Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Bicycle Memoir Reveals Disturbing Group Behavior

A new memoir, called Bike Hunt, uncovers disturbing patterns in bicycle advocacy and other nonprofits. In the early 2000s, Sue Knaup believed she had landed her dream job as director of the Thunderhead Alliance, a national bicycle nonprofit. Though she had escaped abuse as a child, her ambition obscured her descent into workplace abuse. Over the ensuing five years, she discovered she was not the only nonprofit leader struggling against bizarre manipulations.

Ten years after her board fired her without cause, Ms. Knaup has published her memoir capturing not only the disturbing group behavior she encountered, but her own role in allowing the abuse. Her first years at Thunderhead are thrilling as she compares her successes to her previous jobs in nonprofits. All the while, a system of manipulation is laid out by one particular board member as he slowly gains support from others within Thunderhead as well as the bicycle industry. Meanwhile, she watches in dismay as bicycle nonprofits across the United States are crippled by similar group behavior.

As she fights for her job, Ms. Knaup’s “Bike Hunts,” searching for then giving away used bikes, become her lifeline back to her former, courageous self and the world. Recollections of her daring as a San Francisco bike messenger, river guide, and hitchhiker remind her of a time when no one could bully her. Her previous experience in the animal rights, environmental, and special populations movements help her decipher how her time at Thunderhead went so terribly wrong.

The day after she surrenders the fight, Ms. Knaup founds One Street, an international nonprofit serving bicycle organizations with kindness and respect.

Bike Hunt is a tragic love story of an enchantment with and sacrifice for a magical machine. In the end, it is a story of hope and resilience for anyone who has ever let themselves slip away into ambition.

“Sue Knaup’s Bike Hunt is at once a compelling memoir, a narrative of discovery and political activism as well as a look at bicycles as you haven’t seen them before,” said Thomas Cobb author of Darkness the Color of Snow and Crazy Heart.

Knaup’s story is deeply moving—sad and funny and full of moments of insight. She has the rare talent to see with clarity where meanness or dishonesty have prevailed, and her adventures are a thrilling read,” said Elaine Greensmith Jordan author of Mrs. Ogg Played the Harp. 

Buy your copy of Bike Hunt through booksellers worldwide or at www.OneStreet.org. All proceeds support One Street’s service to bicycle nonprofits around the world.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Could Christiania Be a Kind Communities Model?

Following the Velo-city conference in mid-June, I traveled to Denmark to visit a few communities with potential for becoming models for One Street's Kind Communities program. Surprisingly, the one community I thought would not make the cut was the only one that did – Christiania.

For those not familiar with Christiania, it is an autonomous community started in the 1970s when random squatters jumped the fence of an abandoned military base in downtown Copenhagen. Since then, people who chose to live there have cooperated so that their current population of 850 can live amiably together.

Unfortunately, this includes drug dealers. During my visit and wonderful discussions with long-time residents, including one of the original founders of the bike shop, I learned why this problem is so entrenched. The original squatters were adamant about keeping this taken land separate from Danish and even European laws including allowing the sale and use of drugs, now restricted to hash and pot. Since then, residents have realized this was a mistake as they endure the violence and degradation around the drug dealing area they call Pusher Street right at the main entry.

Even after purchasing the land from the city in 2012 and thus legitimizing the community, city officials have allowed the drug trade to continue there in order to keep it contained and away from other neighborhoods. When I heard this, all I could think was that Christiania is being used by the city, not respected as a true neighborhood where such a problem would garner serious assistance toward a solution.

Even so, the residents and leaders of Christiania continue their efforts to abolish the drug dealers who have stained their reputation. Their concerted effort, including working with the drug dealers themselves, actually added to my realization that this community could indeed become a model for Kind Communities.

