A smart philanthropist’s guide to giving back

A smart philanthropist’s guide to giving back

How to make your money go further and have a bigger impact

Making the world a better place. It’s a call of duty for adults in their 30s and 40s. When they see problems both locally and around the world, they don’t see issues that can’t be overcome. In fact, for every problem, they see a solution—sometimes multiple solutions. They see the role technology can play. They see ways to involve their friends and family. Frequently, they want to show up and be involved, to use their knowledge and skills and passion to make communities better places to live.

And, of course, they want these changes to be big and fast. Generations X and Y don’t think small or slow. There is a tremendous sense of immediacy. There is an underlying goal to improve on what baby boomers have done. Sometimes it’s local, such as helping struggling children in communities nearby. Or maybe it’s an app that serves as a marketplace to purchase goods from women in small villages from around the world.

All this happens as these generations are living lives with multiple moving parts. Jobs. Families. Friends. Homes. Vacations. Maybe even graduate school. They’ve discovered that adulting is a full-time job. They are pulled in so many directions. Money is spread thin. Savings, retirement, and education account contributions make for diminished take-home pay. The desire to improve the world still exists. But, frequently, budgets don’t allow for it. Sure, it’s easy to support a friend’s run for cancer or make a contribution to a child’s school. However, the goal is to make a difference. And, financially, that’s tough.

It’s possible for charitable goals to work alongside personal financial goals and demands. Here’s how:

  • First, it doesn’t always have to be about money. Volunteering allows for both altruism and personal contributions without breaking the bank. While volunteering, new and perhaps lifelong relationships can form and grow. It’s a wonderful opportunity to expand networks and meet people in different professions. Just think—where else can an analyst from small company work with the Chief Financial Officer of a larger company? Probably while supporting animal welfare on a Saturday afternoon, or at a holiday party at the local children’s hospital. 
  • And what else? While working for free, check out how the charity treats volunteers and staff. Talk to other volunteers about why they support this charity. Find out if they support other charities, too. Passion is contagious—take the opportunity to learn more about the people, the charity, and the cause.
  • Here’s another thought: Think small. Find issues you're passionate about, and date a few charities. It’s a chance to make smaller donations and see how these organizations respond. How do they communicate with donors? How do they acknowledge donations? For smaller organizations, donations of $100 to $500 should be sufficient to be noticed. For larger charities, usually $1,000 to $2,000 will prompt a call, a note from staff, or an acknowledgment on an event program or website.
  • How about getting a team together? A giving circle allows like-minded people to come together to make small contributions that are collectively donated to a charity the group chooses. For example, 25 people contribute $100 each. Collectively, the group can make a $2,500 contribution. The benefit is that a group makes a larger contribution compared with a donation by one person. Local community foundations can provide great guidance, too.

Working with different charities allows passion to shine through. Which charity stands out? Which charity is doing effective work? Which charity engages donors? These are all things to think about. As income grows and financial situations stabilize for Gen X and Gen Y, they’ll be in an ideal situation to make more of a financial contribution and, perhaps, passionately help solve a problem or improve a community—something they’ve always wanted to do.