Saturday, February 23, 2008

Stop making excuses.

I've been writing So What Can I Do for several years now and I find many people are very supportive of my efforts. There are always a few though, who are convinced I am wasting my time. These folks have so many excuses for why they don't need to become involved, be more generous, work for justice, make the world a better place. Here are the excuses I hear most often, along with a few ideas to help folks stop making excuses start making a difference.

--> Excuse: "______ organization is just a scam." Well, I'm not so naive as to think that there are no scams out there. Certainly there are. But there are many many organizations, businesses, and people who are not trying to scam you. Sometimes people use this excuse because if they believe everyone who says they are trying to make a difference is really trying to scam them, then they don't have to ever do anything. It seems to relieve them of responsibility. Well the responsibility is still there. Try these ideas to stop making this excuse:

*Solution: Use a charity rating organization like or to determine how the organizations that interest you spend money. These services help you evaluate charitable organizations, so that your donation of time and talent does the most good.
*Solution: Think globally, act locally. When you give time or money to a local organization it should be easy to see the effects. You can check up on them and see the fruits of your donation, and hopefully be inspired to give again.
*Solution: Choose local foods, goods, and services. That way you support your local economy and everyone in your area benefits.

--> Excuse: "I can't participate because I have to work on improving myself first." A few years ago, I read biographies and autobiographies of people I admired: Nelson Mandela, Mohandas Ghandi, Angela Davis, Ida B. Wells, Martin Luther King, Paul Robeson, Malcolm X, and many others. I think I was looking for perfection. Of course, I never found it. Nobody's perfect. If we all waited until we were perfect to start making a difference nothing would ever get done. We're all flawed, but we all can serve. We can all contribute, we just have to find the ways that work best for us. Here are a few ways to get started:

Solution: Click to donate or visit a charity mall. These are fast and easy ways to contribute to the causes you believe in.
Solution: Donate blood, organs, milk, marrow, or hair. You'll make a huge difference in someone's life and you don't have to be perfect (or even near perfect) to donate.
Solution: Improve yourself. Get therapy. Take a class. Learn to read. End your addictions. Do what it takes to be the person you want to be and you'll have that much more to give to others. Just search on this site for these topics and your find more resources to help you get started.

--> Excuse: "____ may not be a scam, but it won't work." Do you have an idea to make the program work better? Then volunteer! Or choose to contribute or serve in ways in which the difference is local and/or immediate. Here are a few ideas:

Solution: Teach someone to read. It works, and you'll see a profound difference in your student's life. The literacy agency in your area has all the materials and resources you need to get started.
Solution: Fight hunger in your community. When you provide food for some who is hungry, they can tell you right away about the difference you've made. It works.
Solution: Volunteer your time. You'll see for yourself the difference you are making.

--> Excuse: "What's in this for me?" I guess we all have to be a bit self-interested, but don't let it get out of control. It helps to remember that no one can make it alone. We need help from someone, even if we pay them. So your concern and care for others can help you too. Here's are some ways to wean yourself from some of that self-interest:

Solution: Be a social entrepreneur. Many people are discovering new and exciting ways to make money and make a difference at the same time.
Solution: Make interest bearing microloans or charitable investments. Not only will you receive interest on your money, but you'll also help make the world a better place.
Solution: Sell your cell phone, reduce e-waste, and get some cash. It make sense even if you don't care about the environment or the health of the people who process electronic waste.

--> Excuse: "I'd love to help but I don't have enough time/money/etc." Even Bill Gates probably wishes he had more of something. If you don't have cash, give your possessions. If you don't have time, give money. If you don't have money, give you time and talent. You get the idea. No excuses.

Solution: Turn off the TV, save your spare change, stop junk mail and you'll have more time and money to give. Think about what's most important.
Solution: Click to donate. You don't need much time or money for that. And since you're reading this, you probably already have the internet connection you need. These have got to be the fastest, easiest, most inexpensive, way ever to make a charitable contribution.
Solution: Try socially responsible investing, and make some money so you'll have more to donate.

--> Excuse: "I'd help but I don't like working with kids/my hands/etc." No excuses folks. There are many ways you can help make a positive difference in our world. Some don't require you leave your home. You can even help without interacting with any other people. Want some ideas?

