When it comes to life as a young giver, starting is the hard part. Writers have been lamenting that simple truism since…well, the start.
Difficulty beginning a project is a key reason why so many never do – putting dreams like businesses, inventions, and major life changes on hold for years or even leaving them off the drawing board entirely.
This rings true for charitable giving, too.
Being young and trying to start can be doubly hard because we are simultaneously launching so much. But, like all beginnings and new endeavors, we can utilize specific steps that ease the transition and position ourselves for future success.
For giving, especially mission-driven or principled giving, you benefit first by plugging in with a core circle of allied givers, nonprofits, and influencers. After that, you should seek a support network that can mentor you through the process.
Let’s explore how to jump in.
The best advice anyone ever gave me for job hunting, for dating, and for philanthropy was to know the market! As a young giver, understanding who is out there and what they are doing comes by plugging in.
For example, if you are somebody who believes in limited government, free enterprise and personal responsibility, then you should understand the vast network of similarly aligned organizations – also known loosely as the “liberty movement.”
Join email lists. Do this and you may receive event invitations and news of new projects in order to better understand an organization’s core culture and values.
Follow their social-media accounts. It serves the same function as email but this method of delivery takes up less time and adds an extra barrier between you and the organization while you decide what next steps you want to take.
Attend events (both virtual and in person). In-person events are the most effective means of connecting you with the staff and other participants who represent the policy or cause space. Just one event can provide you with that insider info from multiple newsletters or articles and adds a layer of depth to that connection.
Again, all of these methods have trade-offs. You as a young giver will have to weigh how much time, effort, and resources you are willing to invest in each group that you are “curious” about and make decisions from there. I’d venture to say that at least some sunk cost is worth it when it comes to discovering a charitable partner who can help you create meaningful change in the world.
For me, I personally think of all the above channels almost as a funnel. For my giving, I start out following on social media a couple groups I want to support. From there, I try to eliminate one or two from my list. I may still choose to follow them on social, but they aren’t where I am going to put my focus.
Next, I may sign up for the remaining groups’ emails. After that, I may pop into a low-stakes albeit interesting event. To me, low stakes are free happy hours, seminars, or receptions. Maybe these events are even ones with paid admissions, but low enough price points so that if I go and hate it, I don’t feel too bad. A funnel like this can be helpful. Keep in mind that not all groups have a good presence on social media and, for some, that isn’t a good indicator of the real impact you as a young giver can have with them.
Before you really start collecting these data points, though, you want to sit down and decide what impact looks like to you. In your mind, what would it mean for an organization working on “X” to be considered successful to you? What would have to be a big enough win for you to commit charitable dollars? Once you have a good channel of access into potential grantees you may want to support, you can begin to gauge whether they are a potential partner for your giving.
Beyond that, you will want to know specifically how you prioritize change within each broad issue area of concern. For example, if free speech is what you care about, do you want to support groups producing white papers or studies on the effects of laws surrounding free speech on college campuses? Do you want to support a group that actively litigates on behalf of clients?
You may not know how to drill down to your goal and the above data points can certainly help. However, if you are already aware of the more defined aspect of your vision, you can specifically look for that information in the above methods and narrow your search from the get-go.
After you have your data points, and continue to interact with the few nonprofits towards the top of your list, you should be able to narrow down your priorities. If at the end of that process you have two organizations that are “tied,” I recommend giving each of them a small grant and see how they interact with you after you’ve officially become a donor. Their response (or lack thereof) could be the final nudge in a particular direction.
At the end of the day, your goal as a young giver is to find the group best suited to partner with you to achieve the vision you have for your philanthropy. It may take some extra time and elbow grease, but doing the legwork upfront as a young giver will benefit you down the line when you have more to give and the stakes are much higher. Begin finding the process that works best for you now. Make a few mistakes that you can learn from on the way. Future you will thank you!
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