Friday, June 21, 2013

Marriage Equality Is Not Equality

A video making the rounds on Twitter inspired me to finally sit down and write a blog about something that’s been circling my head for the better part of a year. Many LGBT allies are pushing for equal marriage rights. In an environment where you have to snare public support when it drifts across your path I can see why. The LGBT community has the public’s attention on this issue. They need to use it.

However, marriage equality is only the tip of this very ugly pile of injustice, my friends. There are rights much more important than marriage equality that remain unaddressed. As close as we are to equal marriage rights in the US, members of the LGBT community are miles from equality.

Did you know:

In 25 states same-sex spouses (or those recognized in civil unions in other states) don’t have the right to make medical decisions on behalf of their partner because they aren’t considered relatives. In some cases, they aren’t even allowed to sit by their bed and hold their hand.*

In 29 states it is legal to fire someone from their job for being LGBT.*

In 20 states assault of an LGBT person is not considered a hate crime.*

In 31 states there are no laws in place to specifically protect LBGT students from bullying and harassment. *

In 33 states there are no laws in place to protect LGBT students from discrimination by faculty or students.*

Even legal same-sex marriages are not what they seem. As this video demonstrates, marriages between same sex couples have a very small jurisdiction. They aren’t recognized in most states in the US. They aren’t recognized by the Federal government and they don’t apply as a legal union in matters of immigration. They aren’t recognized as legal unions when traveling outside of the US except in other countries where same-sex marriages are legal. Married same-sex couples from other countries traveling to the US aren’t recognized as legally wed either.

Even with the repeal of DADT, same-sex couples aren’t recognized as legal spouses in the military and won’t be transferred overseas with their active duty partners.

We have an illusion of growing equality but it isn’t the truth. The above statistics are the truth. Most LGBT people in the US are still subject to open discrimination and that will continue long after marriage rights become law…unless we use the same tenacity we’ve demonstrated for DOMA to fix it. I have every confidence we can as long as we remember marriage equality is just the beginning. It’s not the end.


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Friday, June 14, 2013

Baby Steps to a Better World Part 7 - Keep It Burning

So…how are things going with your charity support and activism?  I hope these last few weeks have given you ideas about where to start and how. If one avenue doesn’t work then try another. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out what works best for you.

As the final installment in the series I’m going to talk about how to make this more than a passing fancy and more importantly how to avoid burnout in the process.

For many of you I don’t have to explain why any of this matters. Something touched you, stirred you up, maybe even broke your heart and you want to do something because, damn it, someone has to do something. For those with only a vague and fleeting interest I encourage you to put a human (or animal) face on the situation you’re supporting or protesting. It might be just a general concept to you but it is very real to those trapped in it. Your contribution or support could rescue someone from a nightmare and that’s not lip service. It’s reality.

How do you keep from feeling burned out, helpless and depressed when the thing that’s under your skin isn’t easy to fix? It’s all about perspective. The hard truth is it’s very unlikely world hunger will be resolved, children and animals will cease being abused and governments will stop mistreating innocent people. It is the nature of a world ruled by human beings highly susceptible to greed, ego and hostility. Unless your protest centers on a single person or event, it’s going to take more than a few years of protests or donations to solve these problems. Most of them have existed for a lifetime. They will continue to do so.

Activism and charity support isn’t about resolving the issue or curing society’s ills. It’s about speaking out for the victims who don’t have a voice or helping the individuals trapped within those ills. It all comes down to individuals and that’s where you need to keep your focus. We’re not curing world hunger. We’re making it possible for one child to go to bed tonight with a full belly. We’re not ending animal abuse. We’re giving an abused animal access to a loving home so they won’t suffer anymore. We’re not ending the death penalty. We’re helping spare one innocent man’s life when the judicial system gets it wrong.

If you combine those efforts focused in small areas you get a greater impact over a wider region but that’s not your focus. That’s for the head of the charity or human rights group to organize. Your focus is on the one. It doesn’t matter that you don’t know who that person is. Envision them in your mind because whether you know them or not they exist. In other words, accept your limitations but don’t let that stop you. Yes, it’s a big world and you’re only one person but to the individuals you’re helping you’re a savior giving them a chance they never thought they’d have. That counts for something. In fact, that counts for a hell of a lot.

