The Season of Giving

The Season of GivingTen years ago, the economy wasn’t looking good, the markets were in the pits, and there was general concern about the future. Given all this, it was easy to be self-focused and forget about other people and their circumstances.

Today, at least in the US, things are much different. The markets are booming and businesses are growing at their fastest rate in the last decade. However, whether the economy is good or bad, we need to think about others. The reality is that there are folks out there who are struggling. To be direct, they are homeless, depending on the generosity of others just to eat. As the holiday season approaches, the spirit of giving and sharing typically increases. Click To Tweet

Every major city has organizations and outreach programs to help these people—and that is good. However, these groups continue to address people who need their help, which means that they need our help. If you can make a donation, now is the time to do so. If a monetary gift isn’t possible, then give of your time. With people in need, they are in need for volunteers. Of course, you can give both your time and your money.

As the holiday season approaches, the spirit of giving and sharing typically increases. Please do what you can to help, but just remember that the homeless don’t only need help at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but the year around.

I hope you enjoy the holidays—and can help others do the same.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

The Difference Between Good and Bad Marketing

Several years ago, I setup a Website for a local nonprofit organization that I helped. I registered three domain names for it: the main one, with two alternatives. The first ended with .org (as did one of the alternates). I also registered the .com version of their main domain name in case someone typed .com out of habit or error.  All three pointed to their website.

When the domains were up for renewal and I opted not to renew the one ending with .com. Keeping it seemed like unnecessary overkill.Good marketing produces better results and elevates the industry. Click To Tweet

Then the email solicitations started rolling in. Apparently, there are a number of companies who monitor expiring domain names for one of potential value. Upon seeing that the .com version was available and that I had already registered the .org counterpart, they thought that I might be interested in it, offering to help me buy the exact domain name that I had allowed to lapse. They suggested that I allow them to help me snatch up this great domain name before someone else did, thereby pushing the cost up.

I have to respect their business model that monitored expiring domain names, identified owners of existing domain names with a different extension, and contacted registered the owners via email. Yet why didn’t they take one more step to eliminate contacting the prior owners who had purposely let the domain name expire?

Given the relatively inexpensive nature of email, it’s not a big deal. However, I am much more an admirer of an elegant marketing campaign over a brute force one. After all, it is the marketers that cut corners and execute their craft badly that make it harder for everyone else to be respected and trusted.

Bad marketing might produce results, but it pulls the industry down. Good marketing produces better results and elevates the industry.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

End Poverty Now: Reasonable Goal or Impossible?

End Poverty NowFrom time to time, I read about some group that wants to “end poverty” or “stamp out poverty.” I don’t give much thought to such pronouncements—because they will never happen; they can’t. But before I explain why, let me share two similar sounding initiatives that are more important and can happen:

Clean Drinking Water: It is estimated that one billion people do not have access to clean drinking water. The result is serious illness, disease, and premature, preventable death. There are many organizations working to address this, from drilling wells to offering water purification systems. The result is clean, safe drinking water for the some the world’s most hurting people. This is something that can be resolved and in which everyone can get involved, be it directly or indirectly (via donations).

Food for the Hungry: Reportedly 800 million to one billion people lack a basic supply of food. Sadly, experts on such things indicate that there is enough food to feed everyone; it’s just in the wrong place or being obstructed by various governments, factions, or politics. Apparently the problem boils down to transportation logistics and corruption. This is a bit harder to address, but again there are many organizations involved in addressing world hunger. While most people are not in a position to directly help out, anyone can make a donation to help feed a hungry person. Clean drinking water and feeding the hungry are serious problems we can address. Click To Tweet

So, clean drinking water and food for the hungry are serious problems that can and should be addressed.

Fighting poverty, while a worthy and noble cause, is of secondary importance to these more basic human needs. The reason that we will never be able to end poverty is that it is an intangible goal. Ending poverty is about as realistic as a school striving to make all their students above average. Although they can increase the overall academic level of performance, there will always be those who struggle. In the same way, no matter how much the overall standard of living is improved, there will always be people at the bottom, who don’t have as much as others, and who will be labeled as impoverished.

Surely we need to help them out, but let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that through concerted effort, we can make poverty go away.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

What Does “New and Improved” Mean to You?

When you hear the phrase “new and improved,” what is your first thought?

Being the slightly cynical person that I am, my initial reaction is that someone is trying to dupe me with a marketing tactic. I suspect that nothing substantive has been changed, but lacking anything substantial to proclaim, they fall back on trumpeting that their product is “new and improved.” It must be that some people are sucked into this ruse or else why would marketing folks persist in perpetuating such a ploy?

