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Social Responsibility Can Be Mutually Beneficial

The Staff, Guest Author

The parades are over, the speeches have lapsed, and an election that feels as though it lasted two years has been completed. We have turned back to the daily routine, but what have we learned so far from this experience?

A running theme in the Obama campaign was the message: give back to the community. Many of us would say (in the back of our minds, because actually saying it would label us selfish), why should I help others, who's going to help me?

Given the current economy, theres no reason why helping thy neighbor can't mean helping yourself too. And that, my friends, is what we call mutually beneficial social responsibility.

Concepts in psychology such as the Tit for Tat theory (1) and altruistic behaviors (2) within communities compel us to believe that we don't do much without a reward (as selfish as it may seem). Pavlov trained his dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell using rewards. Now, were not recommending using a bell, or salivating, or even implying that we are dogs.

But, certain proven theories in psychology show us that we can change our behavior using rewards. If giving back to the community is mutually beneficial for the giver and receiver then there is hope in Obamas message that we, as Americans, can become more socially responsible and in turn we will find ourselves bettered.

The benefits of being a responsible writer and author extend past emotional satisfaction and go on to produce publicity, personality, and build a reputation for the participant.

Of course, with the economy and all, it may seem financially impossible for an author to give up time and money without receiving something in return, right? Wrong. There are many ways in which getting involved will cost you next to nothing financially and will only involve a few hours, at most, of your time.

So what can you do?

One way that you can give back while still promoting yourself and your book is participating in your local community. Call up your local elementary, middle, or high schools and offer to give a talk about your writing career and your book (if appropriate). Get in touch with the local Boy or Girl Scout chapters and see if you can help them earn a reading or writing badge.

Maybe there are local book clubs that you can participate in. Donating copies of your work to book drives not only raises money for a good cause, but it allows circulation of your book to people who may never come across it otherwise.

Offer to write for a newsletter, or re-work the content on a website.

Read at a local hospital, nursing home, or childrens home. While it may not be applicable to read your own work aloud, bring along a few copies as a gift to the institution so that others may get enjoyment out of your book and pass it on (word of mouth is one of the best forms of marketing you can get).

All of this kind of face-to-face circulation will gain you notoriety and will put you in touch with people who you may never have considered as a target audience.

Consider expanding your range to a more national, or even international, level. One way to do this is to send copies of your book to soldiers abroad. Reading material is one of the most desired items by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, as they spend many hours guarding posts and checkpoints.

Almost all books are traded around after being read. There are many charities and organizations that pack boxes and care packages, so if you dont have the time to do it yourself, simply donate a few copies to those that do.

Some good ones are Books for Soldiers, and the Books for Troops Program. Most military base websites or military family members have information on how to ship packages as well. This kind of donation not only allows them an escape from boredom and a reminder of home, but it also allows the free circulation of your book in a huge scale.

If donating copies of your books is not something that appeals to you, think about using your best talent: writing. Many non-profits and charities look for writers to help them with promotional materials, blog entries, interviews, and web-based writing. Start your search in your community. Schools and local chapters of charities are always looking for help with publicity.

If you are involved in a religious organization, many could use the same skills for their events. If there is nothing local that interests you, try searching the Web until you find something that is appealing. Find the sites volunteer section and get in touch! An interesting position could be a great new experience and a good way to shake up your inspiration as well as getting your name out on the Web.

On the other hand, looking for a fitting non-profit can be daunting. There are so many on the Internet and some are more credible than others. Try Charity Navigator (see Interview with Sandra Miniutti) too if you have no idea which direction you would like to take. This site rates over 5,000 charities based primarily on their financial responsibility and has an easy-to-use search system.

Many writers and authors are drawn to the cause most close to their hearts: literacy. There are many excellent and credible organizations to choose from, but some notable non-profits are: First Book, which provides young children with their first new book; United Through Reading, which provides families separated by distance (like military families, or divorced parents) the chance to read aloud together over web cams; Better World Books, a socially-responsible online bookstore that holds book drives and donates its profits to literacy programs around the globe (and which recently became a B Corporation); Books for Africa, which sends thousands of copies of textbooks to African schools to promote the learning of English and reading.

Many of these sites could use volunteers for fundraisers, and if there is no immediate need for help, most will keep your name on file for future reference.

These kinds of volunteer opportunities have multiple impacts. Not only do they help the organization to which you contribute, but they also help you as the author. On the local level, your deeds will be attached to your name, and therefore, your work. People will put a face together with a title and recognize you and your book without explanation.

While many famous authors are automatically renown for their charitable work, your actions will build you (however gradually) a base of notoriety. Your book will find its way into the hands of many different people, who may in turn recommend it to a friend or colleague, who may in turn pass it on.

Every little bit helps, regardless of whether or not you benefit from your own good deeds. Take the example of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Organizations like Sears and CVS are applauded for generously donating millions of dollars worth of materials and volunteers to the television show, and they get a lot of advertising out of it.

Furthermore, it is advertising based on the ideals of good works. It's a powerful message, and one that works on all of us (think of how many people tear up at that shows finale). So why not do the same for yourself and other people? It doesn't matter in what capacity, large or small, that you do so, giving is always giving.

Just as a last thought: if you were a doctor in a crowded restaurant, and someone suddenly and unfortunately succumbed to a heart attack, would you not rush to their aid? Were not saying that someone in a crowded restaurant would stand up in dire panic and yell, Is there a writer in the room? (Although, how cool would that be?) Instead, use your talents outside of your place of work just as a doctor would: freely and for the greater good.

(1) tit for tat strategy n. A programmed strategy for playing repeated Prisoner's Dilemma games, also occasionally applied to other games, in which the program cooperates on the first trial and then, on each subsequent trial, chooses the strategy chosen by the co-player on the previous trial. It is often interpreted as a method of implementing reciprocal altruism. TFT abbrev. Coleman, Andrew M. A Dictionary of Psychology 2001, originally published by Oxford University Press 2001.

(2) Altruistic actions are done without desire for reward, only out of desire to better the life or existence of another being. Sometimes, extreme altruism is done without regard for personal safety or well-being on the part of the person who carries out the action.


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  If you would like to talk one-on-one with Larry James about issues related to this article, you are invited to arrange for a private coaching session by telephone. Go to Author & Speaker Coaching for specific details and fees.

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