Tuesday, March 2

Helping Others: Sustainability Is Critical

There seems to be a near frigid reaction toward new relief efforts in Chile. The quake killed 700 people, left two million people homeless, and caused widespread devastation across the country. Chile needs immediate assistance, but there seems to be a near tragic lack of empathy in the United States.

Fewer Americans are thinking about Haiti too, where yet another crisis looms. According to UPI, only 40 percent of the homeless population there has received tents, tarps or shelter tool kits. It's a significant issue as most temporary shelters are ill-equipped for the rainy season.

Are Action Plans Matching Attention Spans?

At first, I was inclined to join others in wondering when United States action plans started to match attention spans. But in doing the research, it became apparent that there is a different problem. By helping everyone, our country is struggling to help anyone.

When you consider approximately 16 percent of our population is employed by the local, state, and federal government; 8-13 percent employed by the nonprofit sector (depending on the state); 10 percent are unemployed; and 13-17 percent are falling below the poverty line; it becomes pretty clear that we're running low on people who can help. So what can we do?

The Gift Of Sustainability And Succession.

One of the best aspects of BloggersUnite is its ability to bring together diverse bloggers for a common cause and then direct them and their readers toward organizations already doing the work. Doing so helps maximize the impact with minimal means. It also doesn't compete for limited nonprofit resources.

Let's consider Haiti as an example. While I didn't have a hand in the Haitian campaign (Jason Teitelman organized it) beyond lending participatory support, he did a fine job in helping people help Haitians. There are hundreds of posts. Here are a few...

PSA: Superheroes Needed — Apply Here at Entrepod.
Atlanta Haitian Group Galvanizing Support at Execumama Online.
Action Summary at Pawcurious.
Have you moved on yet? Haiti hasn't by Berkman for BloggersUnite.
Lapli ap tonbe... at Real Hope for Haiti Rescue Center.

All of those posts have specific calls to action and support existing and sustainable programs. It's also why I liked one story that went deeper than a post. It was created by Gylon Jackson of San Antonio, Texas.

We interviewed him several weeks ago for our business giving blog. And we learned for Jackson, a post wasn't enough.

He developed an online campaign, including a blog and two social networks, to provide action in an effort to collect 100,000 pairs of lightly used shoes — an idea that promises to last much longer than the dollar equivalent of the donation.

A week ago, Shoes for Haiti Now shipped 900 pairs. There is still more work to be done, but Jackson tells me they have 2,000 more pairs of shoes ready to ship in mid-April. Stay tuned. I'll revisit this story again.

The Measure Of Sustainability Exceeds The Investment.

Incidentally, the Haitian earthquake isn't my first experience helping people in Haiti. In 2001-02, I worked with Kenneth Westfield, M.D., in improving upon his longtime support for Friends of the Children of Lascahobas (Haiti) to develop a sustainable art fundraising event.

The program, while no doubt overshadowed by the earthquake, has thrived, expanded, and earned additional support. As a best practice, it demonstrates how short-term investments can lead to long-term sustainability.

It's also how we've been able to provide support to scores of nonprofit organizations since 1991. Our support is often a short-term investment with an emphasis on long-term sustainability. Without sustainability, programs have a propensity to unravel, especially as they become too reliant on a single donor.

Developing Sustainable Actions Takes Patience And Planning.

Nobody wins when contributions require too steep a sacrifice. Volunteers tend to become burned out. Donations dry up. And organizational objectives shift from long-term sustainability into jumping from the last crisis to the next crisis, degrading the ability to help anyone with every new commitment.

If you want to make sustainable investments, individual and organizational giving works best when it's planned.

Set aside a comfortable amount of time and/or money for giving every month, and save a small percentage of those funds for unplanned events such as Haiti or Chile. In choosing organizations, favor those that have long-term sustainability elements for individual empowerment or succession. (Keep in mind, some worthwhile organizations may not have an empowerment element, given the nature of their cause.)

This will allow you to maximize your contributions. And, for some, the lesson need not only apply to donations and volunteer work. The concept works on that micro or macro level. All that is required is your ability to balance selfish and selfless.

After all, working too many hours tends to diminish productivity. Engaging children in too many activities can jeopardize quality time as a family (especially among working parents). Allowing government to fund too many external programs limits its ability to fund local programs.

Reversed, with each level of our infrastructure investing at comfortable levels, then maybe companies, organizations, and government might be in a better position to help without confusing cause marketing and social responsibility. Or maybe nonprofit organizations would work harder to empower and not enable. Or maybe we can find alternative solutions that still allow our generosity to shine through, like sending shoes to Haiti.

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