How NYC’s Doers Network is overcoming skepticism to promote random acts of kindness

NYC’s Narrative.ly brands itself as “a community of talented storytellers who are devoted to uncovering and sharing in-depth local stories with a universal appeal.” A couple of weeks ago, they published a Do Gooder series, including a story about Doers Network founders Jesse Speer and Josh Goolcharan. Here’s an excerpt from Helaina Hovitz’s piece, “If You See Something, Do Something,” which details how hard it can be sometimes to do a random act of kindness, no matter how good the intention.

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Jesse Speer, founder of The Doers Network, asks random questions to commuters on the 5 train in the New York City subway. (Photo credit: Jika González.)

On the day of the train stunt, Speer and Goolcharan try to raise awareness of their efforts in Union Square. The heat threatens to melt the pavement while drug addicts and pierced teens lay on backpacks, Hare Krishnas dance, and men in cowboy hats blow whistles. People sitting on the steps—everyone from skateboarders with headphones still in their ears to wayward shoppers briefly stopping to enjoy entertainment and a snack—glance over at the Doers, who have posted up a bright blue sign reading “Free Favors.”

Few bother to inquire.

“If it’s doable we’ll do it for you within a five-block ra-di-us!” they rap.

Five minutes pass with no takers. They rotate the sign.

“It was nerve-wracking,” says Goolcharan. “Some people gave us dirty looks.”

Another five minutes, and they move again to meet the flow of traffic coming from the end of the greenmarket. One man, apparently mistaking them for some kind of knowledge gurus, tells his wife to go up to them and “ask them anything you want to know.” Finally, a woman asks, “Can someone drive my son to a two-week camp up in Pennsylvania every morning?” That seems like a perfect job for the Doers, a first for the day. “Send us the request on our website and we’ll try to find a way to make it happen for you,” answers Speer, handing her a card.

Jesse Speer negotiates reasonable free favors with Patricia, 14, in Union Square Park.

Things take a weird turn when Robert Elliconell, a 24-year-old with a mop of curly brown hair and brown bloodshot eyes, rolls up on his bike and asks, “Wow, anything?” as he takes off his shirt and drops the bike. “Within reason,” Speer answers. Soon Goolcharan is walking the young man to Walgreens, where he buys a giant Red Bull.

After that, Elliconell escorts more people over, instructing them to “ask them for anything.”

A young man wearing a do-rag and and carrying two plastic swords tells Speer he needs $20 because he lost it at a party the night before. “Can I have five bucks to get on the train?” pipes another man. Speer ignores the question, but he persists.

“Actually, I want a monster,” the man with the swords says, changing his mind.

The awkwardness is palpable.

Speer knows that they are being taken advantage of, but wants to stick to what the sign says.

“We also didn’t want to cause a scene,” he says in hindsight. “I didn’t want to turn them away in case they didn’t go away—it would reflect badly on the Network if we had to go get the cops or start yelling.”

Goolcharan jumps in with a compromise. “We’ll buy you anything you want to drink from Walgreens,” he offers. The guys try to get him to buy them cigarettes, which he declines to do.

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“I feel like everyone has a desire to help, but they don’t have the channels to do it through,” says Goolcharan. “I think people want to see other people taking the first step. It’s like waiting for two people to get on the dance floor at the school dance. Then, slowly, more people join.”

The Doers decide for a change of strategy. They try to “mysteriously” buy coffee for strangers, but the Starbucks on 14th Street doesn’t let them: they can’t participate in such a stunt unless it’s an official business partnership. Speer offers to buy a can of Pepsi for a woman from a hot dog cart, but she repeatedly refuses.

Then comes more inspiration: they give $15 to an ice cream truck driver and tell him to cover the next five people’s cones. “Most people will refuse it unless you basically force it upon them, which is what we did,” observes Goolcharan.

Steven Medina, 22, learns that the cost of the cherry slushy he ordered at a Mister Softee’s truck is covered by The Doers Network.

