Sitting in my hotel room, mindlessly flipping TV channels, something made me stop. I was suddenly looking into the eyes of an innocent, little boy, no more than 3 years old and ostracized by his community. He had no hope for a job or marriage, and friendships wouldn’t come easy. He was isolated and his life would be hard—simply because of a cleft palate.

I got angry. The simple surgery that would fix his palate, was not accessible for this boy and his family who lived in poverty. 

I had stumbled across a story about a nonprofit organization called Operation Smile who was asking for donations to provide these families with the surgeries.

I wasn’t making a lot of money, but the organization had a $20/month donation level. I calculated if I did this for one year, I would have contributed to surgery for one child (doctors donate their time and skills).

Surely I could sacrifice a frappuccino or two a month so that another human being could have a chance at a normal life. So I signed up to support this worthy cause.

That decision changed me.

Before this, my only ‘giving’ was supporting the local Girl Scout troops when cookie season came and donating to canned food drives during the holidays. 

With my $20/month donation, my mindset shifted 180°. 

How giving back changed me

With every email update I received from Operation Smile, I was reminded that what was for me a small contribution of $20 could go a long way in making a difference for another person. It was humbling.

I started to notice differences in my thinking. When I would start the get envious of a colleague’s new car or my friend’s Caribbean vacation, my thoughts would then turn to the Operation Smile families. I started to recognize that many, many people in this world lived off of far less than I did. 

I started to feel grateful for all that I did have. I realized how lucky I was to have been born into a wealthy country where electricity, running water, a/c, grocery stores filled with an abundance of food, and a closet full of clothes that constantly changed were the norm. 

With every email update, my heart filled with humility and gratitude.

Breaking out of the “I’ll give back when…” mindset

It’s easy to think “I don’t have enough to give back right now”, or “I’ll donate when I make more money.” 

We live in a culture that has us running to keep up with our friends, the latest phone models and constantly changing fashion trends. It never ends.

The truth is if you don’t “have enough” when you’re making $50K/yr, you won’t “have enough” when you’re earning $500K/yr or $5M/yr. You’ll just be chasing fancier cars and more expensive estates.

In fact, studies have shown that wealthy Americans give far less as a percentage of discretionary income than the middle class.

Enough is a mindset.

Now I realized my $20/month donation was just a very small drop in the ocean, but even if it took 1 or 2 years for my contribution to pay for a child’s surgery, that is one person in this world who would have a chance at a better life. I could impact a lifetime for someone. 

And think of this… If 1,000 people all chipped in at that same small level, that would be $20,000/month (or $240,000 a year) that could be helping make a difference at a larger scale.

Most impact and change does not come from one big, grand gesture from a single person, but millions of small actions from individuals like you and me. 

Did you know that in 2017 individuals gave $286.65 billion to support charities, accounting for 70% of all giving? Foundations accounted for 16% of charitable giving and corporations accounted for 5%.

Collectively, we can change the world.

Ways to give back

There is no one answer for how much to give or how to give. It’s personal and different for everyone. The important thing is that you give something. Here are three different ways you can give back:

  1. Donate money
    It doesn’t have to be a lot. Give what you can. Find a cause that touches you and commit to even a small amount. Would you be willing to give up one happy hour or restaurant meal a month for a chance to make the world a better place? If so, consider an auto-donation program with your favorite charity. 
  2. Volunteer your time
    Charities are always looking for volunteer support… a local soup kitchen, a Habitat for Humanity build, a senior home, an animal shelter. A few hours of your time can help local organizations do the critical work they do in your community.   
  3. Share your skills
    Do you have a special skill set? Consider donating your expertise. Can you build a website? Offer your skills to a non-profit that needs website help. Play a musical instrument? Perform and add some ambiance at a nonprofit fundraising event. Do you like art? Teach a class at your local YMCA. Be creative and have fun with this. You never know where there’s a match.

Other benefits of giving back

Giving to charity doesn’t just help others in need. It helps you! Here are three bonus benefits of donating (money, time or skills):

Experience pleasure: There are many scientific studies that show giving back can activate pleasure centers in the brain and make people happier. In plain English, giving to others just feels good.

Tax deductions: Make sure to save your receipts on financial donations you make. Come tax time, you can write those off and lower your own tax bill. Win–win!

Bring more meaning to your life: When you give back, you will train your brain to live in a generous state of mind and you will gain a new perspective on what is most important in life. Trade your feelings of not having enough in for appreciation for the life you’ve been given.

Giving challenge

There is so much need in this world today. From political causes to human rights, from poverty to education, there is someone, somewhere that needs your help today.

If you’re not sure where to start, websites like Great Nonprofits, Philanthropedia, and VolunteerMatch can help point you in the right direction.

Start anywhere. Pick a cause near and dear to your heart. Just start.

Giving back will make you feel rich.

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