How to Give Back Even If You Don’t Work For a Non-Profit

MARCH 12, 2015
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While getting ready with my friends to go out on New Year’s Eve, I asked one who works finance how her work was going. At our age, we should be proud when our friends are excelling in their fields – after all, we did graduate from college during one of the worst financial crises in history. My friend mentioned she had just been promoted, and I cheered and told her it was a great way to ring in the new year. She frowned and quickly said, “But it’s not what I want to do, I want to do something that makes a difference.”

I was shocked. As one of the few from my group who ventured into the nonprofit world, most of my friends didn’t understand why I would want to work in this field. I was even more shocked when the rest of the group started commenting on how they had a desire to do something that makes a difference but did not know how to do that and stay in their current career fields. I kept repeating the same sentiment: that they could keep their careers and give back at the same time.

Charities have a history of focusing on the older generations for philanthropy. That trend has changed in recent years as Generation Y entered the workforce, yet as I saw with my friends, many millennials do not know where to start when they want to contribute.

Here is a helpful list that I share when discussing philanthropy with my friends.

1. Give Your Time and Money:
People often see volunteering time and donating money as mutually exclusive – you do one of the other. But I believe that doing both creates a real relationship between the nonprofit and the donor. Were you active in a youth group in high school? Donate directly, learn how your support is used within the organization and then volunteer to be a part of that work.

2. You Can Have A Heart and a Voice:
I have friends that tell me they give to charities but often feel voiceless when they disagree with policies or read the news about a charity taking on a project that does not align with their mission. A great way to have a voice is to join a junior board. Charities are focusing on creating a pipeline of support, and junior boards are comprised of liked-minded young professionals who want to give back and want a place at the table. Don’t know where to start? LinkedIn makes it easy to search for board positions as well as volunteer positions. You can also view profiles of nonprofits to learn more about the responsibilities that are associated with serving on their junior board.

3. Do Good Together
We often want to get involved, but really don’t want to do it alone. Create a spin team to cycle against cancer or organize a group to cook a meal at the Ronald McDonald House. People often talk about how if you have a buddy to go to the gym with, you are less likely to skip working out. I often tell people to find a philanthropic activity you can participate in with friends. If friends are involved, you’re more likely to show up, and volunteering together can be a great way to bond.

We are all busy with work and stressed out by deadlines, and as millennials we often share this feeling of wanting more out of our daily routines. Luckily, it is easier than you may think to find ways to give back that you can really feel good about.

(Photo by Emily Long)

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