I need to start this post with a disclaimer: I make a lot of mistakes. I’m human, and we’re subject to a variety of outside forces that will affect our likes, dislikes, personal biases, economic situation, decision-making processes, etc. etc. Too, I recognize that everyone has different value sets and priorities, and what works for me—a relatively middle class, white, single gal—is not going to work for everyone. I don’t, at all, believe in shaming people into doing things, or like to suggest that anyone is doing anything wrong in anyway1, whatsoever. As much as I believe that the actions we take have consequences outside of our own immediate spheres, it is not my place to tell anyone how to live their life. I hope people will do what they can within their means to make the world a decent place, if they want, but at the very least, I just hope people will choose not to make the world worse off than when they got here.
With that said, I posted earlier this week about the importance of individuals working in partnership with others (people, organizations, communities, etc.) to positively engage with the world. With it being Earth Week, I thought it might be helpful to provide some of the methods I use to try and partner—and I use that term loosely here—with organizations who are trying to make the world better for all of us. Most of these suggestions should be free or low-cost, as well (other than providing donations), so hopefully this list provides enough diversity for time, budget, and location constraints to meet the needs of various people.
Support organizations with missions that align with your values
I’m starting this list with the only action-item that obviously costs money: donations, even if it is as little as $10 or $15. I typically throw my donations toward natural resource agencies (e.g., the forest service), and conservation nonprofits, but I also like to maintain parks memberships even if I know I won’t go to the parks that often (e.g., Arizona State Parks). Those membership fees help with the maintenance, staff time, special projects, etc., and the parks will benefit even if you don’t go to them (obviously).
Many nonprofits also have fantastic events calendars, often with beer donated by a local brewery that you can purchase with the proceeds going to the nonprofit (win, win!). Personally, I LOVE me an environmental film festival and have been to 3 in the last six months. Being as frugal as I am, I love to spend my donations on an experience, as I get more bang for my buck. I blame my heritage (my parents were always at random events and on boards growing up), but I also think these types of events are so fun and a wonderful way to build community while supporting different organizations. Grab your date, the family, your mom, or go alone (like I do, because I’m bad at dating as we all know!) and make an adventure out of it. The last one I went to, I paired with visiting several National Monuments in central Arizona, which was a wonderful way to learn more about multiple things while supporting great organizations, all in one weekend. These events are often part of outreach strategies, as well, and the organizations can report your attendance on those grant applications under the number of people reached (see social media below), which is also extremely valuable for them.
If you can’t donate your money, donate your time
Volunteering should be a civic responsibility, and it frustrates me that it is declining as an activity. I suspect, again, that my childhood immersed in so many community organizations leads me to believe in the power of volunteers. Regardless, I would like to stress the value of spending time with other like-minded individuals for building camaraderie, boosting professional skills, having others to talk to when you work from home (speaking personally, here), etc., all the while helping organizations stretch their dollar. Volunteers are responsible for so many important things in this country, from helping to run foodbanks to keeping trails maintained, and providing our time is the least we can do for these organizations as they carry the burden of improving and upholding our communities. I most recently volunteered for the United Food Bank in Mesa, AZ and would be all about Audubon in Phoenix due to their bilingual outreach options, but, ugh, that pending move! I don’t know what I’ll get into in the Bay when I get home, but I plan to look into Spanish options to keep that part of my brain working.
Too, many organizations can benefit from your time on social media engagement. Follow, like, share, reshare, etc., as many nonprofits justify their relevance to their leadership by reporting those numbers. It sounds ridiculous, but I’ve definitely lead projects in which funding was tied to our “outreach campaigns” conducted on social media (Poscosecha Sustentable). Likewise, if you donate, share online; it may seem like you are tooting your own horn as a philanthropist, but it might stimulate at least one other person to go to the organization’s webpage and learn something, or even donate themselves.
“We’re just hitting the tip of education.”
Speaking of learning things, I previously posted about my deep love for Farmer Randy (quoted above, again), Huerta del Valle, and the other urban ag projects I visited last week. One theme these groups all stressed was the need for education to bolster our farming ranks in the US, but also to educate the public about the relevance of agriculture to our daily lives (OBVIOUSLY! We all eat! But people can still to be very naïve about where their food comes from). I would obviously prefer if you spent your free time learning about food and how it is produced, the conservation of soil/water/biodiversity, climate change, etc., etc., but again, I’m not here to boss anyone. So please, just learn something. Continuing education is so important, and hopefully as you are digging up information about whatever it is that interests you, maybe something related to the place where that thing was invented or the people who are involved in that thing (etc.) will stimulate you to want to preserve that habitat or community, or whatever.
If you fine learning things is right up your alley, then contribute to citizen science campaigns! We know surprisingly little about many things on this planet in spite of the wealth of information available to us these days. But lucky for us, citizen science campaigns—i.e., the opportunity for individuals to help collect data on any number of topics—are becoming increasingly popular. Take part in the Christmas Bird Count! Help track lady bugs! Monitor monarch larva! There are all kinds of opportunities out there, and these too are very valuable for furthering knowledge while helping individuals to learn something and support great organizations.
Reach out to your policymakers
I’d be remiss in my duties as a scientist actively engaged in policy if I left this off the list. Please, just be a little squeaky and shoot your congress person an email, tweet, phone call, post card, letter, go to their coffee hours, visit them in DC, etc. etc. I don’t care what you talk to them about, just talk to them. This is your right as a citizen and is super important for keeping politicians in the know about what matters to their constituents. If you need resources/help/support/positive vibes, please let me know and I am happy to support you in any way I can.
I am sure there are plenty of other things we can likely be doing as we work together to better the world, and I’d love to hear any thoughts you have. Feel free to @ me any way you feel comfortable and let’s chat about it!
1 I’m so fiercely independent, that the minute someone tells me I should do something, I stop listening. Don’t boss me! But also, even if it comes from a helpful place, the language we use to express suggestions is very important. I try to tread lightly, as I know everyone has a different relationship with advice, and, potentially, with guilt associated with any of their actions or how they receive suggestions. As such, I apologize if I ever offend anyone, and please feel free to open dialogue about how better to communicate suggestions. Just don’t tell me I should do something, or I likely won’t listen, unfortunately.