Therefore, I quickly dismiss all claims of “new and improved”—unless it is for a product that I use—then I panic. When you hear the phrase 'new and improved,' what is your first thought? Click To Tweet

Although “new and improved” sometimes seems to only apply to the packaging, that phrases still produces fear and trepidation in me when referring to products that I use. I worry that “new and improved” actually means “we’ve-changed-this-just-enough-so-that-you’ll-no-longer-like-it.” Unfortunately, personal experience backs up that concern as being a realistic one.

The logic behind “new and improved” probably assumes that existing users will continue to buy it—even if the packaging has changed so much that only the brand name is recognizable. The bonus kicks in from people who never used it, but are predisposed to try anything new, as well as those who didn’t like it before, but will give it a fresh look. Therefore, I guess we are stuck with “new and improved” products.

Still, “new and improved” does nothing for me; I’ll take “tried and true” any day.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

Who’s in Control?

Who's in Control?Once when my wife and I returned from a trip, we allowed plenty of time to make the trek from hotel to airport—more than three hours, in fact. However, a series of unforeseen events conspired against us, making our schedule tighter and tighter with each progressive twist.

As each delay transpired, it became less likely that we would make our flight. I kept telling myself, “We will either make our flight or we will not; there’s nothing you can do about it.” Therefore, I might as well just relax and watch events unfold. We can't control the things that happen to us but we can control our reaction to them. Click To Tweet

My sage advice, however, was easier to say than to do; it is more viable in theory than in practice. As the clock ticked down, I became more unnerved and on edge.  Fortunately, airport security went smoothly and was efficient—despite me forgetting to discard the bottle of water from my carry on. (It was intended to enjoy with the breakfast that we had to skip.)

We arrived at the gate, breathless, haggard, and hungry, mere seconds before the call for final boarding.

As we settled into our seats, I tried to calm my frayed nerves. I was reminded of the fact that while we can’t control the things that happen to us, we can control our reaction to them. In fact, it is the only thing that we can control—and I have done a poor job of it.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

Words Can Tear Down or Built Up

A friend in a Master’s program recently took a pass/fail class designed to weed out weaker and mismatched students from the program. After spending less than 10 minutes in one-on-one communication, the professor deemed him to be ill suited for the program and its associated profession; he was summarily failed. Although discouraged, he repeated the class with another instructor, who declared him to be functioning at the PhD level!

Another friend was wrapping up her last semester of college, doing her student teaching. Things were going well and the mid-semester report was glowing. Imagine her dismay when her mentor’s final assessment asserted that she was not fit to be an educator. It took quite a while for her to rebound from the shock and disappointment; she selected a different career and never taught again. Use your position to encourage others, to build them up, and to strengthen them. Click To Tweet

Anytime someone has authority over another, their words carry a great deal of weight—so much so that career choices can be unnecessarily abandoned and self-esteem destroyed.

If you find that you have to deliver disheartening news, make sure the recipient knows why; explain your reasons; salt it with something positive; and never abandon them when they are at their weakest.

It is far better to use your position of authority to encourage others, to build them up, and to strengthen them. Imagine my friend and how hard he will work and how far he will go, now that he is secure in the knowledge that he is functioning at the Ph.D. level.

With authority comes responsibility; use it well.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

A Lesson About Compassion

I learned something disconcerting about myself.

Regular readers may recall my post about mourning three bird eggs that had been knocked to the ground when a severe storm destroyed their next. I had compassion for their death, but there was nothing I could do.

When I was out moving sprinklers in my yard I was horrified to see three too-young baby birds on the ground. They couldn’t fly and one couldn’t even hop; as I approached, they opened their mouths in hope of some needed sustenance. Again, I had compassion, but was frozen in a state of inaction. A myriad of thoughts rushed through my mind: Compassion without action is worthless. Click To Tweet

  • I don’t know what to do.
  • They’re going to die anyway.
  • I’m too busy.
  • What if they carry disease?
  • I should let nature take its course?

I would periodically check on them with each move of the sprinklers. I continued to feel compassion and tried to justify my inaction. A couple of times I saw an adult bird on the ground near them. I convinced myself that their parents were tending to them. Yet each time I approached, they turned in my direction and opened their mouths.

By the next day, the weakest of the three wasn’t looking too good and he later died. Would I likewise be witness to his siblings’ demise?

On the third day, one of them was clinging to the side of a tree and later he was gone. I never saw him again and assume he was able to fly away.

On the fourth day, the remaining bird was hopping with a bit more vigor and for the first time was instinctively flapping his wings. An hour later, he too was gone.