It can be a depressing, crushing weight when you feel like you give and give and nothing comes of it. Children still go to bed hungry, the innocent still die, the corrupt and evil still prevail. I’ve been there several times and I know exactly how helpless that feels and how close it can bring you to giving up. Take a breath. Take a step back and do something small with an obvious and instantaneous result. Then do it again and again until you start to see that it’s not really hopeless. You’re just scanning the horizon for change that is centuries away when you should focus on the things in front of you.

My cure for helpless depression is to do something small for someone else and lately that has been kids. I find a charity that focuses on them and make a donation. Hockey tickets are my favorite.

Hockey games and Canadian youngsters go hand in hand but only those from families that can afford it. The NHL and the average family have very different ideas about what the word “affordable” means. As a result, thousands of kids live their whole lives never knowing the thrill of watching a live game, staring wide-eyed at the players they’ve only seen on television, listening to the roar of the crowd and eating an overpriced hotdog. It’s not a tragedy but it’s a shame. So I buy a couple of tickets, donate them to a group called Kids Up Front and some little boy or girl gets an unforgettable night living a dream.

I imagine their wide-eyed excitement as they sit in big plastic chairs, little hands on the armrests. I see them trying to fit their mouth around a hotdog, spilling ketchup on their shirt. I watch them dangling legs over the edge of the seat with a huge smile as they watch the players chasing each other across the ice with riveted attention. Little hands go to ears when the crowd cheers at a goal…and I feel better.

That’s my therapy. What’s yours? If you’re short on ideas look back at the week 3 post of simple things you can do without much money or time. Pick one and do it. Then go out and do something to cheer yourself up.

Life shouldn’t be about charity or activism 100% of the time. You need balance. Do things that have nothing to do with fighting for a cause. Have friends you can just be fun and silly with and be fun and silly. It’s a weighty thing struggling against the determined tide of negativity this world provides. Find the things that are light and easy and play with them on a regular basis. Laugh and smile and be grateful you are on the outside helping the victims rather than walking in their shoes. Revel in the things you have that they don’t. Then roll up your sleeves and dig back into the work of making your corner of the world and theirs a better place. If that’s too hard to do then scale back and do simple, easy things for a while. Even the smallest effort counts and if that’s emotionally and spiritually all you can handle then keep it small until you’re back on your feet.

I’d love to hear some of the things you guys are involved in and how it’s going. If you have questions let me know. I’ll do my best to answer them. If you have a great new idea spread it around. If you’re down in the dumps because the whole thing seems hopeless, drop me a line. Maybe I can help you gain a new perspective. It’s not hopeless. It’s just a frustrating pain in the ass sometimes. Believe me, I know.

See you in the trenches, folks!

DP Denman

Member of the human race

Baby Steps to a Better World Part 6 - Adding A Personal Touch

This week’s post is for those who crave a more hands on approach to activism and charity support. When giving money and signing petitions aren’t enough there are ways to make it a bit more personal and solidify your determination to stay involved.

Activism and charity work are much easier when you have real victims in mind. Make the blunt-edged generalities sharp and poignant by spending time with the survivors or those directly impacted by a situation. In some cases that’s easier to do than others. If you want to raise money for things like medical research, opportunities abound among cancer, chronic pain or chronic illness groups. Most of them have annual fundraising events where you can meet survivors and their families. For those of you with physical limitations you can participate by volunteering at the event rather than walking, running or biking.

If human rights are your focus, you may still have that opportunity. If your passion is LGBT rights, marches and parades happen every year in most cities in North America. If you don’t live in one of them you can make it an annual event to drive over and spend the weekend mingling with the people directly involved in the battle for freedoms the rest of us take for granted.

