Tuesday, August 28, 2007

8 Facts About Me Meme

Soha El-Borno of Wild Apricot tagged me to participate in the 8 Random Facts About Me Meme. I think I've done this before so if you've been reading here for awhile, I'm probably repeating myself.

First the rules

1) Post these rules before you give your facts

2) List 8 random facts about yourself

3) At the end of your post, choose (tag) 8 people and list their names, linking to them

4) Leave a comment on their blog, letting them know they've been tagged

Then the facts:

1. Before I started blogging, podcasting, and consulting for nonprofits, I worked for six years at an arts education nonprofit teaching autobiographical writing to San Francisco public middle school students using storytelling and theater.

2. My favorite books when I was growing up were Harriet the Spy, My Side of the Mountain, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and the biographies of Virginia Dare and Sacajewea.

3. My best friend in grade school used to call me Birt. My best friend from college called me Britthead because of my big hair. She still calls me BH.

4. I had a lot of food allergies growing up, including chocolate. I used to crush candy bars inside their wrappers at the grocery store 'cause I couldn't eat them. Nice, huh?

5. My maiden name is Aageson (Bravo is my husband's name). Because of the double "A", I had to sit in the first seat in the first row in school. On the first day, when the teacher would call roll, they would always look at the student list, raise their eyebrows and then say, "Britt . . . . .?" so they wouldn't have to pronounce my last name.

6. My favorite colors are orange and red.

7. I worked at Mystic Seaport for a little while after college where one of my jobs was presenting a slide show about whaling, including a harpoon demonstration. Lemme know if you need to know anything about baleen.

8. I majored in Sociology at Vassar. My thesis was about the increased interest in holistic health as a social movement.

I'm tagging:

Vale of Evening Fog
Playing Hooky
Into the Studio
Minkgirl Muses
Waiting for a Train
Fake Plastic Fish

Monday, August 27, 2007

Presidential Campaign Widgets and Matchmakers: Let the Social Web Election Fun Begin!

Did you know that as of this writing, Hilary Clinton has raised $63,075,926, Barack Obama has raised $58,913,134 and Mitt Romney has raised $44,432,349? Mike Gravel, on the other hand, has raised $238,744.

You can see and share these astounding figures with MAPLight's Presidential Fundraising Widget, which can be placed on your blog or web site.

In addition to launching the widget, MAPLight.org has published an API (application programming interface) that makes it easy for any Web developer to build their own site, or software program, that displays or shares up-to-date campaign contributions from the FEC (Federal Elections Commission).

The widget is funded by the $25,000 first prize NetSquared Innovation Award that MAPLight.org received at the NetSquared Conference (N2Y2), and by the Sunlight Foundation.

By September 15th, MAPLight.org plans to release a widget for U.S. Congress, showing total campaign contributions for each candidate for Congress. By September 30, MAPLight.org will release its "Money and Votes" widget, revealing correlations between campaign contributions and votes for any bill in U.S. Congress.

To be notified when MAPLight.org releases these widgets, visit www.maplight.org/participate/signup.

On a lighter note, as I mentioned last week, Change.org launched a Presidental Matchmaker tool last week that shows you which candidates' views match yours the most closely. You can take a 20 question quiz where you rate how strongly you support or oppose issues, and it matches you with a presidential candidate. (You need to create a Change.org login and password to see the results).

Full disclosure: I work for NetSquared.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Do Good Blogger Sampler and Other Blogging Links

I ran out of handouts yesterday during my talk about do good blogging at the Writing for Change Conference, and said I'd post the handout up here today. It's just a sampler of do good bloggers (please don't be sad if I didn't include you, it's a sampler), links to blog search engines, links to blog feed readers, and links to blog software platforms.

A Sampling of Do Good Blogs

100 Mile Diet
*Started as a blog

A.Fline Blog

Anti-Racist Parent

Beth’s Blog

BlogHer's Social Change, Nonprofits and NGOs Blog Roll

Chez Pim’s Menu for Hope



Fake Plastic Fish

Fat Free Vegan Kitchen

Drilling Santa Fe

Gayle Brandeis
*Won Barbara Kingslover Bellweather Prize for Fiction in Support of Literature of Social Change.

Getcha Grub On

Give and Take
*A Roundup of nonprofit blogs by the Chronicle of Philanthropy (check out the blogroll in the right column).

Global Voices Online

Green LA Girl


Groovy Green

How I Changed the World Today

Katya Andresen’s Nonprofit Marketing Blog

My Happiness Project

Nonprofit Blog Exchange
* Click through blogs in blogroll on lower right

Race in the Workplace


Shaping Youth

Social Change Websites
* Has a blog section

Sustainable Table

Tactical Philanthropy


Triple Pundit

Urban Sprouts

Veggie Going Vegan

Wish Jar


Search for more do good blogs on:

Google Blog Search


Read do good blogs in a feed reader like:



Google Reader

Create your own do good blog with one of these platforms:

Movable Type

Friday, August 24, 2007

Do Good Blogging: A Free, Fun Way to Change the World

If you want to use writing for change, why start a blog?

Blogs Can Educate and Raise Awareness

In a world where mainstream media tends to focus on celebrities and sensationalism, important problems and possible solutions are often overlooked. Blogs provide a much needed venue for sharing innovative thinking.

