Money, Money, Money, Money

20I was stunned. I walked outside from the bank to see a pile of 20s littering the ground, being picked up and scattered by the wind. There must have been thousands of dollars worth of bills there. Now, THAT’s something you don’t see every day.

I dove for them to keep them from flying away. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the man, stooped, cursing under his breath, grasping at the bills and gasping with the futility of it all.

I really wished I could stop and take a picture of it.

I’d been binge watching Law and Order from the 90’s. In my mind, this was a perfect opening scene. I fully expected to hear the sirens and be shoved up against the wall by Lenny and Mike, screaming, “Just where do you think you’re going with that money, missy?”

It was almost poetic — the wind’s teasing; the 20s stuck in the hedge. But I could afford to wax poetic — this wasn’t my money. It wasn’t my problem.

At some point I turned to hand the cash to the man, but was stopped by the sight of him. Again, I wished I could have taken a picture.

In his anger at himself and frustration with the situation, he’d crumpled every bill he could get his hands on. They were wedged wildly between his fingers as though he would never let them slip through his hands again. They were crushed into paper balls cradled in his arms, like the failed attempts of an author plagued with writer’s block. He had reached the capacity of what he could reasonably hold. How could I possibly hand him more cash?

But at the same time, I didn’t want to pause too long or he might think I had other plans — plans to keep it for myself and run away, for instance. For all I knew, he’d just robbed the bank or done a drug deal — I didn’t want to be in a line of fire.

More likely, he was just trying to pay the rent. I thrust my stack of cash at him and let him figure it out. Messy as it was, my pile was flat — I could hold the stack between my thumb and forefinger.

To my surprise, instead of walking right back into the bank lobby to get organized, he just headed off on his way. I didn’t get a good look at him, and although he probably thanked me, I didn’t really hear what he said. I wondered how much cash he’d drop in his hurry to get to his destination.

Yes, there was a story there, but I probably came away with a better story by not knowing his.

There’s a saying I’ve always been fond of:

Money makes you more of what you already are.

  • If you’re selfish and egotistical, it will be reflected in what you buy.
  • If you’re kind and generous, it will be reflected in what you give.

His case was a little different, I thought:

  • If you’re unorganized in your thinking, you’ll be less able to deal effectively with unforeseen crises.
  • If you don’t have good habits — such as knowing when to keep your zipper zipped (to your money pouch, of course…) — everything you’ve worked for could be scattered to the wind.
  • If you focus on critical self-talk and blame, instead of on what really matters in the moment, you could miss opportunities that are right there for the taking.
  • And if you don’t take the time to thank the people who’ve helped you get where you are…maybe they’ll make a different choice next time.

Here’s to a prosperous fundraising season! May the wind be in your sails.

Tackling Tough Problems

Need a dose of inspiration? Seth Godin speaks to the need for leadership, courage, and willingness to keep on tackling tough problems, even when we initially fail. Resilience at its best.

We Create Our Own Reality

Blindness gave him insight:
Reality isn’t something you perceive; it’s something you create in your mind. Isaac Lidsky learned this profound lesson firsthand, when unexpected life circumstances yielded valuable insights. In this introspective, personal talk, he challenges us to let go of excuses, assumptions and fears, and accept the awesome responsibility of being the creators of our own reality.

Pushing the Boundaries of What’s Possible


How can assistive technology be improved? As we continue to merge with machines, bionic competitions are sparking interest and opportunities.

The Cybathlon will bring together people with disabilities or physical weaknesses, researchers and developers, governments and other agencies that fund services and research. It will also showcase the importance of this work to the general public. Our hope is that over time, these devices will become more affordable and more functional.

Unlike the Paralympic Games, pilots can use any technical aids they need, as long as they are safe. That enables people with more severe disabilities to compete. The goal is not to be the fastest or the strongest participant; rather it’s to be the most skilled pilot who can use advanced technologies to best overcome the challenges of everyday life.

Read more…

Why Diversity?

Sometimes, all it takes is a different perspective to change EVERYTHING.

Wanda Diaz Merced studies the light emitted by gamma-ray bursts, the most energetic events in the universe. When she lost her sight and was left without a way to do her science, she had a revelatory insight: the light curves she could no longer see could be translated into sound. Through sonification, she regained mastery over her work, and now she’s advocating for a more inclusive scientific community. “Science is for everyone,” she says. “It has to be available to everyone, because we are all natural explorers.”

