Posts by Ero Gray


Doodling Nicolas Cage: How we keep work fun

If you’ve ever found yourself Googling “Nicolas Cage Disney Princesses,” you have something in common with at least 90% of Idealist employees.

We’re not quite sure how it’s gotten to this point, but in the past year or so our obsession with the man has snowballed from quiet Internet searches to actually working the Cage motif into our office decor: there’s a Wonder Woman with the actor’s face on the women’s restroom door, for instance. And when we found out that a dry-erase board that allows you to “Design a new hairstyle for Nicolas Cage!” existed, we just had to have it.

Sometimes someone scribbles something sloppy and conceptual on Nic’s head while passing by; sometimes it’s a thoughtful work of art.

But it always makes people laugh. Or at least stop and stare. Which helps make the whole ‘working’ part of work a lot more fun. Especially because the ever-changing Cagescape is right next to the candy jar, so people keep coming back.

Here are a few of our favorites so far (though the hits keep coming):

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Does your office have its own Nicolas Cage to lighten the mood? Tell us about it in the comments.

 

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Ask Ero: Answers for baffled and confused Idealists

Ero is Thoughtful Adjusted Cropped3

In this series of blog posts, I’ll try to answer all your questions (regardless of how ridiculously unqualified I am to answer them.) Consider me sort of a tech-literate, bearded, Ann Landers, or a work-safe Dan Savage.

In the last installment of this series, I answered a question about being a older jobseeker in a world of entry-level jobs. How was my answer? I hope you’ll tell me. Now, on with this installment’s question!

Lately, as I apply for jobs, I’ve been noticing that many nonprofits rely heavily upon corporate donors.

How can we reconcile the reliance that some nonprofits have on corporations whose actions are the very antithesis of the compassion, cooperation, and ethical behavior that most of us in the nonprofit sector are trying to promote?  – Elena

Some years ago a very wise person I know, who founded a successful nonprofit and who now works at a prestigious foundation, referred to her work as “the revolution.” I thought at the time that this was ridiculous and pretentious. To me, “the revolution” meant activists in the streets, not liberals working on fine-tuning grant proposals. But I’ve begun to understand what she meant.

The world often seems like it’s run entirely by the visible and violent hand of the market: multinational corporations squeeze communities dry, war profiteers rain bombs on the less fortunate, and only the rich truly succeed. Capitalism isn’t all banditry and the might-makes-right, but it often seems as though it were.

But the human experience is much more than just grasping for power and status: we’re here on this earth to love each other and help each other too. So how do we express that in our daily work?

The nonprofit world is one answer to this. At its best, this is a new and different order than any other; those of us in the sector are participating in a different kind of marketplace, one driven by conscience and funded by the act of giving. We do our work because we believe in it, and we’re paid because someone else believes in it too.

There are considerations of supply and demand, as there are in the larger society, but the fundamental economics are very different. And they should be different. Because of this, working in the nonprofit sector really is a (slow-motion) revolution: we’re creating a new model of work, that operates by different rules and has different values.

But we’re not an island, and the nonprofit sector is inextricably involved in the larger society’s compromises and corruptions. As you point out, well-meaning nonprofit organizations often act, wittingly or unwittingly, as public relations maintenance for truly disreputable corporations. If an organization’s charitable work is funded by a company whose profits consist of making assault rifles or addictive substances, is that organization really trustworthy?

There’s a utilitarian answer: because it’s better than the alternative. Because it’s better to do good in the world. Because nothing happens in this world unless someone starts to take action, and the nonprofit sector offers a million great ways to do good right here and right now.

I think I do speak for Idealist.org when I say that I believe that nearly everyone has good intentions, and that if we work together we can make those good intentions real, despite all the obstacles and compromises. We’re all in this muddled world together.

Have questions about anything I’ve said? Or about anything else (and I do mean anything)? Ask me.

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Ask Ero anything (anything anything anything) at ero@idealist.org.

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Ask Ero: Answers for confused and baffled Idealists

Ero is Thoughtful Adjusted Cropped3In this series of blog posts, I’ll try to answer all your questions (regardless of how ridiculously unqualified I am to answer them.) Consider me sort of a tech-literate, bearded, Ann Landers, or a work-safe Dan Savage.

In the last installment of this series, I answered questions about editing for brevity, solving big problems, and listening to music. How were my answers? I hope you’ll tell me. Now, on with this installment’s question!

After recently losing a job, I’ve almost given up hope. I’m not getting call-backs, and it might be due to my age- I’m not fresh out of college anymore. When I do get calls, they’re for entry-level jobs. I’m also an artist, and appreciate a flexible schedule, so how do I know if I should be looking for freelance work or a full-time job? -Margo

This is such a great question that it deserves an entire post all by itself, so here goes!

