so you want to start giving back
So you want to give back to society, in some way, but you don’t know how or where to start. Are you unsure which organization to support or how to even do so? Or perhaps, you know exactly who to support, but you’re unsure how your contributions will be used, or if it will even be enough to make a real impact.
If these questions plague your mind, here are some tips to get you started in making an impact, today! All it takes is some soul searching & a little bit of research.
1. WHY: your purpose
Have you asked yourself why you want to give back? Is it because somewhere in your life, someone lent you a hand or you saw an act of kindness & you want to pay it forward? Do you want to be recognized as a person who gives back? Or do you merely just want to help others because it’s the right thing to do in looking out for our fellow human-kind? Understanding this will help you focus on the next steps.
2. WHO: the beneficiary
Have you considered who may benefit from your support? Align your giving with organizations that speak to your interests & beliefs: is it animals, refugees, foster kids, the homeless, undeserved youth, a minority group, or others? I encourage you to find something you are passionate about, as this will help you maintain momentum & dedication. Once you know who you want to align yourself with, begin connecting with them to understand how they function, who & how they serve, & what resource needs they may currently have.
A person or group who receives benefits, profits, or advantages.
3. WHAT: your resources
Have you considered what resources you can contribute that are at your disposal? There are many ways in which to do this:
- Monetary: donating money is a good way to give back if you have it at your disposal. While this is a passive method, it’s also the easiest. For example, money donated to the LA Food Bank can be turned into meals to serve the hungry: $1 = 4 meals! So a $3.65 latte can feed 14 people! Can you imagine if we each gave up one latte per week, how many people we can easily help? If you’re unsure how your money will be used by the organization you’ve got your eyes on, research the organizations’ annual or financial report that should be accessible on their website.
- Time: the adage that time is money is ever true. An alternate to donating money is to contribute your time, a precious gift you can give to someone who may need support, an ear, or a hand. For example, Free Arts works with underserved kids in the judicial system by spending time with them between cases, to help them express their emotions through art. The time spent with the kids merely working through an art piece can help them feel safe & welcome, positively impacting a child’s life.
- Skills / Knowledge: skills that we have evolved over our lifetime are essential to helping organizations run successfully. Non-profits function like any other company & their teams are composed of personnel with a diversity of expertise. For example, the Open Architecture Collaborative Los Angeles (OAC-LA) welcomes volunteers of all backgrounds, not just architecture, so they can provide robust teams for their projects: to name a few, financial minds help with keeping the books, grant writing & fundraising, graphic designers help develop marketing material, design skills help with imagining space, engineers help with collaborative & feasible design strategies, & public policy skills help with interactions with city agencies & politicians.
4. HOW: creative outreach & follow through
It’s critical to research the organization you choose to support; how is their leadership structured, what services do they provide, how to they allocate the money donated to them.
Then, see if they have a current volunteering need, attend one of their events, or meet up with one of their team members to see how you can work with them. If you choose to volunteer occasionally, or if you dedicate time to be on their Board of Directors, or perhaps if you choose to become an adviser, it’s critical to understand the parameters & terms required to serve in that role. Consider the level at which you want to contribute, or the time commitment you can realistically give: is it a one-time deal, a monthly re-occurrence, or a specific duration of time such as a year.
Lastly, come to the table with ideas on ways in which you can uniquely contribute, projects or initiatives, or strategies that refresh the position to help the organization stay fresh & continue to grow.
I served as Director of Outreach & Advocacy with (formerly) Architecture for Humanity New York from 2009 to 2011, and as Managing Director with (formerly) Architecture for Humanity Los Angeles from 2012 to 2014. The work of that organization continues today under the grassroots efforts of the Open Architecture Collaborative.