Speakers inspire, challenge, educate at Humanism at Work


Day two of the Humanism at Work conference was a full day of powerful speakers sharing stories of humanist work around the world and scientific approaches to maximizing our charitable efforts. Follow us on Twitter to get all the latest updates. Here’s a recap of what we heard today:

Hemley Gonzalez, the founder of Responsible Charity, spoke about his experiences working in the slums of Calcutta to combat poverty. After volunteering for Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, Hemley was deeply troubled by the broken system and lack or real aid for the most vulnerable. Hemley now works to help break the cycle of poverty through education, microloans, and more. According to Hemley, the goal of a charitable organization should be to do its job so well that the charity itself is no longer necessary.

Caroline Fiennes, charitable giving expert and author of It Ain’t What You Give, It’s the Way That You Give It, engaged the audience in a bit of a game. Can you tell, based on a description of a charitable program’s goals and activities, whether that program will be effective? The results were surprising and eye-opening. Caroline stressed three main points: You cannot rely on intuition to determine which charities are most effective; it’s important to choose not just an effective charity, but the most effective charity; and we should focus our support on organizations that are working for systemic change, because system-wide change affects more lives and creates greater change. Caroline also discussed the fact that very few charities have evidence to back up their programs, making it hard to truly evaluate whether a charity is effective.

Dr. Brittany Shoots-Reinhard shared evidence-based tips on how to motivate charitable giving and volunteer service. According to Brittany, creating a culture of giving and service inspires people to get involved, and you can use small, simple charitable acts to get the ball rolling. Convince people they’re charitable by getting them to participate in a food drive, and they’ll be more likely to participate in larger activities down the road.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Rebecca Vitsmun shared the story of losing her home in the Moore, OK, tornado of 2013. With her firsthand knowledge about the needs of a community in the wake of a major disaster, Rebecca is working to launch the Humanist First Responders program. To add your name to the database of volunteer responders, click here.

In breakout sessions, panels discussed two topics important to our community: how to get your freethought organization involved with volunteer service, and how FBB evaluates charities in order to select our quarterly beneficiaries (and how you can do the same research on your own).

David Smalley, host of the popular Dogma Debate podcast, talked about tackling big fundraising challenges by breaking them into manageable chunks. As David said, “Keep it simple, realistic, and attainable, and people will join you.” When you ask people to give a specific, small amount, like $3 or $4 or $5, and tell them specifically what good that money can accomplish, your community will respond generously.

The Humanism in Action panel included Hemley Gonzalez, Carmen Zepp of Human Beans Together, humanist activist Seráh Blain, and Leo Igwe (who we’ll hear more from tomorrow). The panelists shared their widely varying experiences in humanist service on three continents. A common theme was the insistence that the humanist movement has an essential role to play in alleviating human suffering around the world.

Alix Jules, the last speaker of the day, talked about active diversity in the humanist movement. According to Alix, humanist communities must make an effort to build diversity into their groups. It must be a conscious effort on the part of the group in order to effectively bridge the divide. And if your work to increase diversity doesn’t make you uncomfortable, you’re not doing it right. To move forward, we need to acknowledge the differences between us, which will help address the barriers to collaboration. And above all, diversity is a verb—it's something you do.

Attendees interested in volunteer service were invited to take part in two service projects: Sorting and preparing book donations for Bernie’s Book Bank and preparing hygiene kits of travel-sized toiletries for The Night Ministry.

Links from our speakers’ presentations will be posted on the Humanism at Work site.

Tonight will hold the Heart of Humanism Awards dinner, and tomorrow morning we’ll continue with more great speakers and panels.