When you think of a philanthropist, what comes to mind? For many people, it’s someone who is wealthy and donates money to charity, but there’s more to philanthropy than just throwing your money at a cause and expecting it to make a difference. In my experience, there are different levels of philanthropy, but all involve giving without the expectation of receiving anything in return. If you’re in it for the right reasons, philanthropy can be a gratifying experience.
We often think of philanthropists as people with a great deal of money, like Bill and Melinda Gates, Oprah, or Warren Buffett. However, the actual definition of philanthropy encompasses more than just donations of money. Giving your time or talents to a cause you feel passionate about is also considered philanthropy. The essence of philanthropy comes from the desire to help others, which can be accomplished in a number of ways.
Getting started in philanthropy of any kind involves self-awareness. Forbes recommends considering your values and seeking a course of action that fits. What is your motivation for becoming a philanthropist? People get involved with philanthropy for many reasons. Some are motivated by a sense of moral obligation or duty; while for others, it comes from a desire to continue a tradition. Others have a more personal connection to their philanthropic cause. For instance, the daughter of a cancer survivor may become involved in fundraising for The American Cancer Society because their life has been affected by cancer.
Once you know your motivation and have identified the cause you wish to champion, it’s vitally important to do your research. There are a myriad of unscrupulous individuals out there who wouldn’t feel a pang of guilt at ripping you off. And there are an equal number of credible charities and philanthropic organizations that need donations of time and money. It may be useful to visit a third-party organization website such as GuideStar and use their Charity Navigator, which can provide information on a wide range of charitable organizations. You want to be sure you know how monetary donations are spent and the general financial health of the organization. Some nonprofits spend more on administrative overhead than what actually goes to the intended recipients. The point is you want to ensure funds are effectively managed to provide the most significant impact for your cause.
Beyond monetary donations, there are always nonprofits that depend on volunteers to accomplish their mission. If you don’t have the funds to donate, but still feel drawn to a cause, you can give your time. Whether that means you’re out there swinging a hammer and building houses or helping out with fundraising, there are plenty of organizations in need of your time and talents. If at the end of the day, knowing you’ve made an impact is all the reward you need, you just might be a philanthropist.