Book Review: The Handbook

by Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström Sep 10, 2009
A guide to building a better world because actions speak louder than words.
Teachers in Nicaragua

Photo by Lola Akinmade

I loved rediscovering all over again – the leading network that connects volunteers, students, and professionals with nonprofit organizations, groups, campaigns, and programs all over the globe. Last October, I’d already touted their benefits over at Travel Channel’s World Hum, excerpted below:

….as I started compiling my ever-expanding list of possible 2009 volunteer locations (now at letter “M”—Mongolia, Mozambique, etc.) for some photojournalism work, I needed a one-stop shop to help centralize my search efforts.

Opportunities offered through the site range from volunteering as photographers with local Red Cross satellite offices to executive management of nonprofit and aid programs across Africa, Asia and the Middle East. It fed my wanderlust—and served me a heartwarming spoonful of service and volunteerism.

So when I found out they’d published a handbook, grabbing a copy for review was imperative.

Brief Overview
The Idealist Handbook

The handbook is divided into three distinct parts:

Part I. And Idealist is Born delves into the whole concept of idealism, helping readers discover why they want to volunteer.

It also breaks down how nonprofit organizations are structured and how they operate, and it also suggests the best fits based on your experiences.

Part II. Taking Action moves to the next level, teaching you everything you need to know about volunteering, serving on boards, and personal philanthropy.

Part III. Idealism at Work shows you how you can start small – from volunteering through your workplace to changing the world and actually making a career from it.

A juicy Appendix A thrown in talks about the Nine Types of Nonprofits – from organizations dedicated to arts and culture to those covering environmental issues and health.

Why I love it

What I loved about this book is that it doesn’t assume there’s one particular reason why people choose to volunteer which usually is “I want to make a difference” or ”I want to give back.” Rather, it outlines 14 other possible reasons such as honing leadership skills, exploring new career options, and even, “just for the fun of it!

This all inclusive tone lies beneath the entire book as you browse through chapters, driving home the message that idealism comes in various forms. Edited by Stephanie Land, the book is peppered with links to organizations you can connect with right away and personal anecdotes and empowering stories in blurbs called “Idealism in Action” that showcase real world examples.

One of my favorite quotes is from Cliff Landesman, a donor and volunteer.

One of my lifetime goals is to be as generous as I can be. I am not the most brilliant thinker in the world, so I am not going to push forward the frontiers of human knowledge. Nor am I especially ambitious in my career, so I am not going to be the CEO of the next Google.

However, I do have moral ambition. I would like to stretch myself to be the most generous person I can be. I think that is in my power.

Even if I fail, it can’t hurt to try…..Cliff Landesman

Some Criticism

The first few pages, besides the introduction to what is, start off really basic. It assumes that someone picking up the book for the first time is extremely clueless as to why they want to volunteer.

While this was probably done for mass appeal, chances are a first time volunteer flipping through knows what they would like to do but is mostly looking for advice on how to execute it.


Idealist Handbook is a thorough journey of self discovery which uses questions to help you uncover key pieces of your persona and identify your particular brand of idealism, and how those parts can be appropriately channeled to leave a mark on the world.

It leaves you with a section “Stay True to Your Passion” that implores you to stay the cause and the timeless adage “Action Speaks Louder than Words”, that challenges you to take the plunge now that you’ve been armed with all the information.

I consider this book an excellent blueprint for building a better world…and building a better you.

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