If you’re curious by nature, perhaps you’d like a new adventure. Since you have money to play with, maybe you’d like to play at something you’ve never played before. Maybe you’d like to get to know yourself a bit better. Or maybe you'd like to change many, many lives for the better, for generations to come?
I’ll make you a bet. Follow my advice here, and I promise you that your life will never be the same again. You’ll have newfound energy and meaning in your life. You’ll meet extraordinary people from very diverse backgrounds. And you’ll learn more about yourself than you could ever imagine. If you follow my advice and I’m wrong, you can tell me and everyone else so in my blog post. (If I’m right, you can also say so.)
Here are the first steps to putting some of your newfound wealth to work, for good.
PHASE ONE: INTROSPECTION
1. Think about what makes you curious.
Consider global, national, and/or regional issues that have captured your attention in the media and discussions with your friends. Environment, such as energy renewal; social justice and human rights, perhaps related to LGBT, women, fair trade, employment; education and technology; cultural arts; politics; and so on. Developing countries or domestic. Regional. Neighborhood and grassroots.
2. Think about what touches your heart.
Consider people for whom you’d like to help provide greater opportunities: children, youth, seniors, immigrants, vulnerable populations such as children with disabilities, people in underserved countries or communities, women who are abused, people who are incarcerated, and so on.
3. Think about the problems you want to help solve.
Most people have many interests. Another way to look at this is to think about global and regional challenges that you might want to play a part in solving. For example, you might be moved by children with cancer because of a personal family experience, but you might feel more suited to work on addressing global water issues or fostering invention and entrepreneurship.
4. Think about how to bring about change.
If you’ve seen the power of social media in changing how people interact, you might like NGOs that use mobile technologies to improve market opportunities for people in developing countries. This is one of Omidyar Network’s investment areas. If, however, your background is in human resources or public policy, you might particularly value leadership development programs to empower people who were previously disenfranchised. The African Leadership Academy is an example.
PHASE II: RESEARCH
5. List three areas of interest for your initial attention.
You can be broad: global development. You can be focused: job programs serving your local community.
6. Explore various approaches that people and organizations are taking to solve them. Through Twitter, blogs, books, lectures. Begin to form some opinions.
For example, in global development, two distinctively different approaches are presented by Jeffrey Sachs vs. William Easterly. They both have seminal books presenting their approaches, and they are both lively bloggers and Twitterers. Another thought leader in global development is David Bornstein.
In some cases, these individuals and their theories of change are tied to particular NGOs. Bill Easterly with GlobalGiving, where I serve on the NY Leadership Council. David Bornstein with BRAC, which I wrote about here. Then there is Hernando de Soto and The Mystery of Capital. DeSoto is the Founder and Chairman of the Institute of Liberty and Democracy.
7. Meet with people. Visit some organizations.
Ultimately, you will learn the most by visiting a variety of nonprofits and seeing their work on the ground. That can include visiting organizations in your community, as well as abroad. Meet and talk with the staff to learn about their approaches.
PHASE III: ENGAGEMENT
8. Volunteer and contribute.
If you want to engage on a personal level, and you wish to really add value, the best way is to meet with the CEO or the development staff and have a conversation about that. For most nonprofits, there are many ways that you can be useful, from providing technical assistance, to serving on the board, being a spokesperson, serving as an advocate, fundraising among your friends, and so on. Without doubt, whatever you decide to do, you can help an organization to achieve its vision in making the world a better place. Matt Damon chose Charity: Water and has become a powerful advocate, spokesperson, donor, and fundraiser.
9. Create a private foundation.
Some of you will want to consider establishing a private foundation. You can make financial contributions from the foundation based on the priorities you determine according to my suggested approach.
10. Establish your own nonprofit.
If you don’t discover a nonprofit that addresses the issues that are meaningful to you in ways that you think are effective, you can establish your own nonprofit, or even an LC3. The downside is that you will be funding the infrastructure expenses of an entirely new social enterprise. The upside is that you can create something entirely of your own making. Julia Ormond established her own nonprofit and has been a highly effective advocate to stop slavery and end trafficking.
Choosing your issue, and where and how to become involved is an extraordinary journey. One of my corporate board candidates was deliberating over which of three nonprofit boards to join. He finally sighed and exclaimed, "Wow, this is like a process of self-discovery."
Another high-powered Wall Street executive whom I placed on a national board told me with great exhilaration that he is working with a Native American chief on solving what had previously seemed to be intractable issues of homelessness and poverty. This board member has been asked to chair the board—a unique leadership opportunity to impact hundreds of thousands of people in need.
Yet others are involved with organizations that range from global to grassroots, each contributing in their own way, engaging deeply with people from all walks of life and from around the world.
Finding your own unique way to give back can be one of the great adventures of your life. You will meet some of the most dedicated, exuberant, brilliant problem-solvers you’ve ever encountered. You will help improve lives and the world. And you will never be the same again.
[Image: Flickr user Josh Libatique]