Don Draper hates Louder, but we love it

At Idealist, we love good ideas of all kinds, but especially those that turn commonly-accepted notions on their heads, get us to confront our beliefs, and (maybe) stir up a little trouble. To honor ideas brave and bold, and inspired by Sydney, Australia’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas, we welcome you to Idealist in Action’s Dangerous Ideas Week.

Traditional advertising channels aren’t always available to nonprofit organizations, even though their messages are important for people to hear. Mainstream media ads, TV commercials, billboards—these are all out of reach for most small- to mid-size and even many large nonprofits.

In recent years, social media has helped nonprofits immensely: they can now reach targeted audiences and engage constituents in meaningful conversations at much lower costs. But nonprofits still have to compete with for-profit businesses for the most precious of resources: the attention of an increasingly distracted public.

Enter Louder

Louder is a new service that puts more advertising power into the hands of regular people. Louder is just getting started, but it has the potential to substantially disrupt traditional advertising models, and, if skillfully leveraged by the nonprofit sector and individuals doing good work, it could make a huge impact in our efforts to reach new audiences.

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Here’s how it works:

  • Anyone can create a Louder campaign, at no cost. Simply choose a url that you want to promote (or “amplify,” in Louder’s parlance).
  • If you like a campaign, you can hit the “make it louder” button and contribute money to get it in front of new faces. A $3 donation is enough to reach about 1,000 people on Facebook. 86.5% of the donations go directly to advertising costs.
  • Much like a Kickstarter campaign, Louder campaigns will work best if they have an existing community of champions to help spread the word.
  • And there you have it: citizen-funded advertisements getting the right content in front of new audiences!

Louder isn’t specifically limited to social impact campaigns, but looking at their list of recent additions, it seems it’s mostly being used in that way. This is great news for anyone frustrated by the number of ads promoting consumerism that come across our screens on any given day.

Now the rest of us can assert a little control, and help our favorite causes get more attention. An idea worth shouting about, no?

What do you think? Is Louder going to be the next big thing to disrupt an entire industry?

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Join Idealist on March 11 as we launch a new global movement for action and change!

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VIDEO: Portland rocks the MLK Day of Service

This past January 20th, the Idealist video team traversed the neighborhoods of Portland, Oregon to visit some awesome service activities happening as part of the MLK Day of Service. The thousands of volunteers they encountered clearly did a lot of good for the organizations they were helping, but they also told us it wasn’t just about giving back—it was also a fun, easy, rewarding endorphin rush.

 

 

It’s always great to serve on MLK Day, but remember that orgs need help all year long. You can search for thousands of ways to give back in your community, while getting some ‘good’ yourself—just visit Idealist.org/act.

How did you serve on MLK Day this year? Would you describe it as easy and fun?

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Join Idealist on March 11 as we launch a new global movement for action and change!

 

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‘Service’ is stodgy. What’s a better word for what we do?

As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week and people across the U.S. come together to help each other and work toward solving our common problems, we’d like to pose the question: what exactly is social good?

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What’s this guy doing? You tell us.
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

At Idealist, we’re all about helping people find the information, connections, and resources they need to turn their good intentions into action.

As blog writers, we’re all about making keen, conscious word choices that we hope will excite, motivate, and paint a vivid picture for our readers.

At the intersection of these aims is one of our favorite essays by Idealist founder Ami Dar, published as part of Fast Company and Catchafire’s “Co.Exist: World Changing Ideas and Innovation” series in the spring of 2012. Here’s an excerpt:

Outside of the military, who goes to a dinner party and asks people where they “serve”? Only we, the organizations and foundations that make up the “service industrial complex” talk this way. People want to build, coach, teach, help, and if we want to engage them, we have to talk like them.

Read the whole thing on Co.Exist.

What words might better describe “service” to you? Tell us in the comments.

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Join Idealist on March 11 as we launch a new global movement for action and change!

 

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Clean, lean bike orgs are wheeling and dealing social change

Happy January! Welcome to Clean Start week.

We had a ton of fun posting about this female-centric bike shop a couple of months ago, and it got me thinking about the variety of socially-conscious bicycle concerns working around the world to bring this energy-efficient, inexpensive, and healthy form of recreation and transportation to more people.

