CEDAM Blog

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How to Ruin Your Reputation on the Internet: Don’t Check Facts

[This post is part of the How To Ruin Your Reputation on the Internet series, written by CEDAM Communications Intern Olivia Courant.]

This series highlights mistakes nonprofits make online that hurt their reputation or make their online communications strategies ineffective. Today’s topic: fact checking.

—A Very Bad Statistic—

newspaper-main_Full

Imagine opening the newspaper tomorrow morning and reading this statistic: “Every year since 1980, the number of unemployed people in the state of Michigan has doubled.”

Wow. This statistic would be a great way to show that unemployment is a big problem in Michigan. So without further thought, you quote the newspaper article in a newsletter about unemployment. Soon, other Michigan nonprofits pick up on this statistic and they too use it to point to the problem of unemployment. Eventually it is common knowledge that unemployment is doubling each year in Michigan.

What is wrong with this? Let’s assume that there is one unemployed person in Michigan in 1980. In 1981, there are two. By 1990 there are 1,024 unemployed people. Not so bad, right? When we reach 2000, a little more than one million people in Michigan are unemployed, or 1 of every 10 people living in Michigan that year.

According to our faulty statistic, we can expect one billion people to be unemployed in Michigan next year, 2010. In other words, the entire U.S. population three times over would roughly equal the number of unemployed in Michigan.

This is an example of a bad statistic. As nonprofits, part of our job is to keep our numbers straight so that others have an accurate picture of how big the problem is, who is being affected, what is needed, etc, so that the problem can be addressed correctly. Fact checking does not only apply to numbers; it also applies to information. While some of us have no problem evaluating the credibility of information, we may balk at the idea of checking numbers. Fortunately, there are two simple, basic principles to fact check most anything.

1. Common Sense
Does the number or fact make sense based on what you already know? If not, is the source credible? (see #2)

2. Source Credibility
Where did the number or fact come from? Something you overheard? A flaky looking website or a chain letter? A partisan think tank? An established nonprofit? The U.S. Census Bureau? Obviously there are some sources we can trust more than others.

Finally, always remember to mention the specifics of any statistic or fact you use, such as the time, place, and people it applies to. No one wants to be caught accidentally applying data from the 70’s to the current situation.

Interested in learning more about how to fact check?

  • The University of British Colombia has guidelines on evaluating internet resources (here) and print resources (here).
  • See how PolitiFact.com does their fact checking in this YouTube video.
  • If you enjoy reading and want to learn more about how statistics can be misleading, I highly recommend Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics by Joel Best. It is an easy, entertaining, and enlightening read and you do not need to have advanced knowledge of math to understand it. Google Books will give you a limited preview of the book here, and also of the “sequel.”

For Personal Finance, Knowing is Half the Battle

[This post is from Ross H. Yednock, Director of the Asset Building Policy Project.]

Last month I went to southern Illinois to visit my grandmother on the family farm.  It is a place I have been going to my entire life and I truly enjoy how it feels worlds removed from the life I live in the city of Lansing.  This particular trip, I spent a lot of time driving my grandmother to and from the homestead into some of the neighboring small towns.  While much has stayed the same in Olney and Fairfield over the years, I noticed on this visit that some of the old small shops I used to remember have been replaced by check cashers and payday lenders.

Sometimes convenience has a high price tag.

Sometimes convenience has a high price tag.

I only saw a few in each little town, a small number in comparison to Lansing or Detroit, but on a per capita basis I’m pretty sure that the 8,600 people of Olney and 5,400 of Fairfield have the same access to these high cost outlets as do us big city dwellers.  This shouldn’t really come as a surprise, considering payday lenders grew faster than Starbucks over the last 15 years, but it is a troubling sign that consumption-based services are more prolific than savings.

As I mentioned, I’ve been going to the farm since I was a kid and as a result, I have many fond childhood memories.  I learned a lot about finances and savings from my grandfather who, during retirement, accepted an uncompensated position as president of the Mt. Erie State Bank.  On this particular visit, as I drove by the signs soliciting “CASH NOW – NO CREDIT CHECKS,” another childhood memory came to me: “Knowing is half the battle,” the catch phrase at the end of every G.I. Joe episode.

When it comes to personal finance and making sound decisions that enable you to build assets, knowing is half the battle.

Knowing the fees, charges and interest of a credit card, savings account, or checking account allows you to make the right decisions and save money toward retirement, college, or future emergencies.

Knowing that debit cards are directly linked to a checking or savings account, different from “pre-paid” debit cards which can cost $10, $20 or even $30 a month in fees, allows you to be a more savvy consumer and saver.

Knowing alternatives to using a check casher or payday lender allows you to save upwards of $500 or $1000 a year.

And knowing that you can get your credit report and Chexsystem report for free, from sites that do not advertise using catchy commercials or come with monthly and unnecessary “credit monitoring” fees, allows you take an active approach to your whole financial picture.

