Newsletter: "Our summertime don't got no time no more."

Time flies. When I launched this newsletter a year and a half ago, I firmly committed to a frequency of no more than weekly and no less than biannually. The previous issue was ten months ago, so this is right on schedule, sort of. Since then, I got married, bought a house, moved (still in Denver), started writing for a cycling website, helped work on some new and upcoming philanthropy projects, and more. All of which is to say, I can't believe it's June already. 


  • New resources for foundations to support legal advocacy, and what the role of an evaluator looks like.

  • I can't believe I get to write about bikes.

  • Podcasts are some of my best friends. 

  • What's next for Thomas LLC and newsletter naming rights.

Product Placement

Philanthropy's Role in Legal Advocacy

Legal advocacy and strategic litigation have been the cornerstone of some of the most significant social and policy progress over the last sixty years. Yet there are many questions and unknowns about how foundations can engage in and support this kind of work. As part of the Atlas Learning Project, TCC Group examined the legal advocacy field, how advocates employ strategies, and how funders can most effectively support them. Last month, at the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations annual conference, TCC Group premiered Step in the Fight: Philanthropy's Role in Legal Advocacy, along with previews of forthcoming briefs to provide funders and advocates with resources and guidance for engaging in these approaches. Check it out at this link. And stay tuned for other upcoming releases from the Atlas Learning Project, including an in-depth look at how funders can best support policy campaigns while also building more lasting advocacy capacity. 

The Changing Role of Evaluators in Philanthropy

When I was a newbie and first started working in philanthropy as a program officer several years ago, a coworker asked how we would know when we achieve success in a newly launched initiative. "We'll know it when we see it," I semi-jokingly responded. That coworker was an evaluator who helped push our team's thinking in new and more rigorous directions about how we would identify success, how we could capture key lessons and put that learning to use, and how we could communicate about both our failures and successes in a way that pushed the field forward. Some of that work fit in the conventional scope of evaluation, but much of it was the function of an advisor, a theorist, a strategist, and a strategic communicator. This evolution of the role and practice of evaluation in philanthropy is the subject of a terrific essay - Oh for the Love of Sticky Notes: The Changing Role of Evaluators Who Work with Foundations - by Julia Coffman from the Center for Evaluation Innovation. Give it read. 

Bikes. Bikes. Bikes. 

In January, I had the terrific opportunity to join the board of directors for BikesTogether (formerly The Bike Depot), which is a community bike shop in Denver that aims to get more people on bikes and keep them there. BikesTogether promotes better access to bikes and safe, bike-friendly environments and policies. In addition to its shop in north Park Hill, a new shop is opening later this month in the Mariposa development. You can learn more here about volunteering or donating to support more kids and families getting on bikes. 

I also recently started as a contributing writer for 303Cycling News, where I've gotten to interview the unofficial Fat Bike World Champion, witness a world record being broken for how far a woman can ride in one hour, and gotten a first hand account of a crazy bike crash in an even crazier race in New York City. Next week, these adventures will continue when I get to join a small contingent of cycling media for a preview ride of the upcoming Haute Route Rockies event coming to Colorado in 2017. 

As it's summer again, and more people are out and about on two wheels, a friendly reminder for drivers to keep your eyes open, stay alert, and look out for cyclists. They are not your enemy. The horrifying crash in Kalamazoo that left five dead and four injured is a reminder of the vulnerability of people on bikes. In the hands of a belligerent, impaired, or otherwise distracted driver, a vehicle is no less a weapon than a gun or knife or bat. So please be safe, and be good to your fellow humans, regardless of how many wheels they travel on. 

Endorsement: Podcasts

Being self-employed, an introvert, and married to someone who travels the bulk of the time for work, I have found good company in many podcasts. You may know them from Serial fame, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Podcasts are a great source of passive entertainment from which you can learn something too.

This issue's recommendations are two election-themed podcasts that shed some light on and share analyses of the modern political landscape: 

-Keepin' It 1600. Former Obama advisers Jon Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer offer surprisingly even-handed analysis and insights into the 2016 presidential election, with weekly guests like David Plouffe, Savannah Guthrie, Jennifer Palmieri, and more. 

-Candidate Confessional. Hosts Sam Stein and Jason Cherkis talk to candidates who fell short of the office they were seeking, providing an unvarnished picture of life on the political trail from different former political candidates and staffers. 

Check them out. Your earholes and brains will thank you for it. More to come in future editions. 

Thomas 2.0

After the first year of Thomas LLC being in existence, I commenced an informal strategic planning process to help sharpen and strengthen my work. So yes, this was kind of like strategic planning with myself, which is somehow maybe even more excruciating than normal strategic planning. But no, it wasn't just me. I talked with and bounced ideas off of friends, colleagues, mentors, a few total strangers, and even my two big dumb yellow dogs, who are exceptional listeners but literally have no advice to offer. 

What's come out of that process is a refined focus on the work I'll be doing going forward, which will include more writing and editorial projects and strategic communications work. What does that mean exactly? 

  • Writing and editing projects. If it can be written, I write it: reports, research papers, issues briefs, op-eds, articles, web content, biographies, profiles, ghostwriting, and more. I have some great new projects in the pipeline and looking forward to more. 
  • Speechwriting. Some of my past work has included serving as a speechwriter for several different elected officials and other community and business leaders. It's a challenging discipline and one that I truly relish working on. I am offering a full suite of highly-tailored speechwriting services and support.  
  • Communications assessments. With countless channels and platforms available to connect with customers, clients, and key audiences, too many organizations and businesses are left guessing who they are reaching and what the value and effect of that really is. We can help you better understand who you are reaching in your communications, who you need to be reaching, and how you can address any gaps that might exist there. 

Naming Rights

Lastly, this newsletter will continue, but in a soon-to-be renamed and revamped version to account for a broader array of topics. The ultimate scope is a bit of a work in progress, but it's likely to include articles, essays, insights, and recommendations from myself and others, covering some mix of culture, media, politics, policy, health and wellness, and philanthropy. And bikes. Think of it like a digital-age clipping service for things you're interested in, and for some things you might not be but should. With occasional dog pictures. 

I'm still thinking about a new name for the newsletter, but it almost certainly will not be a pun like Write It Downes or TakeDownes or First Downes and Ten (Things You Should Know), however unbelievably tempting that might be. 

Thank you for reading. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.