When people ask me what I want to be when I "grow up" I always say that I want to be a philanthropist; seriously. I want to be in a position where I can give away tons of money to organizations, charities, and groups that I believe in. I want to start my own non-profit, and I want to have something named after me.
I have often joked with my friends that at this point, I could probably only afford to have a bathroom stall named after me. "Greetings, welcome to the Karen A. Kennedy loo. Please, have a seat!"
I think part of my charitable side comes from years of working in non-profit organizations. I've only ever had one for-profit job; I hated it. After the first week of going home every day on the train in tears, I thought it wasn't for me. Then I got my first paycheck and I thought, "I'll learn to like it!"
But the truth was, I didn't learn to like it. For-profit was all about the money. I didn't get the "warm, fuzzy" feeling that I got from working in the non-profit sector. I like the idea of doing work for the greater good. I like feeling like I'm doing something that has a positive impact on my community.
I give to charities when I can. Because I am trying to get a business off the ground and money is extremely tight, there isn't much to spare, but I still give when I can. If I can't give actual dollars to an organization, I get creative.
I donate time when I can; I used to walk rescued greyhounds with my sister; I donate items, cat food, dog treats, and used blankets to the animal shelter; I coupon for the troops. Did you know that military personnel can use expired coupons (up to six months old) at military shopping posts?
The feeling I get by doing good and giving back is worth so much to me.
Just this week I saw a report that showed that people who volunteer feel better about themselves, are generally happier, and are able to manage chronic conditions more successfully. Volunteering gives folks a purpose and that may keep them happier and healthier longer.
I have worked in volunteer management for over 20 years and that has given me the opportunity to see volunteering from the administrative side. But the most rewarding role that volunteering has played in my life is when I've been able to do it myself.
As I'm getting older, I want to be able to do more to leave a legacy behind. I don't have children and I have a very small family, so I always think about what I can leave behind in the world. My biggest fear is that I will die and no one will ever know that I lived.
I'm also a believer in leaving things a little better than you found them. I know I will never cure cancer, solve the debt crisis, or find a way to achieve world peace; but I do know that every day I can do a little something to make my corner of the world a better place.
I dream about hitting the lottery (like most other people probably do) and daydream about all the things I'd be able to do with my winnings. For sure, I'd do things for myself and my family; I'd travel and pay off my bills, and I'd likely move to a nicer place, but that's not what gets me excited.
I get excited when I think about all the ways my new-found fortune could be used to help others. Maybe set up a scholarship for kids heading off to college, build a new wing at an animal shelter, buy school supplies for kids that can't afford them, and donate meals to a homeless shelter.
If you're like me, a philanthropist with no money, don't despair. Start thinking about the one or two things you can do to make your little corner of the world a bit nicer.
Here's a few of my favorites that I do when I can:
• Pay the toll for the car behind you
• Buy coffee for a co-worker
• Stay late to help someone with a project so they can go home and spend time with their kids
• Take a tray of cookies to a police station for the officers that have to work on a holiday
• Take toys to a children's hospital
• Invite a co-worker out for a walk when you know they are feeling stressed
• Take a basket of fruit to a neighbor when you know they need a pick me up
• Give someone the gift of your time; run errands for them, help them with chores, or spend time just really listening when you know they need it.
Some of these things cost money, some don't; you don't have to break the bank to practice philanthropy. There's really only one thing you truly need and that is to care. And really, when you think about it, you can't put a price tag on caring.