How this creative director turned “no skills” into “no problem”

On Idealists in Action, we love to tackle your biggest obstacles to doing good. One we hear a lot is, “I don’t have the skills or knowledge to start something.” This week, we’re taking that behemoth down.

“In 2010 I was in the middle of a failing sabbatical,” begins Derick Tsai, founder and creative director of hip content development studio Magnus Rex.

“The brutal truth was I had bumped up against the limits of my abilities. I was going to have to drastically up my game if I had any hope of realizing my projects. In an unfamiliar space and out of my depth, I was reduced to moping around in sweats all day and constantly stressing about running out of money.”

“Then something woke me up and put everything into perspective.”

How did this visionary artist rise from the depths of not knowing to a new pinnacle of creativity? Read his story on GOOD.


Tell us about a time you didn’t know what to do, but turned rock bottom into your launch pad.

Tags: , ,

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

Tags: , , , , , ,

Reframing Fear: Jonathan Fields on how to picture risk, failure, and judgment

Stuck? Feeling hopeless? Unsure of your next step? For the almost two decades Idealist has been around, we’ve been asking you—our community—to tell us about the obstacles you face when trying to turn your good intentions into action. We’ve compiled a short list of the top-reported obstacles, and now we’re blogging about them one by one.

This Halloween week, we present: fear.

Jonathan Fields helps people be “more agile, creative and innovative and embrace action in the face of uncertainty with a greater sense of ease.”

As a father, husband, author, speaker, wellness industry entrepreneur, former hedge fund lawyer, innovation consultant (and more!), he’s no stranger to making ideas happen.

He describes his Good Life Project (GLP), in part, as “a voracious commitment to move beyond words and act.” Very Idealist!


In this video from GLP TV’s third season, Jonathan talks about countering fear and inaction by “reframing” our thoughts to push past our natural inclination toward negativity bias (concentrating on what could go wrong), and focus on the opportunities—not the pitfalls—that await in any challenge.

A few of our favorite quips to whet your appetite for action:

  • “Disruption is the seed of innovation, possibility, and opportunity.”
  • “Yes, if you fail, some people may judge you. But you’ll also learn an extraordinary amount about how to do better as you progress. Separate the emotion from the data.”
  • “Fear of loss: what if I lose money? Prestige? Do ask those questions, but also ask: what if I succeed? And: what if I do nothing? That one is often the most horrifying scenario.”

When have you been able to shed fear by focusing on opportunity?

Tags: , , , ,

Nonprofit Video 101: 3 tips to keep your videos on point


Lights, camera, questions: three things every video producer needs
(photo courtesy Isaac via Flickr’s Creative Commons)

It was my first week as the brand-new, in-house video producer at Idealist and I was super excited about all the possibilities ahead. So when our executive director Ami mentioned that a woman he just met had a fabulous Idealist story, my video mind starting working on overdrive.

Apparently, Kate Horner had not only found her current job on Idealist, she had also found her grad program at an Idealist Grad Fair, and she had a long track record of finding internships and volunteer opportunities through the site.

I was so excited, I jumped straight into preparations for making a video.

With my co-producer Sean, we scheduled a day-long shoot with Kate that involved an almost 90-minute interview. When we returned to the office afterward, we realized the daunting task that lay ahead: how would we craft a three-to-five minute video with great details that stayed compelling AND ended with a clear call to action?

I sorted through the interview footage and assembled my first cut. It was over ten minutes long, and was confusing and unfocused. While I had gotten in every last detail of Kate’s journey—from volunteering to working for veterans like her brother—it wasn’t a video I would want to watch. And it didn’t leave the viewer with a clear message about why they should look for jobs on Idealist like Kate did.

We tossed that version out and narrowed our focus. We honed in on the moments where Kate spoke honestly about her fear, excitement, worry, and hope—themes we hear all the time from the Idealist community. We also keyed in on the little things Kate had learned when she used Idealist in her job hunt that could be useful tips to share.

