Monday, November 21, 2016

My Journey as a Philanthropist: Part 1

by Kat Birkenbeuel, Development Intern

When I was 8, my brother and I had our first lemonade stand. We spent one morning making lemonade and we set out to make a little money. The catch, however, was that all of our profits would be donated to charity. I can’t remember exactly who we donated it to; nevertheless, this charity lemonade stand began a summer tradition, attracting more neighborhood kids each time.

This venture sparked my desire to change the world. What an idealistic thought, right?

Throughout high school and college, I continued to volunteer wherever I could, eventually leading to a career in nonprofit. Now, this same idealistic 8 year-old still steers my career path, but with a great deal of guidance from my 22 year-old realist perspective.

I found myself at the McCormick Foundation with an internship. To be honest, at first I didn’t really understand what the Foundation did. Since most of my nonprofit experience had been with direct service organizations, a grant making foundation was definitely a different approach to nonprofit work than what I was used to. I knew that money was instrumental for organizations to be able to serve their clients, but as a poor, just-out-of-college young professional, I didn’t think philanthropy was something I could really engage in.

Wow, was I wrong!

Working in the Communities Program, I’m able to see how philanthropy makes a tangible difference in our communities. It is more than just granting out money. It is funding thoughtful projects to sustainably build up community organizations. It is thoroughly looking into organizations to see what their programs are doing, how they are helping and what impact they are making.

I see how philanthropy is sometimes this intangible idea to my generation. We don’t have a lot of discretionary income and donating is often our last thought. Yet, this internship has taught me that anyone can be a philanthropist. It’s not reserved for a later life stage or for millionaire tech gurus. It’s something that we all can and should be a part of. Every day, I see donations of $10-$25; these people aren’t donating thousands of dollars, but they are still philanthropists. I guess my 8 year-old self was a philanthropist, too.

While donations are one avenue of philanthropy, volunteering is another. Use your time and talents to give back to your community.

  • If you’re great at social media, contact a local organization and see how you can help!
  • Do you like to write? Are you great with a video camera and editing software? Offer to capture stories and effectively convey them to their desired audience.
  • If you have a closet full of clothing you no longer wear, donate them to local organizations rather than getting pennies for it at a resale shop.
  • Find a food pantry and volunteer to serve a holiday meal.
  • Volunteer to do some housework for an elderly neighbor.

We often think about giving around the holidays, but it isn’t just reserved for Thanksgiving or the month of December. Philanthropy is something we should engage in all year long. I encourage you to find an organization that you are passionate about, get involved and become your own philanthropist!

This is the first part of a four-part series on my journey into philanthropy as a millennial. Check back soon for part two.

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