What do you think? Have you had experience with Christiania? Do you think it could make the cut? Please read more about our Kind Communities program at www.OneStreet.org then email your thoughts to sue{at}onestreet.org.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

First Kind Communities Models

When we launched our Kind Communities program at the start of this year, we knew it would be a long haul. Researching and capturing elements that lead to kindness in communities could be a rather nebulous target to reach for. With the status quo to displace people in favor of profitable projects and to level old neighborhoods to build speedways, talking about kind places was sure to bring only blank stares.

Wrong! I have been thrilled by the response. Nearly everyone I have spoken to about Kind Communities gets it. They have either lived in such a place and miss it terribly or they have been angered by the lack of kindness in their own communities and have envisioned similar changes. A common comment is that few people talk to each other anymore, not even neighbors. Others note the loneliness of living in isolated places where houses are far apart and driving is the only way to reach community services.

During my recent trip to Washington, D.C., I met with staff at the nonprofit development firm Community Preservation and Development Corporation (CPDC). A few minutes into my introduction to our program, they jumped in to tell me about the success they’d had at one of their affordable housing projects—Edgewood Commons. After a horrible murder, CPDC took the opposite approach from the normal lock down. They engaged the tenants as experts for solving their community's problems.

Two years later, they have dozens of active tenant groups teaching classes, starting businesses, and keeping their community safe. They captured their success in this white paper including the steps they took to engage residents. CPDC is also looking at ways to bring similar processes to their other developments in the D.C. area, including bicycle initiatives so residents can obtain their own bicycle as well as career training in bicycle businesses. Can you imagine how excited I was to connect with them?

After that meeting and follow up calls, I convinced myself that CPDC is a special case and to lower my expectations again. Then I asked a Japanese friend who lives here in Prescott, whether he had any connections in Okinawa. Okinawa had made our list of potential models because citizens control the economy through local trade and their culture is to take care of each other. Within a few days, we were sitting down with Mitsuko, a friend of his who is from Okinawa and now living in Prescott.

I couldn’t take notes fast enough to capture her explanations on how the Okinawan people developed their kind culture and have preserved it through too many forced take overs by foreign nations, including the U.S. until 1972. Now, though Okinawans’ ancestors have closer ties to China and Indonesia, the ruling government of Okinawa is Japan, and the U.S. still has tens of thousands of military personnel on bases there. Through all this, including unimaginable horrors during World War II, they have preserved their culture of kindness toward everyone. I will meet with Mitsuko again this weekend to continue our discussion. She’s so excited about our Kind Communities program that she has offered to help me connect to more models around the world.

Now I can’t help but look at our list of potential models with a sense of excitement for what I will discover next. Here are the next likely for my outreach:

·         Nantes, France –focus on fun, citizen engagement, and honesty about their past. Video from Velo-city 2015: https://vimeo.com/97097924
·         Paqueta island in Rio de Janiero. Brazil – funny video of bicycles and car-free island: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0C4lNCLcfa8
·         Worcester, Vermont – citizen-led, community lunches every Wednesday, central gathering place, online forum for sharing things, community pride. 1,000 population.
·         Villages and tribes that are unlikely to identify themselves as anything special. I’ve got some calls in to our local tribe here in Prescott.

I also have my eye on communities that seem to be trying to rebuild into kind communities, either after disasters or simply to recapture a sense of community they once had. Here are some from that list:

·         Christchurch, New Zealand - http://www.regeneratechristchurch.nz/ Earthquakes hit in 2010 and 2011. Started this entity in 2016.
·         Greensburg, Kansas – called their rebuilding after the 2011 tornado “green” and focused on energy-efficient buildings. Now locals are grumbling, but there still seems to have pride in their effort - http://www.npr.org/2014/04/29/307913565/kansas-town-destroyed-by-tornado-spreads-blame-for-lack-of-growth
·         Downtown Las Vegas, Nevada – efforts at engaging local artists and business owners: http://www.cnbc.com/2016/08/09/zappos-ceo-tony-hsieh-what-i-regret-about-pouring-350-million-into-las-vegas.html oddly begun by the millionaire CEO of Zappos.
·         Key West, Florida – seems to be a kind community, residents trying to organize to stop reckless developers and preserve old community including affordable housing and bicycle access.