If your passion is more along the lines of refugees, women’s rights, human trafficking or the like it can be more difficult. My suggestion is to keep in touch with local groups of human rights organizations in your area. Sometimes those opportunities pop up without much fanfare or warning. If your organization of choice doesn’t have a local chapter, check their website for national or regional events and get on their mailing list for future ones. It is well worth the time and expense to attend.  


Breaking out on your own

What if there isn’t a fundraising event in your area or at least not one you can afford? That’s not a problem. You can create one…and before you break out the excuses for why you can’t possibly do that let me assure you, you can.  Here is the opportunity to put your imagination to work. I’ve listed a couple of ideas to get you started:

  • Set up your own charity walk/run/swim/ride/dance. Pick a date and a place (high school track, treadmill at the gym, public swimming pool, community park, etc.). Pick an event (riding a bike, rollerblading, swimming, walking, running, skipping, galloping, jumping rope, ice-skating, etc.). Collect pledges from neighbors, friends, family and co-workers. Then run, walk, rollerblade, skate, swim or dance for as many miles, laps or hours as you can. Don’t worry if you’re not a marathon runner and your best effort raised $30. That’s ok. There’s no shame in $30. Do a little working out to get in shape for the next one or recruit friends to join in. The point is you did it. Be proud of yourself.

Once you’ve completed your event and sent your money to the organization, be sure to touch base with your donors and let them know how many miles, laps or hours you lasted and how much you raised. Get them excited for your next event.

  • Piggyback on an already scheduled community event. If there is a run or walk already organized in your area then collect pledges for your charity and donate it at the end of the event just like you would for any other charity walk/run. As an example, let’s look at the annual Vancouver Sun Run in British Columbia. A percentage of the entrance fees go to charity. Since you don’t have to collect pledges for the run itself you can pay your fee, support the Sun Run charity and support your own organization at the same time by collected pledges for every mile/km you run.

Only do this if the event you’re participating in is not already a pledge event. You don’t want to join an event for breast cancer and instead collect pledges to stop human trafficking. Respect the organization that spent the money to put together the event and support their cause while you support your own.

This next part might sound a bit ridiculous to some of you but it needs to be said. Do these fundraisers with integrity, people. If you only lasted ½ mile, be honest and only collect money for ½ mile. If your fundraiser involves renting space or equipment, traveling expenses, etc. and you want to use some of the money raised to help pay for it you have to say so in advance. Charity fraud is a real thing and can land you in a lot of trouble. I’m talking lawsuits and fines so always act with integrity. Collect only what you earned and donate exactly what you said you would.

  • Set up an online auction for charity on eBay. Gather collectables, sew things, knit things, crochet things, clear out closets and the garage and do an online “garage sale” for charity. For that matter, do a local garage sale for charity.

  • Have a bake sale at your church or school (with permission, of course).

  • Create a scholarship for local high school graduates or international students attending a local university. This isn’t something reserved for the wealthy. Anyone can do it without taxing the family budget.

How does that relate to activism and charity? It depends on how you set the scholarship criteria.

You can open it to all students or you could specify only the ones you want. For example, those with a specific major or personal history (from a particular country, foster kids, homeless kids, orphans, cancer survivors, diabetes sufferers, volunteer workers, etc.). If you want to help abused animals make it a scholarship for students studying veterinary medicine. If you want to support human rights make it for students with a history of volunteer work who intend to study law and become civil rights lawyers.

When you’ve set the criteria, contact the local school district or university and find out how to get on the list of available scholarships. Then create your application form. Don’t let that idea intimidate you. Your form can be as simple as student name, address, graduation date, current grade point average and a single essay question asking what they want to do with their college education. Believe me the hardest part is going to be choosing a single student from the stack of applicants.

How much should you give? That’s up to you. It has to be an amount you are absolutely sure you can afford when the time comes to pay the student. A minimum useful amount is no less than $350…the approximate cost of a semester’s worth of textbooks. Before you decide you can’t afford that much let’s break this down into something less intimidating.

If you start saving up for the scholarship a year before you need to pay it that comes to $30 a month. If you find a friend willing to pair up with you it’s only $15 per person each month. The more friends involved, the less money a month or the more you can give. By the way, offering to put the names of all contributors on the scholarship is a great way to encourage support. It could be The [your name]-[friend’s name] Annual Scholarship. It has a nice ring doesn’t it?

