My Journey as a Philanthropist: Part 2

by Kat Birkenbeuel, Development Intern


Like most millennials, I have a desire to change the world. Yes, I know it sounds like a vague, lofty goal, but my generation is known for vague, lofty goals like this one. My generation is also known for slacktivism, a term I cringe at the thought of.


I cringe because I know my generation can be lazy and want gratification fast. But, I also know that we are some of the most giving, dedicated, passionate people in our country. Looking back at the past, every generation has seen their young people engage in social justice movements and philanthropic causes. While their funds were limited, their dedication spurred positive change.


I am inspired by the changes driven by past generations and the current work of grassroots organizations and large foundations alike. Yet, I think about the lack of financial resources that I have and wonder how much impact my small donation actually makes in today’s world. I wonder how I can engage in philanthropy with such a small wallet. It’s this weird combination of being inspired to create change, but apathetic because I think I can’t. I am happy to volunteer where I see an immediate effect of my time, but it takes longer to see the impact of a small donation.


As much as I would like to, I can’t afford to drop $100 at once as a donation. I’m a typical recent college grad, broke and living with my parents. However, I do participate in monthly giving. Parting with $10/month is super doable, so I give every month to a cause I love. It’s easy and makes me feel like I’m helping change the world, $10 at a time. At the end of the year, this totals to be a $120 donation! Everything adds up.


There are simple things you can do to save $10/month in order to donate it instead. Here’s what I do:

  • I pack my lunch a few times a week so that someone else can have a meal to eat.
  • I stay at home every once in a while to binge watch TV so that someone else might have a home themselves.
  • I walk to work instead of taking a cab so someone else can learn skills that help them find work.

Tomorrow is Giving Tuesday, a day dedicated to giving and I hope you’ll make a donation. But we shouldn’t just give on this one day only. Find an organization you love, pledge to donate $10 (or even $5) a month for the next year. Your philanthropy doesn’t end with Giving Tuesday- it begins there.


I’d like to believe millennials can be known as the Giving Generation. That starts by giving small to give big. That starts by engaging in philanthropy.


But it doesn’t matter what generation you’re a part of. History reminds us that we all have the power to affect positive change. What are you going to do?


This is the second part of a four-part series on my journey into philanthropy as a millennial. Read part one.

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.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar


Election Day is here, and like me, many of you will have already cast your vote by the time you read this post, happy to check off this cycle’s thankless chore, having chosen the lesser of two evils. For even the most ardent of political junkies among us, instead of reveling in this great exercise of democratic governance, we’ll close our eyes after hours of election results and collectively exalt, “Good riddance.”


I’ve lamented before about the special challenges of teaching this election, so will pivot instead to the important work that lies ahead in our classrooms beginning tomorrow.


Tonight’s presidential outcome and control of the U.S. Senate promise to be closer than we anticipated even ten days ago. Many of our students and their parents will have supported or even voted for losing candidates. They may very well feel like doomsday has arrived. And many of their concerns and grievances are real.


But we cannot allow them to forget that the victors represent every one of us. I’m hopeful that olive branches are extended in tonight’s victory and concession speeches, as the peaceful transfer of power is one of the things that make America great.


Our founders were visionaries in designing a system where the sum of its parts is greater than any single leader. Checks and balances are well-established throughout our federal system, and divided party government is likely to continue in Washington and Springfield, instituting yet another protection against individuals and party platforms outside the boundaries of mainstream political discourse.


It’s incumbent upon tonight’s victors to build a bigger tent, where injustices experienced by communities of color are addressed alongside the economic anxieties of the white working class, where the retirement security of Baby Boomers is balanced with college affordability and employment opportunities among Millennials.


The challenges facing this country and state are too steep for the “us versus them” battles of this election and the dysfunction that preceded it to rage on. Therefore, we must reward our leaders for politically courageous acts, and vote those that place party or ideology above country out of office. And we must work hand-in-hand with elected and appointed officials from both parties to affect positive policy change as an exercise in self-government.


Whether we voted to “Make America Great Again” or concluded that we’re “Better Together,” the answer to our democracy’s wicked problems lies in our hands. As educators we play a profound role in our students’ civic development. In so doing, we empower them to build a more perfect union.


We salute you for the difficult work you have so faithfully pursued with your students this spring and fall. In an election without heroes, you, the great civics teachers of Illinois and the country, have saved the day.