Down To The Wire

Why do weBe Her Freedom tend to wait? I’m asking myself this question as much as I’m asking you.

This past weekend, The A21 Campaign, which fights human trafficking, held its BE HER FREEDOM fundraising event and celebrated the opening of its first east coast office–located right here in Charleston, SC. I’m a volunteer for the organization and yet, when did I buy my tickets? Yep. The week prior. I knew I was going. I knew my plans. But my habit to register for things last-minute was not especially helpful for those trying to get a good head count. Food and such had to be ordered a lot earlier. Now, give me a task and I’m on it. But sign-ups and ticket purchases? I suddenly turn procrastinator. It’s true, being part of the volunteer core staff, it was known I was coming, but until that ticket’s bought, nothing’s absolutely certain. I think we’ve all experienced the frustration of people dropping out at the last minute.

Now, we were BEYOND blessed that BE HER FREEDOM sold out! Yay! But earlier that week, it wasn’t even close. A big percentage of the tickets were sold in the hours right up to the event. Why do we do this? Why do we make the planners sweat it out? Are we just that busy that we’re unwilling to commit until the last second or is it something else?

Anyone ever planned a wedding and wondered why it was so hard to get people to check a box and send back the RSVP that has already been stamped and addressed? I remember before my own wedding, thinking, “What do we need to do for you people? Have someone there to lick the envelope?” I swore from then on, when I got wedding invitations, I’d reply quickly. And, I do. But now, I realize I need to extend this courtesy to important fundraisers, too. They have enough stress in their lives, trying to make the world a better place.

Are you quick to sign up for things? (I applaud you, if you are.) What personal experiences have affected you enough to change YOUR habits in order to benefit others?  

Birthday Trends

Growing up, most of the birthday parties I went to were classic style: ice cream, cake and pin-the-tail on the donkey variations. Since then, they’ve morphed into major all-out themed events….pirate and medieval extravaganzas that involve walking the plank for a prize and even the use of an actual catapult—built specifically for party-goers entertainment. My nieces had an Alice In Wonderland, Mad Hatter tea party in full costume. Serious stuff.

New Trend: Themes and costumes are still a full-on go, but the GIFTS are altering in some cases. Recently, I’ve heard about kids asking guests to donate to a chosen cause rather than bring a gift. Pretty big stuff for kids, I think. Talk about instilling the ‘better to give than receive’ and socially responsible mindset early!

But, the question you might ask…as I did, initially, is ‘How could kids reach this decision without some serious heavy-handedness from parents? The answer, from what I’ve seen, has a lot to do with kids already being involved in a cause. Then, I can understand how this donation-in-place-of-gift idea happens. For example, the non-profit, Water Missions International, headquartered here in Charleston, has an annual walk where people simulate the several mile trek for water, women and children in developing countries have to do daily. Lots of kids do this annual walk with their parents. It’s a cause that has become tangible to them.  Kids, too, enjoy being a part of something bigger than themselves. They can feel it, just as we do.

As always, there’s a balance to be had. No need to give up birthday gifts for any and all birthdays. But can’t wait to see what some of these civic-minded kids do later on in life!

Time out for nostalgic moments: Birthday party I loved:

1)   As a kid: Friend’s mom made individual cakes for EACH person. Mine was Jiminy Cricket.

2)   As an adult: My husband’s 40th. His name’s Jack and his birthday is Halloween. We had a ‘Just Jack’ party where everyone had to dress up as something ‘Jack’. Think about it. You’ll see. There are a lot of options and you’ll find you keep coming up with more. (I was Jack Frost, but the most original costume of the night was the hijacker, hands-down.)

What are some of your favorite birthday party memories? What do you think of kids asking for donations instead of gifts?

Volunteer Vacations: The Good & Not-As-Good

My sister-in-law recently returned from a volunteer vacation at a game reserve in Africa. For those unfamiliar with the term, a volunteer vacation (or voluntourism, as it is also called) is the combination of tourist travel and volunteer work for a charitable cause for a short duration—usually 1-4 weeks. Travel agencies can set up these trips just like they do regular tour packages. Or you can type ‘volunteer vacation’ into Google and up will pop all sorts of online outfits ready to match you with a variety of causes…whether you want to work with animals, children or the elderly…to work on building projects, clear trails or be part of a medical mission. In Costa Rica? India? No problem.