This doesn’t have to be a lifetime commitment. You can do it for only a single year. If it turns out to be more than you bargained for you don’t have to renew the scholarship. 

One important note: If you choose to have applicants mail you the forms rather than sending it via e-mail DO NOT give out your home address. Rent a short-term post office box somewhere and have the forms delivered there. You don’t want applicants showing up on your doorstep.

Next week: from a one-time donation to a lifetime of compassion, how to keep the fire alive

Baby Steps to a Better World Part 5 - Revenge Donations and More

So far in this series, we’ve talked about donations, volunteering and online activism. I hope you’ve found a few new things to try. For those of you already past the initiation stage, I’m going to talk a little about next steps.

What happens when donating and volunteering don’t feel like enough? That means you’re ready to take the next step and move closer to the role of a more traditional activist. Many organizations have local chapters and it is through these local chapters that you can get more involved. It’s also a great way to meet other people with the same interests in your own city. You can participate as much or as little as you want in activities ranging from letter writing campaigns to working at a table in a street fair to meeting with local and state politicians.

As I’ve said before, you don’t need to be rich, famous or connected to do this. Being popular doesn’t make you an expert. Knowing the facts does. Anyone with a passion for something has the ability to become an activist. A majority of us are just average people doing this in our spare time. The longer you work with the issue the more you learn and the more you know the more opportunities you will have to get involved.

So how do you find these local groups? If you have an organization in mind start with their website and look for events or local meetings. If you don’t have an organization name but know the topic or situation you want to focus on then hop on the computer and do a search. For example, type in “anti-death penalty events in San Mateo” or “immigration rights protest in Toronto”. Chances are it will lead you to a website or Facebook page where you can get more information. If walking into a group of strangers intimidates you then bring along a buddy. The more the merrier!

Revenge Donations

The world is a hotbed of opportunity for an activist. My personal list contains at least a dozen different issues and most people I know are the same way. However, none of us have unlimited time or energy so we keep our focus on only a few. Every now and then, I will read a story that doesn’t directly relate to my core issues but burns my brownies nonetheless and I have to do something. Instead of taking on another issue, I make a revenge donation.

What are revenge donations? A perfect example was floating around the internet recently. A group infamous for unbridled hatred and bigotry, Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), decided to stage an anti-LGBT protest at Vassar College last month. The students and local community wanted to strike back so in addition to staging a counter protest they set up a campaign to encourage donations to The Trevor Project. Before it was over not only did the counter protestors outnumber the WBC members but Trevor Project received over $100,000 in donations from people fed up with WBC and its theology of ignorance.

That is what I mean by revenge donations. Pick an organization that is already fighting the issue pissing you off and make a donation to further their efforts. Let them carry on the fight while you focus on other things. Dumping more anger and hatred into a situation already teeming with it won’t fix the problem. Instead, counteract the negative energy with a positive response. The next time you hear a story that pisses you off don’t get mad. Follow Vassar’s example and get even!

Next week: getting up close and personal with the lives you change…and no, it doesn’t involved traveling to Africa to live in a hut.


Baby Steps to a Better World Part 4 - Online Activism

This week’s post wanders away from the practice of charitable giving and focuses on online activism. Whether it’s animal rights, human rights or protesting the dismal living conditions around the planet, situations don’t improve unless someone takes a stand. This is your chance to join the global activist community and do exactly that.

Activism is a river of opportunity that starts with online petitions and flows into organizing rallies and protests. Since this is an introduction, we’ll focus on the petitions.  As you get more comfortable with some of the organizations and issues, you can wade in a little deeper and join activities or even help organize some.

Activism is a lot easier than it looks from the outside. You don’t have to be smart, rich or popular. You just need compassion. This is a great opportunity for people with limited time, on a limited budget or who have difficulty leaving the house. You can do it from the comfort of your recliner in your fuzzy slippers while you’re sipping your coffee. All you need is an internet connection and a computer, iPad or smart phone.  Let’s get started!