We’re looking for more potential models to add to our list so we’ll have a broad range to learn from as we compile case studies and resources to help all of you shift your own communities back toward kindness. Here is our current list of criteria (sure to be refined as we move forward):

  • Residents feel secure and affordable housing is not threatened;
  • Well-used community center including workshops with tools to share and classes led by residents;
  • Improvements, projects, and activities organized by residents;
  • Businesses owned and operated by residents (few if any outside chains), most necessities served (grocery, hardware, clothing, staples, etc.), social enterprise?:
  • No charity services;
  • Residents care for each other, none marginalized;
  • Community goals and changes serve as many residents as possible, especially those near the margins, without doing any residents harm;
  • Streets are all traffic calmed with pedestrians and bicyclists prioritized;
  • Easy access to affordable transportation, especially bicycles, bikeways, and affordable bicycle repair.

As you can see from our Kind Communities webpage, we believe that such a backdrop of kindness will enable significant improvements for bicycling, for everyone, no matter their ability, age, or income level.

Do you know of a kind community that could be a model for this program? If so, please offer it in the comments section.


Monday, December 19, 2016

Learning from Kind Communities, Bicycles as Canaries

Most of us have been enchanted by places that have no outstanding feature, no grand building or super highway, no monstrous shopping mall or ballfield to draw inane profits. Instead, we enter such places with ease and relax even with activity all around. 

Some of the places that come to my mind include particular neighborhoods within cities; villages in Mexico, Africa, and Thailand, even Bangkok as a whole, though it is a massive city. I’ve worked on farms in villages in Sweden and New Zealand where people care for each other, rallying to help anyone in distress. Nantes, France is another city that makes my list with its playfulness and caring for its residents. These are wildly different places and yet each shares one feature – everyone who lives in places like this, kind places, expects to ride a bicycle.

In Cures for Ailing Organizations I show why organizations, like organisms, need to be healthy in order to accomplish positive change. This includes a strong purpose (skeleton), coordinated people helping each other (muscles), sound policies (nervous system), and steady communications (respiratory and circulatory systems). Now I wonder, could whole communities also function this way?

In 2017, One Street will embark on a new program to unlock the secrets of communities that already enjoy a connected and empowered citizenship. Our mission is based on serving leaders of bicycle organizations, yet we have found that bicycle facilities and programs in communities that isolate people—whether by high-speed roads, sprawl and single-use development, gentrification/displacement, or police harassment—cause little if any change. Many of these bicycle-only victories are eventually removed or vanish because they reside where people are not prioritized.

Bicycles are to communities what canaries were to miners. When few people can ride bikes, or only one sort of people rides bikes, it is a sure sign of disease. In such places, officials base decisions on grand infrastructure, attracting large businesses, and reactions to complaints, isolating and marginalizing people as if they are bothersome, inanimate objects. Streets are widened, housing and public spaces replaced by shopping centers and car parking lots. The purpose or skeleton of such a community is diseased and its muscles, the participation of its citizens, have atrophied.

I’ve been studying several proactive efforts that touch on this topic, but don’t hit the mark:

  •  Intentional communities and ecovillages – focus on kindness and connection within their group, but are usually isolated from mainstream society.
  •  Service communities – serve marginalized individuals, but rarely engage them as leaders or integrate their community into mainstream society.
  •  Placemaking, community development corporations, and other socially sensitive developments – generally focus on infrastructure designed by outside “experts” and diminish the expertise of the people they desire to serve.
Even these promising efforts tend to veer away from integration. Our research into the reasons for this will be important to this new program. We do know that organizations and communities tend to devolve into places where a few people dominate, where new ideas are suppressed, where the hard work of kindness and respect are replaced by sudden pronouncements from those few or their call for a majority vote.

The goals of our new program will include identifying models and creating resources to help organization and community leaders gain the courage to resist this tendency and instead ensure the engagement of everyone (not serving them, engaging them) to better their community together.

