A friend recently confided in me that she feels like a failure because she does not give enough to charity – not enough money, because she doesn’t have it, and not enough of herself because she doesn’t have time. “I just don’t have the means to be a philanthropist,” she said. I explained to my friend that philanthropy is for everyone, even on the smallest level. It is not reserved just for the wealthy.
To the average person, it could appear that philanthropy is only for rich people with lots of time on their hands. Nothing could be further from the truth. As an entrepreneur and a businesswoman, I am often asked to donate money and time to worthy causes. But I work alongside people from all walks of life who share my desire to give to others. For me, giving is not just about money, but also time, energy, and effort to help those in need.
Philanthropy is for everyone. Here are five things that you can do to be a philanthropist right now:
Adopt a cause
There is no lack of worthy causes that deserve your help. But first, you must find a cause that is close to your heart. It can be anything. Your personal connection is the most important aspect of giving. If you were to look at the everyday needs of those around you – even your friends and loved ones – you could find a cause. You may have a friend who died from cancer, a neighbor who has Alzheimer’s disease, or know of a child with juvenile diabetes. There is the American Cancer Society, the Alzheimer’s Association, and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, each in need of volunteers.
Don’t focus on the dollar amount, even sending a check for $5.00 can be meaningful. While billionaires seem to get all the publicity, anyone involved in fundraising will tell you that the small donations keep the causes going. I know of several colleges and universities that value the number of alumni who give almost as much as the amount that is given. In that regard, when the tallies are taken at the end of the year, someone who gives $10.00 is counted the same as someone who gives $10,000. Also remember that $10.00 given regularly over a lifetime, well that adds up.
Donate your time.
You would be surprised how many organizations and causes need man power more than, or as much as, money. Think about volunteering in some way. Many organizations train volunteers to raise money by making phone calls. Others welcome help in setting up for benefit dinners or—more importantly—cleaning up afterwards. These are the unglamorous, but necessary and heartfelt, donations that are every bit as important as money. You don’t read about it in the newspapers, and that’s the point. Your time can also be spent doing something for a neighbor such as sitting with an elderly person who simply needs the company, or taking them food shopping. This is another type of donation of time you don’t read or hear about but a void nonetheless that needs to be filled.
Create your own cause
Perhaps you know of someone afflicted with a rare disease or syndrome that does not enjoy widespread support or recognition. Maybe there is a person in your neighborhood—a wounded veteran returning from Afghanistan, for example—who does not qualify for much-needed treatments or even food money. Organizing just one pot luck supper or blind auction, and donating the proceeds to the needy individuals, can be of immense service. Your own philanthropic efforts for the needs of one person will have reverberating effects on someone’s life.
Look for unexpected ways to donate things. Did you know that you can give to just about any charitable cause by donating a used car? And it doesn’t even have to be a good car. Hospitals, foundations—even the Salvation Army—may take a beat-up old piece of junk and give a tax-deductible credit in exchange. The car doesn’t even have to be in running condition. There are also senior organizations that will use the value of the car toward ride services for seniors in your local area. Your old car could allow a senior citizen to get transportation to doctor’s appointments and grocery store runs alone.
I believe that it is my duty to give to others, and that we all share this responsibility to some extent. Philanthropy is about setting goals and reaching them on behalf of someone else and for their benefit alone. It’s a selfless act and one that I take very seriously. Whether alone or in gathering friends and colleagues to accompany you in the journey of giving, I promise that once you venture down the road of giving you will live a better life for someone else’s benefit, and that alone is worth the journey.
Theresa Roemer is the CEO of Theresa Roemer, LLC and a small business owner who specializes in business philanthropy. She owns several home goods companies in Houston, Texas and is a partner in Roemer Oil.