“It’s weird, you don’t really see things like this in New York, says 22-year-old Steven Medina, walking away with a free slushy. “It makes me want to do something nice. I have too many pairs of sneakers. I think I’ll give them away.” He contacts the Network later that day to ask how he can become involved with the project.

Eventually, Speer and Goolcharan end up handing out money again, which makes for an eerie coincidence when, four days later, Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream stands in the same square handing out dollar bills as part of a campaign to stop corporate financing of politics.

But even giving out money in New York isn’t as simple as one would imagine. This time they try a more complicated tack. They use a tag flyer—the same kind of tear-away sheets people stick on lampposts offering services, but with a plastic sleeve holding their business card and a few dollars in each slot instead of the phone number. They place it right by a rack of Citibikes, and people walk by, in droves, without taking or noticing anything. Finally, a little girl sees it. “Oh my god, there’s money!” she screams when she takes one down, looking at her stunned mother. Without missing a beat, she rips off the rest and runs away, disappearing into the crowd, while her mother tries to tell her to somehow “put them back.”

Walking along 14th Street, Tiffany finds a cash tag containing a couple of bucks left by The Doers Network.

“The cash tags went as I expected,” says Goolcharan. “The same thing happened the first time Jesse and I did a trial with it.” That was in a park in New Jersey, and the Doers were dumbfounded that over the course of two hours, not one person took the money.

“Most people would look at it and keep going, and you will always have that one person who, rather than just take one, snatches all of them,” says Goolcharan. “You can’t control what people do with an act of kindness.”

Read the full story here

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Blazing new trails: How a New York City retiree found purpose in stonework

Originally from Cuba and now living in Poughkeepsie, New York, 61-year-old Artie Hidalgo worked for the New York City Transit Authority for 36 years before retiring as an assistant general manager in 2010. That year, he started building trails to make paths safer and more convenient for hikers. Hidalgo now co-leads the Jolly Rovers Trail Crew, an all-volunteer group specializing in wilderness stonework. Below, he talks about his passion.

This post originally appeared on Next Avenue, a PBS website that informs and inspires the 50 + crowd. 

I knew volunteering would be an important aspect of my retirement. I also knew I wanted to do stuff outdoors.

An avid hiker, I was always fascinated by the dry stonework used on hiking trails to prevent erosion, as well as how it got there.

Dry stone has been around for thousands of years. Look at the Great Wall of China and the Aqueducts in Rome. They’re such beautiful structures. There’s something primitive about building with natural stone. It’s like sculpture, in a way.

Since 99 percent of the work on U.S. trails is done by volunteers, I developed a game plan to volunteer by doing dry stone building.

In 2010, I joined the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, a nonprofit that monitors and maintains trails and took a dry stone building course. As soon as I finished, I began volunteering and put in almost 1,000 hours that season. It was the highest number of hours from a volunteer for the group in a single year.

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Photo of Artie courtesy of the Jolly Rovers Trail Crew.

One of my jobs was working on a reroute of the Appalachian Trail on Bear Mountain. During the weekdays, there were hardly any volunteers so I had the opportunity to work directly with a professional trail crew that was overseeing volunteer training.

I developed a really close working relationship with them and they would ask me to do stuff that sometimes volunteers wouldn’t want to do because it was really hard, like turning big rocks into little rocks with a sledgehammer.

Toward the end of my first season, one of the guys took me to a site on Bear Mountain. “I need you to build a staircase here,” he said. “It’s probably going to be about 15 or 16 steps.”

I was shocked. Prior to that, I’d only built a two- or three-step staircase. I remember asking, “Tom, do you think I can do this?” He said, “Yeah, I think you can.”

I tell you, I worked for six or seven weeks on this project and it’s still so gratifying.

Sometimes, I walk new volunteers up it when we do an orientation because that staircase is so special to me. But I never think of it as my staircase. I always think of it as being done by all the guys on that crew who inspired me and gave me the opportunity to build it. I’m incredibly grateful to them.

