4 steps to expand your philanthropic reach this year
Ahh, spring. It’s upon us once again. The season officially began on March 20th, but many of us here in the Northern Hemisphere still sport our winter parkas and those cute pajamas with the feet. However, the turning of the season is just around the corner. Longer days and a brighter, warmer sun are literally on the horizon! You’ve endured a long winter of shoveling and shivering, and soon it will be time to break out the shorts, gardening tools, and bicycles.
Every year around this time you make changes to your apparel and outdoor activities, but this could also be a time to make changes in your community, your state, or even the planet! You’ve considered volunteering in the past, and maybe you’ve joined an organization before only to fade away a few weeks or a few months later. This is your season to start making an impact and make it last. As cliche as it sounds, spring can really be a time of new beginnings. Why not make it a time to expand your philanthropic reach?
You have a solid job, a home, and a great social network. You know you have enough to help yourself, so now is the time to create a new space in your life to contribute to a cause. But we’re not just talking about charity and volunteer work here and there, which are really just surface-level activities.
Philanthropy is an ideology, a lifestyle, a long-term commitment to goodwill.
Stop thinking about volunteering as a hobby, and start thinking like a philanthropist. To help you spring into action, we’ve determined four important steps to make a strong and long-lasting impact this season (and in every season)!
1. Spring: What’s your passion?
The fresh air of spring brings fresh ideas! If you want to help, you’ll need to figure out what drives your passion. You’re a better you when you’re doing something you love, so if helping children doesn’t interest you, it’s probably not a great idea to pursue a cause in education or schools. Do you have any skills, talents, or connections that you’d like to share? For example, maybe you’re great with numbers and you love excel spreadsheets! Why not support fundraising efforts for a local organization?
Perhaps you’re knowledgeable about plants and species. You can use these skills by volunteering with local conservation or park. Assess your interests and skills, and make a choice. Other areas of philanthropic work include health care, gender rights or human rights, refugees, arts and culture, and various subcategories as well. There are many areas of focus and limitless ways to get involved, so your first step is to choose a cause that interests you and inspires you!
2. Summer: Philanthropy at every level!
You spent the spring planting your philanthropic seeds. Now it’s summertime, and you’ll need to water those flowers so they continue to grow big and strong! It’s time to take your contributions to the next level. Let’s say you’ve chosen environmental conservation as a focus. Here are some possible scenarios of how you can get involved from the micro to macro-level:
The first step is right outside your front door. After all, summer is here! Research volunteer opportunities in your community that focus on conservation efforts. Be a park ambassador and teach visitors or kids’ groups about the flora and fauna in the park. If you’re interested in leadership and administrative roles, you can volunteer for a political committee devoted to environmental conservation. Take your passion to the state level by participating in state or national conferences or forums on conservation. Vote for local, state, and national politicians who have environmental conservation on their platform.
Consider Global Opportunities
The next step is to expand your philanthropic reach globally. Get involved regularly with organizations in other countries. Donate money if you can, or simply connect to share experiences and strategies. Solidarity in philanthropy is key to learning and growing!
We support projects around the world devoted to various philanthropic causes; just check out our projects in need and find a project that matches your interests! For community development causes, you may consider donating money or time to Freshwater Project International, an organization in Malawi that’s dedicated to providing clean, potable drinking water to all Malawians. You can also volunteer with The Real Uganda to learn more about community development, and bring back ideas to your own local community.
3. Fall: Don’t stop.
In fall it can be easy to shift your focus to school and work, but don’t let your metaphorical leaves fall from the tree this autumn. One of the major pillars of philanthropy is sustainability. You’ll need to put in the time, and you’ll need to make it long-lasting, even as life gets a little more busy—but that doesn’t mean you need to be toiling away daily at the expense of your job or family. Life is busy and your time is limited. If you only have once a week to contribute, make sure it’s meaningful and sustained.
Let’s say your focus is on education and literacy, and you’ve found a local school where you tutor children for two hours a week. Make sure every minute counts. If you don’t have experience tutoring, it will be difficult at first, but eventually, you’ll become more efficient and proficient! You’ll notice over time your ability to tutor improves, and as a result, that child has gained literacy skills and academic independence. More independent academic skills mean a likelihood of graduating, college acceptance, employability, and breaking the cycle of poverty. That happens with sustained effort on your part to make sure the child is also self-sustained. See how that works?
Commit time to deepen and broaden your impact. And again, you don’t need to worry about your limited hours—just focus on committing regularly. For example, perhaps there are monthly or quarterly town halls and events to advocate for literacy education at the state and national levels. Mark your calendars for those days!
Once a year you can also donate or even take a trip to volunteer abroad with other literacy organizations with similar missions. For example, the GoAbroad Foundation supports the African Education Program, which empowers Zambian youth through education. And if you don’t want to spend time away from home, you can always choose to donate to help support projects that give low-income students scholarships.
Be strategic with your time, your donations, and your energy.
Research the right organizations and pathways for change so you know your time and/or money is well spent. Create a plan to spread your time and energy throughout the year. Even as the fall brings colder and shorter days, figure out ways to get yourself motivated. The weather may change and you may lose motivation, but the need is always there!
4. Winter: Assess your change.
There’s a certain sameness to winter. The gray skies and cold, snowy days never seem to change. Change in your volunteering or donating may not come quickly; it could take many years, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it!
Measuring progress is somewhat of an abstract concept. If you’re working with an organization, discuss ways in which you want to measure progress. If you’re helping an organization that promotes music and art classes in low-income communities, like the Living Music Foundation, look into assessments both formative and summative to measure student progress. If you’re working to get more funding for music programs at state and national levels, research how this funding has grown over the years and what has contributed to its growth.
Reassess and evaluate how you can more effectively contribute to your cause as well. Ask organizations you’re interested in how they have changed and assessed change. Learn from each other! Finally, decide if your time is being well-spent in your specific role. Seasons change, and your growth and development with your cause should too.
Spring into action now!
There it is. A four-season plan of how you can take action and create sustainable change all year long. Spring is calling, so get going. Spring into action and carve out your philanthropic plan for the year, and of course, for many years thereafter.
One last suggestion…
Make a note on your calendar exactly 365 days from today. Four seasons will pass, and you will be well beyond that “spring into action” phase. It will be time for you to tell someone else about what you did with your year. Talk about your journey with a friend, neighbor, or colleague. Discuss the strategies you employed to achieve change and how you fulfilled your philanthropic vision. Inspire a friend to take action, who will then inspire another friend. When you think about it, the concept of change gets multiplied!
As the season recycles, so does change. Make your philanthropic reach a movement of change for many years to come.
Post was originally written by Lauren Bennett, GoAbroad Writer’s Academy Member