Monthly Archives: September 2020

Connecting with your Vision for Change

What is Your Story?

If you want to predict your future, listen to your conversations. What story are you telling yourself and others? Are you taking yourself and others into the future you want—or the future you don’t want?

Your vision must be connected to your deepest core values. If it is not, then you will not have the motivation and sustained energy to see a transformation through from beginning to end. Ask yourself, “What must happen in the next three years?” Ask it about your own life as well as about your community.

Once you articulate a vision that is highly important to you, you are ready to translate it into stories that move others toward achieving the vision.

We connect with one another emotionally, first, and then with information, second. Feed what you want to see happen with your story. Remember that a storyline that complains about how systems, people, events, community, and so on don’t work will only perpetuate a negative future. The power of self-fulfilling prophecy is real. Are you telling a story that leads to what you want or what you don’t want?

In the spirit of being the change, it is helpful to ask the following questions:

1. What in your life do you want to change so as to align to your new vision? Think about what we have discussed—people, activities, and your environment.

2. What support do you need from others in order to make the change?

3. Are you ready? On a 10-point scale where 10 represents the highest level of readiness, how ready and willing are you to change your life in ways that are most important to you?

4. If you are not a 10, what is between you and being a 10?

5. Now that you have identified the resistance, are you ready to let it go and take immediate action to begin your plan? What steps will you take this week?

Learn more: Transformational Leadership: A Framework to End Poverty ~ By Scott C. Miller

To learn more about Scott Miller, please see his website here.

Building Intentional Community and Appreciative Culture

Building all three types of social capital requires diligence to support people through the four stages of any successful relationship.

In the honeymoon phase, people have inspiring but unrealistic expectations based on some form of the Drama Triangle, e.g., I will be rescued, I will rescue, etc.

The disillusionment stages occur as reality pushes back on these fantasies, and people start to feel disappointed when their expectations go unmet.

The insight stage is the building of a more realistic and productive relationship. The working stage is the continued deepening and strengthening of the relationship over time, which leads to achieving mutual goals.

Building a Productive and Appreciative Culture

What allows people to move through the four stages of relationship building across socioeconomic class lines and achieve goals? Building a community culture that includes effective ground rules and rituals, which follow:

Open meetings with New and Goods—personal good-news item that gets people thinking positively and sharing some parts of their life, which makes it easier for others to connect to them over time.

Finish meetings with appreciations that acknowledge something positive about others and increases the sense of belonging and esteem of all members.

Give everyone at least six mistakes a day so that they are willing to take risks to build new relationships without worrying about making mistakes. Normalize the inevitable stepping on each other’s hidden rules and help one another to forgive and forget.

Learn more: Transformational Leadership: A Framework to End Poverty ~ By Scott C. Miller

To learn more about Scott Miller, please see his website here.

Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) Challenge

Circles USA invites your participation in our non-partisan Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) Challenge!

COMMIT – Complete one (or more!) of these GOTV activities.

  • Help your friends register to vote. 
  • Educate your friends about early voting with polling locations and/or mail-in voting with mail-in locations.
  • Dedicate your Circles weekly virtual meeting to reviewing a sample ballot.
  • Coordinate transportation for in-person voting.
  • Create voting accountability partners in your Chapter and text each other reminders to vote.
  • Accompany a friend to the polls to protect against voter intimidation.
  • Advertise where to get help on Election Day: the phone number for your local board of elections, as well as national nonpartisan hotlines: 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683) for English and 888-VE-Y-VOTA (888-839-8682) for Spanish.
  • Take a selfie wearing your Circles shirt while voting.
  • Post to social media your pledge to vote and/or your Chapter’s commitments to these GOTV activities.
  • Use hashtag #VoteforCircles and post your activities to social media. 

Pictured above: Circles Winter Garden, FL

SHARE – Please send
  • one picture
  • and a few sentences describing your GOTV activities, including how many people participated.
  • CUSA will publicize your Chapter’s GOTV efforts on our social media and in our newsletters. 
WIN –  Every Chapter that participates will be eligible for prizes:

  • an e-copy of CUSA’s book, Bootstraps and Benefits: What the Right and Left Understand about Poverty and How We Can Work Together for Lasting Solutions;
  • a discount to our online Hands-on Training;
  • a discount to our 2021 virtual Leadership Conference;
  • and a virtual Chapter visit from Circles USA’s executive director. 

Relational Strategy for Poverty Reduction

A Poverty Reduction System will need to include a powerful relational strategy in order for people to take full advantage of transactional programs. Relational strategies strengthen the social capital of people who want to move out of poverty and into economic stability.

  • Bridging capital builds relationships across socioeconomic class lines, which is important for helping people understand the middle-class rules for success in education, networking, employment, financial management, and career advancement.
  • Bonding capital builds peer-to-peer relationships that provide motivation, support, and important information in achieving economic stability.
  • Linking capital builds relationships between community service programs and individuals who want to use them effectively.

