuck Campbell, who proved to be a far better partner than Bob. Chuck was a poet and musician when they met, working a day job as a researcher. They both transitioned into teachers. In the late seventies they moved to New Mexico (where Chuck had grown up) and took jobs at the University of Albuquerque.

In 1987, my sister, who claimed to have been abused by our father (Bob) and had always fought with my mother, cut herself off from the family completely, and remains cut off to this day. This was the gash in an otherwise reconstructed life. Mom had found a lot of happiness, but the rejection of her daughter was a constant pain.

They eventually retired, and took the opportunity to travel. Chuck, who had been moonlighting as a tuba player in a Polka band for years, joined a few more jazz bands. I met Linda, and Mom nagged us to have children (even before we were married!). We did the best we could, giving her a grandson who grew to love her dearly.

The last few years, in and out of hospitals, were hard, but she was stoic. It cracked us up that 80% of the nurses that attended to her had been her students — she told them which meds she needed.

A testament to her is the number of friends she had, a parade of them visiting at the end. She was well admired and loved. For me, she was the best mother I could have hoped for. Not the most affectionate, until she was older, but wise, caring, and always there for me. She instilled a sense of duty to help people in me that well defines my choices in life; choices that bring me happiness.

I love you, Mom, and I’m so grateful for all that you did for me.

NTC Wrap-up

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NTEN hosted a record breaking 2000 people looking to be more effective in their use of technology to support good causes in D.C. last week. I wasn’t one of them.So, why the wrap-up? Because the NTC (Nonprofit Technology Conference) is such a big event in my life that, even if I skip it, it doesn’t necessarily skip me.

Let’s get this out of the way first: Thank you so much, NTEN, for the award. And great thanks to all of my nptech peers for the kind words and overdone Star Wars references here — I think my 11 year old enjoyed the video as much as I did (although he dozed off during the part where I was talking). And a whole level of thanks to my dear friend Deborah Finn, who made sure that anyone within a ten mile radius of someone who knows what “NPTech” means heard about my award (and Deborah hates awards!).

Winning an award is great. Even better is knowing that personal efforts of mine to increase NPTech awareness of good technology and beer carried on undaunted in my absence. Carie Lewis, David Krumlauf and Jenn Howard possibly doubled attendance at the Pre-NTEN Beer Bash. Track Kronzak and a host of smart people pulled off the second Tech Track to good crowds and reviews. Look forward to an even bigger bash on April 2nd, 2012, on my home turf in San Francisco (official conference dates are 4/3-5), and Judi Sohn has stepped up to the plate as organizer for the 2012 Tech Track (now you’re officially on the hook, Judi).

Feedback on this year’s conference has only served to reinforce my opinion that we need to do more outreach to the technical staff at nonprofits and bring them more into the mix of fundraisers, web developers and social media strategists that make up the NTEN community. The tech staff attending are looking for deeper conversations, and it’s a challenge to offer beginning and advanced topics when the techie attendance (or perception of same) is still moderate to low. It’s a chicken and egg problem: it’s hard for a Sysadmin or IT Support person to look at session after session on using Twitter and 4Square and then explain to their boss why they need to go to NTEN. But the crowd-sourced session input is dominated by people who find subjects like virtualization and network security kind of dull. I might find myself challenging NTEN’s session selection methods this year, not in an attempt to hijack the content, only to make it more democratic. Nonprofit technical staff need a technology network, too.

See you in 2012. I won’t miss it!

Sleazy Sales Tactics and Social Networks

usedcar
Image courtesy bonkedproducer

This is a public service announcement (aka rant) intended for IT product and service reps. In a nutshell:

If your spam and cold calls haven’t resulted in a business relationship, tracking me down personally on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook won’t work either.

Let’s be clear: it’s not a secret that I have purchasing responsibility for IT at my company, and my business contact info is easy to find (or purchase). Mind you, I don’t hire companies based on their ability to locate that information and email or call me. I hire consultants and purchase products based on the recommendations in my communities. So cold contacting me might be inexpensive and easy for you to do, but all it tells me is that you don’t respect my time or privacy and you can’t sustain your business based on quality and word of mouth. Two strikes against you, whereas, before you cold-contacted me, you had none.

