Dani Robbins

Why I Will Walk Out, a guest blog

In Advocacy, Leadership, Lessons Learned on March 14, 2018 at 3:31 pm

Multiple times today, March 13, 2018, I was asked what I thought walking out of school would do for America and why I thought that my actions would have enough of an impact to make a change. Some of those who asked me were ignorant and attempting to make fun of me, but some of the people were genuinely curious. I have to admit, their questions did make me think. Why am I walking out? What difference do I think I’ll make in the big picture? I’ve been thinking about these questions all day, trying to find the words for the impact that I hope to make, and I finally have a solid answer.

I am walking out tomorrow to stand with my peers in the hopes that someone will hear our cries. We’re scared. The power went out today and I couldn’t breathe because of all the conclusions that my head jumped to. Conclusions that were put into my head by Nikolas Cruz, and other school shooters. What if today had been my last day to live?

If our government will do nothing, my peers and I will. Someone needs to say “no, we are not okay with this”. We want control, and we want it now. We want safety, and we want it now. We want to be heard, and we will. Students in my high school, and students in countless other high schools will peacefully raise our voices in unison to ask for a change. If enough of us speak up, someone will hear our message loud and clear, and when they do, something will change, and if it doesn’t, then I guess we’ll just have to be louder. I guess we’ll just have to do more.

I am walking out tomorrow to show anyone who might be watching that I am not okay with the current way that unqualified buyers are able to purchase guns. The man in Florida was just 19 when he shot and killed 17 people with families. The FBI has admitted that he had been on their radar since at least last year. And he was still able to buy a gun? This feels like the punch line to a bad joke. 17 people die and what do people care about? They want to keep their AR 15s. You know, for protection purposes. If only the children and staff at  Stoneman Douglas had the luxury of protection. “I want my guns” people scream. “I want my dad back. I want my mom back. I want my son back. I want my daughter back. I want my husband back. I want my wife back. We want our lives back.” The victims sob. Is anyone listening to them? I am, and I want to help them in the scariest times of their lives.

I am walking out tomorrow to remember the lives that were lost. 17 lives were lost. That’s not a statistic. That is 17 individual families who just got destroyed. 17 families who need support while our president tells them that they should have done more. One of the lost ones, was a wrestling coach. He had four children and a wife. That’s four children who now have no father. That’s a wife with no husband, raising her children alone. Everyone on the wrestling team loved their coach. He was a father figure to each and every one of them, too. Each of those kids just lost a guide in the dark path of high school. How did he die? He died protecting the kids in his school. His name was Chris Hixon. He had a name. There was a football coach who died shielding his students from the shooter. His name was Aaron Feis. He had a name. Cara Loughran. Alex Schachter. Scott Beigel. Alaina Petty. Helena Ramsey. Carmen Schentrup. Luke Hoyer. Nicholas Dworet. Meadow Pollack. Jaime Guttenberg. Joaquin Oliver. Peter Wang. Martin Duque. Gina Montalto. Alyssa Alhadeff. They all had names, they all had families and they’re all dead. How many more people have to die before something changes?

So next time, when I am asked why I walk out, why I make a fuss, I will say, “I walk out because I am tired of being quiet. I walk out because I am not willing to go unheard. I walk out because I am ready to fight for what I believe in. I walk out to try and make a difference. Are you?”


This is a guest blog by Sydney Zulich, a local H.S student.


Lessons from the Nonprofit Sector on the Gun Debate

In Advocacy, Lessons Learned on February 25, 2018 at 1:29 pm

The domestic violence movement spent years educating the public that family violence was not a family affair and that we all had an obligation to keep people safe. We had to train the police and the prosecutors and advocate to change the laws and public opinion. We each had to speak up and speak out, individually and collectively. The domestic violence community insisted, and continues to insist, that victims be protected under the law.

Mothers against Drunk Driving spent years changing public opinion on drunk driving; teaching everyone that we all had an obligation to keep our roads safe. That we shouldn’t drive drunk or let our friends drive drunk.  They insisted that laws be improved to make our roads safer.

The rape crisis movement spent years changing public opinion, advocating for the media to not report victim’s names and to stop saying that the victim didn’t contribute to her/his assault, implying that all the other victims had.  They insisted that rapists to be brought to justice.  They changed the common assumptions about who has a right to put their hands on women’s bodies: the answer is those who the women allow to touch them. The #metoo movement brought it wider and challenged assumptions of power and who has the right to be heard, and when. Both groups continue to fight to make us safer.