All three types of social capital are necessary in moving out of poverty. At Circles USA, we have found over the past 20 years that social capital is essential not only to establish personal and economic stability but also to maintain that stability over time. Fostering intentional relationships that create social capital is a high impact strategy to end poverty.

Learn more: Transformational Leadership: A Framework to End Poverty ~ By Scott C. Miller

To learn more about Scott Miller, please see his website here.

Poverty Reduction System Linked to Job Creation System

E > P*

Your vision for a sustainable community must include the formula E > P, meaning your community’s economy must grow faster than your community’s dependent population (those too young, too old, or too unqualified to work).

What does sustainable mean?

1. Jobs and careers that pay enough income to meet household needs and then some

2. Careers that are relevant in America’s emerging economy

3. Employment that contributes to a sustainable environment

4. A commitment to live within one’s means

5. A community culture of doing what is best both for the community and for the individual

Once you have a clear assessment of a sustainable economic future, you need a strong plan for how you are going to prepare your community for it. Follow the TAPUMA* steps:

Think: Get a coherent understanding of your poverty reduction and job creation systems.

Assess: How many sustainable jobs do you need in order to have full employment? What are the system barriers and service and programs gaps that you need to address to get to full employment?

Plan: How do you proceed?

Underwrite: Who pays for your plan?

Manage: How do you manage your progress in achieving your vision?

Account: How do you meet the expectations of your underwriters and other stakeholders?

*Courtesy of our colleagues at Community Economics Lab; visit:

Learn more: Transformational Leadership: A Framework to End Poverty ~ By Scott C. Miller

To learn more about Scott Miller, please see his website here.

A Comprehensive Approach to Poverty

Our nation’s economy was designed by settlers who came from countries with economic systems that included plutocracies, castes, feudal systems, and slavery. They all had in common a belief that a few deserve to be wealthy and that almost everyone else should be poor.

In the United States today, 30% of our citizens live in poverty or near poverty levels. We need to change our economic system. Poverty is abusive and Americans must see it as intolerable and unnecessary. That some should be extremely wealthy while others are extremely poor remains an indefensible result of the norms we inherited from our mixed heritages.

My wife, Jan, was in line at Walgreens recently, and the woman ahead of her was told her bill for a 90-day supply of medicine would be $500. She obviously did not have insurance, which means she was much less able to take care of herself than somebody who could afford insurance. This country’s hardened attitude and myopic bent to reward the winners and kick the losers in our economy are morally corrupt. All of this has to change.

A recent proposal to slash the safety net by $1.7 trillion before increasing jobs and addressing the systemic problems causing poverty will only delay solutions and increase poverty and suffering.

We need a comprehensive plan that includes:

● adopting state-of-the-art economic development practices so that communities can adjust to new economic realities and develop better-paying jobs;

● investing more heavily in both soft skills and hard skills so that people can find new work as their previous jobs become automated or outsourced;

● updating our educational approaches so that children have the critical thinking skills to adapt to the rapidly changing economy;

● pro-rating the safety net programs so that when people do earn more money, they are not worse off for doing so; and,

● increasing investments in mental health and drug abuse treatment to help more people address these barriers to entering the workforce.

Poverty is complicated, and numerous other local, state and national strategies must be deployed in concert to reduce poverty rates. Even with all of the best ideas, the current economy might be inadequate and require massive changes in order to reduce poverty rates. At this moment in time, slashing the safety net in hopes that it will stimulate the economy and reduce poverty rates on its own will not work. That would be akin to burning down the hospital because there is an epidemic. Let’s focus on solutions that address the complexity of poverty.

From the book: Enough Money, Meaning & Friends ~ By Scott C. Miller

To learn more about Scott Miller, please see his website here.

Shifting the Mindset on Poverty: Part 3 of 3

Three more bullet points to finish off the previous blog post, “So, at the risk of sounding overly simplistic about how to fix a problem that we have spent trillions of dollars not solving since the War on Poverty was launched 50-plus years ago, let me break it down in this way…”

● Insist that all government benefit programs be coordinated for a user-friendly experience with one intake, with one simple process of determining eligibility, and with a simple pro-rated exit ramp as people earn more income. Currently, there are too many agencies running benefit programs that have built-in disincentives that punish people for making too much income. For example, if you make an extra dollar per hour you may lose all of your childcare assistance and/or Medicaid. This is a lazy public policy designed for administrative convenience and is a complete waste of tax dollars. Even worse, such a policy makes people squander valuable time navigating complex programs instead of using their time to become self-sufficient. Current benefit programs cause people to avoid new jobs and salary increases, and, as designed, they guarantee a steady level of poverty in America.