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Me and my beloved bike
(photo courtesy Crazy Nick)

Here’s just a wee smattering of shops, cooperatives, and nonprofits that have two missions: one bike-related and one… that’s something else good.

Mountain2Mountain

In 2006, North Dakota native Shannon Galpin started a nonprofit to help empower women and girls in conflict zones. After working on projects in Pakistan and Nepal, Mountain2Mountain ventured into Afghanistan with programs that “use the mountain bike as a vehicle for social justice with survivors of gender violence.”

In a country that largely considers it a cultural crime for a woman to ride a bicycle, Mountain2Mountain is distributing bikes, hosting all-female bike retreats, and supporting the burgeoning Afghan National Women’s Cycling team.

“Using bikes, long a symbol of freedom of mobility, and a tool of the women’s suffrage movement in America in the early 1900s, we are unifying the women we work with to pedal a revolution of change for women’s rights,” writes Shannon on Mountain2Mountain’s blog.

Bikes Not Bombs

Longtime Boston-area heroes have been “using the bicycle as a vehicle for social change” since 1984. Staff and volunteers work to collect thousands of used bikes and bike parts each year, and restore them to workable condition before shipping them to others who can use them for transportation, skill development, or employment in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

They also offer bike-centered vocational training, and sell used bikes to support their efforts.

“From the way we get around, to what we have access to, to which people and which neighborhoods have which resources,” says the BNB website, “the bicycle is so much more than the sum of its parts.”

Re-Cycle

Northeast of London, this UK org has a similar mission to BNB’s, but their secondhand bikes all go to partner organizations in Africa.

Re-Cycle offers a number of satisfying ways to get involved with their efforts: they can help you organize a used bike collection in your community, throw a “sponsored bike ride” to raise money, or give you an incentive to clean out your garage—they’ll take old bike parts, tools, and manuals off your hands and put them to good use. (You can even donate your junk car! Ironic?)

Wash Cycle Laundry

This company is a laundering service that transports dirty goods between customers and commercial washing machines entirely by bicycle.

Founded in 2010 and serving central Philadelphia, Wash Cycle rejects “diesel power” as the only way to move heavy loads; uses only locally-made, hypoallergenic cleaning products; and works with city organizations to hire people in the market for a “second chance” job to get back on their feet after being unemployed or incarcerated. Fresh!

Baltimore Bicycle Works

BBW is proud to say they’re the city’s only worker-owned and democratically-operated bike shop. They’re full-service (meaning they’ll make any repair you need and can consult on “bike fit” issues) with a mission to “put more people on bikes because they’re practical, sustainable, beautiful, and fun!” They also rent bikes and sell used ones.

BBW pledges you’ll have a good experience with them at every turn because “every person you interact with at our shop is either an equal owner of the business, or someone working towards becoming an owner. This translates to exceptional customer service and a deep commitment from all of our staff members to making sure you receive quality service and advice.”

And that’s really just the tip of the top tube! You can search Idealist to find over 200 other bike-related organizations worldwide, and over 100 opportunities to get involved with them.

Happy riding (and change-making)!

Have a great story that weds human-powered transit with social good? Send it to april@idealist.org or share it as a comment.

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Fight for Light: Bringing clean, green awareness to black campuses

Happy January! Welcome to Clean Start week.

There doesn’t seem to be any shortage of organizations working to increase awareness of climate change. If you take a step back though, it’s apparent that there are quite a few issues and population segments that are underrepresented in the environmental community.

One of these issues is how climate change affects people of color and the poor, and one of the most underrepresented groups of people in the environmental sector is African Americans.

Due to heat waves and air pollution in cities and increasing energy and food prices, climate change is poised to have a disproportionately large and negative effect on the urban African American community. African Americans are also generally underrepresented in the staff of environmental organizations, both public and private.

In 2009, Markese Bryant and John Jordan saw these growing problems as a call to raise awareness of environmental issues among African Americans. Then students at Atlanta’s Morehouse College, they teamed up and formed Fight for Light, which works “to transform Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) into hubs for environmental sustainability and social innovation.”

