Charity begins at home, right? Think again.
I used to think that to dive into volunteering projects, I’d have to first be super-passionate about a cause…you know….like you see in movies. I’d have a megaphone and shout over tons of protesters who also want more licorice flavor in their chewing gum (or whatever the cause…don’t feel bad if yours isn’t as important as my example). I’d seen thousands of people walking for cancer or raising money for the heart association, or some other cause. I didn’t feel it. I’d read the brochures. Sure I felt bad for people who lost their homes, and yes, I hated reading about the tragedy of cancer or the horrible life of someone in abject poverty. But still, it didn’t strike me.
I was complaining about this to a close friend one day, who said, “You’re got it wrong, Joe! You get involved FIRST and the passion comes later.”
Man, was she right.
The closest I’d felt to any cause was the Arthritis Foundation. I finally decided to help out for some selfish reasons:
1) My mom had arthritis. I might as well raise money that would help someone in my family.
2) (and sadly, probably nearly as important to the selfish version of me at the time) The president of the local Arthritis Foundation Chapter was a client of mine.
So, I jumped in.
Arthritis became my cause. Whenever I had a birthday party, backyard barbeque, or whatever, I asked friends to skip the potluck and instead bring a sealed envelope with a check for the Arthritis Foundation. I volunteered at the Jingle Bell Run (their big fundraiser) and sat in with other professionals planning bigger events to try and raise more funds.
What I’d Been Missing from Volunteering
Sure, I was giving, but man, was I also receiving! Now, I’m not saying that you should get involved with community charitable projects because of what you’ll gain, but there are so, so many advantages:
1) Networking. I never knew that in my field (financial advising), the BEST place to be was at charitable giving events. All of my target market was there (people with cash) and they were predisposed to like me because I was lending a hand.
2) Tax write offs. When I gave money, I was allowed to use these funds as an itemized deduction on my tax return.
3) Great feelings. There’s nothing more fun than meeting the people you’re helping out.
4) Travel. My friend Chris helped out after the earthquake in Pakistan and also after the tsunami on the Indian Ocean. He’s seen the world…and helped humanity at the same time.
Expanding Your Volunteering Reach
We went further. Cheryl took the kids on a medical mission trip to Guatemala. Suddenly, we saw that there were opportunities all over the world you could take advantage of. You can build houses in the Appalachians, fight poverty in Africa, or volunteer work Sydney with UNICEF. Imagine a trip to Sydney, Australia and pitching in!
Unfortunately, I couldn’t go with my family last summer on the trip, but all three agreed that using free time to volunteer, while exhausting, was more rewarding than just hanging out on a beach somewhere.
Cheryl didn’t only volunteer. She planned a trip for two weeks and saw the sites the second half. If you volunteered in Sydney, for example, you could take a portion of the trip to help out and another portion to tour.
I’ll second what my friend told me: don’t feel the passion around charitable giving? Get involved first. I promise the passion will follow.