First, identify a situation that inspires you to rant and complain. I’m not talking about a bad call by a ref during a game or immature celebrity behavior at awards ceremonies. I’m talking about frustration with politicians and world leaders, heartache over a country in turmoil, anger over the mistreatment of a person or animal.

Take that annoyance and go to your computer. Open your web browser and in the search box type “petition against ________” with your topic in the blank. Then search and see what comes up. Some sites will focus on that single topic. Some will have petitions about numerous issues. Some will focus on the many facets of human or animal rights.

When you find a petition, make sure it is about a topic that is still relevant. Some petitions are left online even after the issue has passed. If it’s an active topic, go ahead and sign it. Voila, you’re now an online activist!  

The next part is easy. Now that the website or organization has your e-mail address, opportunities to sign other petitions will start showing up in your inbox. If it’s a website focused on a specific issue they will keep you informed about the status of that issue and other petitions you can sign. If it’s a larger organization, they may send you information about other issues. Read the ones you’re interested in and delete the rest. If it gets too overwhelming, you can unsubscribe from their lists anytime you want.

The final step is spreading the word. Study your issue of choice so you can have logical and well-informed discussions about it. Many issues involve a lot of emotion on both sides. Learn enough that you can base your opinion on fact not emotion. You don’t win support by shouting down your opponents. You win it by convincing people it’s an issue worth addressing.

Be aware that not everyone will share your newfound passion. Since gathering support is the goal of any activist, you need to make sure you’re building interest in the topic not just pestering people. When a petition or story catches your eye feel free to share it with others. Post it on Facebook, Twitter, Live Journal or wherever but don’t make that topic the only thing you share. Diversify your timeline or page by posting other things, some of them lighthearted some of them not. People are more likely to support your cause when they don’t feel bombarded by post after post after post of nothing but petitions and depressing stories. Keep your posts short. I recommend creating a “did you know” list of facts and posting them one at a time scattered among other things. If you can pique someone’s curiosity with a single fact, you can start a discussion.

Next week: membership and revenge donations.

Baby Steps to a Better World Part 3 - Volunteering

This week’s blog is about volunteer work. Let me start by saying don’t worry if you have limited time or physical challenges that keep you close to home. Not everything requires you to go somewhere. I have a special section just for you!

Let’s talk about the obvious volunteering option of spending time working for a charity organization. Did you know most charities wouldn’t function without volunteers? They need them as much as they need cash donations because a non-profit budget doesn’t allow for many paid employees. That means there’s a plethora of opportunity out there, folks. You can do anything from holding babies to answering phones to organizing stock at a food bank. Some will require an orientation meeting before you can start in order to familiarize you with the task and the rules. Some won’t. It depends where you volunteer. Some activities are also more popular than others and have a waiting list. For example, working at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter during the holidays is a very popular choice. If that’s something you want to do, you need to contact those organizations around July or August because opportunities fill up fast.

Soup kitchens are also a great buddy opportunity! Get your book club or church group involved and go together. Homeless shelters and soup kitchens are used to accommodating groups of people that run their kitchen for a day. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it as an individual. If you’d rather go alone that’s still possible.

What if homeless people and babies aren’t your thing? No problem. Try a food bank. It’s just you, a few other busy volunteers, and a warehouse full of food to sort. Animal shelters desperately need people willing to exercise dogs, pet cats, and sometimes clean cages. Child Services emergency shelters (if they have them in your area) need people to spend time with kids who aren’t allowed contact with their parents and in some cases not even other siblings while their domestic nightmare gets sorted. Libraries are always willing to have someone come in and do children’s story time. (If your library doesn’t have that program, this is a perfect time to start one!) Battered women’s\men’s shelters are always in need of help. You can answer phones, play with kids, help with filing and data entry or even do community promotion and sit at one of their tables to hand out pamphlets during a street fair.