Almost five years later, Markese and John are the leaders of a thriving nonprofit organization that’s inspiring campus leaders across the nation to become more environmentally active.

How did they do it?

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John Jordan, left, and Markese Bryant.
(photo via fightforlight.org)

Find something you care about

It may seem obvious, but it’s essential to devote your time to an issue that really resonates with you. If you plan on turning an idea into something concrete, you’ll have to be prepared to spend a lot of time working on it.

Before they formed Fight for Light, Markese and John had been concerned about the environment as well as the lack of African American representation in many professional settings. After reading The Green Collar Economy by Van Jones, Markese and John became interested in the idea of a “Green New Deal,” which would help lift people out of poverty while also encouraging the use of alternative energy sources and promoting conservation. Knowing this was something they could feel good about putting time into, they moved onto the next step.

Start small

Once Markese and John decided what to focus on, they wanted to get right to work. However, they were both still undergraduates, and couldn’t immediately invest all their energy into Fight for Light. So they started with small steps, first entering a nationwide student business competition and collaborating with organizations that shared their vision.

In 2010, Markese partnered with Green for All and helped develop the College Ambassador Program. This program encourages young leaders at 15 HBCUs to become advocates around the environmental issues that affect their communities. One year later, John began to manage a large grant given to Morehouse by the National Science Foundation, which helped Fight for Light encourage sustainability among the student body and also led to him managing student engagement at Spelman College and Clark Atlanta University.

Somehow in that mix, Markese also found the time to team up with Green for All to film this music video:

Get support

All their efforts eventually led to a big reward. In 2012, Markese and John were selected as Echoing Green Black Male Achievement Fellows in recognition of their several years of slow but steady awareness-raising about environmental issues on HBCU campuses. With the fellowship came financial help and the freedom to turn Fight for Light into something bigger.

Expand

With the support provided by Echoing Green, Markese and John are now increasing the reach of Fight for Light across the country. Markese recently traveled to Nashville to serve as a keynote speaker at the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) conference, while both Markese and John traveled with students from the Atlanta University Center to the Power Shift 2013 conference in Pittsburgh.

As Fight for Light makes new contacts and continues to expand outside of the Atlanta metro area, its core mission remains the same. Every day, more students at HBCUs come into contact with the organization, and each new supporter is a fresh voice in the environmental awareness movement.

Your turn

How can you get involved? If you’re interested in raising awareness of environmental issues, particularly at HBCUs, just get in contact with Markese or John. If you like what Fight for Light is doing, follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

What other organizations or people do you know who are addressing issues at the intersection of climate change and minority communities?

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VIDEO: How disaster can feed inspiration (the Shore Soup story)

Back in October, Idealist video producer Liz Morrison blogged about the Shore Soup Project, a new nonprofit in Queens, New York.

Right after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Robyn Hillman-­Harrigan made the simple decision to begin cooking hot meals for her Rockaway neighbors who had no heat, no electricity, or no homes. That first step started a life-changing journey that combines her passions for healthy food and community building.

In the year since, Robyn has established the project as a nonprofit and become its executive director. Shore Soup continues to cook and deliver healthy food to home-bound neighbors, but its scope has grown to include restoring a community garden, building an urban farm, hosting workshops on nutrition, opening a summer food truck, and planning a restaurant-slash-community center to provide healthy pay-­as­-you­-can meals for residents and visitors alike, no matter how much is in their wallets.

Watch Robyn’s personal and powerful story in her own words, and get inspired to start taking action on something you care about. As Robyn says, “It’s cliche to say every journey begins with a single step, but it’s true. You never know where it will take you.”

Robyn’s story is just one of countless examples of people in the Idealist community taking small steps that make a big difference. Do you have a “small steps” story to share? Email it to april@idealist.org.

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December 1 is World AIDS Day

Since 1988, when the United Nations declared December 1 as the first World AIDS Day, people worldwide have paused each year to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with the virus, and commemorate those who have lost their lives to AIDS.

A quarter-century since the first World AIDS Day, amazing progress has been made, but enormous challenges remain.

