Friends of Voices for Earth Justice gave $9,424 in November and December 2017, an increase of about 88 percent over the same period in 2016.
"It's really not about the dollars; it's about the people," said BT Irwin, Voices for Earth Justice executive director. "Our mission is all about helping people do things that will make a real difference to the Earth and its inhabitants. One thing that some people choose to do is give money. We're thankful for every one of those people!"
Funds will support 2018 learning and volunteer programs and the maintenance of Hope House & Gardens in Detroit.
"We've always run Voices for Earth Justice on a shoestring," said Irwin. "It's surprising how much this organization accomplishes with so little. You know when you give a dollar to Voices for Earth Justice, it goes a long way to making a really big difference to the work we do. Every one of our donors should feel great about that."
Plans are under way for the final fundraising campaign of the fiscal year (2017-2018) sometime in April or May.
Last fall, our board went on two retreats funded by a generous grant from the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation. Our intent was to do one retreat in September. At that retreat, we would come up with a plan to recruit new board members in 2018.
Our conversation that day made it clear that we felt unclear about some things. We knew the mission statement, but we couldn't describe our mission in action. The questions in the room that day were: "What do we do? How do we do it? Why do we do it?"
Good boards have conversations like this at least once a year.
Good boards also know that a mission statement is not a sacred text. A good mission statement evolves to meet the needs of the present and anticipate the needs of the future. After all, the nature of a mission is action toward some end. What should stay the same is the spirit of the mission and the beliefs and values that shape it.
At that September retreat, the board agreed that it was time to ask whether our mission statement--written long ago--is the right mission for right now.
The retreat facilitator pointed out that Voices for Earth Justice has no vision statement. That is: We aren't painting a picture of the world we want to help bring about.
We ended the September retreat with an agreement to hold a second retreat in December. At that retreat, we did two things:
While the board contemplated those things between September and December, I took time to ask a lot of questions of our two founders, Patty Gillis and Sister Janet Stankowski. I wanted to understand why they started Voices for Earth Justice, what they set out to do, and how they did it over the last 15 years.
All of this work last fall came together in a draft of a new mission and vision statement for Voices for Earth Justice. While the board is working toward adopting a final version of that mission and vision, I want to give you a glimpse into what is coming.
Four words capture the essence of the new mission and vision that are emerging from our conversations last fall: Faith, community, practical, impact.
Here's a little more about each one:
Faith. Voices for Earth Justice started as a faith-based ministry to communities and people of faith. When Patty and Sister Janet started the organization in 2002, they felt that communities of faith needed voices to speak up for the stewardship of Earth and its inhabitants. In the Bible, God's first command to human beings is to care for and keep the Earth and all therein. People who believe in the divine origins of all Creation have a God-given obligation to care for it. Voices for Earth Justice has always existed to remind people of faith of this obligation and to help them meet it.
Community. When the retreat facilitator asked our board members to remember a time when Voices for Earth Justice was at its best, every one of them painted a picture of community. There was the intense cooperation and volunteer work it took to build Hope House & Gardens. There were cookouts, potlucks and shared meals. There were celebration, prayer, and worship gatherings. We all agreed that Voices for Earth Justice is at its best when it is bringing people together. Indeed, the essence of our mission is to bring people into relationship with Earth and each other. That's community.
Practical. The most common question that came up during our board retreats and conversations was this one: "What do we do at Voices for Earth Justice? What do we want to help other people do?" We agreed that most people believe that caring for the Earth is a good thing to do, but that most people don't know how. Or, even if they know how, they don't know how to fit it into their busy, complicated, paycheck-to-paycheck, stressful lives. If people feel like they can't practice Earth care, they won't practice Earth care. So to help more people practice Earth care, how do we make Earth care accessible, personal, practical, and simple enough for everyone to do it?
Impact. This is where the rubber meets the road. How will the world be different because Voices for Earth Justice exists? What changes do we want to help bring about, directly or indirectly? Impact is a lot bigger than just our little nonprofit organization. It's the ripples from the pebble in the pond. So what ripples do we want to make and in which pond? Way back in 2002, Patty and Sister Janet came to believe that communities of faith have great influence on how people live their lives. They believed that if we influence communities of faith, we can influence the people who belong to those communities. Changing the way communities and people of faith think about and practice Earth care could have a profound impact on the world.