I developed a special chemistry with two of the guys, Chris Ingui and Bob Brunner, and in 2011 the three of us built an all-volunteer crew specifically devoted to stonework, known as The Jolly Rovers.

We started with 12 volunteers who had little or no experience in trail building. We taught them how to do stonework and had an incredible season.

Now there are 23 Jolly Rover volunteers, men and women of all ages, and we have a deep connection that goes beyond stonework. This has become an extended family for all of us.

That’s the thing about my experience doing this kind of work. I’ve done it in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Tennessee and North Carolina and the quality and caliber of people I’ve met is astonishing. Nobody is pretentious. Nobody has a chip on his shoulder.

Ideally I’d like to see the crew evolve to the point where we can do what we’re doing on a national basis and expand internationally.

I feel so proud about what I’ve done as a volunteer.

I look back on my 36-year career with the Transit Authority and say, “Wow, what was that all about?” But when I look back on the last three years of my life, every structure that I built will outlive me, outlive my sons.

I remember taking my sons to Bear Mountain and they said, “I don’t believe this, Pop! This is awesome!”

They had heard me talk about what we did, but they never saw the magnitude of the structures that we built.

That stuff is going to be around for a long, long time. Nobody is going to put up a parking lot in any of these places. These are protected sites.

And that’s what I feel is so gratifying about it. In today’s modern culture, where else are you going to get the kind of opportunity I’ve had?

In the NY area and interested in doing trail work? The Jolly Rovers are always looking for volunteers.  

Interested in trail work in other parts of the country? Try searching Idealist for opportunities around the U.S. and world

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Stuck? Try problem-solving like a designer

The idea

People first, ideas second. Might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many of us forget this – even in the social good world.

This idea of empathy is the key driver behind design thinking, a creative approach to problem-solving that’s gained buzz in recent years thanks to the mammoth design and innovation consulting firm IDEO.

But it’s not just the territory of big companies. Brooklyn-based The Design Gym is taking design thinking and putting it in the hands of the community. Through facilitation and storytelling workshops, giant hackathons, and their Weekend Workout, (which attempts to solve a problem from a real organization or company)  their belief is that anyone can be innovative – if you just exercise that muscle.

“There are lots of organizations that don’t talk to customers. That part of what we’re doing isn’t groundbreaking, it’s just showing them a new approach. You get so stuck in management and growth and systems and all of a sudden you lose touch with those people who can provide you very simple solutions,” co-founder Jason Wisdom says.

Design thinking in action

A typical Weekend Workout works like this: You come in on Friday night for a crash course on design thinking complete with beers and improv exercises. On Saturday, you go through the entire process on a problem that everyone can relate to, like park services or airline issues, using the 5 phases: learning from all the people who touch this problem in someway, making sense of what you learned, generating solutions from those learnings, experimenting or testing those solutions (many failing), and telling the story of what you learned. When Sunday comes around, you’re challenged to use that process again on a real client.

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Kelly presenting the user journey her team created for miLES.

There’s been seven workouts so far, with past clients including the Acumen FundMakeshift Magazine, HolsteeThe Future Project, and Made in the Lower East Side (miLES).

With miLES, for example, students were asked to find a way for artists, teachers, and more to utilize the 220+ vacant storefronts in the Lower East Side, and also keep the landlords who wanted to rent them to higher paying customers (i.e. bar and restaurant owners) happy. They came up with pop up shops. And not only that, but a central hub of carts where people could find signage, seats, tables, and more so they could set up and take down their store with ease.

A few of the clients from the Weekend Workout, such as Makeshift and Holstee, took on students after it was over to help put their ideas in action. That’s one of the big goals of Design Gym: develop relationships with companies and organizations so the students can gain both experience and exposure.

“They’ve been our biggest evangelists in terms of helping us find new opportunities, “ Jason says. “And we support them getting jobs or consulting gigs, or give personal coaching around their careers. As long as people know you’re absolutely committed to their success, they’ll bend over backwards to help you as well.”

Tips for replicating the idea

Jason and his team would love to first get The Design Gym firmly planted in NYC, then expand to other places.

