Civic Courage has demonstrated again and again with both mature organizations looking for a fresh approach and new organizations just starting out that the strategies we teach can make the difference between being stalled by good intentions lacking an action plan, and making significant inroads in moving a worthy cause forward.
We focus on identifying the most effective actionable steps organizations and their members can undertake. We then coach key members in the most effective strategies to lead their organization and empower their members to make meaningful and significant contributions.
What results have others experienced working with Civic Courage?
RESULTS was launched from a bedroom in Tarzana, California in 1980. By 1986 volunteers were generating 90 editorials on tripling the child survival fund, and in 1987 100 editorials on microfinance for the poor. After successful work to triple the child survival fund in 1986, UNICEF Executive Director Jim Grant, in a handwritten note, said:
I want to convey my heartfelt thanks for the unflagging and satisfyingly successful efforts of RESULTS on behalf of vulnerable children and mothers everywhere. I thank you in my mind weekly, if not more often, for what you and your colleagues are accomplishing—but I thought I should do it at least once this year in writing.
This advocacy has continued and over the last 30 years child death rates have dropped from 41,000 a day in 1984 to 17,000 a day in 2014.
After receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 Muhammad Yunus said:
No other organization has been as critical a partner in seeing to it that microcredit is used as a tool to eradicate poverty and empower women than RESULTS and RESULTS Educational Fund’s Microcredit Summit Campaign.
Civic Courage began coaching Citizens Climate Lobby three months before it was launched from nothing in 2007. By 2016 their volunteers in the U.S. and Canada generated 2,850 letters to the editor, op-eds and editorials and had 1,388 meetings with members of Congress, Parliament, or their staff. Leading climate scientist Jim Hansen said the following about the group’s approach:
Most impressive is the work of the Citizens Climate Lobby, a relatively new, fast growing, nonpartisan, non-profit group with 400 chapters across the United States and Canada. If you want to join the fight to save the planet, to save creation for your grandchildren, there is no more effective step you could take than becoming an active member of this group.
What are our first steps with Civic Courage?
The public and even NGOs bring a great deal of cynicism and hopelessness to the conversation around deep advocacy. Civic Courage usually has six conversations with an NGO’s leadership to sort through these issues and align on a vision for grassroots breakthroughs before an engagement begins. Just getting through the NGO attitudes that can kill citizen empowerment is a major step.
What are some of the NGO attitudes that kill citizen empowerment and transformation?
Each of the following attitudes is a direct quote from NGO staff with whom we have spoken. While some may seem reasonable, each one is enough to kill deep advocacy.
- We can’t ask too much of our volunteers or they’ll go away
- We can’t have volunteers write letters to the editor and op-eds because they will get it wrong and misrepresent the organization
- I do this work because I am persuaded by the facts not because of inspiration so I just want to get the facts across to the volunteers, not inspire them
- We just don’t have the time, bandwidth or funds to go on the road to start the groups or to provide much in the way of ongoing support
- We are a multi-issue organization and can’t focus on one issue over a year, even with this deep advocacy work, and besides, the volunteers would get bored if we focused on one issue over 12 months
If you look carefully you can find one or more of these attitudes in your own organization.
Do we work with Civic Courage in person or over the phone?
Most of the work is via Skype video. If that is not optimal, phone can be substituted.
How does the actual coaching begin?
Civic Courage works with each client to identify an issue to focus on for at least 9 months of the first year as focus is a key ingredient to success. We also work with clients to develop a deep structure of support that will inspire and empower grassroots activists. The structure includes
- An inspiring monthly conference call with guest speakers, Q&A, grassroots victories, discussion of the month’s action and a section to learn to be more articulate.
- Weekly coaching calls for the leaders of each group.
How long do we work with Civic Courage? How often?
In the beginning there are three coaching calls a week over the first four months with each call lasting one hour. From month five onward we move to two calls per week.
When starting grassroots action teams from scratch it can take 2-3 years of coaching to build a solid base.
What materials do we use?
Civic Courage clients are expected to listen to RESULTS and Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) conference calls and discuss what worked about those calls and how they could be improved. They are also expected to read the 20th anniversary edition of Reclaiming Our Democracy and study and discuss RESULTS and CCL Action Sheets, laser talks and other relevant materials as models for developing their own.
What are we expected to do?