The 100 Mile Diet book (Plenty is the US title) started out as a blog by Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon in Spring 2005 when they used it as a platform to record their 100 Mile Diet experiment. For one year, they decided to buy or gather their food within 100 miles of their home in Vancouver, British Columbia. Their entries quickly gathered momentum over the Internet and inspired others to launch their own 100 Mile Diets.

Carmen Van Kerckhove's blogs Racialicious and Race in the Workplace raises readers' awareness about racism, like her post, "How to Respond to a Racist Joke."

Treehugger rose quickly in popularity because it became a resource for concerned consumers to learn about, "everything that has a modern aesthetic yet is environmentally responsible."

Blogs Can Mobilize People to Action

Blogs are an organizers dream. Not only can building a base of regular readers create a group of potential activists, blogs' linking and cross-posting culture spreads information quickly, and can have an added level of trust, if the reader already knows the source.

During the Starbucks Challenge, Green LA Girl motivated readers to push Starbucks to keep their promise that they would make a French-pressed cup of fair trade coffee for any customer who asked for it. When they didn't receive the coffee, readers either blogged about it on their own blogs, or left comments on Green LA Girl's blog.

Blogs like Drilling Santa Fe act as an organizing tool around a community issue. They provide a platform to spread calls to action, post event announcements, gather petition signatures, and generate discussion.

Fundraising initiatives like Beth Kanter's widget fundraising campaigns, Chez Pim's annual Menu for Hope virtual auction, Problogger's Blogging for Chickens, and Blogathon involve readers and bloggers in creative, personal philanthropic campaigns that can quickly raise thousands of dollars.

Blogs Can Be Used to Market

These days, published authors have to do a lot of their own promotion. Blogs can be a place for writers to try out ideas and build a readership, even before a book is conceived. They can also be a platform for promotion and communication with readers and fans after a book is published.

Books like Plenty, WorldChanging, and Wake Up and Smell the Planet were blogs first, and then used new and existing content to create books.

Blogs like Katya Andresen's Nonprofit Marketing Blog, Anna Lappe's Getcha Grub On and Gayle Brandeis' Fruitful, were created around the publication of their books: Andresen's Robin Hood Marketing, Lappe's Grub, and Brandeis' The Book of Dead Birds (which won the Bellwether Prize for Fiction in Support of Literature of Social Change).

For myself, I started a blog in the hope that something I post might inspire a reader to create positive change.

In her book, Writing to Change the World, Mary Pipher says, "Writing and therapy are both about creating the conditions that allow us to take people to the mountain. When people's breathing changes and their eyes fill with wonder, they will walk down that mountain ready to perform miracles."

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sustainable Agriculture Scholarships and Photo Competition

Did you know that according to the American Farm Bureau, in 2002, the average age of a farmer was 55? Sounds like we need to start fostering a next generation of farmers.

Annie's Homegrown, the company that produces Annie's Mac N' Cheese (yum), sent an email last month asking me to help spread the word that they are accepting applications for their new Sustainable Agriculture Scholarship Program. They will award two $10,000 Undergraduate Scholarships, one $10,000 Graduate Scholarship, four $2,500 Undergraduate Scholarships, and four $2,500 Graduate Scholarships to students pursuing studies in sustainable and organic agriculture.

What the heck does "sustainable" mean anyway? Like "green", it is used so much these days it is starting to lose its oomph. Sustainable Table, a project of the nonprofit, GRACE, defines sustainable as:

"A product can be considered sustainable if its production enables the resources from which it was made to continue to be available for future generations."

They define sustainable agriculture as:

"Farming that provides a secure living for farm families; maintains the natural environment and resources; supports the rural community; and offers respect and fair treatment to all involved, from farm workers to consumers to the animals raised for food."

The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program is part of the USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service. They fund projects and conduct outreach designed to improve agricultural systems. To celebrate their 20th anniversary, they are sponsoring their first national photo competition. They're looking for photos that depict innovations, people and partnerships in American sustainable agriculture. The top four photos, one from each of SARE’s regions in the United States, will receive grand prizes of free attendance and accommodations at SARE’s 20th anniversary conference, March 25-27, 2008 in Kansas City, Missouri.

Check out SARE's video and audio profiles of "New American Farmers" and their book of the same title.

Photo Credit: Tomatoes by Me.

Personal Presidential Picker on Change.org

I think this is so fun.

Change.org has launched a Presidental Matchmaker tool/game that shows you which candidates' views match yours the most closely. You take a 20 question quiz where you rate how strongly you support or oppose issues, and it matches you with a presidential candidate. (You need to create a Change.org login and password to see the results).

Problem is, it told me what I already know: it tied Obama and Clinton. You know I love the Obama (he's on The Daily Show tonight, by the way), but you gotta admit, Hilary has been kicking butt on the debates.

I wish Obama would lighten up a bit, and I'm very bummed that he has discontinued his podcast. It was my favorite, and made him seem like a down to earth person, not just a presidential candidate.

