I am not naturally a very charitable person. I like to think that I'm giving to my family and friends, emotionally without reserve and financially with only some reserve. But for someone so socially and politically conscious and opinionated, I have largely failed to put my money where my mouth is -- that is, to contribute financially to the issues that are important to me.
Despite being a vocal civil libertarian, I've been tossing renewal pleas from the ACLU into the recycle bin for a decade. I joined once when I was 17 and easily swayed, in this case by a scene from the movie "The American President." I did contribute once to a local conservation group. Although I'm an environmentalist, it wasn't because of my values -- I just happened to answer the door for a solicitor on the day my cat died, and wasn't emotionally composed enough to beg off.
This haphazard and half-hearted approach to charity has become an increasingly untenable contradiction, considering that I recently celebrated the five-year anniversary of the start of my career -- at a charitable foundation. In my professional capacity I've personally helped give more than $5 million in grants to a group of incredible non-profit organizations dedicated to making the world more just and sustainable. Privy to their financial statements, I also know firsthand how nonprofits have struggled mightily through the recession, at the same time their services are needed more than ever.
Yet all the while, my professional and personal selves remained at odds. I'd spend my work days immersed in progressive social change issues, and on my own time I'd opine about my favorite causes -- from marriage equality to pollution of local wetlands -- while not contributing a penny of my own to try and change them.
Needless to say, both the skills and the sentiment involved in giving away someone else's money for a living should translate to the practice of personal philanthropy as well. And so, though I certainly lack the resources of my employer, I've committed myself to start giving my money to causes that are close to my heart.