By Ron Lieber at the NYT. One of the signature emotions of this particular recession, besides the populist rage that boiled over this week, is a bit of survivor’s guilt.
After all, if you still have the same job or salary that you had a year ago, you’re among the lucky ones. With a different career move or two, you might have wound up among those whose household income has suffered a huge hit. You probably have friends and former colleagues in this unfortunate spot.
So what can you do to help them? Plenty, it turns out.
The impulse is to open your Rolodex, suggest a few names and leave it at that. But there is so much more that you can do, including helping out with baby-sitting or getting their home in shape for sale, that will provide a lift without making people feel like a charity case.
Here are a bunch of ideas, organized by seven categories. There is also call for additional ideas from you, which I’ll explain more fully at the end, about the tricky subject of when, if ever, you actually open your checkbook to offer financial assistance.
TWEETS There are still plenty of people who don’t have an online profile who could benefit from one, especially if they are now looking for work. If you can help them create a personal Web site or a more professional Facebook page, that’s a true gift. You can also teach them how to use LinkedIn (and let them connect with anyone from your contact list that they’d like to meet) or other online networking tools like Plaxo or Doostang. Jeremy Epstein runs Never Stop Marketing, a consulting firm that helps clients like Microsoft and Johnson & Johnson with what he calls “community driven marketing.” He’s also helping unemployed and underemployed friends and acquaintances understand the power and the challenge behind the concept.
“Right now, everyone has a channel, like Facebook or Twitter,” he said. “But they don’t realize that they need a compelling storyline to their channel. What are you going to inform me about? Why would I come to you?” He suggests considering the three things you’re most passionate about and then building your comments or the links that you post on your social networking profiles around those, so others come to see you as an expert or a witty commentator on the topics.
Justin Pruszynski Bacon, a software solutions specialist in Minneapolis whose last work contract ended in October, has taken Mr. Epstein’s advice and intends to use Twitter, as well as comments and guest posts on the blogs of others, to try to establish a following. One mistake, Mr. Epstein told him, might be to jump in too quickly with his own blog in an attempt to establish his personal brand.
“Jeremy talks about the blog graveyard. So many people start and then bail, and that wasn’t the way I wanted to present myself online,” he said.
DESKS For friends who no longer have an office, simply inviting them in to use your fancy copier or offering to run off résumés for them can be a kind gesture (as long as it won’t get you into any trouble).
Kate Hartnick Elliott, who runs a marketing, communications and executive search firm in New York City, lets people she knows use a spare desk, the Internet access and the printer in her office. She said it’s nice for people to have a place, other than Starbucks, to take a break between meetings.
LINKS Most people wouldn’t hesitate to make an introduction or two to anyone in need. But Amy Baker, who works in technology marketing in San Francisco, says that if you’ve ever been out of work yourself, you have almost a moral obligation to throw the rope back for others.
“One of the best pieces of advice I got was that you have to be talking to someone who’s been through it,” said Ms. Baker, who was unemployed for part of 2008. “As someone who’s been there, I have to reach out to people who are there now. I know how hard it is, and I know it will work out.”
Her list of ways she tries to help contains many good ideas, like signing up for unemployment before doing anything else and devoting part of each day to something you couldn’t do while working, like taking a nap or seeing a matinee. I’ve posted it in its entirety and linked to it from the version of this article at nytimes.com/yourmoney.
You can also help by taking a friend or former colleague to an industry gathering that they might not know of. Religious congregations are also ready-made communities that are predisposed toward service and good works. If you’re still employed, take the lead and start a networking group for those who aren’t. Or, you could reach out via the organization’s mailing list to solicit volunteers, say a local appraiser who can offer free appraisals to members in need who are trying to refinance their mortgages.
PATRONAGE Given the shortage of full-time positions, many people are setting up consulting practices or starting small businesses while continuing their job search. One way you can help is by becoming a customer.
This is what David Blackburn, who lives in Montclair, N.J., did for his friend and neighbor Josh Crandall. Mr. Crandall lost his information technology job at Morgan Stanley in November. At the time, he had a Web business on the side called The Clever Commute, which helps people who commute to New York City from the suburbs communicate with one another by e-mail about delays on buses and trains.
Mr. Crandall quickly decided to try to turn the site into a business that could earn real money through advertising and the sale of traffic and transit information to local media. “Dave consistently pings me with ideas, about which messages he thinks are good, about the advertising placements and the frequency,” Mr. Crandall said. “He also introduced me to a networking group that’s all about the nexus of advertising and technology.”
The Clever Commute is now up to 5,500 participants.
PLAYDATES Mr. Blackburn lends a hand in other ways as well. He and his wife sometimes look after the children of friends for a few hours. For Mr. Blackburn’s family it means a playdate, but for their friends it’s an opportunity to search for their next job.
The help is probably most useful on a weekday, since that’s the best time to make calls and attend meetings. Nights and weekends help too, though, since it can give weary parents the opportunity to decompress at the movies or brainstorm at a cafe. MAC AND CHEESE (HOMEMADE) Friends who are struggling financially almost always appreciate dinner invitations, but it’s probably wise to save the wild Alaskan salmon and your best bottle of wine for another night.
“A lavish dinner feels like a celebration — and what exactly are we celebrating?,” Nancy Vineberg, a marketing and strategy consultant in Boston whose start-up business has been hard hit by the economic turmoil, wrote in an e-mail message. “It may make a person feel even more depressed about not being able to shop at Whole Foods. But a nice home-cooked meal just makes someone feel included, taken care of and grateful to have nice food and companionship without the cost of a dinner out.” REMODELING Some of the people you know may need to sell some valuables to raise some quick cash. If you’re an experienced eBay user or seller, you might be able to help them get the best price.
If things get truly desperate, or they need to move to improve their career prospects, they’ll need to put their home up for sale as quickly as possible and position it to sell fast, too. Can you move some of their clutter into your basement so their home shows better? Can you help them stage the house in other ways, by lending furniture or bedding or offering to pitch in on painting or other touchups?
FINANCIAL AID The trickiest part of helping those who have seen their incomes fall is figuring out when, or whether, to help with a loan or a gift of money. Is this something you’d do only for family? Or never for family but anonymously for a neighbor who has fallen on hard times?
And if you’re thinking of giving money to friends, would you wound their pride by even suggesting it? Would it be easier if the offer came from a group and not an individual? Or should you simply wait for them to ask?