10/22/2012 12:51 pm ET Updated Dec 22, 2012

Making a Difference: Philanthropy Is Not Only Pink, It's Everywhere


Pink is everywhere this month. There are pink ribbons, pink lights on buildings and yes, even NFL players wearing pink shoes. It seems those nonprofits working in the breast cancer arena own the month of October and the color pink.

But did you also know October is National Bullying Prevention Month, as well as LGBT History Month, National Book Month, National Spina Bifida Awareness Month -- the list goes on and on. Most months if not weeks have a designation for a specific cause, disease, activity, etc. The overall purpose and goal is to raise awareness and most likely increased financial support. The task of launching a philanthropic effort similar to this is huge. Much work and financial support is needed in order to achieve this level of visibility and then many will wonder if the effort was worth it. By having a designated month, some people might believe you have to wait for that time of year to roll around in order to ask others to get involved.

I believe differently. I believe philanthropy is everywhere. I believe we are all philanthropists. I also believe some of us want to share ideas while others are waiting to be asked to become involved. And I believe philanthropy is not just about asking for money.

Here are some examples of others who are doing their part to raise the level of awareness around what is possible and the idea that all of us are philanthropists. Last week my friend Allan from high school posted this on Facebook: "Inviting all my friends to, once a week, post one thing you are doing to improve your community or world, etc. It can be something small, but it may give me and others ideas to imitate." The responses are wonderful! People share how they re-use plastic grocery bags for covering food before it is refrigerated and covering plants before the freeze. They tell how they make a commitment to buy honey locally and shop at farmers' markets. Some tell about being a coach for a girls hockey team while others share they recycle bottles and cans.

I love it. One simple request that will cause others to pause and think about what they can to improve their community.

My childhood friend, Marcy, on her 49th birthday sent a request to 50 of her friends. She asked us to do something each week for someone else or our community and track it to share back with her on her 50th birthday. She asked us to imagine what each of us could do that would result in more than 2500 acts of kindness throughout the year. It would be like throwing a stone in a pond and watching the ripple effect. Marcy's simple request is the catalyst prompting many to increase their activities to help others. The response she has received is amazing and I know I am keeping track of what I do each week to share with her.

Tom's Shoes is a catalyst in a big way. When you purchase a pair of shoes, the company will donate one pair to a child in need. Imagine the impact as more than one million pairs of shoes have been donated so far. All of us make purchases of shoes as well as other items. You can make a conscious commitment to shop at companies similar to Tom's Shoes that make giving back a part of their business practice.

Some might state that real action to change the world requires much time and money -- and in some instances they are right. To be assured, there are more than 1.5 million nonprofits registered in the U.S. and 100 more asking the IRS for tax-exempt status every day. But you don't need a formal organization to begin making a difference. You simply have to start and take that first step to getting hooked on the idea of helping others and giving back. In today's busy world, I often hear that people don't have time or money to give. I would counter by saying be more creative with what you have. Think about the skills you possess and if you could volunteer "virtually," such as a lawyer reviewing a contract or a graphic artist designing a brochure for a cause. You never have to leave your office or home to provide these services. If your skills aren't as easily transferred to the virtual realm, think about donating an hour or two of your time to a nonprofit event such as a gala's silent auction. Many attendees would bid on one hour of "free" service from a plumber or chimney cleaning service. For those on a limited budget: become creative. Many of us dream of going on a vacation, why not try a voluntouring vacation this year? You could travel to a location where you would volunteer to help restore a temple, church, castle or even an ecosystem part of the time, then vacation the other part and often receive the benefit of a tax deduction.

Philanthropy is truly everywhere. Take time to learn about the needs in your community, but start first with yourself. What do you like to do? What do you have time to do? Contact your house of worship or community foundation to learn about the needs in the community. You can also search the Internet as well as talk to friends and neighbors about what they do. Or you could simply ask everyone you meet if they needed help with something. By taking a first step and doing any of these you will be amazed at how easy it can be to make a difference every single day!

We don't need pink ribbons or a specific month designated in order to be propelled into action, we simply need some direction. Make philanthropy part of your life each day -- not just during designated months or the holidays. Your actions will have an impact far beyond what you can see. What are you going to do to be Making A Difference (M.A.D.)? Are you M.A.D. today?