Today, as I make my pies and chop ingredients for the stuffing and pull out my festive tablecloth, I'm also continuing to think about how I practice gratitude.
For the last two days, I've been blogging about "gratitude tasks" -- how performing simple things like writing gratitude lists and thank you notes can help you feel better and improve your general outlook.
Today, let's go further with another "task" that also turns out to be good for you . . . philanthropy.
Because philanthropy . . . is a topic near and dear to my heart.
You see, my convoluted career path led me to philanthropy. (Maybe someday I'll tell you about that path . . . from teacher to CPA to foundation director. But not today.) For 17 years, I had the great fortune of running a large, private women's foundation in Grand Rapids. It turned out to be a dream job -- and also one of the greatest learning experiences I've ever had.
Mostly, though, my job turned me into a philanthropist . . . certainly as a professional, but - more importantly - as an individual.
Anyone can be a philanthropist! Although I think most of us associate folks like Andrew Carnegie, John Paul Getty, or Bill Gates with the term "philanthropist," that's selling the rest of us short. You are a philanthropist no matter how much or how how little or how often you give a donation to a charitable organization.
I think that's an important thing to remember. Financial contributions of any size make a huge difference to charitable organizations! Not only do all of those little gifts add up to make a big impact -- but they also signal your emotional support, your belief in a cause, your desire to fight for a better world. . . to an organization that lives and breathes their mission every day.
Giving . . . makes you a philanthropist.
Give. Give. Give. Because it matters. It's the right thing to do. And it'll make you feel good, too.
(Okay. Now just let me put a higher platform on my soapbox for a second.)
How do you choose which organization to give TO?
Here's my short answer: Follow Your Heart!
- What causes are you especially concerned about? Water quality? Domestic violence? Disease awareness? Public education? Health care access? Constitutional rights? Hunger? Arts and culture? Animal adoption? Refugee services? Leadership development? Homelessness? Gun violence? Heck . . . the list goes on and on and on. Figure out which issues are most important to you. Narrow your scope.
- Do a little research. Are there organizations in your own community that are working on your focus-issues? Start with their websites or annual reports. Maybe give them a call and schedule a visit. Attend an event they sponsor. Basically -- get close and see what they do in your community. (Note that I did NOT start with a visit to GuideStar or Charity Navigator; more on that later.)
- If you're interested in theses issues beyond your community - or if you're interested in more national or global issues - expand your net a bit with your research. It might be harder to get personal, community-level information from organizations beyond your backyard, but you can still learn about what they do and who they serve through their websites and annual reports.
- Mostly, though. Figure out what matters most to you -- and GIVE.
Now. . .
Let's talk a minute about sites like GuideStar and Charity Navigator -- sites designed to provide good, solid information about the inner-workings of charities. If you are looking to make a significant personal gift (let's say . . . over $10,000) or if you work for a foundation, then - by all means - do your due diligence and take a look at the financial statements and 990s of charities you're considering.
But. If you're just making regular, personal charitable donations of $25, $100, or even $1,000 . . . skip that step. Seriously. Just give.
And I could go on and on (and on) about the evils of equating operational overhead with poor nonprofit management (because I would need a stage-sized soapbox for that one) -- but, instead, I'm going to leave you with this most excellent TED talk from activist and fundraiser Dan Pallotta. (I know it's 18 minutes on the day before Thanksgiving, but this is totally worth watching if you really want to change the world.)
In the meantime . . . GIVE!