With these things in mind, we were able to craft a very personal and relatable story, while weaving in an Idealist pitch.


Lessons learned

In the increasingly crowded online video playing field, content needs to be focused, compelling, and clear. (Short doesn’t hurt either.)

In this case, I let my excitement get the better of me, and lost sight of those tenets. The result was that I ended up having to do probably four times the amount of work to get to the end product.

But not for naught—I’ve taken this experience with me as we plan out our next videos. Now, before we do anything, we make sure to use the following advice as a guide:

1. Answer these four questions.

When you’re thinking about making a video, planning is half the process. It’s imperative to answer these questions before you even think of touching a camera:

  1. WHY are you making the video? Fundraising? Awareness? To increase your membership?
  2. WHAT are you trying to say? What is the message or information you want the viewer to come away with? The more focused the better. Try to keep it to one message per video.
  3. WHO is your intended audience? Donors? People who already know something about your cause? People who don’t know anything about it? Event attendees?
  4. WHAT IMPACT do you want to have on your audience? What do you want them to think? Feel? Do?

2. Keep it personal.

Once you’ve thought about the end goals of your video, use that to inform the storytelling. Try to frame your video around someone’s personal story—that always helps the viewer form an emotional connection with your message.

For example, the Girl Effect: the Clock is Ticking is a great video that shows how framing a larger issue around an individual story can lead to a very compelling call to action.

3. Make a specific ask.

So now, let’s say you’ve done your homework and invested a lot of time, money, and brainpower in creating a personal, compelling video that the viewer watches all the way to the end—congratulations! But if you don’t make it easy for that viewer to take the next step, they probably won’t.

So make it clear what you want them to do. Maybe that’s sign your petition, visit your website, join your organization, or donate to your cause. In any case, don’t beat around the bush: ask them directly.

As a general rule, I suggest ending videos with your website URL so everyone knows where to go for more information. (YouTube’s Nonprofit Program allows you to add annotations around the URL that can turn it into a clickable link.) For example, in Kate’s video, we added a screen at the end that summed up our message and made a direct ask: “Find your dream job on Idealist today. Search now.”


While the process of making this video was filled with ups and downs, the experience did make me a better producer. And now I get to put what I learned to the test: we’re looking to find our next “Idealist Story” to film. Maybe you can help!

How have you used Idealist to imagine, connect, and act? Share your stories in the comments below (or email me at and if you’re in NYC or Portland, Oregon, you could be the subject of our next video. How cool is that?

For more information and resources related to nonprofit video, check out Vimeo and Stillmotion’s video storytelling series and See 3 Communications and YouTube’s study about video in the nonprofit sector, complete with tutorials and tips and tricks.

For more Idealist Videos, check out our Youtube channel at

Tags: , ,

Participating in National Volunteer Week? Film your project!

A school made of plastic bottles in Guatemala. Blind woodworkers in Boston who are defying odds. A firsthand look at the recent protests in Egypt’s Tahrir Square. Intrigued? Check out our Making Good Ideas Travel channel on Vimeo to learn about all this and more.


Right now on there are 500+ video- and film-related volunteer opportunities. Photo by Marcin Wichary (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Since it’s National Volunteer Week, I’d thought I’d highlight some volunteering-related gems:

The Lowestoft Christmas swim
‘Tis not the season, but I found this video so charming I had to share. It highlights 250 bold Brits running into the ocean on Christmas day to raise money for a handful of charities. It’s full of great music, superhero costumes, and interesting twists on the Santa getup. Maybe it will spark some ideas for other holidays.

Flying Colours
Akhona is a young student and mother who wants to go to college. Siyabuelela is studying business at the university and volunteers his Saturdays to tutor youth like Akhona. Their two stories are linked by IkamvaYouth, a South African nonprofit that helps learners lift themselves out of poverty. The film gives an intimate glimpse into their lives and highlights the good work the org is doing – and will make you want to go to South Africa right now.

