In a Google search for the word charity, over 300 million responses were retrieved in 32 seconds. Unquestionably, charity and philanthropy are an important element of American culture and have defined several important moments in the history of this country. American history is replete with great examples of charitable endeavors such as the founding of the American Red Cross by Clara Barton that was instrumental in providing much needed assistance to American troops during the Spanish-American War to modern day efforts by philanthropists like Oprah Winfrey, Bill and Melinda Gates and Ted Turner who have used their wealth and influence to enhance lives across the globe.
However, charity does not have to involve great wealth or influence. Anyone can give because we all have something that someone elsewhere needs and it is never too late to build a life that is designed around being charitable. Like other habits or behaviors, charity can be learned by constantly looking beyond ourselves to meet the needs of other. So you might be thinking, I don’t have an account the size of Warren Buffet’s and I have not won the lottery recently. For those of you that are short on funds or are novices to the culture of charity, here are a few suggestions that can help you jumpstart a rewarding lifestyle of philanthropy.
1. Passion. The most important thing to consider when seeking to get involved with a charity or a charitable cause is to find out what makes you tick. It is easier to make a worthwhile contribution to a cause when you have a level of passion that is unmatched. Passion is what fills up buses and fuels picketers who leave their jobs, families, and comfort of a warm and cozy bed to make the drive of several hundred miles in some cases to Washington D.C. to campaign on the lawns of the mall. Finding what you are passionate about answers the questions of what kind of charitable efforts to get involved in.
2. First thing first. So you have the passion, now what’s next? Do your research on the organization you choose especially if you are getting involved remotely. Do not be afraid to ask for annual reports or audit documents that show where the money is going, how much the staff is being paid and how much actually goes to funding the actual cause. If you are going to donate your time or other resources to a charitable cause make sure the organization you are serving operates in an ethical manner both from the place of operation and in the field where they carry out their work. Do they use sweatshops, are their workers underpaid, do they overlook abuse, are they comfortable with gender inequality? In essence, be a socially responsible philanthropist.
3. Skill. Once the charity you are interested in receives the green light, the next step is an inventory of your skills. If you are an expert in the kitchen, consider using your skills to help in a soup kitchen. Saran Kaba Jones, founder of FACE Africa, a non-profit that provides clean water in Liberia, notes that individuals with specific skills and expertise in areas such as accounting, communications, grant proposal writing amongst others are invaluable to organizations such as hers that are young start ups with limited funding to hire talent.