Staff Spotlight: Claire Hansen, graphic design, and Guyana

In this series, we’re highlighting Idealist staff members who’ve made their ideas happen. Today’s spotlight is on Claire Hansen, our New York-based graphic designer who knows a thing or two about sisterly collaboration, working long distance, and navigating a culture outside your own. 


Tessa and Claire in Guyana in 2007.

In 2007, Claire took a two-week trip to Guyana to visit her sister Tessa, who at the time was a Peace Corps Volunteer with the Red Cross in the capital city of Georgetown.

Tessa wanted to revamp an educational children’s coloring book about inappropriate touching titled “Your Body is Yours!” which was being used in the Red Cross’s “Be Safe! Guyana” program. The content was basically good, but the images looked outdated and didn’t reflect Guyanese people or landscapes. For kids to get the most out of the book, Tessa reasoned that the design and illustrations needed to be redone.

“The original coloring books were actual books,” Claire further explains. “We wanted to redesign them to be easily photocopied so each kid could have their own. And since a lot of the child abuse issues the country was struggling with were family-related, we wanted kids to be able to take the books home, so their parents and siblings might also see.”

Claire set to work researching the fashions, pastimes, and terrain of Guyana and re-illustrating and designing the book, also tweaking some of the language along the way.

“It was an interesting road to walk—between being representative and stereotypical,” says Claire. “As an illustrator, I wanted readers to feel familiar with the images but not appear to be reducing their culture to its symbols, or seem racist.”

When she finished all 24 pages, she made about 40 copies of the book back home in New York and sent them to Guyana to be distributed. The Guyana Red Cross then solicited donations and had more than a thousand copies of the book produced and distributed through their branches in coastal towns and more remote, indigenous areas. From beginning to end, the process took about six months.



Claire’s redesigned cover.

1. Know your expectations.
“I don’t know if it bothers me that I wasn’t around to see the books in use, or that I’ll never really know the impact they’re having—though of course I hope it’s good,” says Claire. “Mostly, I was just happy to attempt the project. But if the outcome of your work is a bigger concern to you, you need to consider how you’ll be able to track the results: is the org you’re working with organized enough to really give your project legs, for example? Will you be able to track the results of your efforts over time?”

2. Seek professional help.
“If I did it over again,” she says, “I’d try to get advice from a publisher, or someone else who’d done this same thing. If you don’t have all the skills or knowledge you need for your project, find someone who does, rather than trying to learn everything on your own. If you do that, you’ll only wind up with ten percent of what you need to know.”

3. See what technology can do for you.
“Now there are all sorts of great online print-on-demand options for books, and ways to track how many you publish and distribute,” says Claire. “If I were doing it again, I’d look into using tools like that.”

4. Keep calm and carry on.
“I got so caught up in being excited to do it that I didn’t spend much time dwelling on the negatives,” says Claire. “If you know it’s going to be a long, slow road, just reconcile yourself to that fact and try not to get upset about it.”

Have you been involved with a project like Claire and Tessa’s? Have insights for others? Share your experience with our readers below. Or feel free to reach out to Claire through Idealist if you’d like to ask her advice.

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Three volunteering ideas that fit your busy life

Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at

Volunteering offers benefits to communities and individuals and the volunteer. Studies show volunteers benefit mentally and physically, and report increased happiness due to stronger social ties. But it’s also often presented in popular media as an activity for youth and for people who’ve retired from their careers.

What about all the people in between?

In honor of National Volunteer Week I  want to highlight three ways to volunteer that even busy professionals—including folks with families—can try.

Learn more about National Volunteer Week at

1. DIY volunteering.

DIY (do-it-yourself) can range from simple to complex. Busy professional? Think about meaningful one- or two-step actions you can take in your neighborhood or at work, like:

  • distributing disaster preparedness tips
  • setting up a book collection bin to gather good kids books, then distribute them to pediatric waiting rooms or reading programs for children from low-income families (make sure you ask the doctor’s office or the reading program first!)
  • bringing a meal to a neighbor with a newborn, illness, or family loss
  • picking up litter on a playground
  • feeding a neighbor’s pets when they are out of town

What’s in it for you? DIY volunteering connects you to your neighbors in a less formal, more social way, and helps you build social capital.

