04/03/2014 12:58 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

4 Ways to Unsuck Philanthropy


Do gooder. Bleeding heart. Savior complex. These terms are intentionally unkind, and usually accompanied by scowls or rolled eyes. Why do we love to hate charitable works?

We generally agree goodwill is needed in the world, but many nitpick at people or organizations when they attempt to make an impact. As a result, I have concluded that philanthropy doesn't suck, snark does. Since the beginning of time, snark has been used as a rudimentary tactic to justify saying a lot while doing nothing. Why? Snark sells. A negative headline will always garner more attention than a positive one, this article is no exception. Consider this, when cavemen experimented with early methods of building fire, "Earl" sat on his rock couch, offering dozens of reasons why it would never work from the sidelines. Suggestions for viable solutions are always welcomed, but please don't be Earl, complaining just to be toxic. If you happen to know Earl (or Earlene), ask them to kindly step aside and make room for those with enough courage to actually do something.

Philanthropy can take on many forms. Short-term solutions can include providing a meal, a scholarship, or offering your time at an event. Long-term solutions can involve creating systems or sustainable infrastructure, but it all matters. A starving person does not appreciate a meal any less than job training or a business microloan. So that thing you feel compelled to do... go do it. Here is an easy checklist for getting started:

1. Start where you are.
It is natural to be drawn to volunteerism abroad, however I can guarantee you there are children, adults, animals and organizations in your region that would love to have you have a resource. Social media can help make quick work of finding options near you. Pop in to Twitter or Instagram and perform a hashtag search of your state (ie. #DC #Volunteer #Charity to gain a sense of the needs in your area).

2. Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Remembering that the project or act of service is not about you will help maintain perspective and prevent distracting or self-conscious thoughts from creeping in.

3. Think strategically.
What are you good at? Show up. What are you not so good at? Don't do that. It is really that simple. Consider your natural gifts or professional talents and offer them to a group or person in need.

4. Tweak your adventures along the way.
You are not expected to know everything. Take inventory of what is working and not working, allowing that to guide future projects.

With that, here are a few new titles to help reframe your view of philanthropy. Changemaker. Braveheart. Neighborhood Hero. Oh, and Hot Stuff... because being genuinely passionate about more than just self-gratification is also super attractive.