In coming blog posts, I will provide you with more tips and links to good information on personal finance and savings.  In the meantime, remember, when it comes to becoming financially self-sufficient and secure, knowing is half the battle.

-rhy

Every year, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from all three major credit reporting agencies.  Get this free report.

Every year, you are entitled to a free copy of your report from ChexSystems, the company that financial institutions use to monitor consumers’ banking histories.  Get this free report.

If you have questions or would like further information, please contact Asset Building Policy Project Director Ross H. Yednock.

Member News Roundup

[This post is part of the biweekly CEDAM Member News Roundup series.  If you have news to share, send it our way or leave a message in the comments section at the bottom of this post.]

This week there has been a big buzz in the news media about University Cultural Center Association’s annual Noel Night.  The event is free and features activities and live performances from over 40 institutions.  It starts at 5:00 this Saturday in Midtown Detroit’s Cultural Center Area. Details here.

The Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) provides affordable housing for families in need, but this year it is also running an adopt a family program for the holiday season.  The program is featured in an NBC interview with Deborah Armstrong from ICCF.  Watch the interview.

Ottawa County Community Action Agency is running a weatherization program that offers assistance to low-income families in order to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.  Examples of assistance include home improvements like installing insulation, sealing ducts, and making sure furnaces work properly.  See the end of this article.

Dickson-Iron Community Services Agency (DISCA) decided to continue onsite meal service at the Crystal Falls Senior Center until the end of February.  Home delivered meals will continue even if onsite meals end, DISCA said. Article.

MFPP Online Foreclosure Service

The Michigan Foreclosure Prevention Project’s foreclosure online inquiry/intake service is now up and running! View it here.

MFPP foreclosure

The MFPP web inquiry will provide intake, counseling, and advice services to households facing foreclosure that complete the on-line intake questionnaire.  A MFPP attorney will monitor the web intake daily and answer questions.  If the MFPP attorney believes that more extensive services are required for a client, the MFPP attorney will either refer the client to a housing counselor or to one of the legal services partner programs serving the geographic area where the property is located.  Please let homeowners in your networks know about this new online service.

Capital Day Fall 2009 Recap

On Tuesday, November 10, 2009, CEDAM held its second Capital Day in partnership with the Asset Building Policy Project and the Michigan Foreclosure Task Force. The event was a great success, with 57 individuals from 38 organizations converging in Lansing to meet with 30 representatives and 21 senators.

Tiffany Lemieux-McKissic, CEDAM’s Manager of Membership and Communications, has created a fantastic 4-minute video with footage and information from Capital Day. If you attended, this is a great way to remember the event and tell others about it. If you missed out this time, you can see what the event was like. We encourage you to join us in 2010!

In addition to Tiffany, for her great work on the video, we would like to thank the following individuals and organizations:

If you attended and have not yet filled out an evaluation, please do so here to help us improve future events. To see policy materials from Capital Day, visit our Advocacy Resources page.

Last but not least, here are a few of the comments we’ve received from people who attended.

  • “Great job on the event – all of your work made it so much easier to meet and establish relationships with our legislators!”
  • “Both my contacts did what I asked and it also followed to a TV show with [my representative] to talk about foreclosure scams. Good for the public, for [my rep] and for [my organization].”
  • “Capital Day was a great event.  It is good to be aware of specific bills that are in the legislature and of those which we can have an opportunity to lobby on.  I also enjoyed networking with other agencies from around Michigan who are involved in similar work.  Overall, the event was well organized, informative, and a great opportunity to be a part of a democracy. “
  • “This was a positive experience for me…. I will follow the issues much more closely as a result of my experience.”
  • “I would be very comfortable participating in the future.”
  • “I am very happy to have signed up and come to Capital Day.”

Alleviating Foreclosure the AmeriCorps Way

[This is a guest post by Kenita Nichols, a member of the Michigan Foreclosure Corps.]

Through the years, AmeriCorps has become synonymous with making a difference in the lives of those around you.  With such an encompassing vision for benevolence to all human beings, one could only expect an outpouring of support to come in the form of the Michigan Foreclosure Corps.

Michigan as a state was once highly identifiable by its link to the booming automotive industry.  In the recent economic downturn, Michigan has become the first state in 25 years to suffer an unemployment rate exceeding 15%.  Battered by the collapse of the auto industry, the stock market, and the housing crisis, many Michigan residents continue to be displaced.  Eviction or foreclosure pushes people into unfamiliar territory.

The Michigan Foreclosure Corps began serving on September 28, 2009 to address the problems foreclosed homeowners face.  In partnership with the Michigan Foreclosure Task Force, Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM), and the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, 20 AmeriCorps members have been placed at nonprofit foreclosure counseling agencies across Michigan.  Each member will provide foreclosure prevention support services, community outreach, educational workshops, and innovative approaches to facilitate a decrease in the amount of foreclosed homes.