Photos of Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton taken from the Presidential Matchmaker Quiz.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

BlogHers Act: Global Health Poll

BlogHer (where I am a Contributing Editor) launched a year-long campaign, BlogHers Act, at their 2007 conference this summer. During BlogHers Act, BlogHers will work to make a measurable improvement in "global health" issues.

BlogHers Act will take a two-pronged approach to make a positive change in global health issues. BlogHers will work together around a single global health issue that they want to create change around.

BlogHers Act will also encourage members who want to create their own, separate campaigns on issues of their choice to do so, and to report back to the BlogHers Act initiative.

Until August 25th they are conducting a final poll (at the top of this post) to determine which global health issue to focus on. If you think you might be interested in participating in this campaign, take a moment to vote for the global health issue you would most like to impact as part of the BlogHer community.

Bloghers Act

Monday, August 20, 2007

Win Free Registration to How to Write a Book and Get Published in Santa Fe

Do you have a book that you want to write that you think will make the world a better place, but you're not sure how to do it?

Guess what? Bill O'Hanlon is offering a few Have Fun * Do Good readers scholarship spaces in his upcoming How to Write a Book and Get Published seminar in Santa Fe, NM September 21-23, 2007.

Here's how to apply:

Email Bill at PossiBill@aol.com and tell him how you will use your book for social good. He will select up to three people to attend the workshop for free ($500 value for each registration). If you win, you will have to cover your own transportation to Santa Fe and food and lodging in Santa Fe.

About Bill:

Bill has now authored or co-authored 28 books. He is frequently heard to say, "Stop me before I write again!" and occasionally awakens in the middle of the night, exclaiming in frustration, "I'm having another book!" His books have been translated into 16 different languages. He has written over 50 articles or book chapters.

In 1999, he appeared on Oprah with his book, Do One Thing Different: Ten Simple Ways to Change Your Life. He has also appeared on The Today Show, Canada AM, and Body By Jake. His work has been featured in Ladies Home Journal, New Woman, Newsweek, Bottom Line, Self and The Psychotherapy Networker.

His latest book is Write is a Verb: Sit Down, Start Writing, No Excuses.

Photo Credit: Santa Fe Sky by Me.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Birthday Blog: Two for the Blog and 38 for Me

Today is Have Fun * Do Good's two year anniversary and my 38th b-day.

My husband gave me the book, Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar which I'd asked for after seeing Ben-Shahar speak on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. It's based on a positive psychology class that Ben-Shahar teaches at Harvard. It's the most popular class at the university.

I just started it this morning, but am enjoying it so far. The point that has stood out the most is this:

"Attaining lasting happiness requires that we enjoy the journey on our way toward a destination we deem valuable. Happiness is not about making it to the peak of the mountain nor is it about climbing aimlessly around the mountain; happiness is the experience of climbing toward the peak."
Posting on Have Fun * Do Good has definitely brought me a lot of happiness. A big thanks to all of you for reading.

Photo Credit: Red Velvet Cupcakes Baked by Me

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Kiva Empowers Borrowers and Lenders to Create Change

Since 2005, 27-year-old Beatrices Amoka has been running her Peace “o” Hairdressing Salon where she sells weavon, hair cream, and relaxer. She also fixes hair, and does pedicures and manicures. Working with the Lift Above Poverty Organization in Nigeria, Beatrices requested a loan of $400 for her business though Kiva.org, which she will pay back monthly over an 8-month period.

Kiva.org allows individuals, like you and me, to lend entrepreneurs, like Beatrices, money through PayPal with loans of as little as $25. When I loaned her $50 yesterday (my first Kiva loan), only one other person had given her a loan, Sergio from Switzerland. When I checked this morning, 7 more people had contributed to her loan request (Rick, Matthew, the 2007 Pryor Class, Anish, Mark and Emily). Her loan is now fully funded.

Kiva was started by a husband and wife team, Matt and Jessica Jackley Flannery. In my interview with her last fall, Flannery explained, "In the very, very beginning, Matt and I had this idea, 'How neat would it be if we had individual, real people on our web site with their needs, and the amount of funding that they need? I'm sure we could get people to help them and to loan money to them, so let's just try it.'" They launched the site in 2005.

Two years later, Kiva has taken off. It has received tons of press, and can barely meet the demand from the growing number of individuals wanting to fund loans. You can follow the organization's growth and adventures on the Kiva blog, and on Matt's blog, the Kiva Chronicles, on the Skoll Foundation's Social Edge site.

Julia of How I Changed the World Today posts about the loans she makes through Kiva almost every day and has a map on her blog of where her loans originate.

Green Girl at Perry Family Fun recently loaned $25 to Gregorio Castillo, who will use the loan to buy a cow to restart his dairy and fuel his business as a farmer.

Ryan Gunderson of Riches for Good also made his first Kiva loans last week. You can see the profiles of the 8 people he made loans to here.

Microcredit's detractors argue that poverty can be better alleviated by creating jobs. Although a program like Kiva may not be able to fully address the systemic causes of poverty, clearly, it fills a need for the people who request the loans, and its popularity indicates that it fills a need for the individuals who fund the loans as well. The process empowers both parties to create positive change.