I asked my sister-in-law what her days at the game reserve entailed and she ticked off on her fingers, the following:

  • Game capture: so that tick solution could be put on zebra, wildebeest, springbok, and impala
  • Hole Digging: as prep for planting trees that would eventually offer food, shade and protection for elephants
  • Litter patrol
  • Fence patrol: making sure electric fences remain working and no critters are digging in or out.
  • Predator enclosure clean up: I think we know what this includes.
  • Removal of invasive, foreign trees that were choking out the indigenous trees that elephants like to munch
  • Lion tracking: keeping tabs on pregnant lions and their cubs

Now, she enjoyed her time there, but did not view this as much work for forty volunteers. She often went in search of additional duties because that is the kind of person she is. She became concerned that many of these tasks were simply busy work…that volunteer vacationers had become part of the reserve’s business model. It brought a lot of questions to her mind. Yet, she enjoyed going out on safaris and playing with the lion cubs, and she had a fantastic view over the vast plain from her large hut decorated with furniture like you’d find at Pier One. But with an embarrassed smile, she told me she could have done without the rose petals in her bath water.

Now, not every volunteer vacation is so cush. Don’t get the wrong idea. Like with any vacation, there is potential for getting nothing close to what you anticipated. There are scams out there and poorly planned trips. But really, the point I’m trying to make is how important it is to determine, not only expectations, but motivations…yes, plural, because, if you’re anything like me, you almost certainly have more than one reason to do something. What do you really want to get out of this trip? Where on the spectrum from hardcore work for a cause to ‘hey, it’s a cool behind-the-scenes adventure’, do you fit? My sister-in-law said there were many who wanted to really work and just as many who were content to…as my husband calls it…’max the min’ and hang out watching movies in the air-conditioning for long stretches of the day, when not out on safari or specifically given a job.

There is a lot of controversy regarding volunteer vacations…about how useful they truly are. Personally, I believe there are a tremendous number of long-term positives that can come from these experiences, but the critics do have some valid points that shouldn’t be brushed off. I prefer to see them as opportunities for improvement. This is a subject worthy of a series.

What do you think of the idea of volunteer vacations?

P.S. Here’s a little irony…back in ’95, I went on safari in Kenya. Now, this was straight tourism, mind you. No, volunteering involved. But, our digs were not nearly like my sister-in-law’s while she was volunteering. We slept in tents that had a partitioned section off the back for the ‘bathroom’, which consisted of a hole dug in the ground. The dirt pile next to it had a sign stuck into it that said, ‘Rhinos cover it; so can you.’

5 Ways The Publishing Community Promotes Good Causes and Can Simultaneously Help the Aspiring Writer

In the process of profiling literary agents who represent the kind of book I have written, (literary fiction with a commercial bent), I noticed how many agents, editors and publishing organizations promote good causes. Considering I write a good bit about volunteerism and am an aspiring novelist, there could hardly be a better combo for me.

Online Auctions: Online auctions such as Brenda Novak’s Auction for the Cure for Diabetes (held in May) offer bidding opportunities that run the gamut…from travel packages to jewelry, but what is unusual about this particular auction is the section for writers. Brenda Novak is a New York Times Bestselling author and knows a lot of people in the publishing industry. More than 120 literary agents and editors offered, pro bono, to do a range of manuscript evaluations for the cause.

For an aspiring author, it is a brilliant win-win scenario: support diabetes research and…1) get your work in front of participating, first-class literary agents, editors and other industry professionals, 2) get to the top of the slush pile, and 3) receive that precious, but so-hard-to-get feedback. This year, the auction raised over $300,000. Pretty impressive.

Another aspect of this win-win opportunity is what it says about the caliber of agent or editor. These are people who have agreed to offer their services pro bono for a cause. I’d say that’s a nice indicator of the kind of agent I’d like to have promoting my career.

Brenda Novak’s auction is an annual event, but also, there are situation-specific ones such as for the Japanese disaster. In March, (Red Cross month), a group of writers conducted the Writers for the Red Cross auction that benefitted a local Red Cross chapter as well as the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. In their FAQ, they mention ‘Why writers?’ I love their reason for involvement besides raising funds… “Writers share a commitment to community by bringing people together through their stories.” I really hope my work can do that someday. For this kind of auction, you’ll need to keep an eye out. Unfortunately, with all the natural disasters occurring in the world, you will likely have ample opportunity.

Also, on Ebay, literary agent, Irene Goodman, auctions critiques of partial manuscripts at the start of every month. All proceeds go directly to the Deafness Research Foundation, Hope for Vision, and Foundation Fighting Blindness. Her son, 23, has Usher Syndrome, which is a genetic condition that causes progressive loss of both vision and hearing.

Proceeds donation: This is ‘Cause marketing’, which I described in detail in my post ‘Shopping Incentives’ last November. On June 7th, (sorry, I’m late on this), F+ W Media, Inc., the parent company of Writer’s Digest, decided that 50% of all profits made on that specific day from their Writer’s Digest shop (that sells books, offers webinars and a whole slew of writing classes), would be donated to the Red Cross for relief efforts regarding the recent tornados that cut a deadly swath across our country. In early spring they did the same to raise funds for the Japanese disaster.

Sponsorship: Organizations such as Publishers Weekly, Writers Digest and RT Book Review Magazine were co-sponsors for the Brenda Novak’s Online Auction for the Cure for Diabetes.