If you know where you’d like to volunteer but don’t know what you want to do feel free to contact the organization anyway. They always have a list of opportunities. There is bound to be something that fits your personality and talents. If you still aren’t sure who to contact or what to do, these websites can offer suggestions:

United Way is a charity in its own right but they also support other charities so if you choose one of their volunteer opportunities it doesn’t mean you’ll end up working for United Way. You could be working with someone else. I used them one Christmas to find a place to volunteer and ended up at a local church feeding Christmas dinner to the elderly from nearby assisted living centers.

I promised options for people who don’t have time or the physical ability to get out much and here they are! There are organizations in need of donated items more than donated time and that’s where you come in. You can volunteer your time from the comfort of your living room couch. For some of you this is going to be right up your alley. For some it might seem a bit intimidating but don’t assume you can’t do it. Everybody was a beginner at something once. Try it and you’ll be surprised what you can do.

Did you know there are charity groups that do nothing but collect blankets and pillowcases for children in the hospital? I didn’t either until a wonderfully talented and creative friend of mine found one. In fact, she found more than one. She sews the pillowcases at home and gives them to a local contact who takes them to hospitals. You’d be surprised how something as simple the gift of a cheerful pillowcase can make a kid’s day. In a room full of medical equipment and sterile walls, they have a bright pink pillowcase covered in teddy bears to hug.

If sewing isn’t your thing, you can knit or crochet blankets and hats for babies. For those of you who don’t know your way around knitting needles or crochet hooks, I can sympathize. Neither do I but that doesn’t mean you can’t at least make hats. There is a wonderful thing called a knitting loom that you can use if you have problems with your hands or are just knitting challenged like me. They come in different sizes, are incredibly simple to use, and cost about $12 (USD). You don’t need any particular talent for needlework and you don’t have to be good with your hands. If you want to see one in action before you buy it you can watch people use them on YouTube.

This is also a great buddy opportunity! If you don’t knit, crochet, or sew but you know someone who does you can donate material or yarn to them and have them do the hard part. That’s still donating so it still counts.

If sewing and knitting aren’t your things, how about making generic greeting cards? Yes, there are groups that need those, too! If your passion is baking, there are opportunities for that, as well. Dive into your kitchen and bake up a storm. Then donate it to a local hospital, assisted living center, school, fire department, police station, National Guard station, etc. Teachers, fire fighters, police officers, nurses and the like work hard and don’t often get the recognition they should. Bake them a batch of brownies to say “thank you”. It’s probably a good idea to contact them first to let them know it’s coming but PLEASE do not call 911 to find your local police or fire station. Search online for the contact phone number instead.

Keep in mind many people have food allergies so when you bring your goodies also bring a complete list of all the ingredients used so they know what’s in them. You don’t have to give away any secret family recipes. Just a list of what’s in it will suffice. We don’t want to make people sick by accident. Also, with the gluten free movement gaining ground, feel free to bake using rice flour instead of typical flour made with wheat.

If you have an idea for something else to donate but don’t know if anyone needs it, just get on the computer and type “donate _____” (with the thing you want to donate filled in) into a search engine (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) and see what comes up. If groups are clamoring for pillowcases and handmade greeting cards there’s no telling what else they need!

Next week: being an online activist, getting involved without taking off your fuzzy slippers.

Baby Steps to a Better World Part 2 - Donations

The Wide World of Donations

This week we’re going to talk about the most obvious form of charity support…cash. Many people want to donate but there is a tug of war between family budgets and charitable giving. Food, rent and vacations take priority and there is nothing wrong with that. You and your family don’t have to do without just so a charity can have funding to keep its doors open. 

Let’s start by looking at the way donations really work from the perspective of the organization.

Misconception #1: Unless you’re giving hundreds of dollars to a charity, your contribution doesn’t mean much.

Wrong! People who have the means, give hundreds or sometimes thousands to a charity but that doesn’t represent a majority of donors. Most people are average citizens just like you with the same budget issues you have. While the large donations are important to any charity, the ones they value the most don’t have anything to do with the size. It’s all about consistency. Organizations need money they can depend on month after month and those payments are their lifeblood. You can give hundreds of dollars a month if you have it but most of them will accept amounts as low as $10 or $15 dollars.

