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    How to Get Paid, Part 2: Products

    (Part of a series that began with You Need to Get Paid)

    Another way to make your services affordable without sacrificing your right to get paid is to create products.

    As I’ve said, before, it’s tough to find people who can afford to pay what your work is worth if you’re serving them one on one. But if you find a way to spread the cost out over many people, it can get a bit easier.

    One way to do this is with products. Is there any way you can take the good you’re generating and put it into a product?

    An example of this is a book. If you take what you know and put it into a book, as opposed to delivering it in person, suddenly it becomes cheaper for both you and the person on the receiving end. Few people can afford to pay you for a book’s worth of your knowledge, delivered one-on-one. But if you write it all down and charge, say, $20 per copy, most people can afford that.

    Bottle up some of your awesome and use it to bankroll your operation.

    Bottle up some of your awesome and use it to bankroll your operation.

    You could also do this with an e-book, podcast, video, DVD, workbook, design template, analytical tool, or any other kind of product that would act as a vehicle for your work.

    The fringe benefit of products is that they also create the possibility of reaching far more people than you ever could one-on-one.

    Of course, creating products isn’t an automatic license to print money. I wrote a book myself, so I know that after you factor in the resources needed to write it, edit it, design it, and print it, you have to sell quite a few copies to make it financially worth while. But it’s a potentially useful piece of the puzzle:

    • It may be a nice, accessible way for a future lucrative contact to check you out at a relatively low price point.
    • If you’re asked to speak for free at an event, it becomes a bit more justifiable if you can be selling your products while you’re there.
    • If you do decide to give someone a bit of free one on one time and they ask for more, you can offer them your product(s) as an alternative to more freebies.

    Having products for sale moves you further towards financial stability in your do gooding, and offers people more ways to engage with your work. It’s a win-win.

    You might also enjoy: How to Get Paid, Part 1: Events

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    Don’t Give; Vote

    If you add up the amount of money we Canadians hand over to our governments on an annual basis, it comes to about $292 billion.1 Meanwhile, the non-profit sector takes in about $169 billion a year2, with about half of that coming from the government (as opposed to from donations, sales of goods and services, etc.).

    Meaning: non-profits have control of less than a quarter of the funds that the government does.

    And yet – voter turnout has been dropping steadily in our country. In the last federal election, we saw the third lowest rate ever, at about 61%. At the same time, about 85% of us are giving to charity regularly.

    Voting is a choice, and so is giving to charity. Both take a bit of time and effort to do properly. It appears that 25%more of us are choosing to participate in the charitable sector than in the public sector, even though the latter is far, far more powerful and well-funded.

    We’re choosing to engage with a smaller, less powerful, disjointed, unorganized sector with no formal accountability instead of a bigger, more powerful, somewhat unified and coordinated sector with a very clear system of accountability to us (elections).

    It’s even weirder when you realize that government is the nonprofit sector’s biggest source of revenue, so whether we choose to give to charities or not, they ultimately answer to government, which answers to us as voters. But only if we actually vote.

    I’ll be the first to admit that government is unwieldy, difficult to understand, and difficult to reform. But regardless, it’s a fact of life. Like it or not, it has a lot of our money, and a lot of power. Given that, doesn’t it make sense to exercise what power we have over it?

    This is your house. Your money's in there. Don't be an absentee landlord.

    This is your house. Your money’s in there. Don’t be an absentee landlord.

    The fact that more people give to charity than vote says to me that we are, en masse, just bailing out if the whole government thing; we’re jaded about it, and we’d rather engage in something that seems simpler, more straightforward, and more impactful. But seems is the operative term there. As a whole, nonprofits don’t really have more power than government. Plus, they themselves are pretty much under its control. Plus, their ability to deliver social services any better than government is far from proven.

    If you are in a position to both give and vote, that’s probably a good way to go. But if you’re choosing between the two, why not go with the option that gives you far more bang for the buck you already handed over, rather than handing over more bucks?

     1 Sources: Edmonton City Budget 2013 http://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/documents/2013_Approved_Budget_Executive_Summary.pdf, Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation Government Revenue Reports https://www.taxpayer.com/resource-centre/taxfacts/taxfacts-menu/revenue–government-/

    2Satellite Account of Non-Profit Institutions and Volunteering http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/13-015-x/13-015-x2009000-eng.pdf

  • Comments 0

    If You Owe, Don’t Give

    Don't feel like you have to give if you're on the brink of becoming a charity case yourself

    Don’t feel like you have to give if you’re on the brink of becoming a charity case yourself

    Consumer debt is a real problem. Here in Canada, it’s climbing steadily, with the average Canadian now about $16k in the hole.