Lego, My Lego!

What an incredibly clever idea to improve literacy and inclusion for children who are blind or visually impaired. Sighted children get to learn a code. Come on, Lego, you HAVE to make these. They’re way too cool…

Virtual Reality is Changing Reality

While I am bemused as to why perfectly healthy people would want to walk around staring at their cell phones chasing Pikachu, I am hopeful. Virtual reality is showing promise in revolutionizing health care. Through visualization, paraplegics are teaching their brains new communication pathways to connect with paralyzed limbs. Imagine the possibilities!

In the meantime, there are things we can do to improve people’s quality of life today. There is no end to what we can accomplish if we focus and connect those with empathy and generosity to our causes.

jumping on rain-washed steps

Photo courtesy of Dominik Martin

Nurturing Dynamic Communities


Communities that are generative are always moving through five conditions – connecting, grounding, informing, discussing, and engaging – by way of convening and narrating. Convening and narrating are the core dynamic that supports generative communities, or communities that have achieved a dynamic of self-sustaining growth and vibrancy in harmony with other communities and their environment. In the middle of July 2016, seven of us gathered for a virtual conversation focused on exploring the narrative half of that interplay. Our framing question was: How can narrative effectively nurture generative communities?

Stories are Our Superpower

Lisa Chron believes our ability to share stories is a superpower. “Story was more important to our evolution than opposable thumbs.” It kept us from eating poisonous berries because we learned of others who had and died from eating them.

She advises, “We turn to story to learn how to navigate reality.” Story translates ideas into experience. We live through someone else’s perspective. And the result can be transformative.

Bring the power of story to your donors. Help them feel the impact of your work.

Seven Tips to Help You Prepare for Upcoming Fundraising Appeals


I’ve been behind a nonprofit desk like yours for many years, so I know what it’s like: you have a million tasks to deal with and not enough time to devote to them. Suddenly, you realize: IT’S TIME FOR ANOTHER FUNDRAISING LETTER!

My motto is: “Panic last!” My method, however, is: “Make it easy!” I’d like to make it easy for you by sharing some quick tips that address your ongoing need for fundraising story concepts.

  1. Pick one story. The closer we can get to sharing how one person’s life has been changed by your organization, the easier it will be for a donor to understand and connect. Keep your ear tuned for good stories and quotes and make note of them in a designated “future appeal” folder so you’ll always have them on hand.
  1. Photos. High-resolution photos are needed for printing. Photos can make or break a story, and it’s often where I start before deciding which story, among several, to use. Good photos pull the reader in and communicate emotion better than words. Photos of activities capture excitement, fun, focused learning, or caring by zooming in on one or two program participants.

I’ll give you an example of how powerful an impression this can make on someone new to your organization. Recently, I visited a school that works with children on the autism spectrum. It is a tiny school — serving only 36 students. When I told the executive director that I was very impressed with the photos used on their website, he said, “They’re just iPhone photos taken by the staff.”

These photos weren’t of special occasions, or posed for a purpose, but they were memorable because they communicated the emotions one person was feeling or sharing. They were like the candid shots people take of their loved ones. Taken together, the photos clearly conveyed that at this organization, relationships really mattered, and students were considered “friends and family.” The staff had grown up taking “selfies” and posting photos on Facebook and Instagram, so it didn’t seem an out- of-the-ordinary task to them. The ED didn’t realize how rare it is for many nonprofits to have a steady stream of good photos on hand.

If you don’t have a steady stream of good photos, there are things you can do to make it effortless. There are staff members or volunteers in your organization who feel very comfortable taking candids. Ask around, and enlist their assistance. They’ll enjoy it. Inspire them to take photos as though they are photojournalists — capturing each subject’s story in pictures.

Make taking photos routine, and not just at events or at the last minute. Take photos of every class, graduation, or program, and upload the photos to a sharable online site. Label photos with subject name and date for easy reference. This task is a good one to delegate to volunteers, but be sure to give them guidance so labeling will be consistent and accurate.

