By Regan Kibbee
Francis DellaVecchia, creator of The Joyful Activist newsletter and playbook, thinks it should be fun to do good. His mission: “transforming outrage into outrageous fun!”
From organizing community events to creating new online communities, DellaVecchia has made a career of bringing people closer together and empowering them to make positive change in the world.
DellaVecchia grew up in New Jersey and moved to Los Angeles in 1984 to study theater at UCLA. He supported himself managing a theater company, a gallery and a bookstore. Having long been interested in contributing to the public good, and with friends in politics and technology, he became intrigued by the prospect of an interactive political campaign.
In 1999, DellaVecchia decided to test out his ideas with a run for mayor of Los Angeles. His goal was to make the process leading up to the 2001 election as transparent and interactive as possible. Long before YouTube or the proliferation of video on smartphones, he made all the forums, debates, meetings and other interactions he participated in available for public view on his “Watch The Mayor” website.
It was the world’s first completely webcast political campaign — perhaps a few years before the world was ready for it. Even so, DellaVecchia finished a respectable seventh out of 15. (All of the candidates who finished ahead of him spent more than $2 million each to his $25,000.)
After his run, DellaVecchia moved to the Westside, where he continued his political involvement. He started The Joyful Activist newsletter to continue engaging the folks who had helped with his campaign, “letting them know cool things that were going on and how to get involved to make a difference,” he says.
In 2010, he was tapped by Kelly Layne, then the marketing supervisor for Whole Foods Market Venice, to help with her goal of making the store a better neighbor. They joined forces to assist local public schools and community groups with various projects, primarily community gardens and plantings, plus some murals and Little Free Library structures. DellaVecchia would supply the people power and organize the entertainment; Whole Foods donated the catering. What might have otherwise felt like drudgery for just a few people was transformed into a block party-like work day for the many who turned up to volunteer.
He remembers one parent at Walgrove Avenue Elementary School wondering, “I get why I’m here, because I have a kid in the school, but don’t understand why all of you people are here.”
As DellaVecchia recounts, “In that moment, I had a little realization that the opportunity to participate in a rewarding community experience isn’t always so easy to come by. A lot of people want to help, they feel gratified to do work that’s important, and once they show up and dig in, they’re delighted for the opportunity to have a great time doing it.”
Community projects happened nearly every month but slowed down after Layne left the market (although, inspired by The Joyful Activist concept, Layne went on to create a “Chamber in Action” committee for the Venice Chamber of Commerce).
DellaVecchia began to focus on consulting services, solving problems and giving back. For his 50th birthday, he gave away 50 free “Fix It Francis” personal consulting sessions. One person sought advice for a spouse who was feeling worthless after losing their job. Someone else wanted help expanding their company’s digital presence. Another asked for guidance transitioning from technical writing to creative writing projects closer to their heart.
One of the current projects that DellaVecchia is most excited about is Caremob, a mobile app that allows users to unite around current issues and influence their friends. When news breaks, Caremob users can call for a united global movement of protest, empathy, mourning, celebration or support. He hopes the app will eventually direct financial resources and volunteer power to causes.
This year DellaVecchia also began hosting a monthly “Mastermind” group at the Expert Dojo co-working space in Santa Monica. These free events on the fourth Tuesday of each month bring together people with ideas for start-ups and others who want to take their businesses to the next level. Participants ask and answer questions, offer resources and make connections. And, as can be expected when DellaVecchia is involved, there’s a particular focus on how these businesses can add value to the community.
When he ran for mayor, DellaVecchia realized his engagement in communication, politics and social good was much deeper than for many people, and he wondered how he could get others interested and involved. Rather than kick off the campaign from behind the barrier of a press-conference podium, he threw “a big fat party” at the El Rey Theatre. Then and now, he’s found the best way to engage people is to make taking action exciting and joyful.
Learn more about Francis DellaVecchia and his work at joyfulactivist.com and fixitfrancis.com. Sign up for a Mastermind session at expertdojo.com.