• Comments 4

    Could a Break Make You a Better Do Gooder?

    Variety is the spice of life, they say. A change is as good as a rest.

    But in the world of the do gooder, we can’t lose focus! There’s so much need in the world; so much opportunity!


    A change is as good as a rest, but a rest is nice, too…

    Or maybe we can.

    Sometimes, the clarity that comes from stepping away from our quest for purpose can make us much better at it. It can be more valuable than all the persistence and determination in the world.

    That’s what sabbaticals are for. In this really excellent TED talk, designer Stefan Sagmeister explains how they work for him and his employees.

    During a recent interview with Jennifer Summerfeldt of Wild at Heart Coaching, I was reminded of a time in my life when this was very true for me.

    After spending much of my teen years struggling to figure out what I wanted to be, I bailed right out for 3 years of traveling, working in resorts, and taking things as they came.

    Then I returned to university with a clearer idea of why I was there. The change did me enormous good, and taught me things I would have never learned by keeping my nose to the grindstone.

    And now, I’m doing it again. The past 3 years of being The Savvy Do Gooder have been great – the book, speaking engagements, events, projects, and conversations. They’ve also been very taxing. It’s time for a change.

    Meanwhile, I am also having my first baby. So from July of 2013 to January of 2014, I will be a new mommy full-time. I’ll pre-post blog entries before I go, but do no professional work during that time.

    I’m very excited about this; both for the obvious reasons, and because I suspect that it will give me a whole new outlook on my work when I come back to it.

    What about you? Is it time to give yourself some time off the do-gooding hook? Could you do with a fresh outlook on things?

  • Comments 0

    Why I Don’t Have a Minute For the Man on the Street

    On a recent trip to Seattle, I was amazed to find the downtown littered with fresh-faced young people holding binders and asking passerby for a minute to talk about one social issue or other.

    These, of course, are street fundraisers – paid by charities to raise money. I’ve seen the occasional one in other cities, but never this many at once.

    Street fundraiser

    Don’t be fooled – it’s not news you want

    I can’t believe this is still happening. I’m not upset that people are being paid to fundraise – it’s an essential part of the social sector, somebody’s got to do it, and they deserve to be compensated.

    What’s upsetting is the way it’s being done. No for-profit promotions professional worth their salt still thinks waylaying random people on the street is a good way to gain market share. It’s clumsy, it’s wasteful, it’s disrespectful of the people being targeted, and worst of all, it doesn’t work anymore.

    It’s interruption marketing at its worst. It belongs in the same category as telemarketers who call at dinnertime and door-to-door solicitors who use cheap tricks to delay doors being slammed in their faces. Tactics like these belong to a bygone era. Charities might as well drop flyers onto cities from planes, for all the good it’ll do them.

    In fact, the flyer drop approach might actually be cheaper than paying several people to loiter around downtown Seattle for hours every day annoying citizens and tourists.

    I thought these outdated approaches were on their way out. I was dismayed to see one of them alive and kicking in a major U.S. city.

    It makes me angry to see charities wasting their fundraising money like this. Good causes deserve better. There are new ways of doing it: subtler, more respectful, less annoying, more targeted, and (most importantly) more effective. It’s time for charities to enter the 21st century of promotions and knock off this 30 year old nonsense.

  • Comments 0

    Don’t Do More; Do Better

    There’s a shift underway in our world. The days when everyone believed that quantity and speed were always better are on the decline. The idea that having more stuff, making more money, and being busier is the path to happiness is more and more outdated.

    Whatever the reason, a lot of people are moving towards doing and having less, while  increasing the quality of what they do choose to have in their lives. The Slow Movement is a great example of this shift.

    What does this mean for us do gooders? We often feel the pressure to do more and more – the invitations to get involved with this project or that movement never let up. Knowing how much need there is in the world (and how much opportunity to make things better) it can be hard to say ‘no’.