But if the idea of a Weekend Workout makes you want to immediately start to do the heavy (or light) lifting of bringing one where you live, here are his tips on how to make it successful:

1. Find a point of focus.

Sit with the organization or company beforehand and tease out the problem. “We want the problem to be big enough to satisfy the organization and do something significant, but small enough that it can be implemented,” he says. Things like, “What’s the future of our organization look like?” is way too wide for a short timeframe, narrow down those problems or opportunities.

2. Tap into different communities and locations.

Bounce around to different spaces. Or if you can’t do that, partner with a space that can bring in diverse clients. Design Gym frequently hosts their classes at the Brooklyn Brainery, an eclectic, community-driven education space where you can find classes on everything from how to run a marathon to making marbled papers to being a connector.

“One of our primary drivers is to continually enforce that diverse community. Because the solutions are so much more interesting due to the communities diverse backgrounds and it’s fun to connect with people who would never get  to be around each other otherwise,” Jason says.

3. Make everything in the space fair game.

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A team, client (Holstee) and community celebrating after a fun-filled and exhausting weekend.

During the prototyping phase, when students are experimenting with ideas to see if they’ll work, encourage them to use whatever is front of them. At the Brainery, students will often use stuff from the classrooms: frying pans, duct tape, 2×4’s, etc. “The more props you can show us, the better off it is. We’ve had students present back in haikus and built structures, also some teams presented through brilliant songs,” Jason says.

4. Embrace your students’ inner geek

Anyone can attend the Weekend Workout and everyone who does is there for one reason: to learn new things. While most students tend to be in their late 20’s to early 40’s, their backgrounds run the gamut from novelists to 5th grade science teachers to product leads at Google.

“With the problems we’re working on being so diverse, people start to feel this applies to them, whether they’re in healthcare or a tech startup or construction,” Jason says. “What they have in common is that they’re geeky people.”

5. Don’t be a helicopter instructor.

The less you do, the better off your students are. “We found if do a really good job at the explanation and creating structure, and leave them alone, the better off they are,” Jason says. “Allowing them to go through and fail a little bit and do things wrong and learn from that is an important part of the process. And it takes us standing back a little bit for that to be able to happen.”

Another tip: Don’t try to force groups based on personalities you think might work well together. Whether you group people together or randomize it, the results ware usually the same.

6. Show your appreciation.

“Everybody has busy lives in this city. So we want to thank people for deciding that out of all the places they could possibly be, they’re spending time with us,” says Jason. They’ve shown their gratitude by giving students a bag with a Moleskine notebook, bottle of wine, and handwritten thank you card.

7. Empower.

Design Gym just launched a train-the-trainer program, where they have students come back from previous weekends and learn the skills necessary to become a really strong facilitator. Finding them long-term engagements with organizations or companies is another priority, and they’re toying with creating a consulting firm run by students.

8. Create continual opportunities for community. 

They’ve hosted happy hours, rotating potlucks, and more. “Our big epiphany was our first happy hour. We had 23 students in the class, and 21 came out to happy hour and said they wanted to continue to be involved in whatever it is we’re doing,” Jason says. “That to me was such validation we’re doing something right. And in the end, they become close friends.”

Are you an organization in the NYC area that could use some creative problem-solving at a Weekend Workout? Or want to implement a similar project where you live? Get in touch with Jason: jason@thedesigngym.com.

If you’re in the NYC area and want to participate, the next Weekend Workout will be May 31-June 2.

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What makes YOU weird? The “Own It” campaign wants to know

At NYC’s Lab School for Collaborative Studies, you‘ll find tables for group work, encouraging notes on lockers, and students openly admitting their dreams, failures, and what makes them unique. Here’s how the high school is celebrating vulnerability in their hallways and beyond—and combating bullying while they’re at it.

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The idea

Senior Lena Jacobs owns that she can ride a unicycle. After years of trying to hide his disability, her classmate Bryan Stromer owns that he has cerebral palsy. Tim Shriver, the school’s in-house Dream Director whose job it is to challenge and support students in putting their dreams into action, owns that he has his heads in the clouds.