● Appreciate that if people are going to move out of generational poverty, they are going to need jobs they can handle; peer support from others who are succeeding; networking opportunities from volunteers with middle-income and upper-income means; and a powerful game plan to overcome their personal barriers to getting, keeping, and advancing in a good-paying job. A program such as Circles USA provides all of these supports. Without a complementary community-building strategy, typical programs do not have the staying power to interrupt generational poverty.

● Finally, if you want to increase your poverty IQ and make an effective contribution to the cause, you must find a way to form a relationship with someone who has experienced poverty. Without this, your ideas are likely to be just off enough to have the unintended consequence of delaying the real solution to eradicating poverty in our communities.

Yes, we all must take responsibility for ensuring our economic stability. And yes, we must design systems that incentivize people to do the right thing. Solving poverty is a “both-and” approach rather than an “either-or” choice. As my co-author, Denise Rhoades, and I argue in our book, Bootstraps and Benefits, we need to have more meaningful community dialogue that results in strategies that effectively address poverty and allow more people to thrive.

From the book: Enough Money, Meaning & Friends ~ By Scott C. Miller

To learn more about Scott Miller, please see his website here.

Shifting the Mindset on Poverty: Part 2 of 3

So, at the risk of sounding overly simplistic about how to fix a problem that we have spent trillions of dollars not solving since the War on Poverty was launched 50-plus years ago, let me break it down in this way:

● Get over the idea that “the poor will always be with us.” My theological colleagues have assured me that our society takes this biblical quote out of context, using it as an excuse for not committing to the moral imperative of ending poverty within our lifetime.

● Let go of addressing poverty as simply a humanitarian cause. Poverty is a major economic development problem. It must be solved in order to sustain and grow our local economies. The greater the number of qualified workers in our community, the abler we are to attract and grow businesses. The more good jobs, the less poverty burden we carry as taxpayers. The economic development strategies in most communities are antiquated and must be updated to meet a rapidly changing economy. If your community does not have a robust and well-staffed economic development program, your community’s poverty will rise without question. The more poverty you have, the less able you are to achieve new economic growth.

● Realize that those of us who were raised in middle-income and upper-income backgrounds typically have a poverty IQ that is too low to create effective policy. We are not qualified to run anti-poverty programs on our own. We must have the input, guidance, and poverty IQ of those who have experienced poverty. That is why Circles USA programs have been co-designed by people who found ways out of poverty.

● Know that providing charity in isolation without long-term problem solving is typically counterproductive. The safety net must be tightly coupled to long-term goal setting, support, and career development. Do you ever wonder why the food pantries need more money every year? Ask them if they are referring people to programs that provide long-term supports and pathways out of poverty. But understand, too, that in many communities there are no programs to refer people to which focus on supporting people out of poverty.

From the book: Enough Money, Meaning & Friends ~ By Scott C. Miller

To learn more about Scott Miller, please see his website here.

Shifting the Mindset on Poverty: Part 1 of 3

The United States has the largest GDP on earth, estimated at $18 trillion. For perspective, China is the second-largest at about $11 trillion; Russia has an estimated GDP less than the state of Texas, and North Korea’s economy is smaller than Vermont’s. As Warren Buffet recently said about America’s high poverty rate, “You expect unequal results in a market economy, very unequal. But you really shouldn’t have an economy with over $50,000 in GDP per person and have lots of people living in poverty who are willing to work. I mean, that does not make sense.”

We have been conditioned to believe poverty is an unavoidable problem in society. What if that’s not true? What if we have normalized an abusive condition that we could actually  solve? That seems to be what Buffet is suggesting.

One could say that the United States has a 70% success rate in generating prosperity for its citizens. More than 15% of our households live at less than 100% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, which means that a family of three makes less than $20,008 a year in income. If you double that rate to 30%, which is $40,016 a year for a family of three, you come closer to estimating just how many households do not earn enough income to meet their basic needs and to set something aside for the future.

The 70% rate is not bad if you put our nation’s history in the proper context. We came from a European feudal system in which most people were poor. The United States was founded on the high ideals of democracy and meritocracy, even though much of our political, legal, cultural, and social structures continue to create disparity. Nonetheless, these fundamental principles run deep in our psyches and remain intact due to our belief that everything in life is possible if you work for it. I own this amazing optimism, so much so that I have built my career around the idea that our nation “can and should end its poverty in our lifetime.”

For many of us, getting over our initial refusal to become emotionally committed to the journey of ending poverty requires a better sense of how it might be accomplished. People want clear direction as well as proof that these ideas can work. The strategies to ending poverty in the United States, while somewhat complex, are not rocket science as “experts” would have us believe. We have made it far too complicated to motivate people to take necessary actions. And we have allowed ourselves to be distracted by arguments that mostly protect our cherished ideals, values, principles, mythology, and beliefs. What the United States needs is a straightforward agenda to end poverty.

From the book: Enough Money, Meaning & Friends ~ By Scott C. Miller

To learn more about Scott Miller, please see his website here.