Each is an illustration of how things change in this country and about what needs to happen for people to feel and be safe.

The NRA is a nonprofit.  In fact, it’s a nonprofit that routinely advocates against the wishes of its members, who do believe in limited gun control.  That is not a sustainable plan long term for any nonprofit.  I predict their leadership will transition within the next year, especially if public opinion continues to turn against them.

What does all this have to do about the current gun debate? The lesson is about roadblocks and also proximity.  We change public opinion one person at a time, one community at a time.

The Second Amendment is not the issue. You have a right to protect yourself; the vast majority of advocates are not denying that or trying to take that away. It is baked into our constitution and our consciousness. However, what is also baked into our constitution and our consciousness is pluralism, along with the understanding that you accessing your rights doesn’t get to impede me accessing mine.  With freedom comes obligation.

It’s not going to be a one size fits all approach. In the case of Parkland, Florida the police and the FBI collectively let us down, even as the community was screaming to be heard. In the Denver police shootings, a good guy with a gun, looked like a bad guy with a gun, which made it more difficult for the police to find the actual bad guy with a gun. In the case of the Vegas shooting, there was nothing on paper about the killer.  No trail to follow.  No clues to miss.  Nothing.

A good guy with a gun may not stop a bad guy. They haven’t yet, though there was an armed guard in Parkland and many presumably good guys with guns in Denver. Arming more people is not going to get us there. Making one kind of gun harder to get is not going to get us there.  Though I do agree that making semi-automatic weapons harder to get while we figure it out is a start.

It’s true that the cities with the most restrictive gun laws have the highest number of gun deaths.  It’s also true those are not the places where schools have been shot up. In those cities, kids get killed on their way to school, not at school. The wealthier suburbs are where kids have been getting killed in school.  We have an obligation to protect all of our kids, regardless of neighborhood!

Here’s the other thing we know: The states with the toughest guns laws do have lower proportionate gun deaths.  It’s a place to start.

We need it all: More laws. More enforcement of current laws. More response to reports of issues.  More roadblocks. More services for people in need.  More people intervening when a kid, or kids, need help.

The lesson from the nonprofit sector is about roadblocks. Look at domestic violence; it’s not enough to have laws.  It’s not enough to have shelters or jails; it’s not enough to train the community on what domestic violence looks like and how to intervene.  Sometimes though, it is enough to put up roadblocks in every sense so that it’s harder for a man who is trying to kill his wife to get to her.

That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to take anybody’s guns away, unless they shouldn’t have them. We’re trying to make it harder for the people who shouldn’t have guns to get them, so that the people who want to and should have guns, can.

It’s not any different than the new – and annoying but mostly only inconvenient –  laws on buying Sudafed, and having your name be put on a list just because you’re sick.  Or taking your shoes off at the airport.  Sure, it’s a hassle to wait 3 days to buy a gun.  Just like it’s a hassle to only get one pack of Sudafed after you show identification, and to stand barefoot on a disgusting floor on which thousands of people have walked and who knows when was last mopped, but it’s one way that we have agreed in this pluralistic society in which we live – and which we love-  that we can protect the whole from the few.

That’s the goal: protecting your right to defend yourself and all kids’ rights to be safe at school, and on their way to school.  We can do it, together.

Who Trained Your Board?

In Non Profit Boards on December 13, 2017 at 8:35 pm

The sentence I have repeated the most this month is this “your board will be as good as whomever trained them, which was possibly no one.” I’ve said that nine times, thus far, and it’s only the 13th.

Your Board will only be as good as whomever trained them, which actually may have been no one. The vast majority of Board members I have come across in my 25+ years in this field, including earlier in my career some of my own, have not been formally trained to their role.

Untrained Board members will do what they think is right, which may or may not be aligned with anything anyone else is doing, may or may not be aligned with the strategic plan of the agency and may not, in fact, be right.

Whose fault is that? It’s ours. Executive leaders are responsible for ensuring good Board process. Sure, it’s up to actual Board members to follow that process, but it’s our jobs to make sure it’s there to be followed.

