(Re)Defining Power and Influence

Today it was announced that yours truly had been included in the NonProfit Times annual Power and Influence Top 50. Zikes…

OK, OK…no false modesty…it’s cool to be included. Really, who wouldn’t be pleased to be selected as a person who makes things happen? Cooler still, I think I am the only person included in the list that is engaged in day-2-day, ground level work. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing in our human to human work that makes us better than any other, but being the only direct service program in the list does beg an interesting question…what is power and/or influence?

Case in point…for years DCCK has done better than most local programs with foundation support. We’ve shaken a lot of fruit loose from the local vineyard…and we’ve done modestly well nationally, bringing in serious dough from corporate foundations that dig our vision and tenacity. But we have really never been able to score a solid grant from any of the top 20 national foundations, no matter how hard we try….and we sure have tried.

Do you know how many times I have met big league foundation directors or program officers who, after hearing my pitch, look at me and almost pat me on the head, saying (in effect)…”Oh Robert, we love what you do…you’re a real saint, but we’re not interested in feeding the poor, we want to effect real, systematic change.”

And then they turn in the other direction, never seeing the power we have through our daily work to influence both legislation and lives…

Think about it…DCCK has NEVER been about “feeding the poor.” It’s what we do, to be sure…but the WAY we do it was designed, purposely, to attract attention. And when folks turn to us, we don’t hit them for money for our deluxe new building, we don’t throw statistics at them, or start ranting about injustice….we simply change minds one person at a time. It may be the homeless guy or returning felon who is enrolled in our training programs. It might be the CEO or wedding guest who is served by a graduate who is now employed by Fresh Start, our catering company. It may be the class of 10th graders from Altoona who are volunteering or a group of Senators on a field hearing. It may be the President of the United States of America or any of the 5 million folks who saw him on TV that night, standing next to any of the afore mentioned players in our daily drama, working side by side to take responsibility for themselves, their community and their neighbors. That’s how DCCK seeks to influence…by meeting folks where they are and changing the way they think. We don’t tell them what to think, or ask that they think like us…we just set the stage for folks to see the seemingly impossible made real. THAT’S the power of direct service—if used the right way.

Let’s look at it another way. Recently, the local Meyer Foundations’ annual report came out. In it, they are trumpeting their funding for advocacy groups. Listen to this line from the report (which they used as a pull quote):

“It is about ensuring that the hungry are fed, the homeless are housed, and the sick are cared for. But its tools are not soup kitchens, cots, and health clinics. Its tools are budget hearings, coalitions, and city council meetings.”

This is just the kind of one-dimensional thinking that is killing us. Listen…change is a mush of ideas. It’s not about one group advocating while another group “feeds the poor.” It’s about using media, money, volunteers, laws, votes, the power of the pen and the miracles that come from caring…and using them TOGETHER. Divided we are weak. We ALL need to tilt our heads a tad and start to see the gold that lies at our feet. Direct service programs like the Kitchen–we’re cool, and we know that we are not the answer. BUT…we sure as hell can lead a lot of thirsty horses to water if you give us the opportunity.

So thanks for the honor… Can I bring some friends to the party?