What if you’re living paycheck to paycheck and you can’t afford $10 a month? No problem. This is also a buddy donation opportunity! Find a friend who wants to give to the same charity. Find a group. Pool your one or two dollars into a small donation and send the organization a check each month.

What if you can’t afford even $2 a month because you have trouble paying your bills as it is? Many local charities have stores that sell donated items (used furniture, clothing, books, etc.). Next time you need a new pair of jeans or want to splurge on a $0.50 book get it at their store. The money goes to help the charity so you get something and so do they.

 This also works the other way. If you have a closet of clothes you no longer wear or things you never use instead of throwing them out donate them to a charity. Then they can sell them and use the money to support their cause.

Misconception #2: One charity is as good as the next.
Wrong! Just like people, some organizations are no good with money. They expend more cash each year running the charity than they do helping the people or animals they claim to help. When half of donations go to “administrative costs”, it’s a bad charity. That doesn’t mean it’s a scam. It just means most of what you give will go to paying their rent or the president’s salary. Make no mistake, some well-known charities have offices in fancy buildings in the expensive part of town and pay their president enough to afford a mansion on the hill. I’ve seen it first hand and it happens a lot more than you think.  Paying for their new Lexus is probably not what you intend when you give them money.

You want an A+ rated charity that gives 90% or better to the cause and only uses 10% for administrative expenses. Anything less is a group that doesn’t handle your money wisely. How do you find these charities? You get to do a bit of sleuthing!

First, get the name of the charity. Many of these groups sound alike so make sure you have the right name. Second, go to a charity-ranking website that has already done the work for you. Then you plug in the name and see what comes up. There are several different ranking organizations you can use:

US: Charity Watch (aka American Institute of Philanthropy)

US: Charity Navigator

US: Better Business Bureau

Canada: Charity Intelligence

Canada: Better Business Bureau

Unfortunately there aren’t many organizations outside the US and Canada that track charities. In that case, it’s best to stick with well-known groups that have a long-standing reputation. That doesn’t mean you can’t give to any organization that strikes your fancy. If you feel comfortable donating then donate. It’s the thought that counts.

Spotting a Scam

Spotting a scam is one of the most important aspects of giving to charity. Before you give any amount of money, make sure you know where it’s going. Always be wary of anything that says “a portion of the proceeds go to charity”. “A portion” could easily mean they are giving a grand total of $5 to charity and pocketing the rest. Anytime you read or hear that statement it’s a good idea to be suspicious and ask for clarification. Events or auctions that benefit a charity will always boast that 100% of the profits go to charity. They don’t hide behind wording and lead you to assume something that isn’t true. They will spell it out. It’s ok to ask questions and a legitimate charity won’t mind answering them.

If a charity calls you asking for donations NEVER give your bank account or credit card information over the phone even if you recognize the name of the group. There is no way to tell if that person really works for the charity regardless of the pitch they give you. Remember, scam artists are professionals. They will attempt to sound as realistic and convincing as possible. If you want to donate to that organization, go to their website. You can either donate on the site using a credit card or get their address and mail them a check. If they push you to donate over the phone then they’re most likely not what they pretend to be.

A Word about Celebrity Endorsements

Many a scam has been perpetrated by someone claiming a celebrity connection. People use a recognizable name to get your attention in the hope you’ll be so excited you won’t bother asking questions. They promise all sorts of things from a chance to meet that celebrity to some sort of special gift from them. They don’t mention that the “random” drawing at the end of the campaign isn’t random and the prize goes to a friend of the organizer. They don’t admit that they haven’t been in contact with the celebrity and don’t have their approval or support so the promise to meet that person is a hoax. Just like with any other charity, always investigate the organization before you give them any money regardless of the prize offered. Don’t assume the celebrity knows about the event, raffle, etc. or has any idea what was promised in their name. They are only human. Sometimes even public figures trust people they shouldn’t and unfortunate things happen behind their back without their knowledge.

Next week…volunteering: how you can help with limited time or even health restrictions!