Learn more about DIY volunteering and about neighboring. Also check out Follow the Leader, an initiative from HandsOn Network, that offers project playbooks to help you launch a DIY volunteer activity, like starting or joining a community garden, or teaching unemployed adults how to craft a resume.

2. Microvolunteering.

Microvolunteering gives you a chance to connect your skills with one-off opportunities to do good.

Whether your skills include writing and editing, instructional design, or budgeting and finance, microvolunteering lets you find a project that takes a bit of your time, that you can do from a distance, and that can really help complement the human resource capacity of an organization.

What’s in it for you? Microvolunteering offers you an introduction to an organization, role, or issue you want to explore for your own career transition purposes or to practice skills you’re learning in school. And you may be able to display your work in your career portfolio (check with your sponsoring org for permission).

Learn more on, a site that lets you accept volunteer challenges posted by nonprofits around the world.  Help from Home in the U.K. offers volunteer actions you can do in your pajamas, like call to have your used furniture picked up by a network that will ensure its meaningful re-use.

3. Family volunteering.


Photo via familymwr (Flickr/Creative Commons)

Got kids? Parents? A partner or BFF? Include them in your volunteer plan.

Some questions to ask, to get you started, include:

  • What are your goals?
  • How much time do you have?
  • What activities and places do you already enjoy?
  • What skills do you have?

Answering these questions with members of your family ensures buy-in and better outcomes. For example, if you already enjoy hiking with your family, consider spring cleaning a local nature trail. Children might enjoy painting a mural at their school – and they’ll take pride in seeing the finished product every day.

Even young kids can volunteer with you. Babies often make people of all ages happy. Toddlers can participate in simple craft projects, water plants, or help feed animals. And preschoolers can sort clothes; sing; play and “read” with other kids.

What’s in it for all of you? Volunteering with family means that you get to create happy memories together, by making a positive impact in your community. You can set an example of community engagement for children, escape boredom, and have fun together, often without spending money.

Learn more about family volunteering in Idealist’s Volunteer Center, and at The Volunteering Family.

How do you find time to volunteer? What experiences can you share related to DIY, micro- or family volunteering?

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Idea List: A cathedral made of waste, sleepy drivers, and more

Need some inspiration for that project of yours, or just interested in new ideas from around the world?

Here are some fresh ones I’ve found while browsing the web lately:


Refashioned cathedral took 50 years to build. Photo from Dubas (Flickr/Creative Commons)

  • Elderly man in Madrid builds cathedral from salvaged materials (Inhabitat)
  • Horses provide therapy to the disabled and veterans on Long Island (Idea Mensch)
  • Women take baby strollers to the streets in 19 cities across Sweden to celebrate International Women’s Day and raise awareness for global maternal mortality (Matador)
  • Prettier fruit bowls prompt schoolchildren in a NYC lunchroom to eat healthier (Big Think)
  • The Anti Sleep Pilot mobile app in Denmark alerts drivers when they are getting drowsy (Springwise)

Did you read, see, or experience something lately that you think deserves more attention and maybe a copycat or two? Leave a comment below so we can add it to the next idea list!

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Spellbinding ideas for a mindful Halloween


Photo of melting pumpkin witch by Flickr user istolethetv (Creative Commons)

When I was a kid, Halloween was my favorite holiday. Going to my aunt’s house for her annual Halloween party—witch included a makeshift haunted house in the damp basement—was always the highlight of my year. There was nothing more exciting, or scary, than dipping my hands into a bowl of cold spaghetti brains or grabbing peeled grapes I imagined were eyeballs.

As an adult, Halloween is still my favorite. I love how imaginative, silly, and creative people get. I also love that increasingly, people are thinking about how to make Halloween less wasteful and more mindful.