But, in failing to spam me into a relationship, taking it to LinkedIn or the contact form here is taking your pathetic and unprofessional approach to marketing into a whole new realm of sleaziness and creepitude. Cold-contacting me at my business email or on my business phone is annoying and pathetic, but far more appropriate that tracking down my personal, non-business addresses and contacting me at those. It’s called stalking.

I’m looking at you, Server Technologies. The fact that you’ve spammed me in the past does not mean that we have an established business relationship, as your LinkedIn invite falsely indicates.

And local IT Recruiters 58 and Foggy — you take the cake. Within two minutes, out of the blue, you cold-called my work number, emailed me personally via this blog, and sent me a LinkedIn invite. That was so over the top annoying that I not only will never do business with you, I’ll make sure that all of my professional acquaintances are warned away.

Because I seriously question what a company that violates my privacy as a means of introduction would do if I actually relied on them and dealt with them financially. Ethical behavior? Not a safe thing to assume. Professionalism? Already in the toilet.

Social networks offer a great avenue for the type of business promotion that works for me — word of mouth. Sincere recommendations from people who think you’re good at what you do because they’ve used your products or services. You can foster my business by doing well enough with your current customers that they will speak well of you online. You can also demonstrate your expertise by publishing materials and distributing them on Slideshare and other public repositories (including your web site, of course). If you put your energy into establishing your credentials, instead of shoving your uncertified opinion that you’re great into every channel that you can reach me through, you’ll get a shot at my business. But using these networks to harass and annoy potential customers is incredibly stupid and short-sighted.

Why I Won’t Be At NTC (And Why You Should Be)

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As a happy, active member of the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN), I’ve made a difficult decision: family and work commitments are too high this year to afford a trip to DC and NTEN’s annual Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC). Since most of my family and pretty much all of my wife’s family live 1,000 to 3,000 miles away from us, visiting takes up a lot of the vacation time I get. NTC is, to my mind, a marginally work-related activity, in it that I do bring resources and knowledge back to my employer every year, but the bulk of what I get out of and go to NTC for isn’t all that work-related. Because, let’s face it: NTC is the best party of the year, hands down. And I’m far more likely to be imparting info there, and engaging in what I call my “extra-curricular activities” than focusing on Earthjustice-related topics.

What am I going to miss? Oh my word.

      For me, the fun begins about a day before the conference does, with the annual

NTC Beer Bash

      (that Carie Lewis will be organizing in my absence) kicking the conference off. Established two years ago, we get 30 to 50 of the early arrivers together at the brewpub with the best selection of craft beers we can find together and kick off the socializing early.

Day of Service. Another pre-conference tradition, the Day of Service links nptech professionals with local charities for four hours of expertise sharing and volunteer activities. There’s usually some big project, like installing wireless at a community center, and many opportunities for smal consulting sessions.

The Tech Track. Started last year, the Tech Track is a selection of breakout sessions designed for the people that do what i do for a living — install and support the technology that, in turn, supports the mission. NTC is a great place to develop a social media strategy or learn the latest online fundraising techniques, and it’s now also a reliable source for solid advice on how to virtualize your server room or move the whole thing to the cloud.

Holly Ross and the NTEN Staff. Simply put, Holly + Co are to nonprofit technology conference planning as Buffy and the Scoopy Gang are to vampire slaying. They not only nail it, but they do it all with wit, humanity and style. NTC is the best tech conference. Period. And that’s completely attributable to the brilliant work NTEN does combining awesome people, great knowledge, and a wealth of activities into three days of absolute fun. As I always say. you can’t go to NTC and not meet people. I make new friends every time.

Sadly, my ambitious agenda at work and some family matters have left no room for my favorite annual event this year. I’ve made the last six and I intend to be at the next six. So go and have a great time for me!