ImageMy three siblings and I enjoyed the myriad benefits of having a stay-at-home mom. But our mother left our home frequently to lend a hand to various causes she believed in. 

She was a huge booster of our schools, among many other activities serving as room mother when we were young and later, monitoring the classes of a blind high school social studies teacher (yes, kids will take advantage of a blind man). As we got older and she had more time to devote to her volunteer work, she became trained in counseling children of alcoholics and began devoting her energies to helping troubled teens. More recently, she was a language partner for a Russian immigrant and today serves as a docent at the Detroit Zoo.

Though my mother has always been a shining example of the importance of service to the community, my own record in this area has been anemic at best. I've flirted with pro-choice activism, going door-to-door with a handful of leaflets in support of local candidates. I, too, had a few meetings with a (Japanese) language partner. I once made a tentative overture to a nonprofit supporting homeless people that I never followed up on. I mostly just threw money at the problems.
You may stop feeling less like a wage slave and more like a citizen of the universe.

It wasn't until I was laid off from my cushy corporate job and no longer had money to throw that I began thinking about other options, the key word here being "thinking"; I didn't actually do anything until this year. And what I did was just a small thing, an outgrowth of what I do every day.

A nonprofit client approached me to edit his organization's newsletter. I said I'd give him our nonprofit break on the fee and got down to business. By the time I was done, I was so charged up about the cause — literacy, something that has always been close to my heart — and so inspired by the accomplishments and spirit of his all-volunteer outfit that I waived my fee. It was only a couple hundred bucks. I wouldn't miss it, but in not having to pay me, maybe my client would be able to make a modest grant to a grassroots group and help another person or two down the road to literacy and a world of possibility.

When my partner and I started Editorial Emergency, we actively cultivated a nonprofit client base. It was important for us to define our venture as more than just another cog in the entertainment-industry promotional machine. We've done projects at a discounted fee for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, the Daniel Pearl Foundation, Jewish Vocational Services, the fashion-related nonprofit little black dress and the rehab organization Hired Power, to name a few. In the coming year, we will mount a major outreach initiative in the nonprofit community.

ImageMore importantly, perhaps, we are in the early stages of planning an event to benefit a local literacy organization, proceeding on the belief that every little bit helps.

The fact is, I've never considered myself a do-gooder, but that doesn't mean I can't do some good. And I figure if I can do it, you can, too. Start small. Think about the work you do. Can a nonprofit organization benefit from that work? If you think it can, check out that nonprofit's Web site. See what kind of volunteer programs they have. You may find yourself so excited about the prospect of doing something to help that you actually e-mail a note or pick up the phone. You may find that the enthusiasm you feel for your new cause creates renewed passion for your work. You may stop feeling less like a wage slave and more like a citizen of the universe.

I used to think my mom volunteered because she didn't have a job, but I'm starting to realize that she was onto something much bigger than that, something I'm only now beginning to understand.