With disasters, both man-made and natural, having become a regular feature of our turbulent world, people from all walks of life are feeling a growing need to do something about the larger problems in their midst. Not everyone, however, can make a sizable charitable contribution every time disaster strikes. Indeed, if you're like me, you've probably asked yourself, "What can I do that is more personal and meaningful than sending a check?"
Plenty, says Nicole Bouchard Boles in How to Be an Everyday Philanthropist. A self-described "expert in no- and low-cost philanthropy," Boles' message is that you don't need to be Bill Gates or Warren Buffet to make a difference in the world; you just need dedication, a little time, and some know-how. And her book shows you how.
Boles' main thesis is that you already have more than you realize that can be used to better someone else's situation. To illustrate that point, each chapter of the book examines a specific aspect of our everyday existence — family, talents, time, awareness, belongings, community — and asks us to think about the assets in our "personal resource bank" that can be shared. By way of example, she relates a story about a woman who donated her old prom dress to a young woman in need; someone else fosters the pets of deployed servicemen and women; a third person donates her stem cells to a stem cell bank. Throughout, Boles spells out in detail the various paths one can take in service to others, and does a nice job of describing the effectiveness of small gestures as a motivator.
Indeed, many of the activities she describes are designed to get the entire family involved or to move an office, your neighborhood, or a community group to action. What's more, some of the real-life examples she provides are downright inspiring. Freelance writer and Long Island resident Mary Ellen Walsh volunteers as a writing coach for aspiring young female writers who congregrate on hangProud.com. Dry cleaning proprietor Carlos Vasquez donates his services to unemployed individuals in New York City who need clean clothes for job interviews. Melissa Poe started Kids for a Clean Environment twenty years ago, when she was nine, and has worked tirelessly to make it one of the largest youth environmental organizations in the world. All their stories, and many others in the book, movingly demonstrate how valuable — to donor and recipient alike — everyday philanthropy can be.
At the same time, Boles is a citizen of the twenty-first century and understands how technology has changed the way we give back — whether that means donating $10 to the Red Cross via cell phone, logging on to a site like Serve.gov, or organizing a cause-related "meetup" via text, tweet, or Facebook. How to Be an Everyday Philanthropist falls right in step with online giving models and the potential for social media to transform the way we help others in the future. At the same time, Boles makes it clear that helping charities is just a piece, and a relatively small one, of the philanthropic pie. The bigger piece, she says, is what each of us does to integrate philanthropy into our daily lives and to establish a more personal connection to our giving.
For me, that's the most important lesson in Boles' book. Many of the things she describes don't involve monetary donations and would only require fifteen minutes of my time. I don't knit, but if I did I could knit a cap for a single mom's newborn infant. Or, if I had an academic area of expertise, I could answer online homework questions submitted by a grade-school student.
It's Boles' knack for finding little opportunities to build what she calls "giving equity" that makes the book such a great resource for the small-scale philanthropist. Newcomers to the world of giving back will be reassured by her step-by-step technique and will appreciate the sticky-note flags ("Do This!", "Follow Up", "Pass It On") at the back of the book. The budget-conscious will appreciate the multiple no- or low-cost ideas she provides. And everyone will enjoy the stories of everyday philanthropists who took a seemingly small idea and used it as a catalyst to spark a bigger movement.
Boles tells us her readers that they can do that, too — and by the end of the book it's easy to believe her. In fact, she says, we all can be the change we want to see in the world. And there's no time like the present to get started.