Picking up America
This short documentary follows a group of twentysomethings walking across the United States and picking up roadside trash. A movie featuring garbage across the country’s most ignored areas may not sound all that appealing, but the youthful, idealistic energy of the volunteers is inspiring.

National Volunteering Week ends tomorrow! Have you picked up a camera to film any festivities?

Inching its way toward 1,000 subscribers, the Making Good Ideas Travel channel has 153 videos and counting. We welcome submissions not only about volunteering, but all things social change: nonprofits, community involvement, and good ideas. So if you have a short video that’s reeling to be shared with the world, message us or post a link to our Shoutbox and we’ll be sure to take a look.

Tags: , , ,

Headlines: After the 11NTC (Nonprofit Technology Conference)


Panelists from the "Free Agents" session. Photo via Beth Kanter (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Elise and I went to NTEN‘s annual conference in Washington, DC last week. It was great to meet many of you there! Here are some of the takeaways we’ve spotted thanks to the still-buzzing #11NTC Twitter stream

Change doesn’t have to be scary

Online fundraising

Kudos for transparency

Be nice to your tech people

  • Maybe I just have it easy? (Bailey Kasten, Wish You Worked Here). At the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, muses Kasten, “operations and technology have a voice.” She offers some advice to the folks in workplaces where that’s not true.

Storytelling through specific channels

  • DoGooder Video Awards Announced at NTC! (Maddie Grant, Thinking of incorporating video into your organization’s communications strategy? Check out the winners of “best thrifty organization video,” “best small organization video,” and more categories.
  • Using Location Based Services for Your Nonprofit (John Haydon, SocialBrite) recaps a session about how services like FourSquare can be included in your strategy to raise awareness and money.

And these are just the beginning!

Are you blogging about your 11NTC experience? Leave a comment below with a link!

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Contests from Through Your Lens and YouTube

Photographers and videographers: two contests are challenging you to zoom in on change.


Photo by Flickr user kevindooley (Creative Commons)

Through Your Lens: School Facilities in America

Students, teachers, and anyone else with an inside view of our nation’s schools: don’t miss out on this opportunity to photograph what you’re proud of, stuff you’d like to see changed, and anything in-between. The 21st Century School Fund, Critical Exposure, and Healthy Schools Campaign hope that your perspective will click with enough elected leaders to start improving the quality of school buildings. Prizes include being featured in an exhibition in Washington, D.C., as well as a book and online gallery, and a digital camcorder. Deadline to submit is March 7.

YouTube’s DoGooder Nonprofit Video Awards

For the fifth year in a row, the superstar video site is calling on nonprofits of every size to show off all the hard work they did last year. The prizes will have you reeling: $10,000 in grants from the Case Foundation, free registration to NTEN’s 2012 technology conference, a Flip Video pack, and your video featured on YouTube’s homepage. Deadline to submit is March 2.

Know about another funding angle? Leave a comment below!

Tags: , , , , ,

Last day to upload your 10.10.10 videos!

Awhile back, we blogged about One Day on Earth, a project centered around October 10, 2010 (10.10.10):

One Day on Earth is asking you, me, and the rest of the world to film something you’re inspired by on that day, with the hope of creating a time capsule that documents our collective struggles and triumphs. You don’t have to be a seasoned filmmaker to participate—cell phones and digital cameras work just as well—and everything is fair game. The collected footage will then be archived in a database for anyone to access at anytime, with select footage to be used in a feature documentary.

We got an update this week from the folks at One Day on Earth, who created this short video with snippets from the first week of submissions. It’s a great montage featuring faces and places from many continents – buskers outside a train station in Brussels, a crowd gathering at Mecca, an Aruba sunset. If you’re one of those people who got goosebumps watching those videos of Matt dancing around the world, watch this. You’ll feel grateful to be an Earthling.

Want to add your view, your voice, your video to the mix? Today, November 10, is the deadline! Visit the One Day on Earth site to learn more and jump in. And if you like making films yourself, you’ll be glad to know that if you share footage, you then have access to download footage from the archive for your own non-commercial endeavors.

Tags: ,