As We The People celebrate America's 230th Independence Day amid fireworks, barbeques, volunteer fire department parades, the televised PBS special from the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and heaven only knows how many political speeches and kissed babies, it's probably wise to think about the word “independence” itself.

Especially in our trade where there's damn little of it.

Somehow America's founders managed to think outside the box, declaring that business-as-usual with King George III just didn't cut it.

My problem is that I don't see nearly enough questioning about the business-as-usual practices that have infected our craft. At a time when we're reporting that donor acquisition in most sectors is on the decline, when donor retention is in the pits, and when serious public doubts about non-profits lurk just behind the cosmetic store-front too many — almost all? — in this sector are celebrating success, not asking independent-like questions.

We have raised a generation of 25-30 year olds who know Xcel spreadsheets but don't have the foggiest idea of the history behind the 'movements' they work for. Their digital dexterity impresses and intimidates the generation of bosses above them who have grown too well-paid and complacent to even bother challenging and teaching them.

Adding insult to injury is the almost total neglect of our craft to break down the barriers and silos that separate the (dependable, predictable,there's-lots-of-money-in-it-for-us suppliers) old direct mail regime from the fast rising new media. My prediction, for what it's worth, is that this failure to think in terms independent from the conventional will do irreparable damage to the non-profits we serve.

Ten years ago on July 4th, John Perry Barlow, the co-founder of the Electronic Frontiers Foundation and one of the early, prescient pioneers of the internet wrote a piece for Wired Magazine. In it he warned about the dangers of conventional thinking when applied to the new media that is –believe it or not — truly all of our futures.

As we celebrate the 4th of July it's worth a pause between the barbeque and fireworks to read his warning.

Happy Independence Day!

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