First of all, why limit yourself to one kind of work or another? You may not want the commitment of a full-time job. But keep your eyes open for that anyhow, and apply for what sounds appealing. You can even go to an interview, get a job offer, then decide to turn it down.

But you won’t know what’s out there unless you’re looking for it. Your dream job might be just where you least expect it. It’s not unheard of, after all, to work part-time or contract gigs, and have a low-key small business on the side. Unorthodox work is pretty common for artists of all kinds, so I’d advise looking for everything at once. Your solution may be a combination!

Now, keeping your morale up is hard, especially after losing a job. It gets even more frustrating when you’re highly skilled and experienced, and the only call-backs that you do get are ridiculously low-paid. Low compensation can be a problem in the nonprofit sector (though compensation is a complex issue). But although you may not be seeing them now, well-compensated jobs exist. Keep up the search and don’t get discouraged.

As for age discrimination, this can be a serious problem, but usually there’s not much you can do about it unless you see it happen. When first applying for a job you can’t affect the behavior of people who read your resume– but you can adjust how you present yourself. Make sure your cover letter and resume really represent what you have to offer specifically for the job you’re applying to, instead of just showing years of experience.

Discrimination happens, but you may also be missing opportunities because you don’t seem like you really want a position. This is not at all to say that you should hide your age. But you want to be sure you’re presenting your strengths properly.

After all, what you really want is to find work that values you for what you are: skilled, experienced, and not at all entry-level. Plenty of other folks out there are in the same boat: it’s an aging workforce, and some will see you as a talented youngster who’ll liven up the workplace with your crazy youthful enthusiasm.

There’s also a truth that isn’t often expressed, which is that the jobs ecosystem is not a bag of rice, it’s a bag of extra-chunky granola.

Every single job is a different size and shape.  Some are startlingly well-paid, some poorly paid. Some need decades of experience and advanced degrees, some want someone with strange new ideas. Some want specific odd types of experience, or unique individual skills.

During the course of my work day I see a lot of job listings – Idealist.org has 10,470 right at this moment! - and almost all of them are surprising in one way or another. They vary a lot! 

You’re the obviously-just-right candidate for at least one of them. As a jobseeker your task is to find that opportunity, and then make sure to make your obvious-just-right-ness clear.

After all, you’re looking, not to succeed with all jobs…just ones that are right for you.The right work for you will come along if you keep looking, and keep putting yourself out there. (You can find lots of useful tips on our blog).

I believe in you. You can do it.

Have questions about anything I’ve said? Or about anything else (and I do mean anything)? Ask me.

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Ask Ero anything (anything anything anything) at ero@idealist.org.

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Ask Ero: Answers for confused and baffled Idealists

Ero is Thoughtful Adjusted Cropped3In this series of blog posts, I’ll try to answer all your questions (regardless of how ridiculously unqualified I am to answer them.) Consider me sort of a tech-literate, bearded, Ann Landers, or a work-safe Dan Savage.

In the last installment of this series, I answered questions about Google Voice, finding a career path in an unusual field, and the meaning of life. How were my answers? I hope you’ll tell me. Now, on with the questions!

I am writing you from the library of a renowned university, and I have cried my eyes out. I am a doctoral student, and need to know how I can cut five thousand words from a proposed chapter for publication, while still adding more information. Is there a trick to radical editing? St. Hildegard said one should lick sapphires to clear a dull mind. I’ve done this with the ring that my husband gave me for our tenth anniversary, and it did help me cut another 300 words. But I can’t keep licking sapphires from now until my deadline. Or can I?
-Your Friend Flora

Editing is much harder than writing! I think you have what’s known in the writing world as “too many ideas.” Whether you’re writing a chapter like yourself, a grant proposal, or a Kickstarter plea, what a beautiful problem to have.

The unfortunate truth is that what’s really important in writing is the ideas themselves, not how they’re expressed. Being understood often means using as few words as possible. Your goal here is the simplicity and austerity of a children’s storybook.

It’s never easy. But you can try to take a sadistic pleasure in destroying your own beautiful words. Repeat to yourself: “The more I delete, the better writer I am.” All those pretty metaphors, all those decorative phrases and moving examples and colorful asides are going to have to go. All of them.

Keep an untouched copy of your text so that you don’t have to feel like you’re losing everything. Then, in your new copy, be absolutely brutal. Reduce a paragraph to a sentence. Then another. Then another. Before you know it you’ll be left with ugly, bare, bony sentences that say nothing except tiny little ideas. This is your best writing.