    Many of us are just one missed paycheque, one layoff, one critical illness or injury away from serious financial trouble, and from needing help. Debt is a major root cause of poverty, homelessness, depression, addiction, and any number of other social ills.

    Meanwhile, according to Statistics Canada, around 85% of us are giving an average of $500 a year to charity. I realize that the people giving may not be the same people who are in debt, but since the giving rates are quite high even for people making less than $40,000 a year (and even for the unemployed), it’s likely that there is at least some overlap.

    This makes no sense. I’m not saying that charitable giving causes debt, of course, or trying to identify the real causes of debt. That’s a whole other topic. But if we want to spend money helping the less fortunate, shouldn’t we start by reducing our risk of becoming one of them?

    Giving should be the exclusive province of people who genuinely have extra resources. How they free up those resources is their own business, but no matter how you look at it, people who are in debt don’t meet that criteria. Whether it’s their fault or not, they’re in the red. They are at-risk individuals and if they have any money to spare after paying for their basic needs, they should be using it to get into the black, not to get financially shakier out of some misdirected need to feel like they’re contributing.

    So if you have credit card debt, student loan debt, or any other form of debt that isn’t backed up by assets (like a house), I think you should be off the hook for charitable giving. You have no obligation to give until you’ve fulfilled your obligation to get yourself on solid ground.

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    Charity as a Tool of the ‘Never Enough’ Culture

    Ever feel like no matter how much you do, it’s never enough? If so, you’re not alone. Scarcity is one of the most pervasive elements of modern culture. Blame the media, blame consumerism, blame whoever you want, but we’re constantly surrounded by the message that we’re not rich enough, beautiful enough, successful enough, masculine-or-feminine enough, etc.

    The same society that feeds our sense of inadequacy also offers up a ready-made solution: Buy more stuff, and somehow, you will feel better. You can, according to the logic of scarcity, buy your way out of any problem.

    The bottomless pit of charitable giving

    The bottomless pit of charitable giving

    Nowhere is this more socially sanctioned and aggressively promoted than in the realm of charity. According to conventional wisdom, the answer to not feeling like a good enough person is to give money to charity, which basically amounts to buying a sense of social worthiness.

    When we want to give back, rather than being encouraged to actually be good people; or consider, appreciate, and build on ways in which we’re already doing good; we’re told to ‘get involved’ with charity.

    Even if we are giving to charity, it’s never enough. “Dig deeper”, they say, “Could you do a little more? The need is so great! You’re so fortunate!” It’s a common and accepted practice in fundraising to scheme about getting current donors to pony up just a little bit more. Every year, preferably. And pressure their friends to do the same. It’s never enough.

    And do we ever actually get the promised results? Do we ever feel like we’re good enough, worthy enough? Maybe for a brief moment: that temporary high when you first give, if you’re truly convinced that what you’ve given to will create the impact it says it will. But only for a minute, because the next time you turn around, the pleas for more have, if anything, multiplied.

    Telling us afresh that it’s not good enough – that we’re not good enough, that we need to do more and more. Why do we keep buying into it?

  • Comments 0

    Charity as a Tool of Oppression

    Charity acts as a distraction and a barrier to real change

    Charity acts as a distraction and a barrier to real change

    Karl Marx famously said that religion was the opium of the masses. What he meant, according to one scholar, was,

    “religion does not fix the underlying causes of people’s pain and suffering — instead, it helps them forget why they are suffering … Even worse, this ‘drug’ is administered by the same oppressors who are responsible for the pain and suffering in the first place.”1

    He didn’t blame religion for pain and suffering. He acknowledged its efforts to provide solace in the face of these problems. However, he also believed that those efforts are futile. Like a painkiller, they provide temporary and false comfort to distract people from doing anything to really change the underlying causes of the problems.

    Whatever your opinion of Marx and/or religion, this is a critique that fits charity like a glove. Well-intentioned, ineffective, distracting, numbing. When our souls cry out for change, when we simply must do something, charity is offered up on a silver platter. It’s the convenient, easy, non-boat rocking answer for anyone who craves change.

