Look inward

I recently spoke with a local non-profit group about the challenges they are facing. Finding volunteers to help with their projects was on the top of their list. Volunteers tend to turn into future donors. If they could get more volunteers, they would see an increase in donations. Simple.

After the interaction, I went home and wrote a lengthy email with my contacts of individuals and organizations that were looking for opportunities to contribute to a cause such as theirs.

The problem was, when I went to send the email, there was no one to email my information to. Not one single email available to contact a human.


I think it is convenience. Having less contact information is a convenient way to avoid interacting with people.

Sure, they could point to the “Contact Us” section. But I didn’t need to contact “us”, what I needed was to contact “you”. Specifically, the one who can solve an interesting problem, the one who can connect us with their movement.

Generosity is, of course, a choice, a skill, a habit that is learned and practiced. The label of a non-profit though doesn’t automatically give you the spirit of a non-profit. The DNA, the culture of a remarkable organization stems from small and seemingly insignificant choices. Like having a human being on the other end to interact with.

If you want to solve a problem, it helps to look inward first. It is easy to say, if someone would just give me more ______________ (money, time, authority), then this problem would go away. Until a new problem pops up. Because problems never go away.

The answer is rarely more resources but what are you doing with the resources you have.

Help us, help you.

(This non-profit is probably dealing with the stress of a system that is over-worked, under-paid and under-valued. They are in reactionary mode. I mean, how could they know if there is a problem if no one can contact them? The thing is, if your organization says it really cares about people, you have to act as you care about people by being available to them. You can’t say you care about people if you treat them like they are a nuance. Treat different people differently—like someone who wants to volunteer for a non-profit.)

(Follow-up: I sent the email through the “Contact Us”. There was no response to know if my contacts arrived, not even an automated generated email saying “Thank you. We have received your email. Someone from our local office will be in contact with you shortly.” Small change but significant: What if instead they had the email, phone number and picture on every page with the person in-charge of that specific program. What would happen if volunteers / customers actually had a human to talk to?)

(Second follow-up: No one replied back to the email. At best, I can assume that it was lost in the mail. At worse, no one cared.)

At least once

Everyone has had at least one brilliant insight, has connected the dots to something that we couldn’t see before.

Everyone has been generous and helped someone at least once.

Everyone has made something or said something or wrote something that changed the recipient.

If you did it once, you can do it again.

Getting a little better with each interaction you make.

Tragedy of the commons

I have never met anyone who has bragged about cheating on their taxes. (And I bet you haven’t either.)


Because no one wants to admit, they are taking from the community—that they drive the same roads and use the same schools without contributing their fair share. No one wants to admit that they benefit from the herd:

Because we feed the network first, then we take ask for our share. That is how communities and tribes work. Insiders are treated like insiders, outsiders as outsiders. Different people are treated differently. Not because we don’t care, but because we don’t trust you (yet), we don’t know you (yet).

Because contributions matter. Contributions bring additional attention and trust to fellow tribe members.

The system will survive if one person cheats on their taxes, but not when everyone decides to forfeit personal responsibility.

What kind of world do we want to live in? How long do we let the few benefit from shortcuts that sacrifice future prosperity? It’s not too late today to reverse course, that is until tomorrow comes.

Important is not the same as popular

In the 1850’s, Ignaz Semmelweiss discovered that washing your hands could drastically cut the spread of Childbed Fever. His contribution laid the groundwork of what we know today about germs.

In the 1940’s, Alan Turing played a significant role in cracking intercepted coded messages that enabled the Allies to defeat the Nazis. It has been estimated that his contributions ended the war two years early and saved 14 million lives.

In 1983, during the height of the Cold War, Stanislav Petrov’s job was to monitor the Soviet Union’s Air Defense Forces. One night, the computers picked up five missiles sent by the US.  Petrov suspected that something was off, trusted his gut and disregarded protocol to report what was happening to his superiors. It turned out to be malfunction in the system and he saved the world from a nuclear holocaust.

Today, nearly three billion people still haven’t heard the name Jesus.

No matter how important the contribution you make is (and they are very important), most people still won’t remember your name. Because doing something important isn’t the same as doing something popular.

Tragically, Semmelweiss was locked away in an insane asylum and beaten to death, Turing was convicted of “gross indecency” for his sexuality and was given chemical castration treatment, Petrov was reprimanded for his courage and the most generous among us was crucified for challenging the status-quo.

I’m not sure if one person today could change the entire world. But I believe each of us has the capacity to make things better. While our culture emphasizes big splashes, it’s the ripple effects that reaches the masses.

Reach out and touch

Tragedies, real hardship cannot be felt over a tweet.

Total empathy is not encapsulated by emoticons.

A hash tag? Please.

The tools are here to help spread the message, not to replace human interaction.

Connections are deeper than a thumbs up.

Nothing can substitute the real power of looking someone in the eye and telling them truthfully how sorry something has happened.

More important than words is showing up because in this moment you can do something.

Words matter. Action, even more. Emojis and thumbs-up are the lowest form of empathy.


For most of us, we can find a better use of our time then trying to dunk a basketball. It is often a fruitless endeavor, which only those born with certain talents (like having a hand big enough to grip the ball) are able to accomplish.

Just about everything else is a skill. A skill can be learned. If it can be learned then we can form a habit.

Being consistently generous is a habit.

And grateful.

Along with reliable, vulnerable, helpful…

So is reading and writing.

So is smoking, anger, and resentment.

Habits are both good and bad, productive and destructive, useful and useless. You get to choose which ones to form.