A Time for Giving

For many, the holidays present a great opportunity for community service and involvement. Probably the first thing that pops into mind is the ubiquitous “toy drive”. And while that’s a pretty worthy cause, there are plenty of other ways to contribute, too! The Huffington Post gives us plenty of suggestions for making the holidays special for a stranger. Check out a few below!

Visit a Senior

For you, the holidays may be a time when the entire family comes together for warm food and warmer laughter. But for some it’s the complete opposite. As people age, sometimes bonds that were once unthinkable begin to fade. Maybe a loved one was lost, or they’ve lost touch with their children. Humans are social creatures, and not having that kind of meaningful interaction can be devastating. Those of us not in that position can only imagine how much worse that feeling is when everyone around you is filled with a certain cheer that comes with seeing family and friends. HuffPost notes that half of seniors living in nursing homes receive no holiday visitors, so it’s not hard to see how much of an impact that kind of act of love can have.

 

Deliver a meal

Food is such a central part of the holiday season that some people look forward to the table than they do their family! But just because you’re enjoying a delicious spread doesn’t mean everyone else is, too. Hunger still runs rampant, so what better way to spread some cheer and goodwill by giving food to those who need it most? Meals on Wheels has a volunteer program that makes it that much easier to give.

 

Red Cross

Sometimes the best presents are truly priceless. Each year, the Red Cross helps needy people all over the world by delivering vaccinations or emergency family packages. There are even donations you can give to support workshops that connect veterans with their families.

Tommy Spaulding’s “It’s Not Just Who You Know”

Communication is the most important skill anyone working in the nonprofit sector can have. The funds you raise aren’t for you, they’re for a higher cause. It boils down to your team persuading potential donors to contribute to your cause. So it’s easy to see that, at the end of the day, all you have is your word.It's not just who you know

Many philanthropists, as I’ve noted before, treat everyone the same. By “same” I don’t mean “equal”. Rather, a potential donor or volunteer from one background receives the same information, attention, and communication as someone from a different background. We’re taught as children that each of us is unique, but we seem to lose sight of that as we age. You need to approach your potential game-changers as the individuals they are, not as a singular entity under one roof.

But this can be difficult. We’re conditioned to keeping work conversations in the office, and conversations of personal interest between our closest friends. Is this inherently a bad thing? No! But it is a bit jarring when someone from accounting is suddenly asked to contribute her time or money, when the only words you’ve spoken to her are about the weather and the new office space.

That’s why, I think you should read Tommy Spaulding’s best-seller It’s Not Just Who You Know. It’s simple, and doesn’t lose its message in self-aggrandizing pomp. The anecdotes are down to earth, and prove the power of a single conversation.

Spaulding writes at length about the different levels of interpersonal relationships, and the people we encounter at each one. At the lowest level are those with whom we just discuss news, sports and weather. At the top —the “Penthouse”— are our closest mentors, confidants, and loved ones, whom we serve with no expectation of reciprocity.

You can imagine which relationship is most useful to helping you achieve your goals. Spaulding helps us understand what makes penthouse relationships special, and why it’s possible to take someone we’ve recently met all the way to the top.

Of course, not everyone we meet will enter into penthouse relationship with us. Spaulding understands this, and helps the reader foster relationships at all points along the scale.

After reading it, you will be eager to listen to people and look for ways that you can selflessly help them. Whether they need help refining an idea or just want a shoulder to lean on, these relationships are what we, as humans crave. It’s Not Just Who You Know shows us how to make the most of them.

A New Design for Giving

If you want to succeed, you’ve got to set yourself apart. Normally this is advice we give to people who are ready to take the next step in their careers or relationships. But a team of designers is looking to apply this principle to objects— specifically, a well designed charity box.

Maggie’s, is a nonprofit group dedicated to giving cancer patient comfort and warm words of advice. It was founded in memory of Maggie Jencks, the late wife of architectural critic Charles Jencks. Naturally, many prominent designers have had a hand on a number of Maggie’s projects. Most recently, design firm Layer has stepped up to the plate of innovation.

hand dropping coin in container

The charity box designed by Layer

Their goal, as is the goal of many charities, is to get people to donate. But they noticed that many charity boxes go unnoticed in the day to day. When you go to your favorite pastry shop on the way to work, when is the last time you actually noticed the donation jar? It just blends in with the register or other items on the counter. At work, the charity vessel may be a humble coffee can which can go ignored to undiscerning eyes.