I should be happy that two out of three made it, but I wonder if I should have tried to help their weaker brother.

What I do know is that compassion without action is worthless.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

Why Recycle When You Can Refuse?

Why Recycle When You Can Refuse?Each week a free paper is delivered to our home. Each week I walk it from the paper-box to the trash can. When my dad was alive, he would recycle these papers, but with shorter hours at the recycling center and higher gas prices, I often wondered if his efforts were worth it. Now the papers become instant garbage.

I’ve received this paper for years. I never wanted it, read it, or used it (except as a fire-starter or for those projects whose cleanup benefited from the liberal use of newspaper).It may not be much, but if everyone does a little, it can really mean a lot. Click To Tweet

“Enough of this madness,” I said one day. Instead of feeling guilty about not recycling, I decided to skirt the issue by not receiving the paper in the first place. To be expedient, I removed the paper-box (and threw it away). Not to be deterred, the carrier merely put the paper in a different box. Next, I called the publisher; to my surprise, they cheerfully “canceled” my subscription. Two weeks have gone by and no more paper. Refusing the paper is much easier than recycling it.

Encouraged by this, I next tackled all the free magazines I received that I don’t want or read. Most of them I never even requested; they just started showing up—and kept showing up.

Another area of refusal—that I’ve been doing for years—is bags for the merchandise I buy. It perplexes me that even when I buy only one item, it’s automatically bagged. Checkers are shocked when I decline their bag or stunned when I remove my purchase from the bag, leaving it there for the next customer. I do the same thing with two or three items, though I don’t recommend more than six. I tried that once and the result wasn’t good. Sometimes you need a bag.

Refusing trumps recycling every time. It may not be much, but if everyone does a little, it can really mean a lot.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

Websites I Can’t Live Without

Websites I can't live without.Please forgive the hyperbole in the title “Websites I Can’t Live Without.” The truth is, yes, I can live without them. However, I use them so frequently that not having them at my disposal would create a void.What are the websites you can't live without? Click To Tweet

Google: I use Google for all my Internet searches and online research. I launch it from my toolbar in Firefox, which takes me to Google for the search results. I can quickly zero in on the exact information I need and only seldom get distracted.

TheFreeDictionary: For online dictionaries, this is my favorite. If I’m writing anything, there’s a good chance that I have this site open. It allows me to quickly verify the correct usage of a word, as well as point to synonyms. (Random trivia question that was recently posed to me: “What is a synonym for euphemism?”)

IMDB: For all my movie, television, and actor information, I immediately go to imdb (“Internet Movie DataBase”). I tend to spend too much time there: I suppose that it is my guilty pleasure—no, wait that might be…

BibleGateway: This is a great site to read or study the Bible. Search by verse, key words, or topic. Plus it has lots of related tools and resources. It also has more Bible translations than I knew existed.

The Weather Channel: Yes, I’m fixated on the weather and weather.com is my go-to source. Though lately, I’m more inclined to use their app.

Amazon: As a writer, it seems I’m often looking up books and checking authors. Though I’m not there every day, it’s close.

Social Media: I’m often on Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn, and GoodReads.

I use these sites most every day that I’m online—which happens to be almost every day.  I suppose that I could live without them—but why try?

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

Save

Save

Homeless: A Statistical Profile

A Statistical Profile of the HomelessWhen you consider the homeless, what do you think they are like? (You do think of people who have no homes, right?)

Here is a statistical profile of the homeless in my local area:

  • 32% of the adults are employed
  • 37% are children
  • 27% of the households are headed by single parents (implying that 63% are two parent households)
  • 30% have education beyond high school
  • 24% experience chronic homelessness (implying that 76% are short-term and correctable)
  • 11% of homeless adults were homeless as children

No one can fix the problem of homelessness alone, but together we can make a difference. Click To TweetThe first four stats are surprising, not fitting most people’s stereotypical views of homeless demographics.

The last two figures are also appalling, showing that for some, homelessness is pervasive and even generational. Of course, the flipside of that is that for most, homelessness is a temporary condition that can be overcome. The more help that is available, the quicker they are able to get back on their feet, again providing for themselves.

Those of us with homes can express gratitude for our own shelter by helping those without homes to get turned around. This can easily be done by supporting and volunteering at churches, para-church organizations, non-profits, and government agencies that help feed, house, transport, train, and support the homeless as they work towards reversing their situation.

From a practical standpoint, what can we do? We can volunteer our time, we can donate money to worthy causes, and when can lend our voice for advocacy.

No one can fix this problem alone, but by working together we can make a difference.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

Save

Save