When professional photographers and videographers cover an event, they’ll scout for good locations. If you haven’t yet done this for your non-professional shots, take 20 minutes, grab a helper, and scout for the best places to take photos in and around your organization. Ask the helper to stand in the spot while you check the lighting and background. Having a few pre-scouted places in the back of your mind will allow you to take advantage of photo opportunities when time is of the essence: (with your ED/CEO, board member, major donor, visiting dignitary, staff member or volunteer, client/student, etc.).


  • Find a blank wall (with no outlets or wall switches), a logo wall, a library, or a draped area.
  • Add appropriate lighting (permanent, or clip lights).
  • If you can add a bench, you will then be able to take group pictures easily. (Here’s a trick: ask the tallest people to sit on the bench and the shorter ones to stand behind them. Ask each person standing to rest one hand on a shoulder of the person in front of them. Remove purses, name tags, etc.)
  • Add a fake fichus tree or plant to make the scene more warm and natural.


  • Find a place that has even light. Photos taken under trees often produce unwanted bright spots and dark shadows on faces. Photos taken with bright grass in the background can become overexposed. Avoid taking photos when the sun is directly overhead. Overcast days are best.
  • Perhaps there’s a good wall, fence, or hedge you could use as background.
  • Again, consider adding a bench.

Take some photos while people are talking in twos and threes — before and after they are posing. You might find their animated gestures and natural rapport more useful for communicating the story than the posed shot.

  1. Too much information? It’s better to keep your fundraising letter personal and emotional, and let the extra information and statistics spill over into the newsletter. Fundraising letters are crafted for one specific reason — to compel a donor to donate by connecting with the donor’s values. Newsletters can do the heavy lifting of educating on specifics of programs and activities, as well as other information about the organization. Don’t let too much information get in the way of a call to action.
  1. Who will sign the letter? If we are focusing on one client or student, it is best to tell the story from their perspective and have them sign it. An alternative (and for minors and people who have communication challenges) is to tell the story from the perspective of a parent, caregiver, or family member. Another option (especially for year end letters) is to have the ED, CEO, board member, program director, or other representative tell the story of a client or student’s journey.

Ask the signer to provide his/her signature in black or blue ink on a blank piece of paper. You can then photograph or scan it for use in the final document.

  1. Do you have a publicity release form signed? It’s a good idea to have one. If adult clients or students are signing other related documents (such as an application to your program or services), the release form could be included in that document (or as an added paragraph). Minor students/clients require the signature of an adult.
  1. Keeping track of story ideas, contact info, etc.: You may want to rotate what you feature among your programs, staff, client age groups, campaigns, or other designations. Perhaps you have a “committee” of people who point you to good potential stories. Your calendar can reflect when you need to touch base with them in time to get contact info, photos, etc.

In addition to using spreadsheets, I use a simple, sharable, free online tool called Trello. I think of it as a bulletin board with headings for different lists (To do, Done, Reference, Future Stories, etc. — whatever I want). I can click and drag items from one list to another, and even add due dates. I’ve only just begun to explore the capabilities of this tool, but find it very simple and easy to share with a team. You might enjoy it, too.


How Tech’s Biggest Names are Making Accessibility a Top Priority

According to the World Health Organization, more than one billion people have some form of disability today. That’s one in seven people around the world who may look at technology as a way to make their lives more manageable.

Take a look at how tech companies are building in accessibility right from the get-go. That will make it less costly and better for everyone. Here’s the article. 

Carmella Gets Drunk and Eats Butterflies

2015-06-01 08.35.03


When I walked into the assisted living facility for the last time, I noticed some photos of the residents on a table. One was of my mom. The staff person noticed my gaze and said, “Your mom made that for you. She wanted you to have it.” Sure she did, I thought, as I picked up the photo.

My mom didn’t know who I was, and I’m sure she had no clue why she was being asked to put butterfly stickers on a cheap plastic frame. She would have had her suspicions, though. She suspected they were making her do piecework for free.

I stared down at the picture of my mom, with her limp, altar-boy haircut. My mom– whose hair had always been gloriously full of body, even when it turned salt and pepper. I looked at the dull eyes — so unlike hers. Hers were sparkling with light and bursting with love and laughter.