Awareness Promotion: It was from the blog of literary agent, Kristin Nelson, that I first learned of the online auction for the cure for diabetes. (I highly recommend her blog to anyone trying to get published. Lots of good stuff there). Research for diabetes is a cause close to her heart, so she promotes awareness of it. Agents generate a lot of traffic on their sites and can really help get the word out. Additionally, writers looking for an agent can gain insight into what particular subjects might be of special interest to them. Another example is a blog post by agent, Jenny Bent, to promote awareness of Down Syndrome. She supports Reece’s Rainbow, which facilitates international adoption of children with Down Syndrome.

Individual Calls to Action: Literary agent turned author, Nathan Bransford, promotes volunteerism, in general, and expanding your horizons. He went on a volunteer trip that changed his life. (I’m not the only one who had this happen.) Here…he says it best, himself,

“…remember when I went to Peru on a volunteer vacation and it changed my life? Well! You have this opportunity too! Please visit Volunteer Journals at Travelocity, and all you have to do is enter a video for a chance to win a volunteer vacation. People, voluntourism is the greatest thing ever. Enter! Enter! Enter!!”

Voluntourism (a.k.a. volunteer vacations) is a subject that deserves a whole series of posts. And I have a great place to start. My sister-in-law just returned from one in Africa on a game reserve. That’s up next!

There Is Always Next Year

Rotary International - photo by Diesel Demon

Happy New Year! A new decade. Let’s hope it’s a good one. 

Every year when I watch the Rose parade, I think… ‘One of these years, I’d like to go out to Pasadena and volunteer to help decorate a float. I have no idea for which organization, so I can’t say I’d be doing it to selflessly promote awareness of a worthy cause. I just think it would be fun, for some reason, to spend several hours monotonously gluing corn silk and palm fiber onto a small section of earlobe or paw.

BUT, if I ever do get the chance, I would probably try to volunteer for one with a humanitarian mission—like this year’s float to encourage awareness of the fight against Alzheimer’s or last year’s Rotary International float* to promote the eradication of polio. Why not have some fun AND support a cause? Does one preclude the other?

To me, volunteering doesn’t have to be drudgery. In fact, I think it’s good that we get a little fun out of it; it keeps us honest and leaves less room to build up pride over what we might consider ‘sacrificial deeds’. I don’t know anyone who ever intended to become a self-righteous hypocrite.

So, with that said, I also must admit…I’d volunteer to work on Trader Joe’s next float in a heartbeat…if they’d only agree to open a store in Charleston!!

*Note: I think you have to be a member of Rotary, Rotaract or Interact clubs to have the opportunity to glue a flower on their float, which at least at the moment, nixes me out of the running.

Photo by Diesel Demon

Volunteering Your Voice

We use our voices to let our opinions be known, to communicate what matters to us and promote awareness of causes we believe deserve immediate attention, but one of its most beautiful uses is…to sing.

There is something about the singing voice that transcends barriers between us all…especially at this time of year. Often, we don’t even have to hear the words. It is more the feeling it conveys. (A difficult thing for me to admit as an aspiring writer, who relies on the written word).

Recently, the Opera Company of Philadelphia Chorus and 650 choristers from the area gathered at Macy’s Center City Philadelphia, to intermingle with the public going about their holiday business and offer them the gift of their voices.

Over the last few years, in particular, I’ve heard of choral groups and dance troupes gathering in busy places like train stations and student centers to give freely of their talents and lighten people’s hearts. I’ve had this video sent to me by a couple of different friends and thought I’d pass it along….the modern version of Christmas caroling.

Volunteer En Vogue

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Life is busy. We all seem to be going in multiple directions at once.

Life is expensive. We might be working harder and getting paid less.

Life is uncertain. We might be tempted to stay in bed and pull the covers over our heads.

Life is challenging. We are living through an economic downturn that has caused us to stretch into new areas and learn new skills, sadly often to cover the duties of colleagues no longer there.

Yet, despite all this, it seems there is a growing trend of people feeling called to be more socially responsible. According to Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve, a trend-based marketing consultancy (that I have no connection with except to visit their website and find it very interesting), people are “…discovering a conscience of ethics, passion and compassion.”

Excellent. I hope it’s true. There are a multitude of ways to become a part of this trend:

Life is busy, but people can offer up their time, whether it is a….

  • A day
  • A few weeks
  • A block of time for an annual fundraiser or event
  • Perhaps every Tuesday

Life is expensive, but they can donate money and/or gifts in-kind.

Life is uncertain, yet they can go on trips to volunteer for…

  • A couple weeks
  • Several months
  • Maybe even a couple years (if you’re the intrepid type) with the peace corps or a big non-governmental organization (NGO).

Life is challenging, but people are discovering they have skills that transfer quite nicely to the volunteer arena.

Are you a part of this trend? In this volatile economic environment, what part is the easiest for you? Which is the hardest?