There are a lot of ideas and resources out there; here are a few to spook some inspiration:

Conscious costumes

  • Costume yourself for a cause. Make a statement by dressing up to reflect an issue you’re passionate about and spark conversation over the punch bowl.
  • Reuse your costume from last year, or refashion one from materials lying around in your house. Tree Hugger has some creative suggestions for DIY duds.
  • Plan a charitable contest. This could mean hosting a competition for the greenest costume, and/or donating proceeds to a charity of the winner’s choice.

Green your party

  • Go batty with eco-friendly decor. Browse Etsy for handmade creations, or try making your own from found materials.
  • Support healthy, local food. Green Halloween has lots of ideas to make your party a delicious, gh’oul time.

Thoughtful trick-or-treating

  • Use reusable or recycled bags. And then save them for next year.
  • Walk or bike instead of driving. Besides saving your car from messy pranks, you’ll be helping reduce pollution.
  • Collect coins for UNICEF. Bring the little orange box along, and be part of a tradition that has been ongoing for 60+ years.
  • If you’re staying home, hand out fair trade and organic candy. The Daily Green has suggestions for candy alternatives.

Carve out time to volunteer

  • Consider joining your local crime watch. While it’s not as exciting as ghostbusting, you’ll be doing the neighborhood a favor by helping keep kids safe.
  • Squash litter bugs. Carry an extra bag, and pick up garbage in between collecting goodies.
  • Treat others kindly. Check for local volunteer opportunities and events.

Have more ideas? Leave a comment below!

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Planning a wedding? Ten tips for a socially conscious celebration


Thrifted dresses and handmade sashes (Photo: Julia Smith)

I’m getting married this weekend! I’m overjoyed because (a) I get to say “I do” to my favorite person in the world, and (b) my year of planning is coming to an end. When I start thinking about how many hours I spent browsing websites and talking to people in an effort to make our wedding not only reflective of our personalities, but also reflective of our values…well, it starts to make me uneasy.

So in an effort to help other engaged Idealists sift through the clutter, I’d like to pass some of that knowledge along. Here are some ideas for a socially conscious celebration:

Before the wedding

  • Paper-free invites: Services such as Paperless Post can help you design lovely invitations, or simply have people RSVP via a wedding website. Keep in mind, however, that this might be more challenging for guests who don’t use or have access to a computer.
  • Eco-friendly decor: There are myriad ways to make your wedding eco-chic, from plateware to stationery to even your venue choice. Check out Hitched blog and the I Do Foundation for some green inspiration.
  • Local vendors: Find caterers or restaurants who use locally grown, seasonal ingredients.
  • Handmade accessories: Support the movement by buying from smaller artists on Etsy. With their new wedding section, they’ve already done half the work for you.
  • Do-it-yourself projects. Explore your creativity and save some money and resources while you’re at it by getting crafty. DIY Bride is a great site to peruse for innovative ideas.

During the wedding

  • Charitable favors: Instead of knick-knacks that will most likely collect dust, donate to a nonprofit on behalf of your guests. Or help repopulate the Earth’s flora by giving nicely designed plantable seed paper as favors.
  • Minimal gift table clutter: While having a fancy Lenox picture frame might seem enticing, what about having your friends and family gift you experiences instead? Try a site like Wisegifter to help you afford the honeymoon you’ve always dreamed of.

After the wedding

  • Generous leftovers: A lot of food banks will accept surplus food; check Idealist for services in your area. Make sure you call ahead beforehand, as there can be strict guidelines for accepting food.
  • Reusable wedding dress: While it may sound tempting to wrap your dress in plastic and save it for future generations, there’s someone who could probably use that dress right now. Brides Against Breast Cancer, for example, refashions donated dresses, and uses the proceeds to support the Making Memories Breast Cancer Foundation. (I know that for some folks, this is a tough one. If you’re not quite ready to give it away, try redesigning your dress yourself into something you can wear again.)
  • “Honeyteer”: Go somewhere beautiful and relaxing – and use some of that down time to volunteer. In addition to searching Idealist for opportunities, browse sites like GoAbroad to find an ideal placement. Also take a look at Idealist’s International Volunteerism Resource Center for tips and advice on how to get started.

