The Big Question: What Difference Can I Make?

December 21, 2011

Q: I want to give, but I also want to make a difference.  Since I’m not a billionaire, how can my giving be meaningful and impactful?

KCRW’s Lisa Napoli asked me this very question during an in-studio interview earlier in the week. This answer may be toughest in a place like L.A., where choice is the enemy of commitment.

There are 19,000 active non-profits in L.A. County alone. Worthy causes and issues are everywhere.  Don’t let the great size and diversity of L.A .stop you from giving. You can make a difference.

Here’s how:

1.    Find a cause, issue, social need that YOU care about. The more you care, the more giving will make a difference to you. Remember that the first beneficiary of giving is you! Once you care about something, giving will become more meaningful.

2.    Make giving a habit, not a chore. Giving can become a fulfilling part of your life, not just a year-end activity. Engage your children and your whole family. Impulse giving is okay, but aligning your charity with your heart and head is transformational.

3.    Google before you give. Driven by what you care about, find organizations – small and large, new and venerable. Research them on Guidestar, a database of nonprofit organizations.  Get referrals from your friends and colleagues who give. Choose an organization the same way you would choose a new veterinarian or a school for your kids:  do homework, get facts, seek second-opinions, rely on instincts.

4.    Make gifts with no or very few strings attached.  Invest in the organization and the leadership. Don’t make a non-profit jump through hoops. Let them do their work. Most create miracles everyday and miracles cannot be conditioned :).

Really like Tom Tierney’s book Give Smart.  Tom gives in-depth advice about how to have confidence in your giving and make your philanthropy your own.

Want advice on where to give before the end of the year?

•    A new report from the University of Pennsylvania, titled High Impact Holiday Giving, says making gifts to organizations that address basic human needs like hunger, shelter, health, and education may be the most impactful ways of giving. These needs are overwhelming non-profits all over Los Angeles –  from Pacific Palisades to Pico Union. Giving is down while demand is skyrocketing. Take a moment to find an organization that addresses these basic human needs in L.A.

•    Pass It Along Fund is my personal favorite charity right now. Imagine a fund where 100% of the gift, as small as $25, goes directly to an individual or family that is in crisis right now. A fund that gives help within 72 hours. And the recipient has only one obligation: to pass along  2 acts of kindness.   Love it!

Philanthropy literally means love of humanity. Giving and helping others is a human instinct. Making it personal and meaningful takes some effort, but the returns are enormous.

Let me know what you have found to be the most helpful resources to guide your giving.  Pass it Along!

Thanks for reading,
EVP/COO of California Community Foundation

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