Our working name for this new program is Kind Communities because it will examine communities as a whole to find out how some have kept or shifted their focus to break down barriers that marginalize people. And one of our best gauges for finding these model places will be that everyone—no matter their age, ability, or income—expects to ride a bike whenever and wherever they like.

Do you know of places like this? Can you offer pertinent resources, books, websites, or conferences? If so, please offer them in the comments section. Also, we’d appreciate any suggestions for naming the program. Kind Communities will work, but we’re looking for suggestions.

Thanks in advance!


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Annual Planning Prevents Frustration in Nonprofits

In my work at One Street as an on-call coach for leaders of nonprofit bicycle organizations, I often hear frustration from jumping between unrelated tasks. Each day, these nonprofit leaders find themselves running after new opportunities and never get the chance to carry anything through.

In the morning, they might start on a new grant proposal that shifts their work into the grantor’s expectations then have to dash across town to have lunch with a potential partner who wants them to add a children’s bike safety program to their work. Once they get back to the office, they have to return calls and emails from enthusiastic people wanting them to improve particular streets for bicycling or needing their help responding to a car/bike crash. By the time they leave for the day, they’ve accomplished nothing.

Frustrating days like these turning into months, and even years, become a recipe for burnout and are often the reason that talented leaders leave their organizations.

Whenever I hear stories of frustration like this, my first question is whether they have an annual plan, also known as a work plan and budget. Most often, the answer is no. Without an annual plan that clarifies exactly what the organization needs to accomplish that year, with no more than three defined categories of programs, leaders and staff will be scattered just like the scenario about. But with an annual plan, they can filter out inappropriate grants and guide donors and supporters to help with their current efforts instead of diverting them.

In Cures for Ailing Organizations, I devote a section to annual planning because of its high importance. Here’s how I start that section:

“Planning is the most important responsibility for you and your fellow leaders because no one else will do it. Without a plan, you will waste enormous amounts of time and money dabbling in random activities and will likely lose many potential leaders and helpers along the way. No one stays around long without an effective plan.

There are two types of planning you as leaders have to engage in: long-term planning and annual planning. Briefly, long-term planning creates a clear picture well into the future, including what your community will look like after your work is done. Your mission statement drives all of it. You will read more about long-term planning later.

Annual planning, as the name implies, takes place every year and maps out specific activities toward your long-term goals. Near the end of each year at a special meeting, at least half a day long, you and your fellow leaders will examine your expectations for the past year compared to what actually happened. Using this reality check, you will work together to develop your work plan and budget for the coming year. Reference your long-term plan to ensure that the details you outline for the year will follow the shortest and most effective path toward your mission and general goals…”

This is the time of year to begin scheduling your annual planning meeting. Contact all of your board members and your management-level staff to find out when they can set aside a full day in November or early December. Don’t wait, because if you can’t find a day within that timeframe that works for everyone, you’ll hit the holidays and miss your chance to finish your plan by the end of the year. Once you succeed, you can keep this system going for all future years to prevent frustration of wasted time and ensure your organization is causing positive change.


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Right Sizing Your Nonprofit

In Cures for Ailing Organizations I emphasize the importance of appropriate size for any organization working for positive change. Too often, nonprofit leaders get stuck on a fixed image of their organization that does not match its strongest structure.

I’ve encountered both extremes. Some leaders of very small nonprofits believe their organization should be massive with a downtown office, lots of equipment, and an army of staff. Perhaps they are enamored by another nonprofit with this sort of structure, but don’t recognize the differences. Such leaders become obsessed with fundraising and are the most vulnerable to chasing down and accepting inappropriately earmarked funds. When such funds are accepted, they can derail the organization into unrelated work or worse, set them up for years of legal battles.

On the other extreme, are leaders of thriving, medium or large nonprofits who decide that downsizing or merging with another organization is the best move. Sometimes this is so. But too often, these sorts of decisions come from laziness. Such leaders are not good at working in a team or reaching out for helpers. Others never understood the mission of the organization and simply can’t articulate it to attract helpers. They believe that every new effort will mean that they have to do all the work. And so cancelling programs and events or even transferring resources to another organization seems like their only choice.

