In an effort to gather all my writing in one place, I’ve been posting articles that originally appeared elsewhere. This piece was published by the The Morning News in 2003.
You have yet to help out at your local food bank, look into the tutoring center, join a tree-planting group, or read over those Peace Corps brochures you sent for in college. All of it seems like too much of a pain. You want to save the world, but only if you can do it in your pajamas.
Put your good intentions to use with some low-impact, high-yield volunteer projects you can tackle from home. Here are a few convenient ways to help others without cramping your rock-and-roll lifestyle.
Watch your hair grow.
Locks of Love takes donated human hair and makes wigs for underprivileged kids suffering from medical hair loss. It works like this: You sit on your bum and grow your hair out until you can cut off at least ten inches. You put it in a ponytail, cut it, then send the ponytail to Locks of Love in an envelope. They send you a thank-you note, and you feel all aw-shucksy inside.
Knit a bear.
Teddies for Tragedies sends hand-knitted teddy bears to child victims of tragedy around the world. So far they’ve sent over a thousand bears. You can send them some wool yarn or stuffing and they’ll put it to good use. Or, if you know how to knit, choose one of their patterns, knit up your own bear, and send it in. There are no deadlines or quotas. Besides, why make yet another scarf when you could be making a cuddly teddy bear for a scared little kid?
Send a card.
Remember how excited you were to get mail when you were little? Make a Child Smile is a website that publishes information about kids with life-threatening illnesses and asks you to send them cards and small gifts. It’s a fun, easy way to lift their spirits while they’re getting through a tough time. Plus, it gives you an excuse to buy stickers again.
Write for change.
Amnesty International’s Freedom Writers program chooses three human rights cases each month that deserve your attention. The site gives you information and a sample letter with an address. If you support a particular cause, you can print and send the letter that Amnesty provides, or write your own. If you don’t see anything that moves you, check back next month for updates.
Sew a security blanket.
Many of us have fond memories of our security blanket; some of us still have it. The aptly named Project Linus gives the same sense of comfort to seriously ill children, or those who’ve experienced trauma. The program provides new, handmade blankets in any style or size. They have patterns available on the site to get you started. Maybe you’re not a whiz with a needle and thread, but we’re talking about small squares of fabric stitched together. I have faith in you.
Stop surfing, start helping.
Online Volunteering hooks up ‘virtual volunteers’ with organizations in need of their expertise. If you have access to a computer and the Internet (check … check), and you know something about programming, writing, project management, translation, law, education, or any other area of expertise that works over email, you’re in business. You’ll use your skills to provide online help for your chosen organization. Yet another job you can do in your underwear
The best parts of Winston Churchill’s Painting as a Pastime*:
“As you browse about, taking down book after book from the shelves and contemplating the vast, infinitely varied store of knowledge and wisdom which the human race has accumulated and preserved, pride, even in its most innocent forms, is chased from the heart by feelings of awe not untinged with sadness. As on surves the mighty array of sages, saints, historians, scientists, poets and philosophers whose treaures ne will never be able to admire — still less enjoy — the brief tenure of our existence here dominates mind and spirit.”
“It is a mistake to read too many good books when quite young… The first impression is the one that counts; and if it is a slight one, it may be all that can be hoped for.”
“The boy learns enough Latin to detest it; enough Greek to pass an examination; enough French to get from Calais to Paris; enough German to exhibit a diploma; enough Spanish or Italian to tell which is which; but not enough of any to secure the enormous boon of access to a second literature.”
“Just to paint is great fun. The colours are lovely to look at and delicious to squeeze out. Matching them, however crudely, with what you see is fascinating and absolutely absorbing. Try it if you have not done so — before you die.”
“One begins to see, for instance, that painting a picture is like fighting a battle; and trying to paint a picture is, I suppose, like trying to fight a battle. It is, if anything, more exciting than fighting it successfully.”
So while I was at ALT Summit, I did a panel on the business of blogging with Erin Loechner from Design for Mankind and Liz Gumbinner from Cool Mom Picks and Mom101. I always enjoy presenting, but something about the chemistry with those two girls made this conversation extra engaging for me.
I finally remembered to ask someone to record my presentation, but neglected to bring her a tripod. (Thanks for your forbearance, Kelly.) Here’s a slightly shaky video of my portion of the presentation:
I know a lot of you are bloggers trying to bring in a little income, so here are the main points of our entire presentation — each of us took on four tips.