    So many do gooders find themselves caught up in the frenzy of fast: spread thin; sometimes burning out; often doing a large quantity of low-quality work; often unaware of what the impact of our scattered efforts even is.


    Slow but steady…onwards and upwards.

    But why not apply the slow philosophy to do gooding? Wouldn’t it be better to do less, but do it better? Wouldn’t it be more rewarding to do so little that we can actually follow through and know what happens as a result? Wouldn’t it increase our chances of getting better at it? Wouldn’t it safeguard our sanity and the level of passion we’re able to sustain for the work we do choose to do?

    It’s not easy – the shift is not complete. The pressure is still there to slip into the cult of ‘more, faster’. The invitations and solicitations won’t stop coming. But the change is happening, and it’s a good one. Why not choose to be a part of it?

  • Comments 1

    Don’t Let ‘Em Say You’re Not Good Enough

    There are some very disturbing assumptions underlying a lot of the charitable appeals each of us receives on a regular basis.

    “Get involved!”, they say, “you can make a difference!”

    These kinds of campaign statements imply several very unsettling things:

    1. Before the campaigners came along, we were doing nothing, or at least; not enough.
    2. If we say no to them, we’re shirking our duty as citizens; we’re selfish and lazy.
    3. As members of a society that hurls these messages at us day in and day out, we have heartlessly ignored every prior invitation to make a difference that we’ve ever received.
    4. Unless they aggressively prompt us, we will not do any good. We need to be pushed and prodded into it. We are not naturally driven to do good.

    I, personally, find this exceedingly insulting.

    I know a lot of great people who are fully engaged in doing good through their work, lifestyle choices, personal relationships, and/or existing charity relationships. They get bombarded with all the same commands to ‘get involved’ and ‘make a difference’ as everyone else, despite the fact that they’re about as involved and difference-making as anyone can be.

    Overcome fundraising guilt

    This is where all that fundraising guilt belongs

    The result is often that, no matter how much good a person is doing, they never feel that it’s enough.

    However praiseworthy their intentions, campaigners have no right to put this on the rest of us. It’s a clumsy and unsophisticated way of seeking support, and it does a lot of harm to good people.

    I’d like to challenge them to evolve past this blunt approach. I’d like to see them learn some new-style, respectful marketing. I’d like to see them generate less guilt and more meaningful and productive relationships.

    I would especially like to stop the constant stream of messages telling do-gooders they’re never good enough.

  • Comments 0

    Are You All Talk, or All Action?

    So I went to this workshop on education and learned a new word: PRAXIS.

    If I understand right (and please let me know if I don’t), it’s the intersection between action and reflection, and it’s where learning happens.

    If we spend all our time talking, thinking, and reviewing, we won’t get anything done.

    On the other hand, if we spend all our time frenetically engaged in endless activity, we might get a lot done, but will we accomplish anything?

    That’s where praxis comes in – the fine balance between “doing” and “not doing” that makes us better forces for good.

    In efforts to do good, there’s often a lot of pressure to be “doing”. There’s so much need, there’s so much opportunity – we have to do something! It feels like there’s no time to waste.

    But if the things we do haven’t been well thought out, are they worth doing? And if we don’t learn from them and apply those lessons to improve the quality of our next activity, isn’t that kind of tragic?

    Beyond that, what does constant activity do to our ability to keep on keepin’ on? Activist burnout is a pretty well-known and common thing. Is it better to do 10 things a day for a year, or 2 things a day for 20 years?

    Especially if those 2 daily things are well thought out, and informed by the lessons of all the activity that went before them?

    All talk = bad

    All action = bad

    Praxis = good

    Easier said than done, of course. Finding that perfect balance between action and reflection is a constant struggle, and the right balance is probably different for each do gooder. But it’s also one of those things that, just by being aware of it, we benefit from.

    We may not have much chance of getting praxis ‘right’, but the simple act of trying can help us out enormously in our efforts to do more good.