In February this year, the three of them helped kick off “Own It,” a campaign at Lab to encourage students and staff to embrace individuality and end bullying. Walk down the school’s hallways and at every turn you’ll find questions on the wall such as: What makes you weird? What’s your wildest dream? What’s your greatest failure? What makes you you?

“Have you ever been in a classroom and the teachers would ask you what animal you’d be and why? You’d always hear people say a lion, tiger, or some other really strong animal. I remember I once heard this girl say she’d be a pig because she could roll around in the mud and and not care what people think of her. That’s such a positive thing; why can’t we all do this?” Bryan says. “ ‘Own It’ is a nicer way of saying be a pig.”

How it came together

At the end of the fall, the idea for “Own It” starting taking shape. With Lab being a relatively quirky school (students are asked on a daily basis to plot their feelings on a mood meter, for example), Tim would talk with students and Future Project Fellows about how to create a shared identity. At the same time, Bryan and Lena started thinking about how it could tie in with their work with the Stand Up to Bullying club, which Bryan co-founded three years ago.

“We knew we had an idea, and everyone was excited about it, but we weren’t sure how we were going to engage people around why this actually matters,” Tim says.

So they got to work and within a few months had planned a high energy, interactive campaign launch event for February. There were poets and emcees, videos, music, and art —and lots of momentum that continued after it ended.

“People say ‘own it’ now like it’s part of their vocabulary,” Bryan says. If you get something wrong in math class, instead of everyone laughing, people will say, ‘Own it!’ It’s a nice way to embrace mistakes and embarrassment.”


Tips for replicating the idea

A big part of “Own It” is spreading the idea to not only other NYC schools—three recently met with the Chancellor of NYC’s Department of Education—but beyond.

Whether you’re from a suburban or urban area, or attend a large or small school, here are their tips on how to make it happen where you live:

1. Keep it real with student leadership.

While it’s definitely a bonus to have Tim providing guidance, ultimately the campaign is student-created and student-led.

“At end of the day, it’s not a club. It’s something that exists within the entire school and affects everyone. It raises the spirits of the entire population,” Lena says. “We want it to stay in the student vibe.”

2. Grow a support network.

Aside from having a staff member they could trust, engaging other students kept them from getting stuck.

“You’re your own worst enemy. If you don’t have someone to keep pushing you to move forward, then sometimes you can end up holding yourself back,” Bryan says. “There are probably 20 of us who are equally invested in this idea and concept. If any of us are having doubts, we look to the support of peers.”

3. Create a catchy brand.

“Own it” is just a fun thing to say. And to create even more excitement, they pasted black and white flyers of the questions all over the hallways to create a buzz before the launch, keeping an element of surprise.

3. Toss out the notion of a standard school assembly.

Instead of an assembly, they called it a campaign launch and made it engaging from every angle. They showed a video Lena made of the teachers disclosing little-known facts about themselves. Poets read in the aisles. The audience participated talk show-style, complete with shouts and claps. Macklemore’s “Same Love” provided the soundtrack.

4. Create continual opportunities for people to own it.

At the launch, students were asked to sign a pledge. The pledge is now up in the hallways, along with index cards they filled out during the event of what they owned: fear of being locked in a coffin, love of Bugs Bunny, and dreams of traveling the world, among others. They even update their Instagram account daily.

“That’s been really cool because people have started following Instagram, and they look forward to it. I’ve been asked by a couple of people who are not directly involved with ‘Own It’ if they can be on it,” Lena says. “Even if we’re touching only one or two other people, it’s an impact we’re making and it’s exciting.”

5. Own your commitment to it.

The campaign had a rocky beginning at first, as people didn’t understand what the group was trying to do. But they persisted.

“Keep going forward and making progress no matter how small it is. It might seem really challenging to start, but once you figure out the idea, keep moving,” Bryan says.

