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Letting People Make the World a Better Place

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When I founded iGive.com in 1997, I could only hope that it would grow into 350,000 socially-conscious consumers shopping at over 1,000 socially-responsible stores, and making every purchase mean a donation for over 50,000 mostly small charities. The best part? It's never cost the consumers or the charities a single penny, it's the terrific merchants who care about helping their valued customers' favorite causes who make it all possible. iGive has allowed me to put into practice "have fun, do good, make money". For me, it's a three-legged stool of a philosophy, without all three legs it just doesn't work. Getting to know the participants of each individual charity big and small, almost always volunteers, who are working hard to make the world a better place.

Making the world a better place is a funny concept, very much subject to personal interpretation. Some of the groups listed at iGive work passionately to save an animal breed, others work equally hard to shelter the homeless. For some, it's kids, for others, the aged. I love having created a "big tent", where no matter your passion, no matter how you see the world, you can help improve this world we share.

The breadth of the work these volunteers do is rather mind-boggling. There's the newspaper called Streetwise that works to give the homeless the skills necessary to fend for themselves. They make it possible for the homeless to start selling Streetwise on street corners around Chicagoland, earning money, and learning life skills. Part of that means making sure the newspaper vendors get a decent meal before heading out. So one of their super volunteers goes around to restaurants and grocery stores, picking up food that's about to go out of date. He stuffs into his 10-year-old SUV, brings it home to a used refrigerator, and then delivers it. His car overflows with frozen vegetables, meat, and sometimes complete Thanksgiving dinners. Oh yes, he'll cook a meal for hundreds of people. And if there are left overs, he personally takes the excess to the Salvation Army. In his day job his passion is the Roller Derby.

Or take Marisol and Moreton Binn, who sold his business years ago and now should be retired. Instead, they rescue the widest variety of animals I've ever seen. Most animal rescues specialize (dogs, cats, German Shepherds, Arabian Horses). Not the Binns. They have over 100 farm animals at their rescue. No conversation with Moreton ever ends without his showing pictures of the kids, and the animals. Not necessarily in that order. His extended animal family can be found at www.binnanimalrescue.org.

Sometimes the effort to make the world a better place is driven by the need to sell stuff, sometimes pretty mundane stuff -- like deodorant, for example. Check out http://www.facebook.com/meanstinks. Proctor & Gamble basically wants to sell Secret, but they take great pleasure at helping girls along the way.

Making the world a better place is hard, but not necessarily thankless. In my economically and ethnically diverse home town of about 80,000, a group of volunteers get together yearly to produce a musical, casting 160 juniors and seniors in a "no-cut" opportunity to learn about theatre, working together, and what being in the limelight feels like. It's called Brillianteen. If I had to wrangle that many teenagers, I'd need shock therapy afterwards. These volunteers are addicted. The respect they get from the kids, the admiration of their peers, and the feeling of community mean that some of them have been doing this for over twenty years.

Occasionally, I get to see the kids themselves do really interesting work on behalf of causes. This year, I was fortunate to be a judge at a contest sponsored by Tribeca Flashpoint Academy. Five teams of students produced a complete campaign to help one of five causes. Not only was the work they did pretty exceptional, these kids themselves grew during the process. In this case, there was almost a "triple bottom line". Flashpoint made money helping to educate these students. Five causes raised money and awareness. And the 75 students really honed their chops, becoming employable, and helping at the same time.