  • Comments 2

    Say No To Ambush Fundraising

    While shopping for his wedding suit, my fiance got kicked out of a store because of fundraising. True story.

    One of the shops he went into was pushing a particular brand of suit, because a portion of sales go “to cancer”. My fiance found this a bit obnoxious. His feeling is that he was there to buy a suit, not to be bombarded with fundraising.

    The store owner tried to talk to him about the fundraiser. My fiance declined the information – he wasn’t interested. The store owner ended up calling him a “nonbeliever” and asking him to leave.

    I’m sure this store owner really thought he was doing a noble thing. He’s obviously passionate about the cause of fighting cancer, and that’s good.

    But does it give him the right to harass people who come to him looking for formal wear, not an opportunity to cure cancer?

    It’s like being ambushed – being confronted with fundraising in situations that aren’t about that. Whenever you get a box of chocolates pushed on you at the bank; whenever you’re asked to give a dollar to something at the grocery store; whenever you go to an event and get asked to buy a raffle ticket or pitch in a can of food; you’re being ambushed.

    When we’re put on the spot and asked to contribute to something we know little about while doing something else, it can only lead to one of two things: mindless giving to organizations of unknown quality; or donor burnout from being asked too many times for support.

    Neither is good. Which is why I never give to ambush fundraisers, no matter how good their intentions. I will do my good in my own way, on my own time, and in a way that makes sense for me. And so will my fiance. He got a very nice suit somewhere else.

  • Comments 0

    The Price of Rice in China

    When I was a kid and argued with my dad, if I made an irrelevant point, he would shut me down with, “Sure, but what does that have to do with the price of rice in China?”

    Right now on my Facebook page, there’s an ad for a bike ride against cancer. And I think to myself, “what does that have to do with the price of rice in China?”

    What does a bunch of people riding around on bikes have to do with cancer victims? What does a parade of guys tottering down the street in heels have to do with violence against women? What do firefighters camping out on top of a building in freezing weather have to do with disease?

    Of course, I know the standard answer. These activities raise funds for charities and awareness of issues. They aren’t relevant to the charities or causes per se, but they get people’s attention and push them to get involved.

    This may have been true once. At some point, maybe these kinds of activities really did get attention. They may have been unusual and remarkable then. But it’s been overdone. On any given day, I personally am exposed to at least 10 gimmicky appeals. There are so many that they’ve simply become noise. Annoying noise. I, like many people, mostly tune them out completely.

    If these kinds of attention-grabbers are less and less effective, the whole thing becomes a bit surreal, doesn’t it? There’s a serious disconnect between the activity and the end goal. Where’s the link to the real issues and making an actual difference? Where’s the intelligent discussion of where all this money and awareness is going?

    I say enough. It’s time to scale back this outmoded and ineffective approach to seeking support. Let’s get back to making charitable support about pressing issues and inspiring opportunities, instead of costumes and stunts.

  • Comments 0

    Be Gentle With Yourself

    You guys, I am tired! Currently, I’m planning my wedding and honeymoon, completing the final stages of my book, planning another event, polishing off the Edmonton Do Gooder blog series, and a few other projects besides.

    I knew this was coming, but I’m beginning to run out of steam. At times like this, I’m reminded of how much a do gooder’s own wellbeing affects how much good he or she is able to do.

    The other day, a wonderful woman told me that she wanted so badly to do as much good as possible that she actually ended up hospitalized not long ago. By trying to cram more and more in, by trying to say ‘yes’ to everyone who needed her help, she basically burned herself out.

    The world needs each of us to be contributing to make it better, and it needs each of us to work hard at that. But a burned-out do gooder does nobody any good.

    To do the most good, we need to be at our best: well rested, clear headed, energetic. That means we need to be gentle with ourselves. When we look around us and see so much need, it seems like the natural thing to keep piling more on.