Lena and Bryan may be heading off to college next year, but the hope is that “Own It” will live on. For them, being part of the campaign has helped them strengthen their friendship and connect with others they might not have ever known they had something in common with. For Tim, it’s confirmed something he’s had a suspicion about all along.

“The people who can say where they are most vulnerable are the ones who rock this world. If you look at history, you see it. You look at this school, you see it,” he says. “This is the opportunity we have. Not only to say you can stop bullying, but this is the way to make you the most powerful person you can possibly be.”

Want to keep up to date with the campaign? Follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Inspired to bring “Own It” to your school? Email nycownit@gmail.com.

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Idea File: Give your ideas away for free

The idea

Some items people commonly collect include antiques, comic books, bobbleheads, shotglasses, and more. Kevin Boyle and Rick Horan collect ideas.

They stand in places like NYC’s High Line or Times Square with a large sign and ask people to share their ideas, some of which they post on their website or talk about in a podcast. They’ve heard it all: from tax returns that allow you to choose where your tax dollars are spent to a health rating for nail salons to making South America the largest rollerblading rink in the world. Some people even sing to them.

The idea came to Kevin after reading about blogger Andrew Dubber’s project to give 30 ideas in 30 days away for free.

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Kevin Boyle and Rick Horan. (Photo via Ideas Improv.)

“His rationale was, If I’m not going to do anything with these ideas, maybe someone else will,” Kevin says. “I started thinking about tweaking and expanding his idea and taking it to a much broader level. Instead of one guy doing it why not ask everyone?”

From solar energy to healthcare to education, most ideas they hear are for the common good.

“Our Ideas Wanted project is all about engagement. And there seems to be a yearning for good old conversation. Sharing ideas seems to us as the ideal way to open up organizations to new people and new ideas,” Kevin says.

Why we’re adding it to the Idea File

  • Ideas for the sake of ideas. Ideas are inherently valuable and (most times) worth pursuing. Just giving someone the opportunity to say their idea aloud might help get them, or someone else, motivated to act on it.
  • Encourages unlikely connections. So far the duo has met people from 26 countries and counting. “The ideas we get are often great but without a doubt it’s the people we’ve met. I mean the smart, funny, curious, and generous folks we’ve come across has made the whole project worthwhile,” Kevin says.
  • Makes a case for not reinventing the wheel. Kevin and Rick have found that a lot of ideas aren’t new, and most are similar to one another. It’s a good reason to see what’s out there being done already, and connect with someone else first before starting from scratch.

How you can replicate it

Since the project launched last September, Kevin and Rick have taken their signs across the country from Miami to Seattle. They’d love nothing more than to go to all 50 states and then some in hopes of making a documentary.

Also in the works is “an ‘ideas’ program to promote idea sharing, brainstorming, collaboration, and creativity in schools.” Eventually they hope to engage civic groups, and given the damage Hurricane Sandy did to their hometown in the Rockaways, they also want to collect suggestions on how to make the area more resilient.

If you’re inspired to solicit strangers where you live, here are some tips to keep in mind:

Under the lights on Broadway. (Photo via Ideas Improv.)

  1. Go to the crowds. Locations that have a steady stream of people not in a rush are ideal.
  2. Make obvious signs with big letters. “Ideas Wanted” will spark people’s curiosity.
  3. Keep it general. Welcome ideas about anything and everything and allow yourself to be surprised.
  4. Bring a camera. “Some people are shy and that’s okay. Most people? They see a camera and they become much more intrigued,” Kevin says. “You can tell them the idea is being given out for all the world to see.”
  5. Limit idea pitches to 60 seconds or less. While some people will go on and on no matter what, having a time restraint will help most people focus.
  6. Persist with idea hoarders. “If people don’t want to share their idea because they’re afraid you’ll steal it, ask for their second, third, or fourth best idea,” Kevin says. You can also tell them you’re too busy doing the project to steal theirs.
  7. Ask for their contact information. You’ll want to keep them informed about how the project progresses.
  8. Have fun. Joke with and cajole people as they pass to make them feel invited.

