You don't have to wait for the "perfect" time to make a difference — here are some small steps to get started
It’s clear that the 2016 election results have ignited many young people’s passions for creating change and making a real difference in the world around them. Last November, just a few days after the votes were cast, I met up with a group of very determined 20-somethings around a dimly lit bar booth in New York’s East Village neighborhood. Over burgers and drafts, we discussed potential plans to support human rights, women’s freedoms, environmental protections, and other causes.
As smart, diverse voices chimed in around the table, I quickly noticed a troublesome refrain coming from part of the group – whenever someone proposed a more modest, immediate action to be taken, it was quickly shot down in favor of reaching for some larger, more public, more broad way of making a difference.
The reasoning behind this refrain made sense on the surface: These were all big, huge, sweeping issues, so they need big, huge, sweeping solutions. But to me, that felt like saying the best way to build a snowman is to invent a cloud that excretes them fully formed. (Okay, that would be awesome.)
People making a difference in the world on a more realistic scale is something I’m fortunate to observe in my day to day life.
As a professional fundraiser who has supported nonprofits all over the country, I see firsthand how little bits of time, talent, and effort can go a long way. In interviews with those positively affected by others’ work, I’ve often heard the same thought echoed:
It’s not one big thing that creates change, it’s a network of little things.
Look at it this way: Voldemort and the Death Eaters weren’t defeated because Harry Potter woke up one day and won a massive one-on-one duel with the Dark Lord himself. They were defeated because, over the course of 18 years, throngs of average, hard-working wizards contributed what they could to support the fight against evil, helping Harry every step of the way and eventually making that final duel possible. I mean, Hermione literally did Harry’s homework for years! (Seriously, how many times was Harry’s life saved because she actually did the reading for class? Oh boy, I’m getting off track.)
Whether your raison d’être is fighting dark magic, closing the wage gap, curing cancer, giving children equal opportunities, saving the whales, or something else, there are ways you can tangibly better the world around you right now.
Make a recurring gift to a worthwhile cause.
Every month, you let Netflix, HBO NOW, Amazon Prime, BirchBox, BarkBox, and more charge your credit card – why not add a nonprofit doing amazing work to the list? For a lot of young adults today, giving large lump sums of cash to charities isn’t really an option. But $25 or $50 a month? Much more feasible.
In the past few years, savvy nonprofits have been adding recurring giving programs like I’ve been adding chokers to my jewelry collection. (A lot. I’ve been buying a lot of them.) Signing up for one of these programs is a great way to sink your toes into the waters of philanthropy.
Look for where a little will do a lot.
How much good can giving and/or raising money in modest amounts really do, you ask? The answer is: a whole lot more than you might think (if you do your research). The key is to look for local or singularly-focused organizations that are providing direct service.
Do you want to further equal rights for trans people? Consider giving to a shelter that supports homeless trans teens. Do you want to protect the Earth? Consider giving to a conservation group that focuses on a specific piece of land or body of water.
If you had a national organization in mind to support, check if they have state or city chapters. Consider which localities have the highest need at the moment. Orange County’s elite might be bankrolling arts enrichment in Los Angeles, but who’s making sure the kids in rural Oregon have access to the watercolor paints that will turn them into the next Georgia O’Keeffe? You. You are doing that.
Donate your skills.
You know those carefully crafted skills in marketing / public relations / videography / carpentry / finance / coding / landscaping / cleaning up Excel spreadsheets / graphic design that you’ve honed over the past few years of your career? You can donate those to nonprofits, too! (I’m dead serious about that spreadsheets bit.)
Groups like Catchafire and Taproot will match you up with a nonprofit seeking your particular abilities, usually on a project basis. If you already have a specific organization in mind, don’t be shy about reaching out and asking if they’re looking for volunteers in your particular area of expertise.
Join a young professionals board.
If you’re ready to make a more serious commitment to your cause, consider joining a “young professionals board” – the greener version of a traditional nonprofit Board of Directors that lets 20- and 30-somethings network, socialize, volunteer, and raise critical dollars in a collaborative setting.
As a member of a YPB, you’ll take part in fundraising, planning special events, raising awareness, and digging into the work for change alongside a group of driven, like-minded peers. For reference, joining one is less responsibility than having a kid, but more than taking on a plant. (I know what happened to your succulents last summer.)
It’s undeniable that our generation is revved up and eager to contribute.
If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed by all the work there is to be done out there, just take a moment to breathe, and then focus on one concrete action you can take to get started. It’s what Hermione would do.