If you’ve tied the knot lately or are about to, what other ideas come to mind?

This list was compiled with the help of our friend Leigh Ann Smith, the editor of From Hello to Hitched.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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A Little Bit More: Making Do with What You've Got

You’ve probably heard the old adage, “make do and mend,” a phrase made popular during wartime to encourage people to fix anything that was broken instead of tossing it in the garbage. But sometimes, unless you’re awesome with a hammer, it can be difficult to know what to do with broken parts. Enter makedo, a DIY kit that contains eco-friendly fasteners, hingers, tools and more to help connect the stuff around you. It’s great for creating toys—from giant robots to princess castles—as well as more useful objects, such as a small boat. (I’m not joking.)

A makedo gorilla, via Flickr user OliverBishopYoung

I love how makedo encourages you to look at the world through a more eco-friendly lens, and re-examine the value of the stuff around you, by pairing imagination with sustainability. People who live in the United States throw out up to 56 tons of trash each year, according to the Clear Air Council. That’s a lot. By transforming your unwanted items into fun or practical objects, you can help reduce waste — and reduce your budget.

You can buy the makedo kit from Australia for $25 (U.S. currency). But in the spirit of wasting less, why not make one yourself? See what’s lying around in your house or shed, and check out the site for some inspiration. (Another cool website that features recycled goods is ReUse Connection.) You can also spread the philosophy of making do in your own community by reading up on makedo’s educational resources and workshops.

We’d love to hear more about environmentally conscious creativity. Anyone take on a project refashioning found parts recently?

Our series A Little Bit More highlights the “little somethings” that people and organizations can do to respond to the needs around them — things that, if done by many people all around the world, add up to make a big impact.
[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Helping Haiti: Things to Consider

This post has three sections: Donations; Volunteering Locally to Support Efforts in Haiti; and Volunteering in Haiti. Idealist staff Jeremy MacKechnie, Amy Potthast, Erin Barnhart, Eric Fichtl, Scott Stadum, and Julia Smith contributed.

The outpouring of support for the victims of Tuesday’s natural disaster in Haiti has been overwhelming. As we look for ways to help, there are a few things to keep in mind.


From news reports and our organizational contacts, it seems the logistics of sending aid and support to Haiti is compromised by electrical outages, gas shortages, and destroyed roads. Most organizations have sent small teams of staff and are assessing needs on-the-ground at this point.

As our Director of Volunteerism Initiatives, Erin Barnhart, wrote on YP Nation yesterday: While many are willing and able to volunteer today—ready to hop on a plane to Port-au-Prince and lend a hand however they are needed—the reality is there may not yet be appropriate ways for most people to pitch in, especially in the days immediately following a disaster of this magnitude.

Thus, the fastest and most efficient way to assist disaster victims at this time is to donate money to a reputable charity that is responding to the disaster. Many charities like the Red Cross/Red Crescent, Mercy Corps, and Oxfam specialize in providing relief in acute disaster areas, yet they face significant financial barriers to getting their staff, equipment, and supplies to the affected regions. Other organizations like Partners in Health, UNICEF, and the Grameen Foundation have a long history in Haiti and are positioned to make a huge impact in the aftermath of this week’s disaster. Find other organizations supporting Haiti relief efforts on or at Network for Good.

Your donation, no matter how small, helps put experienced disaster responders on the ground, and gives them the tools they need to help victims recover. Be sure that you are taking precautions to donate to a reputable organization. You may want to review this article on internet scams that have arisen surrounding the tragedy in Haiti.

Note that organizations are asking for financial donations—not supplies—because they prefer to purchase exactly what they need from secure supply chains, using delivery means that can ensure the safety of the shipment. Where possible, purchasing materials available locally is also a boon to the local economy in the wake of a natural disaster. Read more about why cash donations are preferred.