Photo of Beatrices Amoka from Kiva.org

Friday, August 10, 2007

Craigslist Nonprofit Boot Camps in Berkeley and Brooklyn

You've used Craigslist before, right? Maybe it was to look for a job, or buy a futon, or find a "missed connection", but did you know that there is a Craigslist Foundation? Yup, and their mission is to provide free and low cost educational opportunities for emerging nonprofit leaders and social entrepreneurs.

In fact, they are having two Nonprofit Boot Camps in the next several weeks (full disclosure: my husband and are helping them with their podcast). The first is Saturday, August 18th at UC Berkeley, and the second is on Saturday, September 15th at the Brookyn Academy of Music. Their fees are totally reasonable. $50 for the day. They are also planning to have Boot Camps in Washington, DC, Chicago, IL and Los Angeles, CA.

The Foundation also puts on smaller educational events. For example, Heather Carpenter attended a Foundation produced networking event where Susan Fox, author of Grant Proposal Makeover, shared her "10 Flaws That Doom Most Proposals to Failure," which you can read on Heather's Nonprofit Leadership 601 blog.

Free-Range Drama Farm recommends the Foundation's Nonprofit Resources page, which has links to resources like Idealists' Tools for Organizations and iReuse for Nonprofits.

Gillian Parrillo, of the Sacramento Executive, said that the speech they heard Darian Rodriguez Heyman, the Executive Director of the Craigslist Foundation, give at an event this past spring was, "one of those speeches that makes you reach for a pen and a scrap of paper and scribble all over it because you don't want to miss even one of the great nuggets." You can hear Darian, and other Boot Camp speakers on Social Innovation Conversations.

After the Boot Camp in 2005, I wrote up notes from the five sessions I attended: Strategic Communications Planning, Building the Local Green Economy, The Seven Things You Need to Know to Raise Money, Community Organizing and Action, and Volunteerism Recruitment and Management, which you can read here. You can read session notes taken by last year's participants on the Silicon Valley Commons wiki.

Whether you who want to start a nonprofit, are an experienced nonprofit worker, or want to make the switch from for-profit to non-profit, I highly recommend their events for the educational content and networking opportunities.

Being surrounded by people who are working in nonprofits, or who want to work for nonprofits, also reminds you why you do the work you do, like this Woodrow Wilson quote from the Nonprofit Consultant Blog:

"You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand."

Ning/Social Networking Expert Needed for My Pops

I have a personal request for all you Ning and social networking experts out there. My Dad is involved in the creation of the Global Center for Cultural Enterprise and Entrepreneurship which will support cultural entrepreneurs around the world with training, tech support, and policy and funding resources.

Cultural entrepreneurs are change agents who leverage cultural knowledge and innovation to create thriving economic systems, like Lan Tran, the General Manager of Craft Link, a Vietnamese NGO organization that helps craft producers to improve their livelihoods through craft while helping to revive and promote traditional culture and skills.

They are using Ning to build a social network and need some help setting it up to meet their needs, for example, they'd like to incorporate LinkedIn on the site. They are looking for general social networking advice as well.

I just sent them Jusin Perkins of Care2's ROI Calcualator for Social Networking, but I'm not enough of a Ning expert to be of more help than that.

You can see what they have so far on Ning here and their wiki here.

If you'd like to help them, email Alice Loy alice@aliceloy.com and Tom Aageson at tom@museumfoundation.org.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Writing for Change Conference: An Interview with Elizabeth Pomada

As I mentioned last week, I'll be speaking about blogging at the Writing for Change Conference in San Francisco this month. I told the conference co-founders, a husband and wife literary agent team, Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen, that I'd help to spread the word about the conference so I interviewed Elizabeth for the Big Vision Podcast.

In the interview transcript below, Elizabeth talks about the conference and offers tips for writers who want to write for change.

Elizabeth Pomada: Hi, I'm Elizabeth Pomada. I'm a literary agent in San Francisco, with the Larsen-Pomada Literary Agents, and we've been in business a long time here in San Francisco. We are both from New York, but felt that California was the right place to be.

The conference is something that is really Michael's baby. In 1977 he wrote an editorial for the Sunday paper, and at that time he said, "I believe that books can change the world." It's still something that both of us believe, and now with the advent of Al Gore's book and movie - and even Bill Clinton is now publishing a book on how to be an activist, it's called Giving and it will be published in September - so many people want to put their passion on the page, and because they're doing that, they are, in fact, changing the world.

It's been very fast. I mean, San Francisco is now a green city, and that's right from the heart of Mayor Newsom. And being green is also part of saving the planet, saving the earth. It's time to do a nonfiction conference about changing the world, one book at a time.

The fact that we have Grace Cathedral so close to us and Grace has a conference center in it, but they also have a feeling of welcoming everyone in the world and trying to change the world, which was really important. And the moment we spoke about this idea to Alan Jones, the Dean, he said immediately, within five minutes, "Oh, you must have it here, and we have to co-sponsor."

And everyone we've talked about it to has been really excited about it. It's an idea whose time has come. And so we're going to have people like Rachel Naomi Remen speak. She's the author of Kitchen Table Wisdom and she's going to tell how to use story to change people's ideas and get your idea across.