Baby Steps to a Better World - Part 1


To those of you familiar with my writing, you know I have a thing for series. This week begins another one, (woo hoo!) though this one isn’t a romance. It’s about something more important.

In addition to being a coffee bean worshipping hockey fan, I’m an activist and philanthropist and I take those titles seriously. Ever since I was old enough to recognize not every kid had a room full of toys and a refrigerator full of food, I’ve wanted to do something to help. For a long time I had no idea how. I tried in fits and starts but could never figure out how to do it consistently. Thanks to the internet and a couple of decades of experience I’ve answered that question and made it my overriding mission in life to make my part of the world a better place. It’s also my goal to show others how easy it is to do the same in theirs.

This week begins a seven-part series on how an average Joe (or Josephine) can do the same thing using nothing more than the resources already at their disposal. You don’t have to be rich. You don’t have to be retired with unlimited time on your hands. You can start right where you are and when I’m finished you’re going to see getting involved doesn’t have to be overwhelming, time consuming or expensive.

The first thing you need is a change in perspective. The world is a mess and figuring out where to start can be frustrating and overwhelming. Thankfully, once you dig past the surface it becomes much simpler than it looks from the outside. After all, we’re not talking about launching a campaign to convince the world leaders at the UN to pull their heads out of their asses. That’s a bit beyond our influence. Instead, we focus on little pieces, dark corners, quiet lives of those who are struggling with existence whether here in North America or in dismal places around the globe. Our focus isn’t the whole world. It’s one person or one group at a time.

Let’s get started.

Step 1: Get rid of the excuses. If your interest in social or political change is limited to bitching on Facebook and Twitter then you’re not ready for this. Until you shift your attitude from “someone needs to do something” to “I want to do something” you’re not going to help anyone. And before you start with the excuses let me assure you none of them are valid so don’t bother. Trust me I’ve heard them all. You’re too busy, too broke, you don’t have a talent for anything, you’re too shy, blah, blah, blah. I’m officially calling bullshit on all of that. Everybody has something to offer. There are no exceptions.

Step 2: Feel it. Activism and philanthropy are about recognizing how good you have it and that other people on the planet don’t. Millions of people around the world are in much worse circumstances than most of us could even imagine. The first step to developing a real passion to help them is acknowledging that we’re spoiled by comparison. We have more than we need for no other reason than we were born within reach of it and we’ve been fortunate enough not to have fate take it away again. Don’t mistake fortune for entitlement, people. The universe doesn’t owe you anything.

Step 3: Focus your passion. The world offers a plethora of broken things from which to choose. Don’t spread yourself too thin. There is such a thing as activists’/philanthropists’ burnout. Sometimes you have to ignore other issues in order to keep your sanity and that’s ok. You can’t do everything. Pick a cause or an issue; pick a couple of small ones if you think you can handle it. The goal is long-term dedication because these social problems don’t go away overnight. If anything, the need increases over time.

Step 4: Roll up your sleeves and get involved! This is the heart of the series. You want to help but you have no idea where to start and you don’t have unlimited funds or time. That’s not a problem. Neither do I. You can choose one of the following or any combination and do what you can. There’s something for everyone.

*Small donations – less than $20 a month. I’ll show you how to tell a worthy cause from a cleverly disguised scam. This is a great “buddy donation” opportunity.

*Time – volunteer a few hours a week, a few hours a month or even once a year.

*Online activism – you can do this at home in your jammies and fuzzy slippers. It’s great for people who have the problem of good intentions with limited motivation.

*Join a national or international organization. A larger group has a wider reach to help with bigger issues. I use this for what I call “vengeance donations”. We’ll get into that, too.

*Participate in fundraising - another great one for those lacking in motivation. There are several ways to get involved even if walking/riding/running or sponsoring someone who does is out of reach. It’s also another great “buddy donation” opportunity.

Each week for the next six weeks, I’ll focus on one of these options and give you more details about how to get involved. I’ll also talk about how to maintain your passion over the long haul. When you find something you feel comfortable doing jump on it! Don’t worry if you don’t have the resources to do much. This isn’t a contest. Every little bit helps.
Stay tuned for more!