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IAVI colleagues stand their ground.
(photo courtesy IAVI)

AIDS-related causes have killed 36 million people and continue to kill more than 1.5 million each year, including more than 250,000 children. Some 35 million people live with HIV today. While the number of new HIV infections is slowly declining, there were 2.3 million more in the last year alone. In sub-Saharan Africa, more young people report that they’re using condoms, but overall HIV/AIDS knowledge levels remain low. Even in the well-connected and aware United States, more than one million people live with HIV, one in five of them without knowing it.

Seven million people who need HIV drugs cannot get them, including nearly three out of four children with HIV. Many children have lost one or both parents to this epidemic, putting their access to education and healthcare at risk.

The global AIDS community stands behind the ambitious UNAIDS goal of “three zeros by 2015″: zero new HIV infections, zero AIDS-related deaths, and zero discrimination. We have our work cut out for us. Barriers of stigma, prejudice, healthcare access, and economic and social inequality remain very high.

Those living with HIV need attention, quality healthcare, and social support—and we need to do more to prevent people from getting infected in the first place. Many public- and private-sector scientific, health, and humanitarian organizations are working to expand the current HIV “toolbox,” which includes such biomedical, structural, and behavioral interventions as antiretroviral treatment, community-based health education, condoms, voluntary medical male circumcision, and protocols to prevent mother-to-child transmission.

But these tools remain out of reach or of limited effectiveness for many who need them. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, home to more than 70 percent of the world’s cases of HIV, women and girls often remain less educated than, and socially and economically dependent on, men. They are often unable to insist that their partners use condoms, or to seek counseling and treatment in confidence. New tools that empower and enable women to learn about and take care of their own health are critical to changing this picture.

A preventive AIDS vaccine would be a powerful new tool. Modeling studies show that adding an AIDS vaccine with even limited efficacy to the HIV prevention arsenal could dramatically impact the infection trajectory. But finding and developing a vaccine against HIV/AIDS continues to pose one of the greatest scientific challenges of our time.

At the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), we strive to ensure that an effective and accessible AIDS vaccine becomes a reality. A nonprofit public-private research and development partnership, IAVI collaborates with more than 50 academic, industry, and government organizations around the world to accelerate the development of AIDS vaccines, and to advocate for the HIV prevention field.

As IAVI president and chief executive officer Margie McGlynn said in our World AIDS Day statement:

“There has been tremendous success in treating millions with HIV over the past three decades, but a great deal of continued commitment, innovation, and persistence will be needed to realize the vision of a world without AIDS.”

Ensuring the development of a safe, effective AIDS vaccine for all is a mission each of us at IAVI takes personally. Please visit www.iavi.org to learn more.

Are you interested in joining the fight against HIV and AIDS? Search Idealist for almost 10,000 ways to get involved through a career, volunteer work, or an internship.

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Once upon a hack: Socially conscious storytelling event in NYC

From the “two great things that go great together” file:

In New York City the weekend of October 5 and 6, changemakers with stories to broadcast and creative storytellers with a penchant for social impact will join forces for the first Re3 Storyhack.

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Some of the issues participants in next weekend’s hackathon intend to tackle.

According to their (very pretty) website:

We’re asking changemakers to propose specific stories relating to complex issues like economic fairness, climate change, educational opportunity, and many more.

We’re offering creative storytellers the chance to choose one of ten selected stories and work with top-notch teammates. Over the Re3 StoryHack weekend, we will innovate new ways of thinking and communicating these stories in language; written, visualized, performed, coded and more.

Piquing your interest? Early birds have snapped up all the storyteller spots, but you can still get the scoop on nominating your changemaking story—and have a read about the people and process behind Re3—on their website.

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GiveDirectly: What happens when we just give money to the poor?

When you first hear from an organization that’s asking for money to fight poverty, how do you respond? If you’re like me, it’s usually with a healthy dose of skepticism: how would my money be used?

Would it go to financing the nonprofit’s advertising costs, or administrative costs, or maybe even… to financing staff birthday parties?

The fact that there’s been some buzz recently about GiveDirectly—an organization that distributes donors’ cash gifts directly to people in need—is evidence that these questions have indeed been on a lot of people’s minds.

