member casually suggested that we print up a handout with the phone number of ‘that company you work for.’ I really didn’t want to explain at the time because I was driving out of cellphone range, but the company I work for is: YOU.”
RHINO is not a company or organization. RHINO is a network. Here’s some differences:
Goals, products, profits
Themes and interests
Bosses, staff/members, customers/clients
Community Manager(s), Members/Contributors
Structure, legal status, charter/bylaws,
What are the RHINO themes and interests?
Themes are the RHINO "big ideas." They are listed in the left sidebar of the RHINO website: Advocate (for rental rights), Choose (fighting discrimination), Include (policies to enhance inclusive communities), Organize (tenant communities), Participate (not just spectators), Preserve (affordable housing) and Stabilize (rental households).
Interests are the member selectedRHINO priorities. Unlike the goals, products and profits of a formal organization, the RHINO themes and interests arise from the members and they are all free for the sharing.
So what does the RHINO Community Manager (RCM) do?
Discover news about rental housing. Every morning, the RCM spends about two hours reading on line news sources for rental housing stories that might be relevant to the RHINO members. RCM also picks up leads from other on line communities like Nonprofit Quarterly, Housing Justice Network, and Affordable Housing Alliance. Finally RCM picks up stories (and ideas) from your questions, comments and suggestions.
Put the news in context by connecting the dots and developing the background. Sometimes stories don’t tell themselves and members need a fuller picture. This function is sometimes called curation or being a curator. Think of going to a museum full of pots and bones, but no signs explaining where the artifacts came from or why they are relevant. Providing the labels is the job of curation.
Share that news. RCM maintains six “channels” for sharing news. Daily updates to RHINO website, weekly email updates to each on line communities, occasional updates to the Solving Rental Problems website, “as needed” Q&A with individual members, 3-5 updates weekly to RHINO facebook page, and the weekly rhino!UP newsletter.
Encourage member sharing and recruitment. RCM encourages RHINO members to participate by submitting content to their on line community, to make and share copies of the rhino!UP newsletter, and to encourage members to recruit new members to join the network.
Strengths and weaknesses in the RHINO network.
Being self financed means that RHINO can be free from the interference of funding sources (even well-meaning ones.) Saul Alinsky told his organizers “Low Overhead = High Independence.
RHINO needs more managers. When the RCM is called away from his computer, the news slows. Having more contributors can help. In “network theory” there’s a principle called the 20-80 rule: Twenty percent of the members do eighty percent of the work. That’s a goal we’re still working towards.
Staying focused on rental housing is always a challenge. It’s easy for all of us to have broader interests than just rental housing. The RCM is often “conflicted” over interesting info and suggestions that aren’t quite on topic. Sometimes the RCM has declined to post a comment or suggestion on behalf of a member but suggested that the member post that topic under their own name. Early on in RHINO’s history a wise member encouraged that we stay “non partisan.” That means talking about candidates or parties should be objective, related to rental housing issues, and non-electoral.
Wait, there’s more (confessions of the RCM)
1. What are you trying to do with RHINO? As a COHHIO staff person, traveling around the state, I uncovered many committed activists who believed that they were all alone in their work on rental housing issues. And there are no mainstream outlets which regularly cover rental housing issues. At the same time, I was inspired by local affordable housing advocacy groups (CAHA, AHA) and professional advocates (OPLC Housing Task Force, Fair Housing Advocates). Back then a friend said: “I don’t know how you will find enough to write about once a week.” That concern reflected the “common knowledge” that rental housing was just not “an issue” except among the specialists.
2. How many RHINO members? RHINO uses the number 312 to measure the RHINO members. Some are duplicated because they belong to more than one on line community. A reasonable “unduplicated” number would be more like 250. There are also 170 Facebook likes (again, many, but not all are also members). I’ve given up trying to set a goal for membership, but I’m conscious of the fact that member growth is slowing. My guess is that RHINO has exhausted the networks of existing members (myself included) to bring in new members. A new membership recruitment strategy is needed.
4. Why does RHINO have a “today in history” header on the RHINO homepage? One of the key things we know about google is that the more often a website adds content the higher the search ranking. Posting a “today in history” factoid is an easy way to remember to update the site everyday. When ever possible the factoids are focused on Ohio or social justice topics.
5. What are the RHINO operating expenses? The RCM pays $10/year for a registered URL (rhinohio.com). Hosting is free under the GoogleApps program. RCM maintains a post office box for $48/year. Copying runs around $100 mostly for copies of rhino!UP that are distributed at meetings. Two exceptions to the travel rule are the quarterly meetings of Ohio Housing Law Project Housing Task Force and one or two meetings of the National Preservation Working Group. Because RHINO is not a tax exempt non profit, RHINO can't seek government or foundation funding.
6. How can we get the RCM to our meeting? If I am in the area on other business, I’ll stop in for free. A couple of RHINO members have paid travel expenses to have me attend a meeting or event. Only one has promised to pay and then stiff me.
7. Can we start a RHINO “local”? if you don’t already have a housing advocates collaboration, start one! RCM will help organize a “meet up” where RHINO members and others can gather informally to see if there’s interest in forming a local rental housing advocacy group. If you do already have a local housing advocacy coalition, think of ways to expand your scope with an active listserv or Facebook page or trainings or events. The only rule for using the name RHINO or RHINOHIO or rhino!UP is to include a link to the RHINO home page. see the Creative Commons license at the top of the sidebar on this page and at the bottom of the right hand column here.
8. Could there be more than one Community Manager? Yes. Many on line communities add community managers as they grow in order to share the work load and provide different perspectives and expertise.
9. Where can I learn more about community management? For starters google “Community management” and scan some articles. The website Social Fish often has stories about community management that have some interesting insights. Here’s one good example.
10. How long can RHINO continue in the present form? When I retired in 2013, I made a mental note to make RHINO “viable” by 2017 when my personal calendar flips over to age 70. That seems, like many of my predictions, to be overly optimistic, but age and health will take a toll sooner or later.