Some organizations have organized text messaging donation drives: you can text “Haiti” to 90999 to donate $10 to the Red Cross; text “Yele” to 501501 to donate $5 to Yele; or text “HAITI” to 25383 to donate $5 to the International Rescue Committee. Organizations should send you a text to confirm that you want to donate, and if you accept, the amount will appear on your next cell phone bill — which you can use as your receipt for tax purposes. These have been very popular and successful; however, it is worth considering that the money may take up to 90 days to reach the people and efforts on the ground, as there are processed through the cell phone company and possibly other parties. Read more here.

Volunteering Locally to Support Efforts in Haiti

If you are not in a financial position to donate, you can still help the relief effort in a variety of ways, often right in your own community. Most organizations don’t want to receive supplies such as clothing, but you can post a donation banner for an organization you support on your blog or website, volunteer at the local office of a charity that has sent staff to the affected area, or organize initiatives in your community that raise awareness about, and funding for, the relief effort.

Such efforts shouldn’t be downplayed: raising money, spreading awareness, or lobbying community leaders to support the relief effort can all generate tangible results for disaster victims. Check out our section on DIY volunteering for tips on how to create your own volunteer project, or visit Idealist in NYC for a list of drives and events being organized in New York City.

Volunteering in Haiti

If you are mainly interested in volunteering on the ground in Haiti right now:

  • Please be patient. Volunteer managers are likely overwhelmed by the outpouring of goodwill and may be unprepared to receive the numbers of people stepping forward to help out. It will take a long time for Haiti to dig out from this disaster, and the long-term volunteering needs will become more apparent as the months (and years) pass. We recommend that you continue to check over the coming weeks and months for these kinds of opportunities. You can search for volunteer opportunities on the site by clicking on Find Volunteer Opportunities, and/or read more about Disaster Relief Volunteering.
  • [UPDATE] As far as we know, Partners in Health and Doctors Without Borders are faced with long waiting lists of physicians who want to travel to Haiti. They ask that you please consider a monetary donation for now instead.
  • Volunteers with “needed skills” can also register for possible volunteer positions at the Center for International Disaster Information’s registration page.

[This blog entry first appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Starting a Nonprofit? Consider Fiscal Sponsorship For Now

Incubator photo courtesy Flickr user Rich Moffitt (Creative Commons)

“When you have a new idea, please be sure to look around to see if anyone is already doing the work you care about; or if there is someone to partner with or someone that might want to take on a new ‘line of business.'” So wrote Paul Shoemaker, executive director of Social Venture Partners in Seattle, last week on PhilanthroMedia. (Hat tip: the Give & Take blog.)

Fiscal sponsorship is a great way to test out an idea or enable a short-term community service project. When you work with a fiscal sponsor, you trade a little bit of freedom and pay a small amount of money, but avoid the complexities, delays and paperwork involved in going the whole route to set up a new tax-exempt nonprofit.

But finding an organization willing to act as a fiscal sponsor has always been a little hit and miss. That problem just got addressed—if not completely solved—by the creation of the Fiscal Sponsor Directory and the development of the National Network of Fiscal Sponsors.

As you’ll see if you look at the directory’s map, there are still a lot of places where the hunt for a suitable fiscal sponsor will take local research — especially because many organizations that do sponsorships are active in specific fields of service and can’t really help in other types of work. But the blank spots on the map are likely to get filled in as time goes by, and meanwhile the network provides links to useful information and good models that will help simplify getting started for projects and potential sponsors alike. (Of course, if you know an organization that works as a fiscal sponsor, you could encourage them to investigate getting listed in the Directory.)

For an introduction to how fiscal sponsorship fits into the process of starting up a nonprofit or undertaking a community service project, look at the article in Idealist’s Nonprofit FAQ called “Nuts and Bolts of Creating a Nonprofit.” This article has links to other resources that anyone considering launching a new nonprofit will find useful as well.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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