When you hear the word philanthropist what do you think of?
Many of us are likely to conjure up personalities like Bill and Melinda Gates, Oprah Winfrey, or Warren Buffet. But it is a common misconception that the word philanthropist is reserved for the uber-rich who give away millions upon millions of dollars every year.
In fact, we all have the capacity to be philanthropists and give back to our communities not only through monetary donations but also through giving our time and talents.
If I’ve lost you and you’re thinking, “what even is a philanthropist” that’s okay – you are not alone. A recent study done by Philanthropy and Fundraising expert Kimberly Downes found that the word “philanthropist” was not a word many people associated themselves with despite giving money and time back to their communities for years. Downes defines a philanthropist as “a person who donates time, money, experience, skills or talent to help create a better world.”
We can see from this definition, that there is no requirement to be exuberantly rich to be considered a philanthropist. We can also see that giving back includes but is in no way limited to donating money.
Being a philanthropist is not about how much you give, but how you give.
Our twenties are so often described as our “selfish years.” We are often encouraged to “take” rather than “give” and utilise every opportunity to find out who we are, try new things and not worry too much about the consequences. Yet, in truth, I feel my generation is one of the most concerned and ready to bleed for the causes we care about. There are so many people in their twenties who care deeply about issues such as climate change, gender and racial equality, social justice, consent and sustainability. These are all causes that if changed, would radically shift the building blocks that our society stands upon.
If we already care this much, then it’s likely we are all already on the road to becoming philanthropists and there is no reason we can’t start right now. We don’t need to wait until we’re settled with a certain amount of funds in the bank.
So, consider this my attempt to educate and inspire you all on what it really means to be a philanthropist and the likelihood that most of us already are on our way to becoming one.
Money, Money, Money: Giving your Treasure
Giving treasure, or money, is easily the most recognisable aspect of philanthropy. But there is one important caveat: it doesn’t matter how much you give, just the act of giving money makes you a philanthropist.
Have you ever donated to a retail store’s foundation?
Or given money to a friend’s birthday fundraiser?
Or made a tax-deductible donation before EOFY to an organisation that you really care about?
If you’ve done any of these things, then guess what – you’re already well on your way to being a philanthropist.
In truth, the amount doesn’t matter. If you’ve given $1, $10, $100 or $1000, you are a philanthropist. If you have a building named after you, you are a philanthropist. If you’ve chucked some loose change into the Ronald McDonald House tin at Macca’s, you are a philanthropist.
At the end of the day, if you are giving your money to a cause or organisation you care about, in an effort to make the world a better place and help others, you are a philanthropist.
Volunteering: Giving your Time & Talent
The lesser-known part of philanthropy centres around the idea of giving our time and talent, or in more colloquial terms, when we volunteer. As a volunteer, we are giving the organisation our time and our talents. We are supporting their vision and mission and making it possible for them to keep doing the good work they are trying to do.
Giving time is pretty self-explanatory. We set aside hours every so often to attend meetings, help run events or help run the daily operations of an organisation. We aren’t paid for our work because we recognise the importance of giving back to the community, by helping out just because we can.
Giving talent might not be something you’ve come across before. This is understandable as it is mostly associated with older generations who are experts in their field and advise on large organisational boards. Telling graduates and jobseekers to give away their talents for free at first might sound a little preposterous. But if we dig a little deeper, you might find that your twenties is the perfect time to give your talents to help organisations and people in need. Through volunteer opportunities you will have the chance to use the skills (and talents) you already possess and build upon them, helping you gain essential experience.
For example, my skills or talents if you will, lie in my knowledge of history and art and my love of writing. Because I love these things, I’ve worked hard on them and because I’ve worked hard, they are now something I’m pretty good at, ergo, a talent. I was able to give my time and talent to art galleries in Visitor Service positions. Not only did this allow me to help build experience that would later help me gain employment, but it also gave me the opportunity to flex my philanthropic muscles. I was able to use my passions and skills in service of art institutions I cared about and that were important to my local community.
Finding a place to give your time and talents is a personal experience. I recommend defining what causes you care about and then looking for organisations or community-lead programs that are already out there doing great work. For example, if you are passionate about sustainability there are clean-up beaches or parklands events that you can join. Or maybe you’re passionate about the arts and supporting local artists, smaller galleries often run on the support of volunteers.
Other organisations to look into could include schools, clubs, churches, the Salvation Army, animal shelters, health programs, aged care centres, or heritage sites.
So, if you’re a young graduate still wanting to build up your skills or practice what you’ve already learnt – find something you care about and offer up those skills to an organisation. Don’t be afraid to cold call or cold email an organisation, they live and thrive because of their volunteers and if you have something to offer them, they’re going to be over the moon and want to speak with you. I have received around 100 job application rejections, but I am yet to be rejected from offering my services as a volunteer.
If you would like to learn more about volunteering, you can find more information in our first eBook Where to From Here, where we give lots of recommendations on the benefits of volunteering for your career and how to get started.
You may not have caught it but the research I’ve quoted throughout this piece was authored by Kimberly Downes, who happens to be my mother. Both my parents are fundraising and philanthropy specialists. They’ve worked in the industry for over fifty and thirty years respectively. Growing up, the word philanthropy was as common as the words go to bed and get ready for school in my house. My parents’ work led them to become experts on building a culture of philanthropy for many organisations worldwide, but I think they also worked hard to instil that same culture within our own family. For me and my brother, these ideas and the act of giving is second nature, we have always been encouraged to volunteer, give our talents where we can and (now that we’re working adults) donate money to causes we care about.
I am honoured to be able to share just a little bit of what I know about philanthropy and hope to inspire young, passionate people to get out into the community and contribute because you can make a difference and what you do does matter.