Our board will soon begin going over the draft. I'd like for you to have a chance to look at it, too, and give us your thoughts before the board votes to adopt it.
Look for that mission and vision draft sometime in mid-February.
Meanwhile, please keep us in your prayers.
Grace and peace,
BT Irwin, executive director
Voices for Earth Justice
Our New Year resolutions often seem to have a lot to do with what we want for ourselves. According to Google search statistics, the #1 New Year resolution at the start of 2017 was "Get healthy." The #2 New Year resolution was "Get organized." The next three resolutions had to do with learning new hobbies, living life to the fullest, and saving money.
I wonder if the individualistic and self-centered spirit of most resolutions on January 1 is the reason most of them fail by January 8. For instance, if "self" is at the center of a resolution to "eat better" in 2018, it won't be long until that same "self" falls for the instant gratification of eating poorly.
Most of the time, we set our New Year resolutions in isolation or we barely mention them even once to family and friends. When the self that wants instant gratification confronts the self that set the resolution, nobody else is around to come to the rescue.
So I wonder if it would make a difference to ourselves and to those around us if we made New Year resolutions a community exercise. What if each of us made a resolution to do something for the people and places around us? What if we brought family, friends, and neighbors together to share in it? In short, what if we made our New Year resolutions about us instead of me?
I think that's really the function of Voices for Earth Justice. When we're at our best, we are a community that encourages and supports personal efforts to practice Earth justice. In other words, if you resolve to be a better steward of the Earth and a neighbor to all those who live here, Voices for Earth Justice should be able and ready to help you do it.
Yet another way to put it: If you resolve to use your voice to make a difference, Voices for Earth Justice should be what amplifies and broadcasts it. How? By joining your voice to the harmony of thousands of other voices calling for Earth justice.
I think you can now see my New Year resolution for Voices for Earth Justice.
As executive director, I resolve that Voices for Earth Justice will move our society closer to Earth justice by giving you information, a support network, and tools to amplify your own voice. If you resolve to practice "everyday Earth justice" in 2018, Voices for Earth Justice will help you do it with people who lift their voices with yours in shared resolution.
To that end, my focus in 2018 will be on making our programs as practical and useful to you as possible. I want to make it easy and enjoyable for you to discover and learn about Earth justice--and then put it into practice and share it with the people and places around you. I want to make it simple for you to make the difference you want to make.
In January, I'm going to share an outlook and plans for how Voices for Earth Justice will amplify your voice and support your Earth justice resolutions in 2018.
As I write this on December 28, we are less than $1,500 from our year-end fundraising goal of $10,000. Our philosophy at Voices for Earth Justice is to "operate small, impact big." We believe we can make a big difference without growing a big organization. In dollar terms, that means that our $10,000 year-end campaign will fully fund one-fifth of our entire operation and programs for one year.
What does that means to you? It means that just as Voices for Earth Justice exists to amplify your voice, we also amplify your dollar. The dollar you give to Voices for Earth Justice does far more because it is a bigger part of our small budget.
Since we've already raised more than $8,500 in December, we only have about $1,500 to go before January 1. Your year-end gift today will make a huge difference.
So, make a resolution to use your voice for Earth justice in 2018. Then, make a gift to Voices for Earth Justice today. We'll amplify your dollar and your voice in the New Year.
Onward and upward!
BT Irwin, executive director
The light is coming.
Yes, when the cold is coldest and the dark and darkest, believe: The light is coming.
We celebrate that hope of light returning when we observe the Winter Solstice.
Indeed, light is the focal point of our December holidays, regardless of the faith to which we hold. We light candles, homes, or trees for more than just aesthetics or utility. These little lights in the darkness of December are expressions of faith and reminders of hope.
We strive for Voices for Earth Justice to be a constellation of "little lights" where darkness and death are felt most in this world.
You're one of those "little lights." Among the other "little lights" that make up Voices for Earth Justice, you're part of a constellation of faith, hope, and love. Your light reminds people who feel lost in the darkness that hope is here and love is now.
But your light also gives them hope that hope and love are still coming yet. That hundreds, thousands, millions of "little lights" together will eventually drive away the darkness of abuse, exploitation, neglect, and oppression.
