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The Importance of Communication, Branding, and a Mea Culpa February 13, 2009

Posted by obnoxioususername in Uncategorized.
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First, a little parable to start this blog: the Mars Climate Orbiter is a notorious NASA project that went famously haywire, diving into the Martian atmosphere. The cause of the problem was apparently a mixup of units-the ground station controllers of the Orbiter measured the force of its thrusters in metric units, while the software controlling the Orbiter (which was designed by Lockheed Martin) measured power in the Imperial system. The result was that the thrusters pushed the Orbiter with far greater force than the ground team anticipated, and the 125$ million spacecraft was destroyed. The NASA and Lockheed Martin people learned the importance of communicating clearly to each other.

Earlier this term, I e-mailed the Rainbow Families Family Outreach and Education manager Abby Riskin, asking if they could send a speaker down to Northfield to talk about the issue of LGBT homeless. She e-mailed me back saying that her organizations could not send a speaker, but she recommended that I talk to Raquel (Rocki) Simões, the manager of the LGBT Host Home program run by the Avenues for Youth homeless shelter. Upon getting that e-mail, however, I thought “Ah, Jane’s running that. Don’t need to worry about it, it’s in capable hands”.

Imagine my surprise on today when I talk to Jane about the progress she’s made, and learn that she’s been working with the BRIDGE for Homeless Youth program, not the AVENUES for Homeless Youth program. What’s more, she’d gotten referred to Ms. Simões, and unlike me had actually bothered to e-mail her and was working with her on getting volunteer opportunities for Carleton students.

Jane, you’ve accomplished much and have done work that I should have done 2 weeks ago. I don’t have an excuse-I should have paid closer attention to which groups we were supposed to e-mail, and because I didn’t I put an additional burden on your already busy term. I am sincerely sorry-I will make more of an effort from now on to understand who is responsible for what.

I think that this incident at least illustrated an important concept for me in the context of social movements: the importance of brand recognition for formal organizations involved in social movements. If organizations proliferate, and develop similar names, the result is confusion as to which organization is which, leading to cases like this. As non-profit organizations arguably compete for the charity and time of volunteers and donors, sticking out from the crowd is important for the organization’s ability to gain these resources. My father is the regional director of a non-profit organization in West Africa, and he’s spoken to me several times about the need for brand-name recognition for non-profits. I now understand why that’s so important for him.