Act Like a Philanthropist! 3 Effective Ways to Give Your Money & Start Building Wealth

by Ebonie Johnson Cooper, Chief Millennial Officer of Friends of Ebonie


The idea of redefining philanthropy comes up quite a bit these days, particularly for millennials. I get it, we want to demystify the stigma attached to traditional philanthropy and what it looks like- old, white, wealthy, or wealthy and white or just wealthy. We want to put some color on the word and the action. We want to make it young, hip and fun. We want to make it transparent and tangible. We want the act of philanthropy to look and behave more like us. However, does that mean we eliminate the money – the part of philanthropy that makes it philanthropy? I wasn’t sure how I felt about money being necessary to define the modern-day philanthropist. But now, I’m sure.

At the Cleveland Foundation’s Centennial event in D.C. back in May, the topic of modern-day philanthropy came up in a conversation I was a part of. One of the conversation participants said blatantly, “if you only give your time, you are a volunteer not a philanthropist.” I paused, and looked at her and said, “you are so right.” This wasn’t the first time I heard this but this time, it hit me.

photo (4)
Me with Mrs. Lewis. She’s so awesome!

More confirmation came last night when I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Mrs. Loida Lewis, the widow of Reginald Lewis, at her home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. To say the night was serendipitous is an understatement. (More on that on my new blog next week) Mrs. Lewis shared stories of life, love, faith and yes, philanthropy and wealth- building. “Don’t forget to create wealth for yourself,” Mrs. Lewis told us. “10% [of what you make] is not yours. Give that away. 10% belongs to God. Give it to Him,” she continued. How confirming to hear this from her!

I have grown to strongly believe that in order for philanthropy to be achievable and sustainable within our generation we must learn how to give our money AND we must also learn how to give our time in an effective way. Modern-day philanthropy isn’t an either /or equation it’s an AND / BOTH formula.

Let me put it in context. You and your friends head out to a lounge or to the hottest new restaurant. The line is long and the wait to get a table is even longer. A gentleman and a few friends walk up to the door, hand the hostess a few nondescript bills and presto, they walk right in. Think about the power of financial giving like that. The bigger the check, the bigger the influence. The bigger the influence, the bigger the power. The bigger the power the greater the change.

At this year’s Changing the Face of Philanthropy Summit we talked a lot of about giving money. In fact, Mike Muse kicked off Day 1 of the Summit with a talk about the power of money. The day ended with a session on wealth building and budgeting from Wells Fargo Advisors. During the reception, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture gave an exclusive presentation on the upcoming museum and its Ambassador program- which I am a proud member. From these presentations, you learned that without financial giving, change is impossible.

You won’t be considered a modern-day philanthropist by only giving your money because that makes you just like the traditional folks we’re looking to evolve from. And you can’t expect to be considered an influential philanthropist by only giving your time, that makes you a stellar volunteer. Most importantly, giving your money helps you to build wealth.

You’re probably asking, well how can I learn to give more of my money to balance things out a bit? Here are three easy ways to give your money in effective ways:

1. Join a young professionals membership circle.

Many non-profits have begun to recognize the power of millennial engagement. Those that have have established giving and membership levels to accommodate our budgets. Most require at least an annual $250 gift; $250 demonstrates your commitment to an organization. Some provide leadership or committee leadership opportunities. Almost all require the group to host a signature fundraising event solo or in conjunction with the major board. Organizations to look into include: Alvin Ailey, Lincoln Center, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture.

2. Join or create a giving circle.

The power of collective giving lives in a giving circle. Pooled financial resources go farther and create a greater opportunity for community building and engagement. Giving circle membership amounts vary but all have a set of specifications regarding dues and how money (and in some cases, time) is given. This is a great way to turn a mid-size donation into a large impact.

3. Commit to donating at least $100 to two organizations per year.

Select one area that you’re passionate about. Identify at least two organizations that provide services and programs to that cause. Instead of giving $5, $10 and $20 donations to organizations you don’t really care about, make a bigger impact with one lump sum donation to the two that you do.

Trust me. This is all attainable. I’ll be launching my philanthropy coaching for young professionals in the fall where we can work together to carve out a plan for you and your civic engagement. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, start to build your wealth now. You’ll thank yourself for it in ten years.

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