Giving is what connects us all
During a presentation about Street Business School (SBS), I asked a group of busy professionals what giving back meant to them. One woman said she had grand plans of becoming more involved with her favorite nonprofit, and instead “ended up just writing another check.”
I had to stop her. She was minimizing the importance of her contribution. Financial investments are the reason nonprofits can exist. These gifts allow organizations to fund programming, pay a living wage, and have bold vision. If everyone who “just wrote a check” decided to stop giving, the entire ecosystem of philanthropy would collapse.
While leading a half-day project with a group of hard-working volunteers, we took a break. I overheard one woman tell another that she was “just a volunteer.”
Volunteers are the lifeblood of nonprofit organizations. SBS volunteers ensure we can send mailings, share our work, and benefit from strategic advice while keeping our operating budget lean. In the name of politeness, I did not insert myself into the volunteers’ conversation. Looking back, I wish I had.
My first weeks at SBS coincided with a big fundraising campaign. I felt brand new and nervous. During and after the campaign I downplayed my own contributions to its success. “Just” was my new favorite word. Even though my team encouraged me, I shied away from accepting the idea that my role was important.
When we use the word “just” to talk about involvement with causes we believe in, we are doing a major disservice, not only to ourselves and the cause, but to the larger ecosystem of philanthropy. On the surface, using the word “just” seems modest, unassuming, or humble. But if we dig deeper, “just” can be dangerous. It lets us remain detached. “Just” erodes our power, shrinking our potential impact to the lowest common denominator of keeping others and ourselves comfortable.
A core piece of SBS leadership training is our focus on confidence as a vital part of women’s empowerment. Through leadership coaching and courses on entrepreneurship development, SBS helps women living in poverty discover the confidence that is already within. In a similar manner, each of us can be emboldened knowing our individual role is crucial to creating the change we ache to see. Empowering women is hard. Ending extreme poverty is hard. No single person holds the entire solution. It is because of donors, volunteers, staff, and entrepreneurs working together that progress happens.
When we connect with a cause we believe in, no matter our role, we plug into something bigger than ourselves. We become part of the story. In subtle and not so subtle ways, our own mindset begins to shift. We start to believe a better future is possible. We see potential and hope where before we saw none. So next time we feel ourselves about to use the word “just,” I challenge each of us to pause and choose another word instead. Because, no matter who we are, we play a vital role in changing the world.
By Nicole Powers, Philanthropy Associate