You’ll have created something rare and perfect and you’ll be glad for all the struggle that got you there. I hope your ring will still be okay.

l have some substantial ideas for solving this healthcare crisis, and it does not involve ObamaCare. How should I try to promote it? It involves attempting to save Medicare and Social Security, for future generations, so I thought some might be interested in looking at the proposals.
-Jamesmmm

Hi Jamesmmm! I’m glad you have substantial ideas. Ideas are important and powerful, and they’re how we start to change the world. (You can’t make an idea-list without them). There are a lot of great ways to share your ideas with others: you might, for instance, attend a Sunday Soup Potluck. Or an Ignite event. You might even find someone who’s an idea collector!

Now, the healthcare crisis is complicated, and a lot of very smart people have worked on it over the decades. You also mention Medicare and Social Security, which are big, complex institutions that aren’t much like each other. So your ideas must be pretty powerful.

What we really love at Idealist is people who take good ideas, and make them real, by finding ways to take action. Otherwise ideas aren’t worth very much, and you may as well just write blog posts, like me.

If you want to really make a difference, do things. There are 446 volunteer opportunities listed on Idealist.org right now that involve healthcare. Maybe you’re an expert in government planning, or maybe you’re a financial wizard who understands long-term budgeting. There are plenty of financial planners, economists, and budget experts needed in this world, and our site is full of organizations that need your help!

So please, make your ideas real, and take action to help people in your community. If you’ll do it, so will I; and we can start making this world a little better.

Top 5 albums you’d prefer to be stranded with (with a listening device)?
-Christina

How’d you know I’m a fanatical music listener? Well, I don’t really believe that one person’s recommendations are better than any other’s. Music is one of the best ways to make sense of the world, and so it’s very specific to who each of us are and what we need.

This list totally misses all sorts of other things I love, but if I was really going to be stuck listening to only five albums, these would certainly do the trick:

  • Midnight, by Pandit Pran Nath. An amazingly rich document of Hindustani classical vocal. Listening to this album is like praying.
  • Bach Cello Suites, by Pablo Casals. Much of the beauty of European classical music is here; a belief in a divine order, in mathematics. But it’s balanced against the rustic, almost earthy, sound of the cello, and there’s repetition and sequential iteration that reminds me of raga.
  • Daydream Nation, by Sonic Youth. Noisy and punk-rock artsy and intellectual.
  • Screamin’ and Hollerin’ the Blues, by Charlie Patton. The foundation of Mississippi blues, and thus: rock and roll, jazz, blues, R&B, funk, and, well, most everything else afterward. And impossibly beautiful.
  • Monk’s Dream, by Thelonious Monk. This was one of the first albums I ever bought, and that crackly record, with its strange rhythms and inexplicably haunting chords, still sounds like everything I could ever hope for from good music.

That’s all for this installment. Have questions about anything I’ve said? Or about anything else (and I do mean anything)? Ask me.

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Ask Ero anything (anything anything anything) at ero@idealist.org.

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Ask Ero: Answers for baffled and confused Idealists

In this series of blog posts, I’ll try to answer all your questions about anything and everything regardless of how ridiculously unqualified I am to answer them. Consider me sort of a tech-literate, bearded, Ann Landers or a work-safe Dan Savage.

Ero is Thoughtful Adjusted Cropped3Last time you heard from me, I’d invited all of you to ask me even the most random of questions. I wasn’t entirely sure if I’d get any questions at all. I did. Thank you, readers! Now, let’s see if I can actually answer them.

I recently got a degree in ‘service design’ from SCAD, and just moved up to NYC a couple weeks ago. I’m a highly motivated idealist, and I have a rare, yet amazingly valuable skill-set. But how do I find an awesome job doing awesome work for an awesome company if no one knows what my field is– and no one is posting jobs in it?
-Yosef

This is a tricky question. First of all, networking is going to be important, but you’ll have to go beyond ordinary networking. Don’t just go to parties and mingle and talk about how great you are: get involved everywhere you can and show up as a representative of your field. Get involved in your professional organization. Go to every relevant event you can. Participate, and get visible.

The nonprofit sector, which is often starved for resources, may be an especially tough sell for someone in a field like yours, which will seem to many like window-dressing or a luxury service. You’ll need to go to extra lengths to show why your work is important and how it helps organizations succeed in their mission. Telling people why your work is valuable to each organization will be your responsibility. Take it seriously. No one else will do this for you.

Build a nice-looking webpage (which I see you’ve done) advocating for your expertise, but also advocating for why your work matters. Write articles for publications explaining how valuable the field is. Look for opportunities to volunteer and/or do pro bono work for causes you believe in, and build a spectacular portfolio from the results.

Because no one knows about what you do, you have a rare opportunity to show people why it’s important, and to become the representative that everyone thinks of when they want someone to help with that field.