AmeriCorps Orientation

AmeriCorps Orientation, October 2009

The Michigan Foreclosure Corps serves both the urban and rural parts of Michigan; each non-profit foreclosure agency specializes in the needs respective to the areas they service.  AmeriCorps members possess the motivation and commitment to create social change through intensive community service.

Michigan Foreclosure Corps AmeriCorps members are also working with certified housing counselors.  Counselors work with homeowners and lenders to stop foreclosure and develop plans to put them back on the path of financial stability.  Understanding the value of home ownership, equity, and budgeting are vital tools the Corps will utilize to place families back on track in the state of Michigan.

Expand this post for a list of our service sites.

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Member News Roundup

[This post is part of the biweekly CEDAM Member News Roundup series.  If you have news to share, send it our way or leave a message in the comments section at the bottom of this post.]

Bell Building

Bell Building in Detroit

Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency is helping to keep people warm this winter by dispensing heating assistance funds to qualified applicants.  One such applicant said this will be the first year he will be able to turn his furnace on.  In the past he sat in his living room with a snowsuit on. Read the article.

Neighborhood Service Organization plans to renovate the historic  Bell Building in Detroit to serve both as a headquarters and as a homeless shelter.  The project won a state brownfield tax credit worth $7.1 million. See the renovation plan.

Blue Water Habitat for Humanity in Port Huron is coordinating with students at St. Clair Community College to build an affordable home that runs on environmentally-friendly alternative energy.  Read the article.

United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s 2-1-1 hotline is “taking off” according to Crain’s Detroit Business.  The hotline helps connect callers to resources such as mortgage & foreclosure counseling, medical assistance, and senior care services.  According the organization’s most recent report, 82% of callers who requested food received it, and those who called for utility bill assistance saved $389 on average.  Learn about the hotline and see reports.

How to Ruin Your Reputation on the Internet: Improper Tone

[This post is part of the How To Ruin Your Reputation on the Internet series, written by CEDAM Communications Intern Olivia Courant.]

This series highlights mistakes nonprofits make online that hurt their reputation or make their online communications strategies ineffective.  In the last post, we talked about how out-of-date information on your nonprofit’s website can drive away your audience.  Today we turn to another common problem: improper tone.

—Nonprofits, Nonsense, Negativity, and Cats—

Every day, nonprofit employee Sarah goes through many emails, Facebook posts, and Twitter posts from her coworkers and other nonprofits.  Today, she has seen:

  • One Facebook update from Nonprofit A that reads, Every1 come to Rob’s 30th birthday partyyyyy!!!!
  • One very negative blog post where Nonprofit B rants about Nonprofit C’s latest publication.
  • Two emails from coworker Dan that are full of cat pictures and are carbon copied to everyone on Dan’s contact list.

These are all examples of improper tone and/or mixing personal life with business.  In the first scenario the nonprofit publicly announces a personal event that should be kept between staff members.  It is unlikely that this nonprofit’s volunteers and members are interested in Rob’s birthday party.  The second scenario is an example of unconstructive negativity.  Extreme criticism will cause an organization to be viewed the same way it treats others: negatively.  Finally, sending or forwarding an email, especially a “chain letter,” to everyone on your contact list is a good way to get people to start ignoring your emails.

The best way to avoid using improper tone is to match your tone to your audience.  Ask yourself, who is reading this? There will be a difference when you are writing to a group of professionals about foreclosure resources, versus announcing a fun community event.

In some cases it is perfectly acceptable to write about personal stories – for instance, positive testimonies from the people your nonprofit works with can give your organization legitimacy and show how it is directly involved in the community. CEDAM member Jackson Affordable Housing Coalition has a “success stories” section on their website that demonstrates a perfect use of personal stories. No matter what you are writing, be sure to proofread for spelling and grammar mistakes.

Ultimately, the goal is to balance formality and personality so that you do not look too bland but also avoid putting off your audience.  Having fun is great, but not everyone on your contact list wants to see pictures of your cats.

Cat

A CEDAM cat chows down on some pet grass.

Estimates and Projections Regarding Michigan’s Financial Crisis

[From Lisa Nuszkowski.]

The Center for Responsible Lending has issued estimates and projections around the financial crisis in Michigan and the need for a Consumer Financial Protection Agency.  This document provides a snapshot of how the failure to protect consumers has impacted the state of Michigan, in terms of the number of mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures; lost wealth; squelched state consumer protection laws; overdraft loan costs; and payday lending.

2nd Capital Day a Success

On Tuesday, November 10, 2009, CEDAM hosted its second Capital Day in Lansing.  Co-hosted by the Asset Building Coalition and the Michigan Foreclosure Task Force, and sponsored by United Way for Southeastern Michigan and PHI, the event drew 53 people from around the state for meetings with state representatives and senators.

Check back here on Thursday for statistics, stories, and pictures.

If you attended the event and haven’t done so already, please complete an evaluation. You can do that online, right here.