Your light, taken together with so many other "little lights," is the most convincing evidence yet that a day will come when justice will cover the Earth.
Thank-you for being a "little light" among many "little lights." You and people like you are Voices for Earth Justice.
And because "little lights" need energy themselves to keep shining in the darkness, we at Voices for Earth Justice wish you more light and warmth than you could ask or imagine this holiday season.
Grace and peace,
BT Irwin, executive director
P.S. You can help keep our light shining in 2018 by making a tax-deductible donation to our year-end giving campaign. As of today (December 21), we've raised more than $8,000 toward our $10,000 goal. Please make your online donation here. Thank-you!
Voices for Earth Justice started interviewing me for the executive director position back in the summer. I started the job on September 11.
Almost every day since I submitted my application letter, I've been contemplating the name of our organization: "Voices for Earth Justice."
That's a big name. A REALLY big name!
As big as Earth!
As big as justice!
The more I contemplate that big name, the smaller I feel:
"Irwin, who are you to presume that you should be 'executive director' of 'Earth Justice?'"
"Irwin, who are you to believe you can make any difference to Earth justice?"
"Irwin, what do you even know about Earth justice?"
Do you ever question yourself that way? Do you ever feel that same small feeling?
Over the three months since I started my new role at Voices for Earth Justice, I've come to the conclusion that being/feeling "small" is not a bad thing.
In fact, it may be the thing we need to take on something as big as Earth justice.
Three things I've come to believe (see if you believe them, too):
As we go forward together, let's celebrate, embrace, and make the best use of our smallness.
Let's believe in the power of the little things we choose to do each day and let's find practical ways to be a little better today than we were yesterday.
Let's believe that even the people we don't like or don't understand have as much a role to play in the world we're growing as we do. Let's seek to listen big and talk small in order to make room for mutual respect and understanding.
Let's delight and glory more in what we don't know than stagnate in what we do know.
Being small and doing small are often the excuses we use to do nothing at all.
In truth, being small and doing small are exactly what we need to be and do to start making a real difference.
Let's embrace being small. It's a big deal!
You're one of about 2,400 people around the world who support Voices for Earth Justice through your interest, money, prayers, or time.
You are the "voice" in Voices for Earth Justice.
It is easy to say "thank-you" to you for what you do for our organization. In 2017, we helped more than 1,000 people learn how to be more grateful and responsible for Earth. We continued to transform vacant buildings and land into a demonstration site for loving neighbors and Earth-friendly sustainable agriculture. Indeed, none of that would be possible with you. We are thankful to you for all of that.
What nonprofit organizations like us often forget, however, is to say "thank-you" for what you do when you're not giving money or volunteering time to us.
Knowing what we know about you, you are doing good things for the Earth every day and in more ways than we'll ever know. You're loving your neighbors in little ways that nobody will ever see. You're a voice for Earth justice even when you're not working with Voices for Earth Justice.
Accomplishing the mission of Voices for Earth Justice is so much bigger than Voices for Earth Justice. In fact, the mission itself cannot and does not belong to us. It a mission as big as the Earth itself and as widespread as every inch of ground where something lives.
The only chance we have of accomplishing that mission is not through the efforts of one little nonprofit organization in Detroit; it is through the little things you do each day as you learn to live your life better.
You're doing that and for that, we thank you!
And for all you do for us, we give thanks this Thanksgiving.
Blessings and peace on you and all the people and places you hold dear.
Onward and upward,
BT Irwin, executive director
Voices for Earth Justice
Be honest: How much do you enjoy winning an argument?
At first pass, it would seem the answer to that question would be: “A lot!”
Consider the question a little more.
As I think about it, I cannot recall a single argument I ever enjoyed winning.
In fact, every argument I can recall winning made me feel more like a loser.
You see, in my teens, 20s, and 30s, I put a lot of energy and faith in winning arguments.
I thought that if I could win arguments, I could win people to my cause or point of view.
How I was mistaken!
I had to learn the hard way: Win the argument, lose the person.
Given the choice, which would you rather have?
The solitary satisfaction of being right or the fellowship and warmth of a friend?
What about this question: Can we really make the world better by winning arguments? Or does making the world better really depend on making friends? Especially when those friends are people who we used to consider opponents?
