Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Death Penalty

As a long time supporter of human rights and a member of Amnesty International, I do my best to pay attention, attend, be proactive, educate myself, and for the most part, not shut out issues that may feel too horrible to think about.

Trust me, that's not always easy.

Last night was one of those "not so easy" nights.

For me, as a human rights advocate I tend to focus much of my energies on issues of genocide, human trafficking, torture, and the empowerment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights being enjoyed by ALL people.

While I have spent a great deal of time in my life -- much, much, much more so than the average person -- volunteering to work with inmates in prison (both male and female), I can honestly say the death penalty is something that challenges me.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, our legal system is f*#@*ed up. Actually, if there is something beyond f*#@*ed up, it's that.

Last night I attended a meeting in which the focus was the need to abolish the death penalty. Unfortunately, the meeting was very poorly organized, marketed and run and thus, very poorly attended. ( BIG HINT: When there are an equal number of or more Board/Staff members of the organization sponsoring the meeting in the audience than there are "outside" people, then it's time to re-evaluate how you are presenting your message.)

The meeting consisted of two speakers and then a Q & A session. (Unfortunately, neither speaker had prepared notes nor did either speaker pay attention to the microphone in front of them. ANOTHER BIG HINT: no matter how well versed you feel you are on a subject...ALWAYS HAVE PREPARED NOTES.)

Both individual speakers had powerful stories -- sad, tragic, and awful, but powerful in the sense that they are exactly the right people to be speaking about the need to abolish the death penalty -- but, frustratingly, they struggled in delivering pointed, well-thought-out, prepared arguments.

Approximately 34 years ago, through a series of absolute negligence by those in the legal system, the gentleman speaker was wrongfully convicted of murder in New Mexico and spent 2 years on death row. Thankfully, a female reporter began investigating the series of events, the truth was discovered, and he was exonerated. (A journalist doing what a journalist should be doing...searching for and reporting the truth. Ahh, I think I remember that time in our history.)

Also in the 1970's, the female speaker, her husband and their 5 children were traveling to Montana from Michigan. They chose a campground just outside of Three Forks, MT to spend one of their first nights. Sadly, during the night their 7-year-old daughter was kidnapped and a week later murdered. However, the kidnapper/murderer toyed with the family for over a year. He was eventually caught and was discovered to have murdered a number of other children (and an adult) throughout the state. It was only when the family chose not to seek the death penalty, did the killer confess to his crime(s). A short time later he committed suicide.

As I said, both speakers have direct experience with the legal system in regards to the death penalty and are just the people most nonprofits would want to engage on behalf of their cause.

Unfortunately, the skill set of the Board Members of the nonprofit and the staff of the nonprofit failed to pull off anything of significance last night. And unfortunately, the public speaking skills of both speakers failed to do the same.

Nonprofits MUST get out of the NOT-FOR-PROFIT mentality and start thinking along the lines of "What Would Starbucks Do?" or "What Would MacDonalds Do?" or "What Would WalMart Do?" to get this message out to the public? Nonprofits don't have to have the money that these big corporations do to just simply stop approaching everything with a not-for-profit mentality. Change the way of thinking first, see different results second.

First, be organized. Have a plan. What is it you want to accomplish? What is your message? Who do you want to reach with your message? What do you want to change? Who do you need "on your side" to make that change happen? etc...

Second, execute the plan. If the plan includes public speakers, make sure they are skilled to deliver their message effectively. If the plan includes the need for action, have the necessary actions laid out for people to take. Communicate with a plan -- close the deal effectively.

How interesting it was to check my email when I got home and find a link to a clip from my dear friend, Al Feldstein (retired MAD Magazine editor). The clip is from the television show Boston Legal and deals with... the death penalty.

A topic of discussion Al and I have never had. We've talked about plenty of political issues, but the death penalty has never been one of them.

This clip is an excellent example of educational TV -- truly quality programming. And it's an excellent example of how nonprofits could learn from the skill set of educated writers. If I were a nonprofit organization whose main function is to see the abolition of the death penalty, I'd be using this clip, the words spoken by this actor (James Spader, who appears to be many female actresses could get away with that? Ah, but that's another blog), and anything and everything ABC would let me use to push my cause.

Engaging speakers to your cause is a good thing, but make sure you have a plan of action in place if your purpose is to see something changed.

from with vodpod

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