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Colleague of the Week: E.E. Lukowski & Dan Selz

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E.E. Lukowski (left photo) is a Red and Dan Selz is a Blue, but they’re siblings under the skin. Both live in southern California but come from New York state. They are big fans of the New York Giants and they love to play call on NFC games. 

That’s just the superficial serendipity stuff, though. They are the Co-Chairs of Braver Angels’ SoCal/Los Angeles Alliance. They can pretty much finish each other’s sentences when it comes to political discussions. “I used to argue politics with some of my Westchester County friends from age 10,” smiles E.E. Says Dan: “Throughout my life, almost everybody was Blue, like me, but I wanted to hear what the other side thought.” 

Meeting in the LA Alliance, they began having “very honest conversations” – not only about how to energize the alliance but about politics – and found they had so much in common. Both are in passionate agreement about the organization’s mission – and about what’s needed to scale the organization fast. “We both want this to be a movement that grows,” says Dan. “It’s not like a book club; it’s so important that it needs to grow and ideally grow exponentially.” 

So it’s good that their commonalities go further. Both have deep business backgrounds and are putting them to work. “We wanted to come at [our involvement] from more of a systemic viewpoint,” says E.E. “You can’t really grow an alliance if you don’t have data. You need the data to know what’s going on.” 

Together with Braver Angels colleague Arash Sayadi and others, the two have designed and implemented a strategy for tracking members and their activities. “It’s not about how many people you have in your database – it’s about how many people are showing up to events,” explains Dan. That’s only one data point: they also track conversions of members to volunteers, gather data on what volunteers are doing, and more. 

Additionally, Dan and E.E. help spearhead Braver Angels’ first ever “super alliance” – a confederation of metro-based alliances in LA, San Diego, Orange County, and – expected soon – Riverside County. The two credit the super alliance with helping accelerate and augment engagement and activity in each region. “It’s a way of creating scale quickly,” E.E. says, “but it also acts an incubator [of new ideas and new protocols.]” Just one example of scale at work: the regional alliances now have more moderators, organizers, and ambassadors whose skills and services can be shared readily. 

That thinking doesn’t stop at the California state line. E.E. has had face-to-face conversations with other state coordinators and alliance leaders who have since formed super alliances. The “face-to-face” part was vital to the depth of information that E.E. and her counterparts have been able to share – rich nuggets that each has taken back to their home areas. 

Both Dan and E.E. are keen to work themselves out of their alliance Co-Chair roles. “It’s not an alliance when it’s reliant on just two people to carry it forward,” remarks E.E. “You have to recognize that nobody stays in their volunteer position forever. People shouldn’t feel that this is a job. Volunteerism should be bite-sized, flexible and fun.” 

A flip side to that point: E.E. and Dan contend that burnout among Braver Angels volunteers – by no means uncommon – regularly puts the brakes on organizational growth. That was the scenario they themselves experienced. Although the LA Alliance had gotten off to a great start, its founders had burned out, particularly as Covid made things that much more difficult. The alliance was stagnating; of 40 or so listed members, just a handful would show up to meetings. “We were not seeing a lot of new faces,” says Dan. 

An important national initiative now emerging from the lessons learned by this SoCal duo is an orientation workshop for new and aspiring alliance Co-Chairs. “The workshop objective is to have Co-Chairs exit with a clear 60- to 90-day action plan tailored to their alliance and to have a clear picture they can share with their state or regional coordinator about the resources they need,” says E.E. “And just as Dan and I have benefited by learning from the expertise of other Co-Chairs and volunteers, another goal of this program is to nurture mentorships between new and existing Co-Chairs. No single Co-Chair knows or has all the skills. The key is to build a team and also have a support system of others from whom you can draw ideas.” The program is being piloted this spring through the Braver Angels Office of Field Operations. 

For his part, Dan wants the LA Alliance and its affiliates across the super alliance to keep improving how they identify and track activities and processes. “That’s the key to unlocking growth; it’s not just turning up to events,” he says. As a Senior Director of the XPRIZE Foundation – a non-profit that awards significant funding to companies that develop breakthroughs for addressing climate change, among other issues – he wishes he could marry his professional and personal lives. “If there could be a prize for depolarization…” he muses.

Both he and E.E. are pleased with the progress they’ve helped drive to date. During 2020, membership growth in the SoCal Alliance doubled compared with 2017-2019; in 2021 it expanded by another 10%. They also saw expansion in the ranks of volunteers that now support programs throughout SoCal. But there’s still so far to go. “This next year will be focused on nurturing volunteer engagement,” says E.E.

And in light of their readiness to step down as alliance Co-Chairs, she and Dan also intend to push to nurture the next group of leaders. E.E., who has consulted for business and non-profit organizations through turnaround and crisis situations, knows well that a lack of succession in volunteer organizations can create unhealthy cliques and stagnation in organizational practices and beliefs – factors that can quickly kill growth.

It gets back to that “fun” idea – applying best business and leadership practices to guard against burnout and to get more done more quickly as more members step up as volunteers. “We have to figure out how to break down some of these roles and make them more flexible,” notes E.E. Fundamental to that sense of fun: proactively fostering a sense of community, as seen in the various “no labels” events (such as “Intro to Braver Angels” and a “Hold America Together” workshop series) that have been hosted by the southern California super alliance since 2020.

So if you’re holding back from volunteering because you’re worried about getting in too deep or making commitments you’re afraid you can’t keep, get in touch with E.E. at elukowski@braverangels.org or Dan at dan.selz@gmail.com. If anyone can persuade you about making volunteer roles doable and enjoyable, it’s them.

And when you step forward to volunteer, realize that you will be adding significantly to Braver Angels’ momentum-building. Tell your friends! Get our momentum rolling even faster. 

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