Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Introducing: The Art of Relevance

Kid-tested, nonprofit-approved.
It's official. My new book, The Art of Relevance, is now available and ready to move from my computer to your hands.

I suggest at this point that you stop reading this post and go buy it. Right now.

Not convinced? Here's more about the book and what you can expect.


I've been simultaneously energized and mystified by how often the word "relevance" comes up in the nonprofit world. Is it a fad? A core value? A revelation?

My institution has been waving the flag of relevance for years now. Relevance is one of our five engagement goals. We put a lot of work into developing ways to expand local relevance--to make meaningful connections with diverse people in our community. And yet, the more convinced I became about the value of relevance, the more unsure I was of what it actually means. I wanted to get beyond the buzzword. I wanted to learn more.

Last summer, a powerful encounter with two 130-year-old surfboards spurred me from curiosity to action. I dove into research and talked to dozens of people doing inspiring, surprising work around the world. I worked feverishly to translate their stories into a tight, poetic, enjoyable, useful form. The result is this book.


The Art of Relevance is about how mission-based institutions can matter more to more people. By "mission-based institutions," I mean museums, libraries, theaters, parks, churches, synagogues, afterschool programs, informal science programs, zoos, aquaria, symphonies, historic sites, dance companies... all these and more are featured as case studies.

The Art of Relevance is not a how-to. It is not a definitive guide. It is the field notes from the quest I've been on for the past year to understand relevance and its ability to open new doors for new people to powerful, big, valuable experiences.

The book is separated into five sections:
  • What is Relevance? - definitions, delusions, and reality checks on what relevance can and cannot do
  • Outside In - exploring the different expectations and interests of insiders, who already love what you do, and outsiders, who are excluded or unaware of the value you offer
  • Relevance and Community - getting to a clearer definition of who you want to be relevant to and what they value and desire
  • Relevance and Mission - using your institutional mission as the foundation for making more meaningful connections with your community of interest
  • The Heart of Relevance - measuring relevance at the front door and at deeper levels of connection
The chapters are short, the stories are punchy, and there's a central metaphor that ties it all together. While the book focuses on institutional relevance, there are a lot of personal stories in the book too, and early reviewers commented on how much they found themselves reflecting on their lives as well as their work as they read the draft.


Almost a year ago, I took a risk. I ended my 8+ year streak of blogging at least once a week. I did it to free myself to be able to spend time on more speculative or ambitious writing projects--projects like this book.

I am continually grateful to all of you who read, share, and comment on this blog. Whether you've been with me since 2006 or are just getting connected now, you've inspired me, motivated me, and shaped my thinking and work. I was incredibly nervous when I stopped blogging weekly last year that it would mean a slow fade away from writing and reflective practice. But you gave me that permission, and it opened up a whole book full of exploration I didn't know was inside me. You gave me the roadmap to write this book.

I hope you will read The Art of Relevance. I hope you'll like it. I hope you'll recommend it to others. I hope you'll tell me what you love and where we disagree and how these thoughts could be pushed further. Most of all, I hope you will continue to inspire, mentor, and motivate me in my work. Thank you for constantly doing the work of relevance by unlocking new meaning for me and for each other.
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