“A lot of people will be stumped. They have ideas all the time but they’re suddenly brain dead when asked for an idea,” Kevin finally says. “Talk to them about the project. Tell them you’ll be there for a while so if they want to come back you’ll be ready. If you have fun with it, people will have fun, too.”

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Interested in promoting idea sharing at your school, nonprofit, or workplace? Feel free to get in touch with Kevin: kevinboyle@ideasimprov.com.

Do you know of other projects that are fun and potentially replicable? If you’d like us to consider posting it as part of this series, leave a comment below or email celeste [at] idealist [dot] org.

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Considering grad school? Explore your options at an Idealist Grad Fair

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A friendly recruiter chats up a prospective student at an Idealist Grad Fair. (Photo: Jung Fitzpatrick)

School may be out (or almost out) for the summer, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be on your radar. We’re kicking off the summer with two Idealist Grad Fairs and you’re invited! As always, the fairs are free, open to the public, and geared toward people who want to make a difference through their careers.

Learn more and RSVP:

Why attend our summer fairs?

Come beat the heat in air conditioned spaces – ones that are slightly more intimate than the fairs we host in New York and DC in September, which tend to draw huge crowds. You’ll have a chance to talk one-on-one with admissions folks from about 60 different programs, and mingle with people who are looking to further their education, achieve their career goals, and make a lasting impact on the world.

Bonus: You’ll be a step ahead of your peers by attending a summer fair. That’s three months before the fall Idealist Grad Fair season begins, and gives you lots of time to prepare applications for 2013! The early bird gets the worm, right?

Can’t make it to New York or DC?

Don’t fret if you can’t make it to either of the summer fairs. We have 17 more planned for the fall 2012 Idealist Grad Fair season, from Boston to Denver to Miami. Check out the full lineup and please spread the word to your friends in those cities who may be considering grad school.

Hope to see many of you at the fairs!

Thanks to Kevin Kennedy, our Events and Communications Intern, for this post – and for all of your hard work supporting the Idealist Grad Fairs.

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Discount tickets to Personal Democracy Forum in NYC

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For the third year in a row, the organizers of Personal Democracy Forum (PdF) are offering a discount on registration to members of the Idealist community. (If you’re reading this, that means you!)

PdF is a two-day conference exploring and analyzing technology’s impact on politics, government, and civil society. This year’s event takes place June 11-12 in New York City and is centered around the theme “The Internet’s New Political Power.” Speakers will include:

  • David Boyce, CEO of Fundly, the largest online social fundraising platform in the U.S.
  • Sara Horowitz, Executive Director and Founder, Freelancers Union
  • Van Jones, president and co-founder of Rebuild the Dream
  • John Perry Barlow, Co-Founder & Vice Chairman, Electronic Frontier Foundation

…And many more.

Planning to attend? Receive 15% off the nonprofit rate with coupon discount code IDEALIST2012.

You can also apply for a Google PdF fellowship for a chance at free registration. According to the site, they’re “looking for innovative people who are trying to tackle big, meangingful problems. Are you trying to change government? Shaking up the non-profit world with a promising new start-up? Blazing new trails in online politics? The Google PdF Fellowship could be yours.” Learn more and apply by Wednesday, May 9.

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This Wednesday: Two invitations for NYC-area Idealists

 

 

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In NYC? Come meet friendly people from grad programs around the world! (Staff photo/Julia Smith)

 

This Wednesday, June 22, is a big one for our team in New York City. Come hang out!

  • Idealist Grad Fair, 5:00-8:00pm: Thinking about going to graduate school? Join us at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus for this free event! Meet recruiters from 60+ grad degree programs from nonprofit management to education to urban planning. From 6:00-7:00 youcan also sit in on a Q&A session and learn more about admissions and financial aid. Learn more, sign up, and help us spread the word: http://bit.ly/SummerFairNY
  • Focus group for people who think Idealist should be more mobile phone-friendly, 4:00-5:00pm: Do you have a smartphone? Do you wish you could browse Idealist more easily via your phone? Do you like snacks? If so, join us just before the Grad Fair for some treats and idea-sharing. Learn more and sign up here: http://svy.mk/mobilefg

     

    Last year the fair was the night of the NYC tornados! Hopefully this Wednesday will be calmer...but mingling with admissions recruiters in a huge, strong building is a pretty great way to wait out a storm. (Photo: Anthony Quintano.)