Layer is trying to reverse this desensitization by making a charity box that really stands out from the whirlwind of daily stimuli. Their new product resembles a bent vase. The shape, writes John Brownlee for Fast Company’s Design blog, is “soft and inviting, bowing almost humbly towards the giver”. The color, red, is soft enough to not be grating on the eyes, yet bright enough to set itself apart on any table, counter, or sill. The name of the charity is subtly embedded right on the lip of the jar, reminding givers exactly what they are contributing to.

Making a Relationship with Donors

When you’re actively engaged in philanthropic activities, chances are you’re going to have to ask a donor for help. And you should! Trying to run a foundation or making a difference with exclusive use of your time, energy, and funds is a Sisyphean task. But when asking for donations, many people lead off with the same pitch: “Hi, please consider donating to or volunteering with [name of fund/organization] because it will make a positive difference in the lives of many people.” If you ask 100 people, you may get only a handful of positive responses. But how can we work to turn that into a productive, meaningful impact? two clasped hands

It’s easier said than done, to be sure, but this is the key: you’re not making the donation about them. “Wait a second,” you may be thinking, “it’s not about them! I’m trying to run this organization and get people involved to give back to others!” This is completely true, but whether they realize it or not, on every level people are thinking about how their actions benefit them. It’s not necessarily selfish, it’s just the way people are.

Now you don’t need to go out and inflate their ego. That’s bad. Saying “think about how great you’ll look volunteering tonight” looks scummy at best. Instead, approach donors that make sense. Don’t ask indiscriminately. Imagine you are in charge of organizing a fundraiser for a charity that helps to promote STEM in underperforming schools. If you have a professional contact who came from a disadvantaged background and is working towards a similar goal as you, frame your request in a way that resounds positively with that person. After all, they can likely connect with the people you are out to help. For example, you could say “I know that you worked hard to get to where you are, and want to help youths that were in your position to advance professionally. Would you like to speak to several school-aged children who want to learn more about what you do?”

This is much more thoughtful than an email blast saying “come find me if you want to make a difference this weekend!”

Remember, we’re all people, and we all want to do good. Just be upfront about why you think someone may be a good fit for the task.

Inspiration from Special Olympics Athletes

Six-foot-three, 300lb lineman Gino Gradkowski is tough. You have to be, playing one of the most heavy-hitting roles on an NFL team.  However, he has a soft spot about which he feels strongly and draws a great deal of inspiration from in terms of his own performance in the NFL, and that is the Special Olympics & its participants.

Ever since he was in college at the University of Delaware, Gradkowski has been a huge supporter of the organization and has been active in Special Olympics events. “It’s just fun to get to get to know the athletes, to interact with them, and just to watch them compete and help,” Gradkowski said, when asked about his interest in the cause. “It’s very inspiring for me.”

He feels a deep respect for the athletes of the Special Olympics, both from a motivational perspective but also in terms of staying humble and grounded in his own success. He says it helps with perspective and how he views his own life. He goes on to say,

“Our problems are peanuts compared what they have to deal with day in and day out. And for them to have the passion that they do and the work ethic – it makes you think that there’s nothing that you need to complain about, there’s no reason you shouldn’t give 100 percent.”

After graduating from College, Gradkowski was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens, and continued with his involvement in the special olympics.  Later, when he joined the Denver Broncos, he immediately got back involved with the Special Olympics of Colorado and was a volunteer at the 2015 games.  One event that he worked with specifically and really enjoyed was the powerlifting event- he was a spotter for the athletes.  One of the athletes specifically requested Gino’s help, which was a really proud moment for both Gino and the athlete.

“The energy in the gym was unbelievable and it was a lot of fun to get in there and actually be involved,” Gradkowski said.  To read more about his special olympics events, check out this article.