When you think ‘philanthropy,’ do you envision famous, wealthy people such as Oprah, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg? And perhaps that thought is followed by, “If only I had the money to help.” The good news is that you can be a philanthropist even if you don’t have millions of dollars to give away. A philanthropist is anyone who seeks to promote the welfare of others and does so by donating not just money, but time. Volunteer. If you’re well known in your community or business, your reputation can also be used to promote a good cause. Giving of yourself in any way to a cause you are passionate about can be very rewarding.
To help you get started as a philanthropist, consider the following:
Create a Strategy
Think about why you want to become a philanthropist and what you hope to achieve by giving. Though it may seem obvious, there are different outcomes from charitable giving. What is important to you? Do you want to give because you feel it’s your moral duty, or perhaps a religious belief or tradition? Or is a particular cause close to your heart because it affects you or a family member? Your “why” will be the driving force behind all you do for charity.
There are many charities that need help, so the first step to philanthropy is to determine what’s important to you.
Do Your Research
A good place to start is the Internet and local library. Look for best or top-rated charities as listed by third party organizations. From this list, you can choose those that are important to you, and then dig deeper into each. Find out why they received the rating they did, how they use donations, and what their impact is. Look also for anything negative such as scams or illegal activity and consider the timeframe. If an incident took place years ago, what was done to fix the problem and their reputation? Is there new management? Has the organization turned around?
Look for sustainable solutions
Throwing money at a cause is not enough. This may help in the short-term, but it will need to be done continuously. Say you want to help reduce hunger in your community. The most obvious way to do so would be to donate food or money to open a soup kitchen. A more sustainable solution might be to start a community garden and teach people how to grow, harvest, and prepare their own food.
Another way to help solve problems is to appeal to an organization’s power structure. For example, start campaigns by writing letters and making phone calls to address problems and bring them to the attention of politicians and others who support the cause.
Learn to Lead
Look to successful entrepreneurs and business owners for inspiration and advice. Like them, a philanthropist must be good at problem solving and innovation, as well as having the ability to lead and motivate others. Many great ideas can come out of a good brainstorming session if handled properly. There are many self-help books and videos that can help in this area, as well as seeking input from other successful leaders.
Philanthropy is much more than simply giving money. There are problems to solve and work to be done, so giving your time is also important. Look for opportunities to volunteer. There are websites dedicated to listing volunteer opportunities as well as matching people and skills to initiatives that can benefit from them.
While the holidays often inspire people to give, remember that most causes need help year round. Approach organizations you care about and ask where you can be of service. What skills do you have that can be put to use to make a difference?
Share your Philanthropy
You join a cause because it is important to you, so it makes sense to tell friends and family about it. Share with them why this cause is import to you and how they can help. Invite them to volunteer with you, help out at events, or even to pursue their own charities. Social media is a great tool for spreading awareness, educating others and creating a buzz. Share articles and links that encourage others to learn more and get involved. Building awareness often leads to more donations to a good cause. Think of the ALS ice bucket challenge. Through the power of social media, millions of dollars were raised for research into a condition most weren’t even aware of.
Every bit helps. So maybe you aren’t wealthy, but for a cause you really care about, wouldn’t it feel good to give up some of those fancy lattes and give that money to someone less fortunate? To make sure your hard-earned dollars make an impact, do your research. Not every charity uses their donations in the same way. A good charity can provide a breakdown of where the money goes. As stated earlier, there are many third party organizations that provide this type of information about various charities.
You’ll want to know how the money is spent, what kinds of services are provided, and how that impacts those in need. Look for actual statistics. Once you determine what is important to you and which organizations align with your values, choose the one to few that you will give to. It is better to donate a larger amount to fewer organizations than to give a small amount to many.
Organizations and the people who run them change from time to time. The charities to which you give should be researched and reevaluated each year. Stay up to date with news articles regarding your favorite charities. Has the foundation of the organization changed, and in what way? Are there new board members who may change the organization’s values so they no longer align with yours? Does this affect the way your money is spent? If you see change that you don’t like, look for another organization to support.
Becoming a philanthropist, one who makes an active effort to promote the welfare of others, can be a life-long and very rewarding endeavor. It is truly a lifestyle where your philanthropy becomes a part of you and everything you do. Being a philanthropist comes from the heart.