There’s no need for all this strife and wasted energy as long as you take an honest assessment of your organization’s purpose and match it to the appropriate structure.

If your group came together to accomplish just a few specific projects in your community, perhaps a community garden and an annual event for educating the public, there is no reason for staff or an office. Share the load among your team and keep reaching out into the community for more helpers to ensure the success of the garden and events.

However, if your nonprofit was founded to tackle an entrenched injustice, perhaps gang dominance or animal cruelty, then know that you and your team will have to build a strong structure complete with office, staff, engaging website, and frequent media and communication campaigns in order to turn your particular societal tide.

In the book, I use a star analogy to show what I mean by appropriate size. New stars are nebulous, just like new organizations, and both can vanish with the slightest disruption. All nonprofits go through this stage, but it’s vital to move through it as fast as possible. Knowing how large your organization needs to be to accomplish its mission will help focus your limited resources in the right direction. For small community organization, that will include passing clear, concise bylaws that spell out your purpose, roles of leaders, and how leaders are chosen. This will prevent self-interested people from taking over the organization.

On the other extreme of the star analogy are the red giants. These are stars that have grown so large they hardly give off any light or energy. Instead, they turn inward and consume themselves forming a hard outer shell. The relation to oversized nonprofits is very disturbing. Here’s how I describe it in the book:

“…There is indeed a desperation about red giant organizations. They seem to believe that as long as everyone who works for them is doing something, they’re okay. Yet if you ask people outside the organization what it has done to benefit its target community, no one can say. Much like red giant stars, these organizations usually create hard, exclusive shells that prevent people from getting involved or learning much about them. Instead, they focus inward using exclusive jargon to create extravagant materials that justify their existence. And just like red giant stars, these massive, expanding organizations eventually run out of internal energy, their hard outer shells collapse and, in their desperation, they grab at other organizations, stealing credit for the others' work…”

The important difference between stars and nonprofits is that all stars will eventually become red giants, but nonprofits have the choice not to.

The aim for any healthy nonprofit should be the type of star that is between these two. Much like our own sun, these stars give off the same amount of energy they produce and with this balance, they can look forward to a long life of benefiting their target community.

So how can you gauge whether or not your organization has settled into the appropriate structure? Ask yourselves these questions:

·         Have you established strong bylaws and are you following them? If not, you are still in that dangerous nebulous stage.
·         With a clear picture of the goals needed to reach your purpose have you and your team mapped out the structures and steps needed to reach them? If not, do so right away before chasing after any inappropriate funding.
·         Are any of your leaders fed up with doing too much work? Then take an honest look at how all of you have been communicating with your constituents. There is a reason people are not offering to help. Find it or you will fall into the red giant danger zone.

There are many other signs of inappropriate size. Please email me at sue{at}onestreet.org if you think I can help or leave your concerns in the comments section.

Also look for the positive signs that you and your team have hit that right-sized sweet spot. Here’s how I describe it in Cures for Ailing Organizations:

“…Health is easy to identify. We are attracted to it and seek simple ways to achieve it. By now you should have several healthy organizations in mind; perhaps a charter school, a dog owners’ club, a neighborhood watch group or a gang intervention organization. Their boards are strong and working as a team with the executive director. Each executive director is confident and comfortable in his or her position. Appropriate candidates for the board are regularly invited to take part in activities and learn about the organization before being invited to serve. The organization is following a plan that aligns with its mission. Start a list of your favorite healthy organizations so you can refer to them as you work through this book and bring your organization back to health. Consider how they present themselves and attract great people to help their efforts. Reach out to them and note how they communicate with you. Use them as your models for your own organization…”

If you already enjoy this sort of a supportive and gratifying atmosphere you can rest assured that you and your team are making the right decisions and ensuring the long term health of your organization.