We have a horrible history in this field of following the baptism by fire training model. It’s how I was trained. It’s likely how you were trained. It’s a bad model. Here’s the truth:

If you are frustrated that

  • your Board is not doing their job
  • they keep overstepping into your job
  • you keep having to overstep into their job
  • your board president is micromanaging
  • your board is not raising money
  • your board glazes because they do not understand the financials

It may be because they don’t understand what their job is- BECAUSE NO ONE HAS TRAINED THEM. If you want your board members to know what their job is, it’s your obligation to train them.

Just so we’re crystal clear, when I say trained, I don’t mean give an orientation on your agency (though props to you if you do that). I don’t mean handing new Board members a packet. Let me say once and for all: there is no such thing as training by Board packet. That’s not training. That’s reading. It’s not nothing, but it’s not enough.

I recommend you offer an actual Board training, annually or more often if you can get away with it, that outlines:

  • Board Role and Responsibilities
  • Duties under the Law
  • An overview of the intent of by-laws (called Code of Regulations in Ohio) and the specifics of yours
  • Officer Roles and the Executive’s Role
  • Committees structure, charts of work, goals and expectations
  • Conflicts of Interests
  • Board Governance Models
  • Basic Rules of Roberts Rules of Order (if that’s the model you follow, and it is for most agencies)
  • Meeting Structure
  • Governance Modes and Generative Governance Techniques

What do you have here? An opportunity! Float the idea. Ask about what your Board is interested.  What would they like to learn?  Make sure you offer options.

Here are some for your and their consideration:

  • Art of the Ask
  • Board Process – agendas setting, committees,  strategy, structure, engagement
  • Basic Board responsibilities- fiduciary and legal
  • Board vs Staff roles
  • Best Practices of Effective Boards
  • Mission relevant information

In the absence of Board training, executives are sometimes, either by choice or by vacuum, put in the position of fulfilling roles that are not their roles to fill. If you are doing their job, they are not. That also means you are not doing your job. Just because it needs to be done does not mean it needs to be done by you. Train your Board to fulfill their role, and then let them. If they aren’t doing what you want, it may be because you’re doing it. Stop.

It’s almost 2018, and as I mentioned in 8 things to stop doing in 2017, “the work of the Board gets done by committees. If you do not have committees, I encourage you to work to introduce them. Please click over to read Board Work via Board Committees.

In the absence of committees or even in the presence of them, you may still be doing their job. The easiest way to tell if you are is to consider who speaks the most at Board meetings. If it’s you, there’s your answer.

If they don’t do it and you do, you’ll keep doing it. You have to give it back.

How? By saying to each committee chair “I just learned that the Chairs of each committee should be leading the committee meetings and giving the committee reports at Board meetings. Would you be willing to do so? I’m happy to sit with you prior to the meeting and go over the report and help brainstorm the answers to expected questions.” “Oh, you don’t want to or won’t be there?”

Yes I know this is where you step into the breach. Resist.

“Ok, who should we ask to report instead?”

You can set committee chairs up to succeed. You can call and ask them to set a committee meeting. You can even suggest times, date and write the agenda. You can send out the invitations. You can prep them to chair the meeting. You can whisper in their ear during the meeting and even type up the minutes afterward. But you can’t lead the committee meeting or report out on it at the board meeting.

If you have tried and failed to give back the work of the committee to its Chair, you then can go to the Board Chair and/or the other Officers and ask for advice. Like this “Committee X hasn’t been meeting and /or seems to be having a hard time achieving their goals. Would you mind checking in with them and nudging them along?” “Oh, you have and nothing has changed? How would you like to handle that?”

While it is your Board to help develop, it’s not your Board to run or to manage. It’s not your committee and it’s not your meeting. It’s a Board meeting. The Board members should be talking; you should be there to listen, answer questions, present your report, make recommendations and offer support and guidance. You should not be the person in the room talking the most. If you are, they are not. We want them to lead. That may mean you have to let them.

Set your Board members up to succeed and they will help you lead your agency to heights you can’t even imagine today. Your agency will be stronger for it. As an added bonus, you’ll be less frustrated.”

Executives get a lot done by sheer willpower. Strong executives coupled with strong Boards, can lead our agencies to places no leader can get alone. Together, we can be unstoppable and because of the strength of our nonprofits, our communities can be stronger.

How have you trained your Board?  Board members, how were you trained? How has either improved your agency? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. Please share your ideas or suggestions for blog topics and consider hitting the follow button to enter your email. A rising tide raises all boats

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