To be named a Giraffe, a nominee must have taken a significant risk for the common good. However, as we pass the 1000 mark in commendations presented, the task of communicating the precedents set by our previous decisions has become too cumbersome to discuss on a case by case basis. We've resisted codification of this process because we want to affirm that there is no uniform standard for all human beings. So interpret our criteria with some flexibility, taking into account the background and personality of the nominee, and other highly subjective factors. Furthermore, these criteria are open to amendment.
General: Giraffes have been named in over 30 separate fields of work. Broadly speaking, working for the common good means alleviating suffering, rectifying injustice or advancing goals such as peace or a healthy environment.
Disqualifying factors: Giraffes don't have to be saints, but we honor no one who advocates violence, hatred, racial prejudice, abridgement of civil or human rights or ecologically destructive practices. Civil disobedience in the manner of a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King Jr. is honored, but not actions that are unconstitutional. Sufficient numbers reached: A Giraffe's actions must be of benefit to a significant number of people, either as beneficiaries of the action or as people who may be inspired to emulate the Giraffe.
Personal gain: Candidates whose motives seem to be primarily personal or limited to the benefit of their own families generally do not qualify. Personal motives might be: self-preservation, financial or political gain, personal entertainment or personal growth. However, if these things simply occur as a by-product of their concern for others, they could be Giraffes. For example, if a nominee's altruistic work starts attracting money, that's fine, so long as money-making wasn't the primary motive.
Continuing actions: The Project generally does not honor one-time actions. The only exceptions we've made are when the action served to galvanize an entire community into long-term action. At the other extreme, we've honored people for a lifetime of Giraffe actions, rather than for any one of those actions.
Acting from where you are: People who wait for grants, funding, further training or approval from 'the proper authorities' before taking action are rarely Giraffes.
Intentions don't count: Giraffes must have taken concrete actions
One or more of the following risks must be present in the story.
Risk as an encounter with fear: Most Giraffes have broken through or acted in the presence of fear. Broad categories of fear include fear of physical harm, of severe financial loss, of legal repercussions, of social or professional ostracism, or of losing large amounts of treasured personal time.
Subjective risk: In some cases, significant risks are taken when individuals overcome powerful fears or blocks within themselves in order to help other people, even if the fears or blocks are those which many other people in the same situation might not experience. For example, the risks of working in an inner-city drug treatment center are different for a 100-pound woman than for a 250-pound man. A Giraffe who is a disabled Vietnam vet had to overcome personal blocks to mentor Vietnamese refugees, which might have been no risk for a non-vet.
Objective risk: On the other hand, some Giraffes seem literally 'fearless,' even when faced with situations that would terrify most people. They are not downgraded for attaining such peace of mind.
Career changes: Taken alone, 'mid-career' switches do not count, unless accompanied by other factors which are qualifying. That is, the personal motive must be accompanied by a motive to serve the common good and the willingness to take significant risks to do so. For example, a Giraffe gave up his salary and perks as a senior corporate executive to start a nonprofit farm in the South Bronx. His family gave him a hard time about the lifestyle plunge; he hired dozens of South Bronx people and he brought a lot of hope to inner cities across the country by his example.
Financial risk: There must be no safety net (i.e., a spouse's handsome income or a handy trust fund.) Foregoing income ( i.e., rejecting higher-paying work for service work) has not been treated as a true risk, unless it results in great financial sacrifice or a wrenching change in lifestyle. Example: a Giraffe who was a football All-American walked away from handsome offers to go pro and took on the risks and uncertainties of starting a ranch for troubled youth.
‘Above and beyond’: Trained professionals doing their work within the boundaries of paid employment can qualify only if their service to others goes very far above and beyond the de facto standards of their profession. For example, a priest or social worker who takes on the bishop or City Hall to advance the cause of the homeless or a government employee who carries out the agency mission despite pressure within the agency to do nothing.
Legal Risk: Some Giraffes do break the law. But they do so without violence, with a willingness to accept the consequences, and with respect for the 'opposition.' Lawbreakers should have utilized all legal and political courses of action prior to their lawbreaking actions, and have continued to do so since their arrest. Examples: tax resisters who didn't file returns or who lied on them would not qualify. Lawbreakers whose goal is personal gain, general anarchy, disabling of the state or the personal satisfaction of raising hell do not qualify, although an activist battling for some well-reasoned and defined change in the government might.
Lawsuits: It's fine if a candidate sues to recover losses or to force an institution or individual to begin acting for the common good. But people who try to profit personally by suing for punitive damages will not be considered. Those who sue for punitive damages are only eligible if the money they receive is used directly and entirely to alleviate the conditions which brought about the lawsuit. Example: A Giraffe's lawsuits force polluters to clean-up the messes they've made, cease and desist polluting, and pay big fines that go to environmental groups in the affected region, not to the Giraffe.
The Giraffe Project would greatly appreciate not receiving nominations of wonderful people who are doing good things but who do not meet these criteria. It ruins our day to have to tell a nominator that a wonderful person isn't a Giraffe!