How To Give Back As You’re Still Establishing Yourself And Career

Giving Back and philanthropy for millennials in early career


Sep. 23 2016, Published 3:30 a.m. ET

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“…life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?”- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you’re anything like me, post-graduation life brought a great deal of struggles as I stumbled like a baby giraffe into “adulting.” I was focused on things such as appearing competent at my first job and hoping that my definition of “business casual” and that of my boss was the same. Then there were the bills, the budget, finding new friends, living the non-meal plan life, and attempting not to get lost every time I drove to Target. Needless to say, giving back took a backseat.

Once I pulled myself together, I began seeking opportunities to find my place in the community. Volunteerism was a piece of life that I’d been missing, as I’d always participated in service opportunities. There are obvious positive outcomes that occur from volunteering, but there are also the secondary outcomes of meeting new people (networking in a much better way than the same old happy hour), learning more about the needs of your community, using your existing skills in different ways, and adding to your skill set by stepping into a community role that challenges you. All of this can greatly benefit you personally and professionally.

When you’re sitting in your first apartment in a new city, and you’ve finally wrapped your brain around your 9-5 gig, you find yourself in the position of making personal decisions about how you’re going to serve the world outside of your career. There’s been steady growth in rates of volunteerism because millennials are looking for a sense of purpose. That is a hugely motivating factor for modern young adults. What we don’t find inside the office, we create opportunities to have outside the office. In designing your life, service and philanthropy are great elements to add meaning to your lived experience, as well as to the lives of others.

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When I first started as a professional, I didn’t have the economic resources, or so I thought, to be a philanthropist. Participating in hands-on service, which didn’t cost me anything except the gas in my car, was better for me during that season of life. Now that I have a bit more disposable income, which I earmark for causes I am passionate about in my community, I can make philanthropic donations. For me, this was a process in which I had to be intentional. The intent behind my dollars matter.

People often debate whether hands-on service or dollars are the best way to contribute to a cause. In my opinion, they are both highly beneficial, depending on the needs of the organization or population. Your best move is to ask how you can best serve those in need.

As an educator, it is important to me that people understand the difference between philanthropy and service.

Philanthropy: the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by the generous donation of money to good causes.

Service: the action of helping or doing work for someone.

It is also important and transformative for donors to meet and engage with the people they are supporting. Hands-on service has a different outcome on your heart and how you think about the benefactors of your donation. Get out there, get your hands dirty, see the world from another perspective. Take the challenge to step outside of your bubble.

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However you choose to be engaged, learn about the people, the place, and the cause. Be able to share with others why you have chosen to lend your support to this effort. Don’t just celebrate the tax write-off. Be better than that and be a champion, advocate, and ally for the cause. Remember that you’re a maven, “someone who understands.”

My current city of residence, Nashville, has over 2,000 nonprofit organizations. Unfortunately, my educator salary and schedule do not allow me to donate to and volunteer for every good cause. Instead, I have to focus in on those that mean the most to me and donate what my budget allows me to as often as I can do so. There are some causes that I donate to and volunteer for, and others that I simply volunteer for because I’m not fiscally able to contribute. I’ve also learned that you don’t have to donate stacks of cash to call yourself a “philanthropist.” Donate what you can, when you can, and you magically become this fancy “p” word.

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So, what matters to you? Do you want to add some layers to your life through service and philanthropic efforts? What are you passionate about in this world? Who do you want to support? In what area(s) would you like to lead positive change? These are good and hard questions to ponder. Once you’ve figured it out, find your tribe, and get to work.

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