And Phil Zimbardo is going to speak about his book, The Lucifer Effect, which showed how he had an experiment where he put a few students of his from Stanford in prison and a few people, in the same class, in as prison guards, and then it showed how immediately they turned bad because of how power can corrupt people. And we know that even the smallest person, if given a little bit of power, somehow that he can be corrupted, and this is something we have to stop.

And then, of course, we have Riane Eisler, whose new book is about the wealth of nations, speaking, and she, too, is an idealist. We also have Ernest Callenbach, who wrote the first book on the environment, Ecotopia. We have Angus Wright, who does books about the political environment in Brazil and saving the rainforest for the world. Starhawk is going to talk about how her books on, basically, Wicca, but they also changed how people looked at women. It's more a feminist idea, rather than a spiritual idea. And Alan Jones is going to talk about spirituality as well.

So we'll have a big mix of people talking about media. Richie Unterberger's going to be talking about how to be an intelligent consumer, which is good, because we all should put our money where our mouth is. [laughing]

And what else? Project Censored, the media is going to be covered. Alan Rinzler's going to talk about the turbulent 60s - how people in the 60s were doing books about change and they didn't even know it.

And, of course, there are going to be agents and editors, and so we'll also talk about publishing - how you can be published. How you can choose your publisher and how you can support that publisher once they've decided to take you on.

We'll tell what an editor does, what a research person does, how to promote your book, how to work with a salesperson for your book. So you'll see every step from writer to reader. You'll also have agents who will talk about how to work with them and how to find them, and how to do your promotion, which is really crucial today.

One agent's going to tell you how to choose what you write about. Is your idea too good, or is it not good enough? Or has it been done too many times already? You can't just write a book just because you want to; you have to know what it is you're getting yourself in for.

So that's a lot - 30 sessions, 40 sessions, and three key noters, and two parties and two breakfasts and two lunches. [laughing]

And also some labyrinth walking, which is important, because the labyrinth. You know the difference between a labyrinth and a maze? Well, a maze you can never get out of, but a labyrinth, there's always an end, and it helps you find your way to the center, and it's for you, rather than to hide you. It's to help you through.

And publishing is like that too. You have to go through a labyrinth to get from your page, the computer, to the reader's eyes. And this is one of the things that we're going to help people do, not only walk the labyrinth, but live the labyrinth of publishing.

Britt: How are you making the event green?

EP: Well, Mayor Newsom has already given Michael the green hat, from San Francisco Green, because he works with the project Homeless Connect people. But we're not giving out really classy briefcases, as we do normally in the San Francisco Writers Conference. We're giving away free green bags from Mollie Stone's - totally recyclable and totally free and totally green. And then you can take them to your grocery when you need to do that.

We're telling people to, of course, bring sweaters, because it's San Francisco, but we're also telling them to bring their own refillable plastic bottles and we're going to give them Hetch Hetchy 2007, that's San Francisco water. That's about the best water you can get, and it's not bottled.

The food is from Acre Caterers and it's going to be totally organic. The plates and silverware and the cups are going to be totally organic and recyclable. There's going to be a vegan choice at every meal. And we're not going to spend a lot of money on big plastic things and a big banner. We're not going to have a huge banner in the lunch room; we're just going to tell you that this is who we are.

We're going to use recycled paper instead of a big, glossy program. You have to maybe set your standards a little lower today, but this is the way we do it, if you're going to plan to be here tomorrow. And if you can think of other new ideas, we'd love to hear from you. [laughing]

BB: What's the path that brought you to this work?

We were both in publishing in New York City. We went to the Far East on vacation, and we stopped in San Francisco here, going and comin. When we went back to New York, Michael was suddenly out of a job and he looked for three days in New York, and then decided, "Gee, we should really live in California." And we just did. We just simply moved.

And then discovered there were no jobs whatsoever, so since we already knew everybody in publishing at that point. There was an employment agent here who said, "Well, you know, Elizabeth, there are no jobs for you whatsoever. Nobody could afford you, or nobody's big enough to hire a promotion director. But meanwhile, all these people keep sending me their manuscripts."

And she had a pile a wall high, so I was spending the year, this was my year to write, and I was spending the year writing, while Michael found employment, and I spent every Tuesday afternoon plowing through these manuscripts to see if there was a book there, and I found two. One was eventually published posthumously, and the other was our first big best-seller, A World Full of Strangers, by Cynthia Freeman.

After I sold that, then Michael decided he wanted to be an agent when he sold the first Patty Hearst book in four phone calls. He thought being an agent was easy, you just call up and people buy the book! We've been doing it ever since. We were the first people to do it as a full-time job, and for some reason, we like it. We are still surviving. We love doing books and we love turning writers into authors. We love discovering really good talent and making sure that the books they do write and publish succeed.

BB: What advice do you have for writers who have an idea for a book that they think will create positive change?

EP: OK, well, first of all they have to figure out how they want to change the world. Is it going to be economics or culture? Social change? The environment? Health? The media? You have to choose what it is that's in your heart. Then you should do some research. Amazon lists books the minute they're in publishers' catalogs, so although you can't second-guess what's going to be out when your books is out, which is 18 months after you deliver it and it's accepted, you can only see who's doing what and make sure that no one's doing already what you want to do.

