The Gift of Giving

There are as many reasons to make charitable donations as there are people and communities in need. Researchers even say giving will make you happier — scientific proof of the old adage that it is better to give than to receive. But if you are still searching for a reason to make a contribution to a worthy or cause organization — during this season of giving, or any time of year — consider these words from a wise friend of mine, “Making a donation is like casting a vote.” She is right — it is a way of being counted. It is a civic action that says to the world, as well as to your family, and especially your children: This cause matters. This institution matters. I believe in this.

Charitable giving is powerful regardless of the size of the gift. As CEO and Co-Founder of City Year, a national education-focused service organization, I know this firsthand. In the 27 years since our founding, more than 25,000 City Year AmeriCorps members have served for a year in 28 cities nationally, along with alumni from City Year affiliates in South Africa and the United Kingdom. Many of our alums, moved by the transformational impact their service has had — not only on the students and schools they serve, but also on their own development — make a donation to help create an opportunity for future corps members to serve. Often these are modest gifts. They are also tremendously meaningful, and help build our community.

And giving is undoubtedly about more than voting with your dollars, it is also about voting with your time. At City Year, we often talk about “Ubuntu,” a Zulu concept that translates to “I am a person through other people. My humanity is tied to yours.” There are so many ways to embody the spirit of Ubuntu — mentoring a young person, giving your time to help an organization, reaching out across social divides to connect with others, or — I never miss an opportunity to suggest — devoting a year to full-time, high-impact service.

While voting — in the political realm — is a secret ballot and a solitary act, giving is often best when it is a family affair. Everyone can enter the voting booth together. At this time of year, use the act of giving — money or time — as an opportunity to bring your family together, discuss your values, and decide together where you will cast your votes, where you will make a difference.

Michael Brown is CEO and Co-Founder of City Year. To learn more, visit www.cityyear.org.