Solution: Be a virtual volunteer. You'd be amazed at the ways you can help without ever leaving your home. And you can be of service to organizations all over the world!
Solution: Write a letter to let your elected officials, media, and other know about your priorities. The squeaky wheel gets the grease and there's power in numbers!
Solution: Become an everyday philanthropist. You don't have to have a lot of money to make a big difference. In fact, those with the least money often give the most. Just give thoughtfully.

Hopefully by now, you've run out of excuses and a motivated and educated about all the ways we can improve our world. Thank you, in advance, for all you do.

"No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be." -Isaac Asimov, scientist and writer (1920-1992)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Join the Carnival for Change - Booth 1.

Today marks the beginning of a new feature at So What Can I Do: Carnival for Change. Periodically, we will pause to troll the web for interesting items relating to social justice, health, education, and opportunity. The Carnival for Change will differ from other blog carnivals in at least two ways: we'll include items from all over the web, not just the blogosphere, and, at least for now, it will only appear at So What Can I Do. So are you ready to get started? Let's go!

* Britt Bravo over at Have Fun, Do Good has a nice post on how giving can make you happy. Just right for those of us who may be experiencing the winter blues.

* Melanie Seasons sends notice of the Protecting Futures Program from Tampax and Always. "Protecting Futures is a comprehensive care program which will bring puberty education, traveling health educators, nutritious feeding programs, educational support services, a pad distribution program, and significant construction projects to nine schools in the first year." The focus is on Southern Africa. Thanks Melanie!

* Michael Gray encourages us to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the peace symbol reminding us that it was designed by Gerald Holtom in 1958 and purposefully never copyrighted.

* Also from Melanie, a word about the HERO Youth Ambassador program in which "twenty-four teens from across the U.S.A. were selected to become Youth Ambassadors and traveled to Namibia and South Africa this summer to work on the Protecting Futures program." Thanks again, Melanie.

* Gary Hirshberg, the Founder of Stonyfield Yogurt (our family's favorite!), has a new book out: Stirring it up: How to Make Money and Save the World. Check it out:

* Heifer International announces a new way to give. Now you can fund particular projects that interest you. Of course you can still give chicks to your children, llamas to your lover, a goat to your grandma, etc.

Thanks for visiting the Carnival for Change! If you'd like space at the next booth, send your items to me with "Carnival for Change" in the subject. See you next time!

"Be the change you want to see in the world." - Mohandas Ghandi

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Read, study, learn: OpenCourseWare

I have learned so much from doing the research needed to write this blog. That's a major reason why I do it. But still, I am often interested in learning more about certain topics - globalization, business management, sustainable development (of course). But these days, I like to choose my own classes, learn on my own schedule, and ideally, not pay a lot.

OpenCourseWare is the just the answer. More than 100 universities from all over the world have agreed to put full length versions of their courses on line for anyone to study. That's right, you can use the same materials used in college and graduate level course to learn about almost any topic. Choose classes in public health, engineering, foreign language, film, economics, psychology, you name it. What an amazing resource! And it's all free, though registration may be required depending on the university. Ready to get started?

* Visit OpenCourseWare Finder to find a course that interests you. Follow the links to the course material.
* Visit the OpenCourseWare Consortium to learn more about the program, or to get your institution involved.

That's it! You're ready to go. You won't earn credit, but the knowledge is yours to keep. Whether you want to start your own nonprofit, learn a foreign language, understand complex world issues, or something else entirely, you can learn more about the topics that will help you make a difference in our world. All for free. Happy studying!

"What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Read, and be inspired to action.

I recently visited the Headquarters of Heifer International in Little Rock, Arkansas. They have an amazing Platinum Level LEED certified building that is really in synch with their sustainable development programs. I also enjoyed their gift shop, which has a great book selection. I've certainly been inspired to action by good books and in that spirit offer these reading suggestions:

* The Difference a Day Makes: 365 Ways to Change Your World in Just 24 Hours by Karen M. Jones

* Mentioned previously on So what can I do.
* 365 Ways To Change the World: How to Make a Difference-- One Day at a Time by Michael Norton

* Our Day to End Poverty: 24 Ways You Can Make a Difference by Shannon Daley-Harris, Jeffrey Keenan, and Karen Speerstra mentions So What Can I Do. Thanks for the shout out!

* Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World by fellow Arkansan, Bill Clinton. Learn more about the Clinton Presidential Center and Clinton School for Public Change

* The Revolution: A Field Manual for Changing Your World edited by Heather Zydek was reviewed in So What Can I Do.

* How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas by David Bornstein

Got a book you'd like to recommend? Let me know! And note that when you order through these links (or the ones in the sidebar) you support So What Can I Do. Thank you, and happy reading.

"The way to get things done is not to mind who gets the credit of doing them." - Benjamin Jowett

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Read out loud.

We're generally taught to read to ourselves soon after we learn how to read. But there are still many reasons to read out loud, to your children for example. Or for those who are blind or have other disabilities that limit print reading ability. Audiobooks, podcasts, and the like are very helpful, but what about reading text books? The newspaper? A letter from a friend? A menu at a restaurant? Thankfully there are many services available that provide audio versions of printed text, but they all need volunteers to run. Here's how you can help:

* Readers read out loud, narrating the text and describing any visual elements like graphs, charts, and equations. Specialized readers proficient in math, science, finance, accounting, computer science, foreign languages, and other technical areas are often in short supply. So if you have those skills, consider reading out loud.

* Directors guide the reader, operate recording equipment and make corrections to the recorded material when necessary.

* Editors review the audio files and help with production of the final version.

* Scanners use the internet to submit text, modify files and prepare them for audio or Braille publication.

These are just a few of the many ways you can help. Excited? Great! Now here are three organizations you can contact to volunteer or obtain services:

--> Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic is a national nonprofit organization in existence for over 60 years. They provide digitally recorded textbooks "in every subject area and grade level from kindergarten through graduate studies". They have studios nationwide. Contact the national headquarters at 800-803-7201 for more information or visit

--> Read This To Me is a free reading service for blind and low vision people. It "allows blind and low-vision people (clients) to have printed documents read to them over the phone. All a person needs is a phone line and a fax machine (no computer is required.)" Volunteers only need a few minutes a day and the willingness to make a long-distance phone call. Learn more about volunteering with Read This To Me.

--> prepares books in audio and Braille formats. The need volunteers to scan books and prepare books for publication on Bookshare. All you need in an internet connection.

Remember you can also make donations, and spread the word about these great opportunities and services. Organizations like the International Association of Audio Information Services have other resources for books, newspapers and other materials available in Braille and other formats. They need volunteers too! Talking books can make such a meaningful difference in a person's life. Happy reading and happy listening!

"He who postpones the hour of living is like the rustic who waits for the river to run out before he crosses." -Horace, poet and satirist (65-8 BCE)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Support pet rescue.

I've written before about the connections between abuse of animals and abuse of people. And just as there are organizations to support human survivors, pet rescue agencies exist to support non-human animal survivors. Enter Lisa Scarbrough of Costal Pet Rescue in Savannah, Georgia. Lisa kindly sent a blog post of hers entitled How YOU Can Change a Life in 10 Minutes or Less. Here are a few of my favorite ideas:
1. Pick up an extra bag of pet food or a toy when you do your monthly shopping for your own pets. (Copy paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies are also welcome.)

3. Send us a donation through PayPal ( We know how to stretch our funds, and even $10 can help us buy food for a foster pet for a few weeks.

4. Purchase a gift card at WalMart, Pet Supermarket, or Pet Smart and drop it in the mail to us.

7. Use for all your search engine queries.

9. Cut out and mail us coupons for free or low-cost pet products (PO Box 30462, Savannah, GA 31410).
Check out Lisa's post for more ideas on how you can help animals rescued from dangerous situations. Want two of my ideas? Use these charitable search engines and click to donate sites. Of course you may want support a pet rescue agency in your area, but you can still stop by Lisa's site to say hi.

Enjoy! And thanks again, Lisa!

"Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." -Elie Wiesel, writer, Nobel laureate (b. 1928)