12/10/2012 03:57 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2013

It Takes a Village of Donors

Although I didn't go to medical school, every December I help a patient detect cancer early, and thus save her life. How do I accomplish this amazing feat? I make a donation to Bread for the City, which provides medical care (as well as legal and social services) to low-income D.C. residents.

I make charitable contributions throughout the year to many organizations and for many different reasons. Together, my donations reflect a picture of my best self. Someone who believes that the District of Columbia, its neighborhoods, and its residents are all important; that family, friends, and colleagues matter; and that building a community in which every child has a solid foundation of family, health, and education -- regardless of income -- is the path to a better and more just society.

As you might expect, my biggest gift is for Children's Law Center, where I serve as executive director. I feel that giving my time is not enough. The work we do saves and transforms lives -- and my tenacious and committed colleagues are my heroes. Besides, I spend a significant amount of time asking others to donate to Children's Law Center, and I want to lead by example by giving generously myself.

The Foster and Adoptive Parent Advocacy Center also gets my support because it does important work that improves the lives of abused and neglected children -- and the families who care for them. I am a proud, founding board member and believe that board service requires a substantial financial commitment. And I give as well because the board and staff, whom I count among my closest friends, stood by me as I struggled to help my own adopted children overcome the lasting impact of childhood neglect and abuse.

Many of my other gifts reflect both professional and personal priorities. I support the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, for example, because I rely on their budget analyses to be a well-informed citizen and on their strategic partnership to accomplish Children's Law Center's policy agenda. I support the Rosemount Center because I believe that early childhood education is critical, especially for low-income and developmentally delayed children, and because they are my neighbors.

I believe in the importance -- and power -- of neighborhoods, but know that neighborhood efforts don't have the resources to find donors. So I give to the Diverse City Fund, an impressive experiment in collective giving. The money, which is raised from donors at all income levels, is given away by a committee of District residents to small, mostly volunteer-driven neighborhood organizations. I also give to Jews United for Justice, whose grassroots organizing is the best in town and because their executive director, Jacob Feinspan, has played a central role in building Defeat Poverty DC.

I support D.C.'s College Success Foundation because a college degree is the best route to financial stability, but is so often out of reach for poor youth with less-than-stellar academic histories. CSF-D.C. proudly gives these students the support to succeed.

Sometimes my donations are really gifts to a loved one or friend. This year, I supported the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation because Kathy Guy asked. For years, Kathy, her husband Tim, and their two sons have provided Christmas to children in need through Children's Law Center's Holiday Hope Drive. That's just one example of how I have watched the Guy family answer every call for help that comes their way while also living with the impact that cystic fibrosis has on their own family.

Similarly, when my young cousin began raising money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, shortly after she was diagnosed with the disease, I gave another gift. What better way to teach children that they can change the world than supporting their early charitable efforts?

Not all of my donations are large. This year I made small donations to the Legal Aid Society, Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, Rock Creek Conservancy, and WAMU. I know that my gifts, by themselves, will not be enough to represent a victim of domestic violence, provide contraception to prevent a teen pregnancy, save Rock Creek's trees from ivy, or pay for my favorite show, Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. But I also know, together with hundreds of other supporters, I will do just that.

I can do these things, just as I can help save a cancer patient who goes to Bread for the City's clinic. I can't be a doctor, but I can be a donor. I can affect real change -- save real lives -- but only if I'm one of many. You've heard the familiar adage that it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to support the work of the many terrific nonprofits that serve our most vulnerable neighbors. A gift of any size is worth giving.

There are so many nonprofits who do first-class work and make the District -- and our world -- a better place. I can't support them all. Whatever the reason - because of a friend, a passion for a specific cause, to feel powerful, because you are a direct beneficiary, to be part of the greater community, or to know your best self -- I urge you to give this holiday season and throughout the coming year.