Then you have to put together a proposal as fast as you can, and Michael has written the bible for people who want to do book proposals, How to Write a Book Proposal, and put together a promotion plan. Start talking about it, get yourself a platform so you'll be big enough for a major publisher, and get out there.

There are times when we tell people they have to self-publish if they want to get it out really fast, because that's the only way that's going to happen. Self-publishing is a great way to test-market your idea, and your book. And if you can sell enough copies in short enough time, then a major publisher will pick it up.

We've had several books that we've published from self-published books including Jay Conrad Levinson, the author of all the Guerrilla Marketing books. His first book was self-published.

One of our favorite books that we've sold, that has changed the world, is Dan Millman's Way of the Peaceful Warrior. And there are lots of people, especially young men, who tell us that the Way of the Peaceful Warrior changed the way they saw the world. The sales manager at the Mark Hopkins Hotel also told me that he loved that book when he was young, because it did change the way he saw the universe. Now the movie is out, and it'll spread the word a little further.

How to do your work? You have to polish your craft. You have to research the market. You have to research the business that you're trying to enter. Publishing is a business and we don't believe that authors should be dilettantes. If you want to be a writer, you've got to be committed to being that writer, and then just write the best you can. Get feedback from people to make the book the best you can and then promote it as well as you can. And that's the way to be a success. Then write another book. Follow up on it. Don't be a one-note person.

BB: Where can people find information about self-publishing?

EP: I would just go follow Dan Poynter's book, The Self-Publishing Manual. He tells you everything. He tells you who to go to for printing, where to find an editor, make sure you have a really professional look to the book - a professional title, professional cover, professional package, and then he'll tell you how to get distribution, and it's not easy. Sometimes I think it's easier to be a published author than it is to self-publish, but this way, you have only yourself to blame.

BB: What are the kinds of books the market is looking for these days?

EP: I think it's easier to say what people are not looking for... [laughing]..rather than what they are looking for. I think that people are tired of hearing about war and terrorism and abuse. I think that now fewer and fewer publishers are looking for what's called the "misery memoir." We're tired of hearing people overcoming their horrible childhood, because it's too much. We've heard it too much. We're hardened now. It would be nice to have someone have a wonderful, happy childhood.

And I always think that humor helps everything. Even a misery memoir can be wonderful if it's really funny. But also, you can't preach. People don't want to be preached to. They'd like to learn from, they'd like to be encouraged or inspired, but preaching, I think, just because you have a message, doesn't mean you want to be hit over the head with a shovel.

Good stories will tell better than didactic tracks. I think that's why Rachel Remen's, "How to Use Your Storytelling Power," is going to be so important, because everybody wants a good story, especially if it makes you feel good and makes you feel happy or positive. There are so many things that one can do to make the world better. You have to think of something new and different and use an "up" voice to talk about it. People will listen, if it doesn't hurt.

BB: Is there anything else you want people to know about the Writing for Change conference?

EP: The conference is August 23rd, 24th and 25th. Thursday night is the party and registration. We'll do some labyrinth walking to music. And then all day Friday and all day Saturday you'll have talks, interactive things. We'll have "meet the pro" sessions, where you can actually talk to an editor, agent, or even an author. And you'll be networking, talking to people all day long; learning and enjoying and being fed well, if organically.

And it's the first of its kind in San Francisco, and we're really pleased that it's here. We do have rooms that are relatively inexpensive at the Mark Hopkins set aside for you, but they're only going to be available until August 2nd. And there are still openings for registration, and we have people coming from all over the country, which is super. We're looking forward to really making a change in people's lives.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Why Don't We All Know How to Organize Our Communities?

A couple weeks ago my mom told me that they'd heard some disturbing news. Land near their home in the Santa Fe, New Mexico area had been acquired for petroleum drilling exploration. The environmental impact, especially to the aquifer, could be devastating.

Luckily, a group of local activists started a blog, Drilling Santa Fe, as an organizing and communication tool, and have put together an organizing event and petition, but it got me to thinking, why don't we all know how to organize our communities? Why isn't that one of the skills we learn in school, and how can we learn to do it today?

I found what looks like a great resource through the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth blog, a new book called Tools for Radical Democracy: How to Organize for Power in Your Community by Joan Minieri and Paul Getsos. Barbara Ehrenreich (Author of Nickel and Dimed) also mentioned a community organizing book on her blog yesterday, We Make Change: Community Organizers Talk About What They Do--and Why.

During the BlogHer Conference session, How to Turn Your Blog into a GOtV (Get Out the Vote) Machine, the incredibly inspiring Zephyr Teachout (former Director of Internet Organizing and Outreach for Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign) talked about the importance of three things when organizing:

* Have an online petition tool. The Drilling Santa Fe petition is powered by iPetitions.com. Idealware has a review of other petition tools.

* Create a local press and blogger list.

* Use the Internet to get people to meet offline. She sited research that found that 12 people is the optimum number for a group. It produces the best range of individual competencies. The Dean campaign used Meetup to organize its offline meetings.

