"I probably should" is an answer that I hear quite often when I ask "Are you serving on a nonprofit board?" My title, VP Philanthropic Services, opens up the dialogue with strangers on airplanes, and I do feel like an evangelist for the nonprofit sector. My motivation comes from the transformation that I have seen in people who add nonprofit work to their lives.
In my role at First Foundation, I lead our Supporting Our Communities initiative. We offer 40 grants to nonprofits every year. Up to 40 organizations are awarded $5,000 each, and 20 of them receive up to 20 hours of pro bono consulting. We are starting our 6th year and reflecting back, working with so many amazing organizations – I would like to make a case for philanthropy.
- Using your talents and strengths for a cause feels good (it is OK to admit that).
- The circle of friends that you meet in this work care about something bigger than themselves.
- Learning about causes changes your perspective. It is much harder to complain when you are helping someone navigate homelessness, hunger, or health issues.
- Your "no big deal" talent is a big deal to nonprofits – and they need you.
- Philanthropy can be one of the safest ways to begin preparing your heirs for wealth.
"How do I do it?"
You are not alone if you have set an intention to get involved but don't know how. The first step is to identify the area of work that you would like to focus on. Not obvious? Ask yourself, "What makes me sad when I see it? What do I wish was better?"
After you identify your area of focus – for example, veterans, children at risk, animals, community issues, health – the next step is to ask friends and colleagues where they serve. OneOC and Orange County Community Foundation have a search engine that can show you all of the nonprofits in Orange County by category. Many community foundations do the same. Our Philanthropy Services team can also help you find a wonderful organization.
Making the first step.
Connecting with the organization and offering your help is easier said than done. I say that because I don't want you to get discouraged. Sometimes, like dating, it takes a few introductions to find the right fit. Websites often display open volunteer opportunities, and calling the organization directly to see where you can be most valuable is also helpful. Need to be braver? Take a friend with you.
"Is it worth it?"
- Health benefits. According to a study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology, people who gave social support to others had lower blood pressure than people who didn’t. Supportive interaction with others also helped people recover from coronary-related events.
- Living longer. According to a University of California, Berkeley study, people who were 55 and older who volunteered for two or more organizations were 44 percent less likely to die over a five-year period than those who didn’t volunteer – even accounting for many other factors such as age, exercise, general health, and negative habits (like smoking).
- Feeling happier. When researchers from the National Institutes of Health looked at the functional MRIs of subjects who gave to various charities, they found that giving stimulates the mesolimbic pathway, which is the reward center in the brain – releasing endorphins and creating what is known as the “helper’s high.”
I hope that I have made my case. The Philanthropy Services Team at First Foundation is ready to help you with your philanthropic journey wherever you would like to begin. We recommend starting with a conversation and a cup of coffee.