Last night, I watched a YouTube video on music theory. The instructor said I can learn, once and for all, the Circle of Fifths — the relationship between the keys that helps you know how many flats or sharps there are… I can never remember thatI always have to look that up or figure it out. He said all I needed was a simple a mnemonic memory trick. Use the keys as the first letter of every word in a silly sentence. I reached for a pad and pencil. What did he say? Becky gets drunk and eats butterflies. When I looked at it later, I realized, that can’t be right — there are two Bs. Should be a C. CGDAEB. I don’t want to learn it wrong! I should change it to Candy or Cindy. But I don’t know any Candy or Cindy. I’m not good with names. I’ll never remember that.

And then I thought: Carmella.

Carmella gets drunk and eats butterflies. Carmella, my mother, would not have approved. She would have thought that sentence was disrespectful. And she didn’t drink. I don’t know if she was ever drunk in her life. But I don’t know. What do I know? And now, I’ll never know.

She didn’t like vulgar talk. My dad used to swear just to tease her. He’d swear, and she’d whip around, eyes ablaze and say, “FRANCIS RITTER!”

But you know, one day, my mom and I were sitting in the assisted living facility watching some women talking on the far side of the room. All of a sudden, my mom shouted out something so nasty; it would have made a sailor blush. I was so shocked; I nearly fell off my chair. I said, “You eat with that mouth? Who are you, and what have you done with my mother?” She just laughed.

I hear her laugh, now, when I’m reading the “funny papers.” Peanuts. Lucy’s leaning on Schroeder’s piano while he’s playing. Lucy says something funny, and Schroeder looks up and then my mother laughs.

She never played the piano. She played the accordion — big heavy instrument — but she was a strong farm girl. A pin-up girl for my dad. Stylish in her own way. Got him through WWII. That’s when they met.

My dad served alongside her brother, Vinny. They were getting ready to go on leave, and Vinny said, “Francis, don’t go home to Arkansas. Come home with me. I’ve got four beautiful sisters, and they’re all available. My mom will cook you a real Italian meal so big and so delicious you won’t remember ever being hungry.” And so, he did.

And as soon as my 5’2” mother laid eyes on that 6’2” soldier with the beautiful wavy hair — he said it got that way from sleeping too close to the bed bars — well, she decided right then and there she didn’t care that she wasn’t the oldest eligible daughter. She’d found her man.

She started a letter writing campaign and he returned the favor. Their letters were signed: “I’ll be seeing you. I’ll be looking at the moon, and I’ll be seeing you.” That song was at the top of the charts at the time.

In our house, it was “their song.” I even learned to play it for them on the piano.

My sister and I sang it. We sang it together while holding our mother’s hands. Tears streaming down our cheeks. We sang her into the afterlife so she could join our dad. The nurses outside the door were listening over the intercom…

Carmella gets drunk and eats butterflies. Carmella. Yep. That name will work. I won’t forget. I won’t ever forget you, Mom.

A New View of Life


16 minutes that may change how you view life…

Having spent decades as an affluent but ‘typical, institutionalised, educated Western man’, the neurologist John Kitchin radically reassessed his life after finding that he was losing his eyesight and had grown unsatisfied in his work. Emerging from a bout of hopelessness with the realisation that all he wanted to do was ‘the basic things and skate’, he gave up his practice. Now a minor celebrity on San Diego’s Pacific Beach boardwalk, Kitchin – or Slomo, as he’s become known – practices an idiosyncratic, seemingly slow-motion style of inline skating that doubles as meditation. A charming and light-hearted vision of what can happen when you actually do what you want to, Slomo (2013) won dozens of awards upon its release, including Best Short Documentary at the SXSW Film Festival.

Director: Josh Izenberg

Producer: Amanda Micheli

Website: Runaway Films

Photo credit: _Hadock_ via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Navigating Language

wooden cubes with letters

In writing about disability, choice of words matters. There’s controversy here. There are differing opinions and evolving attitudes among various groups. That’s why I find it important to have direct interviews with people I write about. I take the maxim “Nothing about us without us” seriously. We are richer as a community when all voices are at the table. Here’s more on the subject:

Identity-First Language

Article: Reporting on Disability with Sensitivity, Not Sensationalism

Style Guide from the National Center on Disability and Journalism