    But does it actually deliver that change? Does it meaningfully impact the economic, political, and social systems that produce the problems? Doubtful.

    Like Marx’s idea of religion, what it does do is divert us from activities that might really shake things up, thus acting as a barrier to real change. And, like Marx’s idea of religion, charity is pushed by the very people who are served by the status quo; the government; the corporations; the rich.

    The system works for them. They wouldn’t want it to change. So naturally (if not consciously), they are pro-charity, and they want you to be, too. Charity rarely really changes anything. It just makes us feel like it does, and therein lies its greatest danger.

     1Kline, Austin. “Karl Marx on Religion: Is Religion the Opiate of the Masses?” http://atheism.about.com/od/weeklyquotes/a/marx01.htm

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    Things That Work Better Than Charity

    Good things will grow from the seeds being planted here

    Planting the seeds of goodness

    I’ve really been hammering on the point that charity is rarely the best way to do good, so you might be wondering what it is we should be doing instead.

    While there’s nothing that delivers on the magic-bullet solutions promised by charity, there are some things offering pretty good guidelines and a great deal of hope:


    The Slow Movement

    This is all about doing less, and doing it better. It advocates putting less pressure on ourselves to do it all, and making the most of what we do spend time on. Its handbook is the excellent In Praise of Slow by native Edmontonian Carl Honore.


    Permaculture is tough to explain, but basically, it’s building absolutely everything to be sustainable and resilient. Because many permaculturists are really into producing their own food, it’s often associated with gardening, but it’s much broader than that. In my neck of the woods, Verge Permaculture is a leader in the movement.

    Shared Value

    This is one term to describe the movement towards incorporating doing good into core activities instead of/in addition to traditional sponsorship and donation CSR strategies. It exists primarily in the corporate world at this point, with companies like Interface making big strides. Rethinking Corporate Sustainability is a short book that sums up the idea, or see this article from the Harvard Business Review.

    Social Finance

    Social Finance is essentially dedicated to turning the monetary tools of capitalism to the purpose of doing good. Things like impact investing, social enterprise, social impact bonds, and B-corps belong to this category. Here in Canada, we have a whole group of people working on this at Social Finance.ca/MaRS Centre for Impact Investing . I wrote an introduction to the idea in a previous post.

    What these rich areas all have in common is an awareness of the interconnectedness of our activities and lives. They advocate for embracing the impacts and opportunities associated with the things we do every day – what we eat, what we wear, where/how we live and work, our relationships, our money, and our time.

    That’s is the golden kernel at the heart of all effective change efforts. It’s where the magic happens.

  • Comments 0

    Why Charity Workers Are Anti-Charity

    After making my Shocking Revelation a couple of weeks ago, I ventured out to talk to people about it. The reaction from those actually working in charity surprised me.

    Many of them are, in a way, as anti-charity as I am. They are relieved by the idea that we should be doing less charity in favour of other strategies. They agree that charity rarely solves anything.

    As much as this comes as a surprise, it makes sense when you think about it. Charity workers are the ones feeling the most pressure to make change, and the most acutely aware when it doesn’t really happen. On the front lines, they see the need growing, see the problems worsening, and know that very little is changing for the better at the root cause level.

    They’re passionate people, driven to do good to the point where, in most cases, they’ve sacrificed a lot to pursue it. They see first hand the fallout from the fact that the sector is not really set up for success; the inefficiencies and mismanagement that are rampant within it. They see their colleagues burning themselves out year after year.Stop

    If they’re especially self-aware and observant, they realize, at some point, that they are knocking themselves out trying to do a job with a tool that is entirely unsuitable. They wonder why they carry the lion’s share of responsibility for doing good while their friends in the for-profit sector mainly worry about the bottom line. They see that real change has involve all sectors; it can’t be assigned to just one.

    More than anyone, charity workers are driven to do good. And more than anyone, they know how it does and doesn’t work. Which is why, at the end of the day, it makes perfect sense that they want to see less of the very sector they work in, and more broad-based, meaningful change woven into every aspect of life.

  • Comments 0

    Jeffrey Sachs And the Non-End of Poverty


    What’s your solution this week, Doc?

    Celebrity economist Jeffrey Sachs decided about 10 years ago that he was going to end world poverty. He even wrote a successful book called The End of Poverty.