Thanks to Larry Ferlazzo's Websites of the Day for Teaching ELL, ESL and EFL, I found a fun resource, The Community Organizing Toolkit and Game (if you're in a quiet place, you'll want to turn your volume down before you click on this, it has music). The Organizing Game can be played online or downloaded and teaches door-knocking techniques. The resources section of the site has four articles covering the basics of organizing and outreach written by Alfredo de Avila and the Center for Third World Organizing:

* Introduction to Organizing
* Five Basic Approaches to Outreach
* Secrets of the Five Outreach Strategies
* Outreach Planning

I wonder if more people in the United States would vote, and less would elect movie stars who they perceive as powerful, if they felt empowered to make change in their own communities.

Photo Credit: Petition for Council--Signatures by Rochelle Hartman.

Changing the World One Gift at a Time: An Interview with Deron Beal of the Freecycle Network

This summer I've been interviewing the innovators behind the 21 Projects that went to the NetSquared Conference (N2Y2) this year (I'm the Community Builder for NetSquared). It's pretty amazing what these folks have created, like Dan Newman, the Executive Director and Co-founder of MAPLight.org, a non-partisan non-profit that illuminates the connection between money and politics (you can read my interview with him here).

I was particularly touched by my interview with Deron Beal, the Executive Director and founder of the Freecycle Network, so I thought I'd share it here. Freecycle is a nonprofit that facilitates people giving and getting stuff for free in their own towns.

You can listen to the original interview and a live recording of Freecycle's 5-minute pitch at the NetSquared Conference on the NetSquared Podcast.

Deron Beal: My name is Deron Beal. I'm the Founder and Executive Director of the Freecycle Network. We've been around for about four years now. Freecycle Network is a website, Freecycle.org, but may be better said, it's a web community. It enables people to find others in their local community to give things to that they would otherwise end up throwing away or taking to the landfill.

We like to call it a "cyber curbside," and the goal is to make it easier to give something away than to throw it away. So instead of having to carry an old item -- a bed, a chair or something -- out to the curb for brush and bulky pickup from the city, you can send an email out to your local group and pick one of the 10 or so people who will respond, and they come and pick it up for you. So you don't even have to carry it out to the curb.

Our hope is that by making it easier to give something away than to throw it away, that a lot more people will do it. And in doing so, of course, we move forward our nonprofit conservation mission of keeping good stuff out of landfills.

Britt Bravo: Where did the idea for the Freecycle Network come from?

DB: Well, I was working with a recycling nonprofit at the time, and we would give guys jobs out of shelters and help them move into apartments and whatnot. The jobs they do are recycling downtown for businesses, "valet recycling," it's kind of a neat program. I think it's applicable in other cities too where there's not enough room for a city barrel or something, so you'd go into the shops and the offices and pick up the recycling inside.

So we had this wonderful program going, and all these business owners and storefront managers began offering and giving us things that weren't recyclable, like old computers or store racks and things. I'd always say yes, and we'd take it and throw it in the back of the truck. We got so well-known for doing this that we began to look like Sanford and Son driving around downtown. You could almost hear the theme song in the background. [laughs]

But at any rate, we filled up an entire warehouse full of stuff. My boss at the time said, "You need to get rid of this stuff." I was driving around to other nonprofits as fast as I could, trying to give stuff away. But one won't take monitors, the other one won't take CPUs, they'll charge you. I figured there's got to be another way. So basically what we're doing is free recycling. What should I call it? [laughs] And it was a small step to say, "Well, let's call it Freecycle."

I was a member of my neighborhood association at the time, and that was a Yahoo group, so I said, "Why not just set up a Yahoo group? I'll call it Freecycle." So, bang, the idea was born. I sent out one email to 30 or 40 friends and a handful of local nonprofits announcing the start of this Yahoo group. Boy, it just took off from the get-go.

BB: Can you give an example or tell a success story of how Freecycle has created positive change?

DB: I will add that when I set it up, it was for purely, let's say, selfish tree-hugging motives. I wanted to keep stuff out of the landfills. But I think it's grown way beyond that, and it's become a real solid community-building tool. Every gift you give away, you don't mail it somewhere. Someone from your local community comes and picks it up, so they thank you effusively at your own doorstep. So it's bringing together people in their own communities.

Because of that, that's enabled a lot of neat globally local community stories to develop of success. A lot of people setting up nonprofits using Freecycle. One Native American tribe set up a nonprofit to collect prom dresses that they could then give back to Native American teenage girls who needed a prom dress. So just all sorts of random little things like that.

But also, when people are in need -- like after Hurricane Katrina, when people relocated to the different cities and stadiums -- local Freecycle members in all these areas were able to go in and work with the Red Cross to get people signed up who had just been relocated to whatever city it was. They could ask for exactly what they needed for their new apartment in that new city. So instead of getting a truckload of winter coats, they could just say, "Well, I need a bed, I need a chair," and the local communities everywhere were able to help them.

And there's tons of stories like that. There's one woman who -- I think it was in Austin, Texas -- she collected an entire container load full of things for an orphanage in Haiti, using Freecycle. It was an orphanage that was really in dire need of things. Then she got FedEx to pay to ship the whole thing over to Haiti.

The real beauty of it is -- all these stories that are out there -- there's no central warehouse. There's no central person saying, "This is what we want to do." It's the power of each person individually to make a gift to one other person in their local community. That's the beauty of it, and that's why our motto is "Changing the world one gift at a time."

