10/18/2012 04:34 pm ET Updated Dec 18, 2012

5 Ways to Support Non-Profit Organizations

For Women & Co. by Susan Davis, BRAC USA

If you're anything like me, you probably struggle to make enough "me time." With most hours of the day devoted to job, family, and commuting, most of us struggle to find energy to devote to ourselves, let alone philanthropic causes.

And yet you might hear a voice in the back of your head urging you to give back. With thousands of good causes, where to begin?

Here are five ways to get started with the business of giving.

1. Think about yourself for a change.
Yes, this is a wildly counter-intuitive way to start, but hear me out.
Good philanthropy isn't measured by the size of donations, but by how wisely they're given. Making smart decisions means staying engaged and educated, and you won't likely do that with any old cause that seems "good enough." Besides, token giving won't scratch your philanthropy itch.

Start with what concerns you personally. Make a link with your own life, even if it seems trivial compared to the world's problems. If you're perpetually dieting or just careful about what you eat, or about what your child eats, you'll likely feel a stronger connection with nutrition issues -- such as preventing the anemia afflicting nearly half the world's under-five children, or ending hunger among the poorest billion people.

Ever feel a nagging guilt about the people you've lost touch with over the years? Get back in touch by sharing your new "discovery" and how it connects with your world. Draw connections with what's happening around you -- and inside you.

2. It's all about women and girls!
Women are catalysts for change, whether it's here in the US, Bangladesh, Uganda, or Haiti. We're also the shock absorbers of society. Like it or not, we're often the ones to get up earliest, stop the children from crying, ensure everyone eats, and then take care of our own needs last. In poorer countries, women usually reinvest over 90 percent of their income into their families, while men tend to contribute less.

If you can keep a girl in school and prevent early marriage, she's more likely to have the skills and confidence that makes an empowered woman -- one who's smart enough to make the right decisions, both for herself and those around her, including boys. That's what the Nike Foundation brilliantly dubbed "the girl effect." She's also more likely to enter in healthy relationships -- and let's face it, most of us need those to really thrive.

If you're interested in reading more about extraordinary women in developing countries turning into change-makers for their societies, I recommend Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn -- the first married couple to win a Pulitzer Prize for journalism.

3. Enable entrepreneurship.
Charity has changed. It's no longer just about "giving to the needy," but creating real change. If you're a person concerned about your career, considering starting your own business, or just wondering how to invest your money wisely, you'll feel a natural affinity for people trying to do the same -- even the smallholder farmer in sub-Saharan Africa, who uses an entrepreneurial mindset to confront her own challenges daily. The context is different but the basic concerns are the same: learn, earn, save.

For more about financial empowerment in the developing world, I recommend Freedom From Want, by Ian Smillie, who tells the amazing story of BRAC, the organization I'm proud to be a part of (and to which you can donate here); or The Blue Sweater, by Jacqueline Novogratz, founder of Acumen Fund, a non-profit global venture fund that shares many of the same goals.

4. Examine the basics: health and education.
Christy Turlington Burns is a great example of a woman who connected her own challenges with the wider world. Knowing that too many mothers still die in childbirth for preventable reasons, the supermodel founded Every Mother Counts, a maternal health advocacy organization, after complications during her own child's birth. There are many great organizations to promote health, including our sexual and reproductive health.

Perhaps you were the first in your family to go to college; or maybe you have kids going to college now, or approaching that age. Either way, you have a gut understanding for the importance of education. Look at ways of expanding educational opportunities worldwide: Scholarships work; second-chance schools in fragile states promote peace. You can sign onto Girls Not Brides, the global partnership to end child marriage, or support one of their member organizations.

5. Support legal empowerment and human rights.
Have you ever feared violence in a relationship -- either your own, or that of a loved one? Concerned about having enough money in the bank account (or even having a bank account) after a divorce?

Women struggle with these issues often in far worse circumstances than our own. Legal services, property rights, and access to the justice system can be a winch out of poverty when extended to women in difficult straits. Though you may not have heard of us, the legal empowerment department of BRAC is actually the largest nonprofit legal aid program in the world!

If this issue grabs you, read Zainab Salbi's books - and support organizations like Women for Women International and BRAC, which help women survivors of war rebuild their lives.

Supporting a cause you care about is truly a gift you give yourself.

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