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Making a Difference: The World of Giving Coming up on Independence Day

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However you choose to celebrate our nation's 236th birthday this 4th of July -- barbecue, beach, parade, ball game -- I'd like to suggest you take just a small part of that time to Make a Difference.

When you think about it you might realize that giving to charity in the U.S. -- dollars, time, ideas -- actually started on July 4th when the Founding Fathers declared our "independence" from Great Britain! How did this event kick-off what we now call the "philanthropic sector?" Well, by declaring our independence from Great Britain the colonists realized there would be no monarchy, state religion or system to provide the funds and resources required to build and operate schools, orphanages, workhouses, hospitals, libraries, churches, and more. The colonists had to come together to be charitable! So, in essence, we've been a country of making a difference since day one!

Did you know that today more than 12 million Americans work in the nonprofit sector? That's 9 percent of the work force. And about 117 million American households made a charitable contribution in 2011. That's terrific ... but it's still not everyone.

As you plan for next week's holiday, think about the many ways you can honor the men and women who are serving on behalf of all of us, and support others who are solving problems and making life better for our communities. Here are just a few ideas you might want to consider to make this year's Independence Day meaningful and fun for you, and helpful to so many.

Special Support for the Military
This year consider the important need of recognizing military families; they make the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom and our values. This is especially important given long and repeat deployments and how, just like the end-of-year holidays, July 4th is a difficult time for families that are apart. You can:

  • Support the USO which has, since 1941, raised the spirits of soldiers and their families around the world and reaches millions each year. (The USO also has a partnership with General Mills' Cheerios that allows you to fill out "cheer notes" that will go to military families - find out more
  • Help wounded service members through the Wounded Warrior Project
  • Contribute to Operation Shower and their partner Toys 'R Us at and help hold baby showers for military families
  • Send a letter or package to a soldier who may not be receiving items or greetings from home through any soldier.com
  • Look for local organizations like C.H.O.M.P. (Citizens Helping Overseas Military Personnel). They collect items to send to those who are serving, or you can contact your local VFW or American Legion and find other ways to help
  • A few other websites you might want to visit to support those who serve include the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society
  • Air Force Aid Society
  • and Operation Homefront, which provides emergency assistance to service families
Community Events Support your community with time or a donation and you can put a smile on the face of those who participate - young or old; those blessed with family or those who are alone. You might be surprised at what you'll find by looking into what's happening in your town (or, in big cities, your neighborhood). For example:
  • Lander, Wyoming holds a July 4th half-marathon called Challenge for Charities. This local effort not only raises money; it matches every donation!
  • In Milton-Freewater, Oregon you can be part of the 10th Annual Firefighters Breakfast
  • Or how about the July 4th charity hot dog eating contest in Ocala, Florida, where the town also provides information about emergency shelter services, counseling services, anger management programs, parent/child conflict resolution and more
  • For a big event, join with Starbucks in their headquarters city of Seattle by participating in a volunteer party on July 5th and help clean up from the big fireworks display they underwrite on July 4th
  • Or, if one of these terrific community-based programs gives you a new idea, you might want to start something yourself that Makes a Difference in your town (or on your block).
More Ways to Make a Difference (M.A.D.) Here are five (5) recommendations and tips for easy ways to Make A Difference (M.A.D.) this July 4th:

1. At your July 4th picnic or barbecue (or volleyball game!) take up a collection for a favorite cause or charity and ask for donations of $5 or $10 or $20
2. Become a pen pal to a soldier overseas, especially if you know someone who has been deployed, and make it something you do regularly
3. Visit the closest Veterans Hospital and spend time with the veterans there
4. Find a local store that's making a contribution from July 4th sales or collecting items for those in need - and then spread the word
5. Read and share the Declaration of Independence; by remembering and bringing forth what our country is based on you will be making a difference!

Bonus Tip: Fly the American Flag!

When you think about it, July 4th is a day when all Americans are connected; it's a celebration for every age, race, ethnicity and religion. July 4th is for all of us -- make sure you're M.A.D. today!