Civic Courage drafts the following scripts and rehearses them with staff:
- Group start workshops
- National conference calls
- Inviting team calls
- Introductory calls
- Weekly leader calls
Civic Courage drafts or coaches staff in drafting the following:
- Monthly Action Sheets
- Laser talks
- Op-ed templates
- Packets for editorial writers
- Invitation emails
- Participation forms, etc.
Two of the greatest reasons for failure at grassroots empowerment are the fear of hearing “no” from volunteers and the unwillingness to practice. Normal people are afraid to practice and, as a result, they won’t improve much. Sports teams get on the field and practice their sport. Great activist organizations get on the field and practice speaking.
People are terrified to talk to others on an inviting team call or at a launch meeting about something we believe the other might say no to. What Civic Courage does that no other organization does is model how to do a talk and we practice the talk so that the natural fear about having these conversations is dissolved.
Why does our organization need to be coached? Is it that difficult?
In 20013-2014 Civic Courage founder Sam Daley-Harris did a 30-city speaking tour. The following are stories from that trip that point to our predicament, the deep hopelessness and cynicism most folks feel about making a difference with their voices as citizens. Daley-Harris tells these stories not to discourage people but to embolden them.
In 2013 Daley-Harris spoke on 15 college campuses on the 20th anniversary edition of Reclaiming Our Democracy: Healing the Break between People and Government. He told the students that he started RESULTS 34 years earlier after asking 7,000 high school students the name of their member of Congress and fewer than three percent could answer correctly. Then he ask the college students the same question 35 years later and only 10 percent could answer correctly.
In 2014 Daley-Harris spoke at a senior citizens lecture series in Princeton, NJ. He went a month early to check it out and see if they really do get 200 seniors to attend. They do. The moderator said, “In one month we will hear from Sam Daley-Harris on Reclaiming Our Democracy: Healing the Break between People and Government,” and there were chuckles in the room. The moderator said, “Yes, this is something we need to work on.”
Daley-Harris’ take-away was that the students are oblivious and, in this one sample, the seniors are cynical. (They were great, by the way, at the lecture a month later.)
Also in March Daley-Harris met with an eminent professor of organizing at a major Ivy League college. The professor had never heard of RESULTS or Citizens Climate Lobby and peppered Daley-Harris with questions, among them: “Why do you do it that way?” “How do people react when you ask them to do that?” At the end of their 20 minute conversation the professor said, “Yes, but Congress is really dysfunctional.”
Daley-Harris replied, “Yes, Congress is really dysfunctional but this year it appropriated $1.65 billion for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Congress is really dysfunctional but this year it appropriation $700 million for maternal and child health programs globally. Congress is really dysfunctional, but if you roll up your sleeves, do your homework, and get in there you can make big things happen.”
Also in 2014 Daley-Harris spoke at Rutgers. In a small group discussion before the lecture a student in an honors futures class said, “With a view to 50 years in the future, what is the most important issue we could work on?’
Daley-Harris replied, “My friends in climate change tell me that if we don’t solve that, we’re toast. My friends working to get money out of politics say that if we don’t solve that nothing will work. My friends in global poverty tell me it is a blight on humanity. For me the most important issue we could solve is why so few of us see ourselves as changemakers. If we could solve that, there wouldn’t be enough problems to go around.”
These quotes further clarify our predicament:
….Our real problem is not a heating planet or rampant malnutrition….We only have one real problem: our own feelings of powerlessness to manifest the solutions right in front of our noses.
Frances Moore Lappé, Getting a Grip2
Civic Courage helps organizations build a structure of support that is strong enough to dissolve the powerlessness.
….Last weekend a new….poll found that…only 24 percent of Americans believe their country is on the right track. [That might mean that 76 percent believe the country is on the wrong track.]….
Wrong track is a euphemism. We are a people in clinical depression. Americans know that the ideal that once set our nation apart from the world have been vandalized.
Frank Rich, New York Times Column, November 2017
Most non-profit organizations don’t acknowledge the toxicity into which they send their volunteer advocates. Consequently, they don’t create a deep enough structure of support that can serve as an antidote to that toxicity. Instead they offer mouse-click activism, thin gruel for anyone hungry to make a difference.
We did a poll we found 96% of Americans believe it important to reduce the influence of money in politics. 91% don’t think it’s possible. That’s the politics of resignation. But the politics of resignation gives you a perfect strategy for winning…how do we thaw that resignation because once we do then I think we have a real chance of winning.
Civic Courage helps organizations create a structure of support powerful enough to thaw the resignation.