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The Joy of Giving Back ~ 2014

December 17, 2014


Welcome to the annual Joy of Giving Back for 2014.

Nothing feels ordinary in a year like this one. Complexity and change seem to be the norm. Unfortunately, so is need.

It saddens me to hear that those with the most seem to be giving less. This is not a judgment, just a statistic.  It seems that everywhere we turn, someone or some organization is asking for help. That’s because they need it.

In my last article I wrote about the scarcity mindset and its deep impact on how we think and behave. While this is true, there is also serious and often unnecessary deprivation next door and around the world.

After working with several nonprofits, I’d be first to say that private, charitable giving cannot address the deep, structural problems of societies that are riddled  with inequality and corruption. Many argue that writing a check is the easy way out: a way to expiate our guilt. While that may be true for some, we can’t argue with the realities that millions are served in these seemingly small acts of generosity.

When I decided to work on the emerging problem of homelessness in the 1980’s, I, like my colleagues, believed it was a temporary – an emergency – that surely the government, with the aid of the private sector, would seek to eradicate. We worked with honorable naiveté trying to plug massive social holes and disruption even as we realized we were up against a tidal wave of destructive policies that would create a permanent population of the “underclass.”

There are so many ways to give. Donating money is only one.  Staying present and active to the needs of the world is desperately needed. The world needs your skills, talents and energies. Your activism on the behalf of those in need and a planet, imperiled, is critical. Whether local or global, there is someone or something that will benefit from your commitment.

In light of the magnitude of the need we see today, perhaps the writing of a small check seems like a drop in the ocean. But giving is as much for the giver, as the recipient. It connects us with the world. It reaches into something deeper within our souls that evokes feelings that join us with others. It says, I’m in. I’m in with ending the scourge of slavery, I’m in with restoring and protecting the health of our planet, I’m in with protecting human rights for everyone, I’m in for creating a humane food supply and I’m in for not settling that starvation and brutality will inevitably be the lot of those “less fortunate” than me.

 The Horror of “Modern” Slavery


“The idea that some lives matter more than others is the root of all that is wrong in the world.”

Dr. Paul Farmer

There are more slaves in the world today than were seized from Africa in four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. And the numbers keep growing. If it’s as incomprehensible to you as it is to me that we call ourselves an advanced global society and over 30 million of us are enslaved, consider giving to one of the organizations that are committed to ending slavery in our lifetime. As the Freedom Fund states, human trafficking is a big 150 billion dollar annual business, earning slavers up to $55,000 a year for each human life they enslave. They estimate that 22% of those in bondage are sexually exploited, though some analysts believe that number is higher. The Polaris Project, named after the North Star that guided slaves towards freedom using the Underground Railroad, created the first searchable data base and hotline to help track victims in all 50 U.S. states and work with international partners to break trafficking networks.

She’s in Serious Trouble and Needs Our Help


““There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.”
Wendell Berry

In all of my non-profit efforts our greatest allies were often the tireless and dedicated teams of lawyers that literally saved the day. Mother Earth needs defending more than ever. It’s the local, state, national and international laws that often are the barriers to clean water and air and environmental protection that must be challenged and often fought – over long periods of time.  Whether fighting BP to clean up their outrageous oil spills, racing against time to stop Arctic drilling or challenging the use of dangerous pesticides that poison farm workers and harm local communities, Earthjustice is on the case. In 2014, years of Earthjustice litigation alongside partner groups paid off, securing a landmark Supreme Court ruling that upholds the EPA’s authority to limit carbon pollution. When groups like Earthjustice prevail anywhere, Mother Earth benefits everywhere.

The Global Fund for Women 


“”They cannot stop me. I will get my education, if it is in [the] home, school or anyplace.”  Malala Yousafzai

Women’s rights were front and center in 2014 – and it’s about time.  It was the year that 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai, won the Nobel Peace Prize for championing the rights of girls even after her attempted murder by the Taliban in her Pakistani homeland. Persistent gender inequality, pervasive rape culture and global violence against women, kept women’s’ rights issues in the headlines. Through the work of The Global Fund for Women, 2014 was cause for the celebration of greater justice for women and advancement of human rights for all.  In the Congo, one of the most dangerous places for women on the earth, their work helped condemn military officers to 20 years in prison for the rape of over 60 women, children and men in 2011. The Fund was instrumental in  winning a landmark vote from the UN Human Rights Council to adopt the first every resolution to recognize and protect the rights of LGBTI people, affirming that LGBTI rights are indeed human rights. By providing funding to women-led organizations in over 170 countries, The Global Fund For Women strives to advance the rights of women and girls worldwide. Consider your investment in The Global Fund for Women an investment in collective human rights.