Do you have healthy nonprofits in mind that you would like to share and some details about how you think they reached this point? Please share them in the comments section.


Monday, July 4, 2016

Fighting Our Dysfunction Default

Today is Independence Day here in the United States when we celebrate our declaration to rule ourselves, which set in motion the building of our nation. So it seems like an appropriate day to write about the opposite of successful efforts—the tendency within nonprofits toward dysfunction.

Nonprofits proliferate because established governments are so bogged down in corporate dealings, politics, and bureaucracies they cannot provide basic services. Here in the U.S., our government can’t get past the insurance industry to provide basic health care. In Africa, foreign aid lures government leaders into massive projects rather than programs to serve their people. And most recently, immigrant-hating hecklers seem to have convinced the UK government to break away from Europe and set the stage for years of rebuilding for no measurable gain.

I’m somewhat glad that governments tend toward dysfunction because otherwise they would wield too much power. But this leaves the responsibility for significant societal benefits squarely in the laps of nonprofits. Unfortunately, as I show in Cures for Ailing Organizations, nonprofits are just as inclined toward dysfunction.

Dysfunction seems to be our default setting. Even in nonprofits, we set out to achieve critical missions only to spend our time in meetings and developing projects and programs that change nothing. For instance, at One Street I work with many leaders of bicycle organization who find themselves in ruts of time-sucking programs such as bike education events or rides that only attract current enthusiasts. Worse are the programs that undermine bicycle advocacy such as pushing bicycle helmets.

Most people are not leaders and prefer finite tasks over developing long-term visions and the disruptive steps necessary to reach them. Even those with leadership skills find relief in simple tasks like laundry or chopping vegetables. But if we expect to change the world, we need more than chopped vegetables.

Here are some steps you can take toward fighting the dysfunction default when you realize your nonprofit is spinning in place:

STEP 1: Check your mission. If it does not clearly state significant, positive change it could be at the heart of your problem. Consider a rewrite with the rest of your team to change out passive wording for eyebrow-raising terms that shock casual observers. Read more about developing an effective mission and vision here.

But a great mission cannot prevent our dysfunction default. If your nonprofit is not causing measurable results, something needs to change. Leaving a dysfunctional nonprofit in place is harmful because it prevents an effective one from being formed.

STEP 2: Find more leaders. Leaders thrive on long-term visions. Their pulses race when asked to define goals years in advance and map out the steps to reach them. They understand the intricate web of experts, partners, and supporters needed to achieve significant change and easily prioritize the necessary tasks for staff and volunteers.

But talented leaders are deflected away from dysfunctional organizations. They’ve been burned too often in leadership roles where others prefer their rut, where current leaders take pride in the wasteful programs they developed. Friends defend useless efforts by people who should never have been given responsibility. Even hecklers are defended. And when new leaders who bruise those egos finally give up and leave, the remaining leaders snap everything back to their former ineffective ways.

I have a rather sick affection for this video of wildebeests and an alligator that serves as comedic relief each time I encounter this snap-back reaction in dysfunctional nonprofits. It shows the value of recording and then believing in progress made. Use this to present your nonprofit as eager to change. That sort of humility will increase your chances of attracting great leaders.

Look for those with big ideas toward your mission (be leery of ideas that stray or suggest personal gain). Those who harp on immediate tasks will be great volunteers, but not leaders. Guiding task-oriented people away from leadership roles should not be offensive. Finding the best role for each individual is not only respectful, it will set them up for success. Read more about the value of appropriate roles in my last blog post.

STEP 3: Plan to fight chronic dysfunction. Realize that because your nonprofit slipped into dysfunction it will always have this tendency. Of course all nonprofits are in danger of this slip, but once it has happened, some people will defend it. We’re no better than those wildebeests in that video. Set in place policies that spell out what progress means and checkpoints that measure progress. Your fight against dysfunction will never end.

If you are a leader of a bicycle organization that has slumped into a rut of dysfunction, please don’t hesitate to contact me: sue{at}onestreet.org. I’m sure I can help.