5 Ways to Give Back in 2013

A new year often means new resolutions.  Today I'm not giving you resolutions--- I’m giving you lifestyle habits that will make giving back a significant part of your life.

Back in April, I questioned if 20 and 30 somethings are doing enough in our communities.  While there isn’t research that explicitly reflects the giving habits of Black millennials, according to the 2012 Millennial Impact Report, members of this generation are doing a lot of good. For starters, 63% millennials volunteered in 2011 and 75% of millennials gave financially in 2011 as well. And now it's time to ramp it up! Let’s walk through five ways millenials (and others) can make giving back more effective in 2013!


1. Map A Giving Plan: A what, Ebonie?  A giving plan. We learn in our 20s an element of success is proper planning; your civic work is no different. "Figure out where you are uniquely positioned to give,” chirped Jovian Irvin of Teach for America and Janelle Monae’s Wondaland Arts Society during my firm’s Defining Young Black Philanthropy event in NY. The DNC’s Finance Committee Chair, Mike Muse also suggested, "decide what your pillars of giving are." In other words, do what works for your lifestyle and what interests you. Don’t be flagrant with your time and resources. Ain’t nobody got time for that in 2013! Begin your plan by identifying at least three cause areas that mean the most to you and map a plan to give around those areas.

2. Volunteer At Least Six Times a Year:  Part of securing an effective giving plan is walking the walk you talk about.  If you’re serious about making giving part of your life, volunteering six times or more is just a drop in the bucket. Look, three prime volunteer times are already built into the calendar: MLK Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. How can you say you’re about community work if you’re not in the community? Add some volunteer options to your master plan and let’s keep it moving to number 3.


3. Start Making (or Increasing) Financial Donations: Money gives you power. You want to know why White folks have decision-making power in big foundations, non-profits, colleges and universities? They have power because they give money and we don’t. All the volunteer hours on earth won't make a difference if you do not give money! I'm not talking $10 for a happy hour to benefit xyz charity. I'm talking about things like giving money to our beloved HBCUs; attending Homecoming doesn’t count. What counts is a $50, $100, or even $125 donation to an institution or organization you believe in. We aren’t children anymore. Be an adult, plan your money right so you can donate.

If you really plan right you can be a boss, make a $250 donation and become a junior patron to a local charity or organization. Samaia Muhammad, Major Gifts Officer at The Advancement Project, will agree that a donation of this caliber shows your investment in an organization and its mission. If you invest in institutions such as museums or dance companies, the donation will come with perks; such as members only nights and complimentary tickets. Check out the Alvin Ailey Young Patrons Circle and The Apollo Theater’s Young Patrons Group for examples.


4. Step Up Your Non-Profit Leadership: Board leadership is a personal favorite of mine. Not only does board leadership count as volunteer time, it harnesses essential professional development skills we need at this stage in our careers. Junior leadership boards are a great place to start. Learn more about this type of leadership by completing programs such as BoardServeNYC offered by The United Way, or with a few resources on Friends of Ebonie.


5. Become Politically Astute: Know about your local politicians before they hit the 11pm news. Political strategist and community engagement consultant, L. Joy Williams advised earlier this year, that not only supporting but also holding our elected officials accountable is essential to getting the changes we want put into action. To do this we have to attend town hall meetings, testify at public hearing and oh, here’s an idea, write a letter for what you want. If you took five of your soapbox tweets and started a letter, you’d be well on your way to seeing change happen. #ijs

Look, I never said giving back was easy. But as you already know, anything worthwhile requires effort. As we approach 2013, think about how you can really begin to make a sound investment, in time and money, to the causes that mean the most to you and to your community! Happy New Year! 

Ebonie Johnson Cooper is a freelance writer, philanthropist and thought leader on millennial social responsibility and professional development. Her energy can be read weekly