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Cash prizes for your artwork, ideas, or international work

Want to do some good in the world but could use a little help? Check out these contest folk and grantmakers who want nothing more than to give you their money:

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Total amount of cash up for grabs in this post: $157,000. What are you waiting for? Photo by Yomanimus (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Rice Award
Are you a professional between the age of 18-30 who is making some serious headway in the field of global development? Apply to receive a $1,000 grant, an inscribed plaque you can bring home to mom, and an honorary year-long membership to the Society for International Development (SID). Caveat: applicants must have an affiliation with SID. Deadline is April 29.

BE BIG in Your Community Contest
For over 50 years, Clifford the Big Red Dog has been making children laugh with his larger-than-life antics and saving them from the doghouse by imparting kind lessons. Everyone big and small is invited to submit their ideas on how to use Clifford’s positive traits to better their neighborhoods. Grand prize is $25,000 with smaller amounts given to second and third place. Added bonus: Scholastic, HandsOn Network and American Family Insurance will work with the winner to ensure their idea comes to life. Deadline is June 17.

Back to School 2011 Contest
Tired of teen pop stars like Justin Bieber overtaking folders, notebooks, pencil pouches and more? Instead of doodling in class, use your creativity to design artwork that inspires action in your community related to education, environment, peace and volunteerism and a healthy lifestyle. Do Something and Staples will give the winner the opportunity to see their designs in Staples stores nationwide and a $1,000 scholarship toward school. Applicants must be between the ages of 13-25. Deadline is July 22.

PandoProjects
The folks behind this new NYC-based nonprofit believe solutions start with you. Anyone over the age of 18 can submit their ideas on any issue in the five boroughs – although the target demographic are tech-savvy Gen Y do-gooders. The selected handful of emerging leaders will each receive $5,000 plus tools, guidance and promotion to help execute their project within six months. The first wave of awesomeness is currently underway, but look out for the second one starting in July.

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Testing, testing: Help make Idealist more usable

Want to help make Idealist better? We’d love for you to participate in our usability testing program!

What’s this all about?

There are lots of ways that we collect feedback from our users. One important one is to observe Idealist members “in the wild,” so to speak. Instead of asking your (undoubtedly valuable) opinion, we want to actually watch you use the site, and see what aspects of the site could be improved.

Sign up to participate here. We’ll be conducting in-person usability tests for those in the NYC area, and remote tests for people everywhere else (as long as you have access to a broadband internet connection and a telephone or computer microphone).

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Photo via Alishba Zarmeen

What to expect

Whether you participate remotely or come visit us, you’ll sit down one-on-one with me (Hi! Nice to meet you.), so I can observe while you use basic features of the website and ask a few questions about your experience. Usability testing is the kind of test where you can’t get a wrong answer, so there’s no pressure on you, just the website.  The most challenging part for you? Probably remembering to think aloud as you use the site.

Who we’re looking for

Everyone! Seriously, whether you have very little experience using the web or are as tech savvy as they come, you’re welcome to participate. Also, we’ll be testing features for individuals and organizations, so we’re looking for people who use the site in different ways: you could be a job seeker, a potential volunteer, an HR professional, volunteer manager, or your organization’s social media expert, or really anyone else.

What’s next?

  • We conduct usability testing on an ongoing basis, so if you’re interested, sign up! We’ll ask you a few questions to get a sense of how you use the site, and then I’ll be in touch when it seems like you’re a good fit for an upcoming usability test.
  • Can’t participate in usability testing? You can still make your voice heard publicly on Get Satisfaction or by sending an email directly to our Community Support Team through the contact page.

Thank you!

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