My Journey as a Philanthropist, Part 4

by Kat Birkenbeuel, Development Intern


New Year’s resolutions. We make them. We break them.


Usually, our resolutions center on ourselves- wanting to lose weight, eat healthier, read more, finally get to the end of that to-do list, etc. But what if this year, we shift the focus of our New Year’s resolutions from ourselves? What if we resolve to get out and give back to those in need?


Throughout this blog series, I’ve shared my journey as a philanthropist. This journey started with a lemonade stand when I was 8, carried into high school and college with volunteering and ended up at the McCormick Foundation, but it isn’t over yet. Your journey begins with a shift in mindset, realizing that no matter if you have 50 cents or $50 million, you can still be a philanthropist.



What does this philanthropic New Year’s resolution look like? It looks like a Year of Giving.


Give the gift of time.

  • Sign up to be a mentor and be a positive role model in the life of an at-risk youth.
  • Help a small nonprofit with mailings and other administrative tasks.
  • Do you have special skills? Offer to help under-resourced organizations with photography, videography, copywriting, IT support or accounting.
  • Check-in on an elderly neighbor, visiting with them and offering to run errands or do a few house chores.


Give the gift of resources.

  • Instead of selling clothing for a few bucks at a resale shop, donate the clothing items to a local shelter, refugee organization or clothing donation box.
  • Buy extra school and classroom supplies, or unused materials, and give to a school in a low-income area.
  • Donate baby toys, outgrown toddler clothing and cribs to a teen parent resource center.
  • If you are throwing an event (i.e. conference, wedding, etc.), arrange to donate leftover meals to a homeless shelter.


Give the gift of financial support.

  • Become a monthly donor for an organization you love and support them all year long.
  • Pick 12 organizations to donate to throughout the year, one each month.
  • Donate a percentage (even if it’s just 0.5% or 1%!) from each paycheck to a local nonprofit.
  • Set up a friend-raiser for your birthday instead of asking for gifts. There are many nonprofits that have these tools available to you on their websites and Facebook does, too!


This is by no means an exhaustive list, however I hope it spurs ideas of how you can join me in this Year of Giving. Individually, we can’t solve the world’s problems. Collectively, we can sure try.


Thank you for following along on this blog series and warm wishes for a Happy New Year!


This is the final part of a four-part series on my journey into philanthropy as a millennial. If you missed the first three installments, read part one, part two or part three here.

My Journey as a Philanthropist, Part 3

by Kat Birkenbeuel, Development Intern


There are so many articles out there trying to dissect the millennial brain when it comes to philanthropy. My generation is known for online engagement, valuing volunteer opportunities over donations and demanding transparency. We are idealistic dreamers.


But when the magnitude of need creeps in, so does the apathy. There are so many factors that affect the daily lives of those who are struggling to make ends meet. It can be discouraging. Can my $10 donation actually impact someone’s life? Apathy can be crippling. I am the first to admit it.



Recently I was able to attend a site visit and this experience gave me a different perspective.

On a regular Thursday morning, I hop off the L and walk down a rather typical street. I find myself in front of a brick building on a mild Chicago summer day. Walking inside, I glance around the cramped office, with desks covered in sticky notes and walls covered in color-coded white boards. A pretty ordinary space.

As we tour the building, we arrive in the early childhood classroom. Giggles of children bounce off the colorful walls as they proudly show off their newest artwork. A girl with big brown eyes looks up at us. I think of all the things her eyes have seen, yet she smiles and laughs and acts like any 4 year-old girl. It is then when I realize that this is no ordinary place.

The tour continues as we visit various English-learning classrooms and we are welcomed with smiles from parents, elderly and teenagers alike, all eager to show off their reading skills. Students’ eyes fill with pride as they correctly answer questions and speak with us.

The program coordinator explains that refugees are often illiterate in their first language, so trying to learn to read, write and comprehend things in a new, unfamiliar language is even more of a challenge. She articulates to us that if an individual, refugee or not, cannot read or write, they cannot fill out job applications, which means they have no paycheck. With no income, they cannot pay for a roof over their heads. With low literacy skills, they cannot help their children with school work or fill out health forms at the doctor.


That’s when I have this lightbulb moment. Social issues don’t happen in a vacuum, instead they compound on each other. Individuals and families in need in our communities aren’t just struggling with one thing- their struggles come at them from all sides. It’s a snowball effect.


My generation thinks that with so many problems in the world, their donation doesn’t matter. It won’t make a difference. It won’t solve everything. But once we realize that needs are interconnected, that thought changes. Yes, you can’t solve every problem in our world, but when you support someone in need in one aspect of their life, it helps them tenfold. Not every social issue is a cause, sometimes it is a symptom of something else. However, when we give our support, we start another snowball effect for the better.


As I wrote in part two of this series, just because you can’t give big, doesn’t mean that you can’t have an impact. You can give small once a month. You and your friends can decide to make a donation instead of getting each other holiday gifts. When you add up the collective impact you, or you and your friends, make throughout the course of a year, you are changing lives. Let’s revisit the story from the beginning of this post and see just how big of an impact one or two programs can have:

When a refugee organization provides stable housing to a family and English literacy courses, they are actually improving their quality of life. English literacy courses allow adults to find work. Stable housing allows children to focus on school and stay in a constant environment and not switch classrooms and districts from moving around. Employed parents are able to support their children with education and resources they need to succeed.


So yes, your donations can make a difference. Apathy aside, millennials do understand the issues troubling our society. Unlike previous generations, we don’t necessarily support organizations based on their popularity; we support issues that we care about and organizations who help change lives in these avenues.


When society starts looking at issues over organizations, there is a shift in thinking. Instead of donating to the organization with the most popularity, we should start donating to organizations who are doing the most innovative work - organizations who combine structural change with wraparound direct services.


Yes, there are a lot of problems in the world. But I believe we can fix them if we try. We might not be able to see our impact right away, but I promise you that you can make a difference when helping those who need it most.


This is the third part of a four-part series on my journey into philanthropy as a millennial. If you missed the first two installments, read part one or part two here.