GiveDirectly’s answer is unusual: just give the money to people in need, and trust them to do something worthwhile with it.

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A Kenyan recipient of a GiveDirectly donation
(photo via GiveDirectly.org)

To be fair, the idea isn’t really new—governments and NGOs have been distributing money directly for years. What is new is that the development of phone-based banking has made it possible to send money from anywhere instantly and with fewer middlemen—a concept that could be attractive to donors who dislike the overhead of more traditional organizations.

GiveDirectly, founded in 2008 and recently featured on NPR, finds people living in extreme poverty in Kenya, and sends them the equivalent of up to 1,000 USD by phone. The recipients can spend the money however they like—no prescriptions, no strings attached.

How is this laissez-faire approach going over in the new era of accountability? First of all, it’s not quite as hands-off as it sounds. GiveDirectly has conducted follow-up interviews with some of its donation recipients to find out how they used the money.

Many said they used it for one-time items that would contribute to their future economic well-being, like money-saving home improvements or business startup costs. So there is some continuing relationship, and some results are being measured.

But effectiveness is as important to donors as accountability, if not more. GiveDirectly’s website cites nearly thirty academic studies on the effectiveness of direct giving which help to dash a common suspicion about the model: namely, that people will spend the cash on frivolous or even harmful things like alcohol or drugs.

These studies found no evidence of that.

Even so, not everyone is sold. Aside from potential misuse of the money, some fear that giving cash introduces a risk of dependency that doesn’t exist with other kinds of development assistance, like infrastructure improvements.

However, proponents of direct giving could argue in return that giving money is at least better than giving material goods, as the local economy is stimulated when people have more cash to spend (when goods are given, local merchants don’t stand to profit).

There’s another, less obvious benefit to going the direct-giving route: discovering how people choose to help themselves, given the resources, can provide great data to help NGOs better understand how to meet their community’s unique needs—instead of imposing what they or their or donors might think is needed—and to refocus their efforts in that direction.

For example, GiveDirectly’s data show that a vast majority of recipients spent the money they received on a new, durable metal roof to replace their old grass roof. They’ll save on maintenance costs for years, allowing them to put more money toward educating their families, starting or growing businesses, and general well-being.

Larger NGOs could now enter the picture to help many more people by replacing many more roofs. It’s possible to arrive at the same conclusion through surveys, analysis, or other means, but there’s an attractive elegance to inviting people to literally show potential supporters what kind of help they could really use.

What do you think of GiveDirectly’s approach? Do you believe the direct giving model could—or should—work on a larger scale? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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What to do when it’s time to walk away

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(Photo credit: Anson0618, via Shutterstock)

While we might know when a relationship, job, or project is over, that doesn’t always mean we’re ready to leave. Recently in the Atlantic, Heidi Grant Halvorson argues that the reason we hesitate to let go is that many of us tend to be prevention focused, or loss-averse. So, we fret over the amount of time, money, or energy we’ve put into something and refuse to walk away because we can’t bear the loss.

The better solution? She argues we should adopt a promotion-focused way of thinking by asking: what will I gain from moving on?

As studies by behavioral economists like Daniel Kahnemen and Dan Ariely show, people are generally loss-averse. Putting in a lot, only to end up with nothing to show for it, is just too awful for most of us to seriously consider. The problem is one of focus. We worry far too much about what we’ll lose if we just move on, instead of focusing on the costs of not moving on: more wasted time and effort, more unhappiness, and more missed opportunities.

Recent research by Northwestern University psychologists Daniel Molden and Chin Ming Hui demonstrates an effective way to be sure you are making the best decisions when things go awry: focus on what you have to gain by moving on, rather than what you have to lose. When people think about goals in terms of potential gain, that’s a “promotion focus,” which makes them more comfortable making mistakes and accepting losses. When people adopt a “prevention focus,” they think about goals in terms of what they could lose if they don’t succeed, so they become more sensitive to sunk costs. This is the focus people usually adopt, if unconsciously, when deciding whether or not to walk away. It usually tells us not to walk away, even when we should.

What do you think? Have you ever had to walk away from something that wasn’t working out? How did you know? And what made you make that move away?

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