Habitual Philanthropy: Making Giving Back a Regular Practice


  Habitual Philanthropy: Making Giving Back a Regular Practice

When it comes to character development, there is one character trait that can make a character irresistible and always relatable: from selflessness to altruism, empathy to kindness. Because of this, we fall in love with the flawed characters who are more than willing to give their time or resources for someone else. But where do you turn when you want to get involved? There are so many causes—which ones should you choose? The good news is that if you're ready, there are plenty of nonprofits just waiting for your help. Before jumping headfirst into saving the world one nonprofit at a time and giving up your entire paycheck every week, though, it's best not to take the leap without knowing what each organization does. After all, not every nonprofit is the same.

In The New York Times article " A Habit of Giving Back ," writer Jacey Fortin shares her experience with volunteering at an animal shelter and the insights she gained from it. She starts by admitting that even when she loved animals, taking care of a pet was never her priority. As a long-time volunteer in animal shelters, she acknowledges that this habit became a part of who she is. But near the end of her article, she notes that just because volunteer work is part of someone's life doesn't mean it should be the priority. She writes:

"So my husband and I don't have kids; we have cats. Which means I am spending a lot of time doing what has become a habitual practice for me — dropping in on the Humane Society during lunch, then again after work. It's not the kind of habit you hop out of bed to do, but it's what I do when I'm looking for an easy way to feel good."

At first glance, Fortin's quote seems trivial or even contradictory if you're already involved with volunteering. However, it does serve to remind us that the foundation of a habit is laid by the environment we go into. In this case, Jacey Fortin was already used to volunteering for the same cause every day and the satisfaction she received from it. But when she began volunteering, she didn't expect her husband to join in on the fun (at least not immediately). He questioned her decision, but he also shared her excitement. When we're new at something, we need to be open to change and suggestions from others in order for our habits to become a part of who we are. It's important to remember that a habit isn't a reward for doing a certain activity.

Now, let's get back to Fortin's article. Let's say you're considering volunteering because you need extra cash and feel forced to be with the same people every day. Are we doomed to be stuck in this situation? Not necessarily. It all comes down to how you go about finding your cause of choice. For example, Jacey Fortin joined an animal shelter because she knew she enjoyed her previous volunteer experience and she wanted to do something similar again (she even had the same feelings of satisfaction). But it was much easier for her than it is for someone who wants to find their dream charity with no known connections or past experience. Many people search for nonprofits on their own, without any help from others, because they don't even know where to start. One quick and easy route is through the Pareto principle:

"80% of your results come from 20% of your effort."

How do you maximize the success of a cause? It comes down to finding out how many other people are passionate about it and following their lead. Start by finding a group that's already connected with multiple volunteers working on the same issue. Then search for organizations that focus on the same cause or topic as your interest. Find out what the top organizations are doing and follow their example. If you're lucky enough to find a cause you enjoy, then grab your volunteer resume from LinkedIn or your favorite networking site and start asking people who know the industry in-depth what magazines, newspapers, websites or events they attended. Get involved and save the world one article at a time!

Does reading this article make you want to get more engaged with volunteering? Donating is another way to give back while also making an impact. You can donate through nonprofits, as well as your own company or school through their efforts. For example, if you're interested in donating money to help provide food for the homeless, there's no better place than United Way of America . Don't forget that tax deductions are available for all charitable donations.

And as Jacey Fortin writes in her article, it's never too late to get involved. She advises new volunteers to start with 5 hours a week and slowly increase their time so they don't burn themselves out too soon. Although we can't expect Jacey Fortin to be volunteering every day, there are a few things she might consider in her place. She lauds the outreach network of the Humane Society of Ventura County for its clear structure and open communication, suggesting that more people should join together in groups like this where they can be supported and learn from one another. She also notes that it's easy to feel overwhelmed when you first join a group, so set a realistic goal and make sure everyone knows what they're expected to do.

We're all busy. We don't have time to be spread thin, so we need some structure and guidance in order to help us get the most out of what we do. Volunteer projects are simple enough that even inexperienced volunteers can be successful. Once you find your cause of choice, follow the Pareto principle and find out how many other people are already involved with the same organization as you. Or find an organization that serves the same cause as your passion. Then follow their lead and use your time to make a difference in your community.

Ready to become a passionate volunteer? Check out this slideshow for some ideas on how to get started!

Image via iStockphoto, blackandwhite.blogspot.com

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Conclusion Although we might be worn out at the end of our day, it's important that we learn to let go. After all, it's hard to make a difference when you're frustrated or stressed. But this doesn't mean we need to say goodbye to our favorite activities — instead, we should try different ways to enjoy them.

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