    It may seem selfish and wasteful, but I think it’s important that we each recognize our own limitations and give ourselves a break when we need one. Don’t expect too much from yourself. Give yourself permission to say ‘no’ to things when you need to – even if they’re great things.

    For myself, I’ve decided not to sign up for anything more until after my honeymoon. There’s a lot of cool stuff going on around town, and a lot of compelling invitations are coming my way, but I know it’s too much. That’s one way I’m pacing myself for a lifetime of do-gooding to come.

  • Comments 1

    How to Say No

    Someone whose work I find extremely compelling recently declined an event invitation I sent him, and I’m loving him for it.

    When I was fundraising professionally, I found that few people know how to say ‘no’ properly. When asked for charitable support, many either avoid answering, or make promises they fail to keep. I think most of us feel bad saying ‘no’ – it seems mean or ungenerous.

    What happens when we don’t is that the fundraiser spends a lot of time and energy following up and trying to capitalize on what seems like a chance of getting a ‘yes’.

    When we avoid the direct ‘no’, but there’s no real chance of us eventually saying ‘yes’, we force the person who did the asking to chase us around, guessing and hoping as to what our true intentions are. It’s a waste of resources.

    The gentleman who said ‘no’ to my event invitation, on the other hand, just came right out with it. He responded within a couple of days; he thanked me for the offer; he explained why it wouldn’t be a good fit for him.

    Now we can both just move on. I feel a sense of respect and admiration for him. I think I understand his situation better and will keep it in mind for any future interactions. We’re both better off than if he had said ‘maybe’, if he had ignored the invitation, or (worst of all) if he had said ‘yes’ and then not bought a ticket or showed up.

    This is saying ‘no’ with class. This is someone we can all learn a lesson from.

    Meanwhile, if you deliver a ‘no’ respectfully and the asker doesn’t accept it (keeps pushing, argues with your reasons, etc.), that’s a whole other ball of wax. That’s bad fundraising. Lots of well-intentioned people fall into it when they think the ends justify the means, but it’s unnacceptable anyway. If it happens to you, you have my personal permission to give them a good smack ;-)

  • Comments 0

    What’s an Un-Savvy Do Gooder?

    So, friends, if we’re Savvy Do Gooders, what’s the alternative? What’s a regular do gooder?

    I know it’s a cliche, but I’m going to the dictionary definition on this one, because it’s bang-on. Dictionary.com defines the term “do gooder” as:

    “a well-intentioned but naive and often ineffectual social or political reformer.”

    Oh, yes – that’s exactly what I used to be. A nice person doing nice things that never went much of anywhere. I used do things like:

    • Mass fundraising: indiscriminately bombarding family and friends with requests to get involved in various things that sounded like good ideas
    • Over-involvement: saying yes to any and every volunteer opportunity and event invitation that came my way
    • Pollyanna-ism: being enthusiastically positive and encouraging about anything with a ‘charity’ label on it, but failing to dig any deeper

    Not that I’m completely reformed – I still feel the temptation to get on board with things I don’t know enough about, or that aren’t really a good fit. I still feel the impulse to go into full ‘bravo, you!’ mode when I meet anyone who claims to be doing good, before I know enough to justify it.

    But what I’ve found out is that un-savvy do gooding is exhausting. You’re always spread too thin and you never feel like you accomplish anything. And it snowballs. People find out you like ‘charity stuff’ and they expect you to be interested in and supportive of any and all ‘charity stuff’. You get volunteered for everything. You get introduced to more and more people looking for supporters.

    It’s not really sustainable. Which is why many of us get overwhelmed and fed up. We either withdraw from the whole do-gooding thing, or we start to look for different ways to approach it. When we choose the latter path, we often end up better off; people who are a little more discriminating, a little more deliberate and (hopefully) get more good done.

    So what’s an un-savvy do gooder? Ideally, it’s just a Savvy Do Gooder in the making!

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