The issues our country faces seem, for many, to be greater than ever before. No longer content to just sit by and watch, more and more young professionals are getting involved and giving back to philanthropy than ever before. Despite our often unfortunate reputation, millennials are often some of the strongest players in the world of philanthropy. In 2014, 84 percent of millennial employees gave to charity and 70 percent of them donated more than an hour to a charitable cause, according to the Case Foundation’s Millennial Impact.
For me, it is difficult to verbalize the impact that philanthropy has had on my life. I’m an immigrant, having moved to this country as a child with my sister and single mother who was determined to give us a better life. But despite my mother’s tenacity and perseverance, there was a limit to what she was able to provide. A firm believer in the quote “it takes a village,” she turned to non-profit organizations and scholarships in order to help provide my sister and me with the best education possible.
My sister, Erica, was admitted into the Prep for Prep program, a non-profit that provides training and placement for under served youth who go on to attend some of the most exclusive private schools in the country. Through her experience with the organization, I too was exposed to some of the mentors and leaders of the program and we both were given the support needed to get into Hotchkiss and Middlesex respectively.
From there, I attended Trinity College, during which time I was admitted into the SEO Career program in New York, dedicated to providing training and placement for under served college students who want to break into competitive industries such as finance, law and consulting. Through their guidance and a lot of hard work, I was able to have a successful career in finance with stints at Citi and Morgan Stanley. My sister went on to Mt. Sinai Medical School (she’s the smart one).
But what is important to remember, is that these organizations wouldn’t exist without a strong team of staff and board members – which is why, after five years in finance, I left to start CariClub, an organization dedicated to connecting young professionals with philanthropic boards. I knew that our generation was the one to change the world. We are driven, motivated like generations before us, by success and financial stability as well as happiness and fulfillment – as Danny Meyer once said “who made the rule that doing well and doing good have to be mutually exclusive?”
But where do you start? And is it even that important?
- Look for a company that offers philanthropic programming and supports its employee’s desires to get involved. From Colin Kaepernick’s protest in the NFL to Mark Zuckerberg’s recent unveiling of Facebook’s new purpose-driven mission statement, millennials and the generation coming up behind us are demanding more from our employers. We do not subscribe to the notion that profit and purpose must be treated like church and state. It’s also a smart move for the companies themselves, as it inspired employee engagement and employee loyalty.
- Set meaningful goals for yourself and meet them. There are moments (we’ve all experienced them over the past two years…) where the very stuff of human decency and our fundamental rights seem to be challenged. It is only natural that we cry out over the injustice of it all and look for a way to get involved – and while that is, of course, important, it’s important to sustain the momentum through the entire year and not just at the time of crisis. The next time you find yourself reacting to a current event or policy or circumstance, act in the moment, and make a plan to continue that action in a meaningful way over the course of the next several months. Set attainable goals, like joining a board, volunteering more regularly, or if time isn’t on your side, arrange for a recurring donation so that you stay involved not only “when the going gets tough.”
- Select a cause or organization that speaks to you. If you’re wild about wildlife, or get dreamy thinking about the arts, do some research into organizations that fit within your interests. You’ll be far more likely to gain fulfillment and stick with a volunteer program that you’re invested in from a personal, philosophical or ethical perspective. Don’t get me wrong, if your boyfriend wants you to come with him to build a house one Saturday for Habitat for Humanity, it’s still a great cause – but you’re far more likely come back again and again if it’s something that really speaks to you. There is no shame in finding your own niche within the philanthropic world – there is something for everyone.
- Lastly, consider the serious benefits. A paper published by Harvard Health demonstrated that volunteers benefited from “the happiness effect.” They proved that weekly volunteering led to happiness levels comparable to a life-changing salary boost. The paper also pointed out that volunteering helped the community, creating meaningful social connections based on shared values which in turn led to a stronger and more connected whole. From a professional standpoint there are also countless benefits – networking, honing of leadership skills, and access to people that you would not normally encounter in your day to day life just to name a few.
As we enter November and National Philanthropy Month, challenge yourself to get involved, to give back and not to settle – it provides countless opportunities, not only for you, but for future generations – just look at me. What you do today has the ability to make a lasting impact on another, and is a real and meaningful way to effect lasting change.