Sure, it’s easier and more (perversely) satisfying to argue with an opponent. It’s easy to cast quick judgment on their moral fiber and motives. Finding good reasons to put another person down sure makes us feel high and mighty, doesn’t it?
It also keeps us far apart.
And it makes our sin of the same variety that we so quickly attribute to others.
The hard truth: People who see things different are not bad people. They’re just people like you and me. They’re afraid of the unknown. They’re trying to make sense of life. They often feel inadequate. They get tired from the daily difficulty of life.
As much as we want to make them out to be so different from ourselves, they’re not.
If they’re not so different from us, then we have some basis for coming together with them. We have reasons to believe that we can agree on some things and cooperate to make a difference.
But winning an argument does nothing to bridge our differences and bring us together. It only drives us farther apart. It burns up all of the oxygen that we need to have a relationship with each other.
Voices for Earth Justice appealed to me because reconciliation is such a strong part of its culture and mission. Some environmental and social justice organizations seem to say: “You can be part of us if you agree with us 100 percent and look like us, too!” I don’t see how that is going to make the world better.
At Voices for Earth Justice, we seem to understand that we can only achieve our mission by joining people who don’t seem to belong together. It seems that here, we say: “You can be part of us even if we disagree on a lot of things, even if you don’t look anything like us! We’re not here to argue with you; we’re here to build a relationship with you and see where that takes all of us together!”
Yes, I’ve been an arguer. It was easier and more self-gratifying, but I ended up alone in my self-righteous solitude, cooking in my own resentful juices.
In that state, how could I affect any meaningful change in the world?
Debate has its place and and productive debate has rules that preserve admiration and respect between opponents. Let’s use debate sparingly. Instead, let’s make things like empathy, friendship, and patience our preferred methods for winning. Not arguments, but people.
Onward and upward!
BT Irwin, executive director
Voices for Earth Justice
Each year on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, more and more people around the world join millions of their family, friends, and neighbors in a celebration of generosity.
Now in its fifth year, #GivingTuesday is likely to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in donations for causes and nonprofits in communities around the globe on Tuesday, November 28.
We hope you plan to celebrate generosity on #GivingTuesday by making gifts of your own to the organizations you believe deserve your support. We hope that Voices for Earth Justice is one of those organizations.
This year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is pledging to match #GivingTuesday donations dollar-for-dollar up to $1,000 per individual and $50,000 per nonprofit. That means if you give $100 to Voices for Earth Justice on #GivingTuesday, the Gates Foundation will also give $100. It's like giving $200, but only taking $100 out of your wallet.
Imagine doubling the difference you make to programs like Hope House in Detroit!
To receive the Gates Foundation match, you must make your donation using the "Donate" button on the Voices for Earth Justice Facebook page (Facebook.com/voices4earth). Facebook will waive all gift processing fees on #GivingTuesday, so more of your money goes to Voices for Earth Justice.
Finally, the Gates Foundation set a limit of $2 million total for matching gifts on #GivingTuesday. That means when the $2 million is gone, no more matching funds will be left. The matching period begins at 8 a.m. EST on #GivingTuesday, November 28, so plan to make your donation early so you'll be sure to get the match.
To help you remember to "double your donation" on #GivingTuesday, we set up a #GivingTuesday event. Follow this link, sign up for the event, and we'll send you a reminder the day before #GivingTuesday. Then all you have to do is make your donation at Facebook.com/voices4earth on Tuesday, November 28, and the Gates Foundation will match it.
Please plan to be part of the global giving community on #GivingTuesday, November 28, and please double your donation by giving to Voices for Earth Justice at Facebook.com/voices4earth.
You want to buy your family, friends, coworkers and neighbors great gifts, but you also want to make sure those gifts are eco-friendly or Fair Trade?
Voices for Earth Justice is happy to help you "shop for earth justice" this giving season.
You can check out over 70 eco-friendly and Fair Trade gift ideas in our gift guide on Amazon. Click here to have a look.
Please be sure to shop at smile.amazon.com and choose Voices for Earth Justice as the cause you want to support. Shopping at smile.amazon.com is the same as shopping at amazon.com, except Amazon will donate half a percent of your total purchase to Voices for Earth Justice.
Let us know what you think of our Eco-Friendly and Fair Trade Gift Guide. We're happy to add suggestions if you send them to us.
Happy shopping! Happy giving! Happy stewardship!