Beyond the Banner:
A 12-Step Program for Successful Content Campaigns
Erin Loechner from Design for Mankind:
1. Re-invent the wheel.
Creative campaigns are fun and memorable. Consider Jason, who’s renting out his torso at I Wear Your Shirt. What do you have to offer that’s a little offbeat?
2. Test the waters first.
Before you jump into a huge commitment with a single advertiser, put a toe in the water. This way you’ll know more about how your readers will respond, learn how to price yourself through trial and error, and figure out which campaigns make you want to take a nap, and which are fun.
3. Know your professional strengths.
If you’re crappy at project management or staying on top of communications with clients, hire someone to do that for you while you produce content.
4. Less is more.
Erin likes to keep a ratio of 95 percent content to 5 percent sponsored posts. You’ll find your own ratio, but be mindful that you’re giving your readers something of value while you’re paying the rent.
Liz Gumbinner from Cool Mom Picks and Mom101:
5. It’s not all about you.
Think about the sponsor, what are their wants and needs? Let that shape the program you propose.
6. Measure your digital footprint.
Remember that your blog probably isn’t your only online presence. You may have readers on Twitter, Facebook, or even a newsletter. Think of the whole package.
7. Know thyself.
If your gut tells you that an advertiser doesn’t seem like the right fit, say no. Your readers know you, and they’ll obviously be able to tell if you’re promoting something and your heart isn’t in it.
No one likes to feel misled. Let your audience know who’s paying you and for what.
And me, Maggie Mason from Mighty Girl:
9. Consider events.
Throw a party for a local boutique, host an event in conjunction with a larger conference, or start a little retreat and build from there. If you enjoy throwing events, they can be a good way to build a tighter community while you grow your business.
10. Remember advertisers are people.
People who want to give you money are not your enemies, so keep the conversation going. If you start to feel adversarial about a proposed campaign, suggest other ways to work with a brand that might be more interesting to you and your readers. Even the largest brand has a team of people behind it, people with faces and families, who care about their product succeeding.
11. Pitch to your passions.
Seek out advertisers to support the content you’re already producing by being smart about how you package it. Can you tell people what your site is about in a single sentence? Is there a memorable narrative in your life story – maybe you’re building a house, starting your life over, becoming a new parent? Focus on that when you approach potential sponsors.
12. Know your worth.
Don’t just look at your daily unique visitors when you’re pricing a campaign. Consider your ability to amplify on Twitter, Facebook, via newsletter. Think about engagement — if you have a small audience of readers who are passionate about a particular subject and will leave lots of comments, that’s valuable to an advertiser. And don’t forget to take your time into account. Your work is probably worth more than you think.
That’s it! Are you trying to figure out how to make your living as a blogger? What did we forget?
This year’s ALT was amazing, but I’m in Portland now scouting event space, so we’ll talk more about it tomorrow. In the meantime, photographer Justin Hackworth (whom I adore) pulled me aside for ten minutes to shoot some photos. I had a quick manic episode for him. I love number two, number three makes me think I should incinerate those pants forever. Please vote in comments.
This series was hard for me to write. The process was emotional, and made me feel pretty vulnerable, as you could probably tell from all the jokes.
As always, you’ve made this worth it. So many of you are reaching out to say you’ve had health issues too, that you’re trying acupuncture, or exercising for the first time, or just taking better care of yourself because of something you read here. And if I thought writing the posts was emotional, reading your comments, emails, and messages on Twitter has been a bit of a roller coaster. I want all of us well, and I’m thankful to play any role in that.
Checking this off seems profound and flip at the same time. It feels like saying I’ve achieved perfect health, but it’s more an expression of gratitude. I finally have systems in place to help me cope when things go awry. I don’t ignore what my body needs anymore, and I do things every day to take care of myself. That is such a dramatic shift from where I was a few years ago, it’s a little breathtaking to look back.
If you need to improve your health, here’s the whole health series at a go:
One thing we didn’t touch on much is stress. I’ve learned that stress is a huge trigger for my immune system to revolt, and the love and support of friends and community is as healing as anything else I’ve tried.
So thank you for loving up on me all these years, and please take good care of yourselves. I like having you around.