One reality is this: in the short term you might find yourself doing a job that isn’t exactly what you hoped, but this doesn’t mean you can’t use what you know. Your plan will be to use the deep knowledge and rare skills you possess, to build your future a little bit at a time. So look for jobs in related disciplines, and that encompass things that are like your field. You’ll bring different knowledge to your work than any other candidates, but that’s a good thing. Highlight that difference on your resume, on cover letters, and in your interview, so that you stand out. Then once you have the job, make your unique skills count.

I’m working with a bunch of college students who are serving as mentors to graduating high school seniors over the summer. Someone told me that I could give them all Google phone numbers, which could map onto their existing cell phones so that they wouldn’t be giving out their personal info to the students. How does this work?
-Lisa

Google Voice ought to be perfect for your purposes. It just takes a moment to set up a Google Voice account: you tell it what number you want it to ring, then pick a number from the available options, to have as your GV number. Setting this up takes only a couple minutes, and there’s a good support page.

Now, this basic setup won’t help with outgoing calls, only incoming. If you want to make outgoing calls, you’ll need a Smartphone with an app. Android phones are especially good for this, but iPhones can do it too. There’s also some built-in tracking if you’re in an org using Google Apps (which I heartily recommend for most nonprofits). You also can get voice mails in your email inbox, which is pretty neat.

What is the meaning of life?
-Brett

Finally, a question I’m qualified to answer! A question that has tormented deep thinkers through the ages! No problem. I’ve totally got this.

Seriously, for me there’s one simple answer: love. Not love as a noun, love as a verb. Active love: giving and being generous and trying to improve the world in some small way. Doing this means you’ve got no time for fear or discontent or angst. And there’s nothing more satisfying than giving back to the world around you. There are so many ways to give and serve, and that’s why we’re here.

It’s why Idealist.org was made, it’s why the nonprofit sector exists, and it’s why we work in it. This is always a work in progress, and having patience with one’s own imperfections is also a way to act with love. Be patient and give it a little bit each day, and you’ll be on the right track automatically.

That’s all for this installment. Have questions about anything I’ve said? Or about anything else (and I do mean anything)? Ask me.
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Ask Ero anything (anything anything anything) at ero@idealist.org.

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Ask Ero: Answers for baffled and confused Idealists

In this series of blog posts, I’ll try to answer all your questions about anything and everything regardless of how ridiculously unqualified I am to answer them. Consider me sort of a tech-literate, bearded, Ann Landers or a work-safe Dan Savage.

Ero is Thoughtful Adjusted Cropped3Hi, I’m Ero. I’m Idealist.org’s tech support guy. I love answering questions from people who use our website. And I’m here to help you when you’re helpless and confused.

There’s a pretty good chance you’re feeling helpless and confused right now. I know, because I get phone calls on a regular basis from people who want me to rescue a lost cat.  Or who’d like to send me a large pile of used medical equipment. Or who think I’ve just personally rejected their resume for a teaching job in Canada.

As a garden-variety computer nerd who happens to love nonprofits and the people who work for them, I’m incredibly ill-equipped to answer any questions other than “How do I use the Idealist website?” I’m actually pretty good at answering that question, which is why I have a job answering questions about the Idealist website.

I can tell you, for instance, how to sign up, reset your password, add or remove your organization, pay an invoice, and much more.

But you call and ask me how to help the sea turtles, or what the tax rate is in New Jersey. Normally I’ll answer back that I’m not really qualified, and try to point you in the right direction if I can. But in these blog posts, I’ll answer any question you ask.

Until I get your first questions, I’ll try to shed light on how the website works. I’ll start by explaining two things that people don’t always know about Idealist:

1. Everything on our website comes from you.

We maintain a great website full of useful tools, but aside from our blogs, every single bit of content in it is made by our user community, the amazing Idealists around the world. Yes, I’m talking about you.

If your nonprofit has an account on our site, it’s because someone at your organization made one. If you’re getting email alerts, it’s not because we stole your identity; you signed up for an account with us.

We do our best to keep the website up-to-date, but we only built the playground, we’re not the parents.

2. We’re here to bring people together.

We’re not a corporation trying to sell your personal data, and we’re not really interested in ripping you off. We’re a nonprofit, too, and our mission is to make the world better by helping people be effective at doing good.

We want the website to work as well as it can, so that you can connect with others, copy good ideas, take advantage of our resources, and find organizations who you know would love to have you as an employee or volunteer. We couldn’t do it without you.

Have questions about anything I’ve said? Or about anything else (and I really do mean anything)? Ask me.

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Ask Ero anything (anything anything anything) at ero@idealist.org. 

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