BB: What is the next step for Freecycle? What are its goals and its challenges?

DB: Well, there's all kinds of goals and challenges. Picture a nonprofit organization with 3.6 million members, and a staff of one. That's probably enough information to let you know there are all kinds of challenges. [laughs]

We have over 10,000 volunteers. But probably the biggest challenge is just keeping that volunteer pool so that each local group has a couple of volunteers helping out. You know, you do it for six or eight months or something, and you get tired and move on, and you need to find somebody new to fill that role.

So we have probably eight different teams of people, either approving new groups or helping existing groups, or handling tech issues on the website. It's just this huge volunteer network of people helping. That's our biggest challenge: just keeping that going and growing.

The great news is that by empowering people as volunteers and individuals, we're keeping over 300 tons a day out of landfills. There's a study done in Iowa. So that's a really wonderful thing, and that's probably, in the meantime, a pretty low number. In the past year alone, we've kept four times as high as Mount Everest out of landfills. If you stacked that in garbage trucks, that's a big pile of stuff.

Our challenge right now is that we've grown so quickly, we've grown solely within Yahoo Groups, and we're looking to provide more services to our local members. We're redesigning the website with two things in mind. One, probably 90 percent of our members are in English-speaking countries. We're in over 75 countries total, but most of the membership -- because the website itself is in English -- is in English-speaking countries. So we're designing the website so that there are templates for each language, and the local volunteers in that country can then just translate the information into that language.

That's the one big thing that's going on right now, and the other is that we're designing additional search and alert tools so that you only need to get the emails that come in the category you're interested in, like kids' stuff, or teaching supplies or building supplies. Those are the two neat things that are in the works right now. Probably in the next three weeks we'll be launching phase one of that new site, so that'll be really exciting.

BB: What was the positive impact for Freecycle of going to the NetSquared conference?

The most amazing start to the conference was that we met a day early with all the other nonprofit groups we were technically competing with. But the reality of the matter is that it just doesn't happen that you have an opportunity to get together with 25 or 30 other nonprofits who are also designing web communities, facing all the same challenges and all the same ambitions, and wanting to do something wonderful for the world. That just never happens.

So for the first time ever, I was able to get together with a bunch of people trying to figure out the same problems, people who were inspired with a mission. That just felt so immensely good. "You are not alone." That's the message I took with me, and it was just fantastic. It just started off wonderfully that way, and that kind of collaboration, the thread of collaboration, you could follow it through the whole conference. Seeing how people interact, help each other, provide information.

In addition to the funding support that we got through the award of winning third place -- which is awesome, the $10,000, that's going towards the new website design as we speak -- but also, we got some incredible contacts in the funding community. And Citizen Agency now is helping us, and these guys are just fantastic. They really know Web 2.0 and they're consulting for us totally free of charge, just because they want to help out. That's a direct result of their help to TechSoup and NetSquared, and their support of the NetSquared competition.

So that's probably one of the most important things that we were able to gain out of NetSquared, was these contacts with people who really know their stuff in Silicon Valley. Because I'm sitting out here in Tucson, Arizona where there are more cows than computers. [laughs]

BB: How can listeners help to move your work forward?

DB: Well, the best thing they can do is try out using Freecycle.org, giving and purging themselves of the extra things in their shed. It's funny, because we get a lot of people joining Freecycle who think, "Ooh, something for nothing, a free lunch." And then when they give their first item away, they realize the real fun, the real gift is in the giving itself. No one has to tell them it's better to give than to get. It's just more fun, so people do it.

That's the kind of message I take with me, that if we bipeds, if we weren't basically good and giving, Freecycle wouldn't exist. So you can watch all the crappy news that you want, but ultimately don't believe it. Because people do care, and people do give. That's something I just... At the end of the day, each day, I remind myself of the success that the Freecycle Network has experienced.

BB: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

DB: Global warming, the environmental impact of global warming. We all know that it's a real problem now. There's no controversy whatsoever. We also all know that recycling is a good thing. But I think what a lot of people don't realize is the critical element that reuse can play in reducing our carbon footprint.

It's kind of cool when you look at it, because let's say you give away a sofa for 100 pounds -- an old, ratty sofa that you were just going to throw away. Give it away, it weighs 100 pounds. You not only keep 100 pounds out of the landfill for that one sofa, but you keep 20 times that weight in raw materials from being used to make a new sofa. So you go out and buy a new 100 pound sofa, you've got the diesel that goes into transporting it, you've got the cotton, the wood, the coal to fire the power plant. All those materials.

So you keep an entire 2,000 pounds, or a ton, of raw materials from being used. That's a massive good karma boost for your individual carbon footprint. [laughs] So we're hoping that about a year from now, with the new website, that we'll actually be able to track the carbon footprint that's being reduced through reuse.

The EPA doesn't even have a model yet to measure carbon footprint reduction for reuse. They have it for recycling, so if you recycle aluminum, steel, glass, they have models. That doesn't even exist yet for reuse. You get 20 times the bang for your buck through reuse, so you're going to be hearing a lot more about reuse as we move forward, particularly now that we have a viable forum for free reuse, using the Freecycle Network. Good stuff coming down the pipeline.