Lessons, Guns and Money: Why Bloomberg's War on the NRA May Change the Face of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex

The ease with which one can acquire automatic weapons and cop-killer bullets in the United States has created a very violent country. It makes sense, then, that rational citizens would want practical regulations limiting access. For NRA supporters, though, this isn't about reason.
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Poor Ray Charles.

In case you missed it, last month Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed into law the 'Guns Everywhere' amendment, which among other things, allows guns in churches, bars, and the security lines at the country's busiest airport. Let me say that again: the Deal deal allows for guns in crowded airports, drunken bars, and churches. I believe a quick review of human history shows the tranquil peace wrought unto others by large groups of people practicing religion, in a mad rush, or totally drunk.

The law also dictates that school zones, too, are fair territory for guns. If we've learned anything from Newtown, Virginia Tech, Columbine, and Aurora it's that guns + schools = very happy children. Georgia -- on my mind for all the wrong reasons.

How timely the announcement, then, of Michael Bloomberg's "Everytown for Gun Safety," the poorly branded, well intentioned $50 million attempt to stem the tide of deadly violence Americans inflict on each other with weapons of mass consumption. But will it work?

It's a great time to be rich in America. Any last vestiges of subterfuge about money in politics have vanished under the Roberts court, and elections, influence, and power are unabashedly for sale. America, in fact, is an oligarchy, not a Democracy, as some of you may have seen in this study from Princeton and Northwestern. Score one for transparency.

So give credit to Bloomberg for wielding his wealth in a positive manner -- he's on the correct side of the gun debate (likewise Climate Change and Gay Rights). And Everytown, a mash-up of sorts uniting Bloomberg's "Mayors against Illegal Guns" with Shannon Watts' "Mothers Demand Action for Gun Sense in America" will be fascinating to watch for two reasons, and the second may surprise you.

First, of course, will be the long, painful, and undoubtedly bloody fight for gun safety itself. It'll be intriguing to see if Bloomberg's combined approach works -- on one hand a top-down, lawyered-up tactical battle in hand-selected state-by-state legislative elections; on the other a desperately needed cash injection to a bottom-up, widely dispersed grassroots movement. (In full disclosure I have some connection to both sides, as Mayors Against Illegal Guns was a client at Change.org -- and likely still is -- and I spent some time speaking with Shannon Watts and putting together a proposal for her group last year). The challenge will be to overcome the potentially fatal flaw of any previous NRA opponent, a little something I like to call the plight of the rationalist

The ease with which one can acquire automatic weapons and cop-killer bullets in the United States has created a very violent country. It makes sense, then, that rational citizens would want practical regulations limiting access. No non-uniformed person should have automatic weapons, and basic restrictions for those who've shown a proclivity to violence, have a history of mental illness, or have failed to receive proper training and instruction should be tightened. In fact, poll after poll show an overwhelming majority of Americans share the same view - numbers north of 90 percent.

For NRA supporters, though, this isn't about reason. It's about passion, and that's the real challenge facing Bloomberg et al. The NRA has done a brilliant job of equating oppositional views as a direct affront on liberty, freedom and America herself. Even the heartbreak and outrage that surface temporarily when we are murdered for listening to loud music, buying Skittles, or going to the movies hasn't moved the needle.

So Bloomberg needed something big and bold and brash to change the conversation, to rally the 90-plus percent of Americans that agree on the matter. Sadly, "Everytown for Gun Safety" is another milquetoast branding failure from this group (consider that Mom's Demand Action was using MDA, which, for those who don't know, is the Muscular Dystrophy Association, as well as a psychedelic drug). Their dilemma is that a stronger name might make easy ammunition for the NRA to rally its troops against the rich NY Jew and his deep-pocketed attempt to impose coastal liberal communism on the sweet safe heartland, on Andy Griffith, on Mayberry.

The sad, ironic part of the whole thing, though, is that this really is a movement for America. It's a movement for fishing and knowing your neighbors, for getting to second base at make out point and indulging at July 4th BBQs, and for doing all these things without the fear of being shot in the face by some crazy idiot. So Everytown is right in that they want to be for something, not against, and, bad branding aside, we all better hope it works.

The more profound outcome if this initiative succeeds would be the ramifications for traditional NGOs. We're not talking credit unions and civic leagues, dark money PACs or even your local art center -- we're talking about international NGOs who are doing yeoman's work in fighting poverty, injustice, death, and discrimination -- big business organizations filling crucial gaps in humanity, kindness, nurture, education, and the like.

These groups face a huge and continuous scramble for resources -- particularly hard when you're note selling a product. They lose about 20 percent of their supporters each year to "list churn," and everyone's fighting for the same sweet spot: white women over 55 with a little bit of money to spend. And it's an intense fight -- last year non-profits sent 2 billion emails to their supporters with $17 raised for every 1000 emails sent. So it's a big fight, and an important one -- but it's being done in a hugely inefficient manner.

Technology is helping -- heightened demographic insights, cost reductions of email vs snail mail, investments in crowd-funding platforms like this one. The real answer isn't phased iteration, though. It's consolidation, and that's a word that scares a lot of mission-driven groups. When you live your mission, the smallest details can be hard to let go -- even Smile Train and Operation Smile, two nearly identical groups with identical missions, tried and failed to merge (ego and humanity plague us all, no matter the altruism).

If you were to visit a drought-stricken village in sub-Saharan Africa, you could easily see staff from dozens of NGOs, all attempting to address the same general need -- access to clean water. One group might dig wells, another fix them, while other groups look at building latrines, teaching locals about the health effects of dirty water, or even trying to pass out various types of water filters. Is there a better way to effectively address the problem?

Everytown may succeed because the pro-sanity gun groups were few, far between, and poorly funded, and Bloomberg was able, for a relatively small investment, create a big tent to unify some of the leading lights of the movement. To go back to our example, if groups like Water Aid, Water.org, Water for People, and Charity: Water -- which represent only a small handful of NGOs all dedicated to the same mission -- could unify in a similar fashion, it would create a seismic shift in efficacy.

If NGOs coalesced around specific issues, and combined resources, experience, and dedication, it would dramatically increase the capital available to address the true infrastructure, training, and communication needs required to create permanent, evolutionary change. It's a too-many-cooks scenario, and one whose difficulty is magnified because it would mean reorganizing our stratified approach to problem solving, and, invariably, the end of a lot of well-intentioned organizations (and the jobs that come with them).

If we can do it, though, we might actually see real and permanent progress and a template for true international cooperation -- an outcome to which everyone involved is certainly dedicated. And with the world of hurt and resource challenges we're about to face from climate change, it's not like there won't be a need (or jobs) for the amazing people dedicating their lives to helping others. It just might mean that finally we can work holistically to raise the unified force necessary to face the dilemmas we've created.

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