     The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty, by Nina Munk, chronicles the journey.

    Munk was looking for a happy story, but she got more of a comedy of errors. Time after time Dr. Sachs, convinced he had the magic formula to solve poverty, bullied donors into pouring tens of millions of dollars into his schemes. They centred on The Millennium Villages; small, poverty stricken communities that were supposed to act as models for how transformative Dr. Sach’s formula was.

    In village after village, across sub Saharan Africa, his lieutenants implemented his “interventions” (planting higher yield crops, using anti malarial bed nets, etc.). In case after case, they failed to deliver the results he expected. They ran up against every classic complicating factor: cultural resistance, environmental factors, unintended growth of dependency and decline of self sufficiency, etc.

    Although Sachs had proclaimed that he had the foolproof solution, he soon started to change his story, making the villagers jump from one strategy to the next. Finally, he quietly wound down the project and shifted his focus to problems in the U.S.

    The story of Sachs delivers both questions and lessons for do gooders. He was a brilliant and accomplished man who genuinely cared about helping people and legitimately thought he could do it. Arguably, some good was done, but so was a fair measure of harm.

    After reading Munk’s book, I find myself more skeptical than ever about attempts by people in one part of the world to fix the lives of people in another. Do we actually have any obligation to improve the lives of people in other countries? More to the point, do we have any ability to do so?

    No matter how tragic their situation might be, and no matter how moved we may feel by it, if our efforts result in wasted money and hurts those we’re trying to help, what’s the point?

    The bottom line for me is that this is a cautionary tale. There may be a way to help the global poor, but top-down, west-centric, handout charity ain’t it.

  • Comments 1

    A Shocking Revelation

    I can’t ignore it any more. As controversial and unpopular as it might turn out to be, there’s something I have to face.

    It’s an idea, a gut feeling I’ve been dancing around for a long time. It flies in the face of most of the current thinking about charity. People might be offended.

    Pssst....I might be anti-charity

    Pssst….I might be anti-charity

    But the more I work in this space, meet people who are trying to make a difference, and hear from brilliant thinkers like Slavoj Zizek, the more I have to face up to it:

    The charitable sector in its current form might be a bad idea. It’s very possible that most of us would be better off not participating in it at all.

    I do think there’s a role for charity. I just don’t think it’s the one it’s trying to play right now.

    My suspicion is that charity is too small, weak, and restricted to do the job it’s expected to do, namely: fix all the problems of the world.

    Meanwhile, it may be far too big, loud, and pervasive to do the job it’s actually meant to do, which is act as a safety net for people who fall through the cracks; addressing immediate (and preferably short term) needs.

    This is just the tip of the iceberg on this subject. Although I’ve managed to finally look it in the face, I’m nowhere near sure about it. I’m setting out on a journey to research and explore it. I have a lot of work to do.

    Will you come with me? I think we’ll all get a lot out of it.

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    The Return of the Savvy (Scholarly?) Do Gooder

    For the past five or six months, I stepped back from my work to have a baby and take some maternity leave. Now that I’ve passed the parental leave baton to my husband, I’m jumping back into the fray. As I anticipated back in June, the time away has proved invaluable.

    I’m not sure if I have an entirely new perspective on the work of doing good, but my mind is clearer than it has been in a long time. Concepts and ideas that were lurking at the back of my consciousness have bubbled to the surface.

    More than anything, I’ve got a million new questions. In the coming year, research will be a big focus for The Savvy Do Gooder. I’m going to dust off my ‘student’ hat and dive into reports, statistics, books, and articles in a more targeted and deliberate way than ever before.

    Some of the things I’ll be digging into are:

    Nerd power...ACTIVATE!

    Nerd power…ACTIVATE!

    • What is the role of charity? What is it demonstrably good at accomplishing? What is it not?
    • Historically, what makes real change happen? What were the major contributing factors to, for example, the abolishment of slavery, the discovery of a cure for polio, etc.?
    • What are the non-charitable ways to make a difference? Do they work? Do they work better than charity, or not as well?

    All, of course, in search of guidance on how everyday people can best pursue their beautiful drive to make the world a better place. As I go along, I’ll bring what I find to you; here on this blog; on social media, and through public speaking.

    I feel energized to dive back in to this work. I feel ready. If you’re looking for me, I’ll be in the library.

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