Let’s Start Treating Animals with Respect 

enhanced-21510-1403861299-7“The question is not, “Can they reason?” nor, “Can they talk?” but rather, “Can they suffer?” ~Jeremy Bentham

I know that many critics hated the artist Banksy’s “Sirens of the Lambs,” the meat truck that rolled around NYC with squealing stuffed animals on their way to the slaughterhouse. But for me, a long-time on-off again (mostly on) non-meat eater, it brought home the realities of the mostly cruel system of “modern”  meat and dairy-farming. This isn’t a pitch for veganism (though climate disruption may require more of it) but instead an impassioned plea that we transform our unhealthy factory farming and brutal animal treatment and create safe, healthy and humane food production systems worldwide. Farm Sanctuary, works on rescue, education and advocacy for farm animals creating  more enlightened policies, practices and legislation. m Similarly, the EuroGroup for Animals works to change European laws that govern the way that animals are raised and slaughtered within the EU. They are also working to extend protections for horses and donkeys and end the system of the castration of 150 million pigs annually.

 What Would We Do Without Them



“The ‘Third World’ is a term I don’t like very much, because we’re all one world. I want people to know that the largest part of humanity is suffering.” Former UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Audrey Hepburn

UNICEF has called this year “devastating.” Indeed it has been for millions who have suffered not only the tragic continuation of poverty but those innocents displaced by the horrors of war. Despite criticisms of the effectiveness of the United Nations, few can argue that the efforts of UNICEF are life-saving. But the organization finds itself overwhelmed by the endless and growing demand especially from the unprecedented needs of refugees. The UN’s World Food Programme, the largest provider of humanitarian aid in the world, recently announced that without immediate help from global partners (which, thankfully, was met) they faced having to stop aid to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.


Maybe you’ve heard a quote that’s making the rounds on social media – “The things you take for granted, someone else is praying for.”

It’s true. Give generously.


Wishing you everything good this holiday season!

Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants

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Related Articles ~ To Find More Wonderful Organizations ~ See The Joy of Giving Back 2013 and  the Joy of Giving Back 2012

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 19, 2014 9:26 am

    Incredibly powerful and unfortunately ‘true’ post Louise.

    One of the quotes you supplied is spot on:

    “The idea that some lives matter more than others is the root of all that is wrong in the world.”
    ~Dr. Paul Farmer

    I’m short on time today so can’t give the ‘thorough’ reply as per my usual (grins). However, I will also comment on the slavery and trafficking.

    Even here is America, slavery is still very much alive. It’s now in the form of sex trafficking in nearly all if not every state. Slavery is not gone. It has only switched to a different form. People are still treating other humans as property. Dehumanization is very prevalent.

    Another piece to the dilemma in attempting to solve, is that more often than not, it is generally those who’ve been impacted by a cause the most due to first hand experience that become the most motivated in trying to help out and give. (not always but often)

    Those not impacted or in some way profiting off of the ‘way things currently are’….have no reason for it to be any different.

    The only answer I have come up with for my self is one echoed by many: start where we are. With our own lives and within our individual spheres of influence. Even than, people fall through the cracks like my next door neighbor/relative who committed suicide a few months ago.

    Bless you for speaking out on such an important topic Louise.


    Wishing you a Happy Holiday to you and yours.

    • December 19, 2014 10:53 am

      Dear Samantha ~ Blessing accepted.

      Your comments are very kind and true. Actually I usually feature the amazing work of Dr Paul Farmer, of Partners in Health whose first book – Mountains Beyond Mountains – is one of the most inspirational stories I’ve ever read.

      I do believe that until more of us say – every life matters – we’ll continue to struggle with pain, inequality and tragically and unnecessarily, violence. Paul Farmer’s story is an
      example of a doctor who could have led a very different life at a prestigious Boston teaching hospital, but was so moved by the struggle of the Haitian people, that he started (in a very
      interesting way) taking trips down there to help. The rest is history. Now he works with the Clinton Initiative and is considered a global leader in public health – most recently doing some
      of the most effective work in Liberia on ebola.

      But this isn’t about Paul Farmer’s story – he’d be the first to say that. It’s a WE story. And we are now in the midst of such pain and dislocation as we’re moving from the ME story to the WE story. The evidence, especially recently, is quite stunning.

      Until more of us speak out and press the powers that be on all of these issues (and the pain and suffering of slavery – in all it’s forms – look at the recent LA Times revelations about the terrible conditions that many Mexican farmers live in, growing and harvesting most of the produce sold in the U.S.) it will continue.

      Waking up isn’t easy.

      Thanks so much – and a lovely holiday season to you and yours too!

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