Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: “What are you doing for others?”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
For many individuals, “giving” doesn’t mean just giving financially. In the broadest sense, philanthropy includes gifts of time, talents, or knowledge, as well as checks, gifts of stock, property, or assets donated in their legacy planning. Not everyone who gives fancies themselves philanthropists—as we learned in our I’m not Rockefeller study, even ultra-high-net-worth individuals sometimes shy away from the term. However, no matter how or how much you choose to give, one question that we hear repeatedly from all donors is:
Did I make a meaningful impact in the lives of others?
Luckily, today is MLK Day of Service, which means that you have a chance to join hundreds of thousands of Americans in making a difference in communities around the country. Founded in 1994, MLK Day of Service is a call to arms for all Americans as a day of citizen action and volunteer service in honor of Dr. King. Many nonprofits, universities, religious and community centers are organizing opportunities for individuals to give their time within their neighborhoods. (For those in the Penn community see here and here.) On the national level, there are also virtual and micro-volunteer tasks for those who can’t make it out, or only have a few minutes to spare.
Volunteering is an important way to connect us to others, often reminding us that what unites us far exceeds that which divides us. In addition, volunteering makes a significant impact when placed within the larger context of philanthropic giving:
- In 2011, 64.3 million Americans volunteered through an organization, an increase of 1.5 million from 2010—and the highest number in more than five years. This translates into almost 7.9 billion hours of service—an estimated economic value of almost $171 billion.
- Volunteering and financial giving are often linked: Among high net worth donors who volunteered between 100-200 hours gave the highest average amount of money as well—approximately $100K.
- Furthermore, the majority of Americans informally volunteered by assisting their neighbors in some way and more than a third actively participated in a civic, religious, or school group. It goes to show that there are plenty of opportunities to serve others—and make a meaningful impact—no farther than your own backyard.