The best thing about summer is all the free time that comes with it. But in between the barbeques, family vacations and afternoons by the pool, consider taking some time this summer to give back. After all, giving to others is an intrinsic part of true wealth, so spend some time this summer enriching the lives of those in your community.
For this installment of Ally Bank’s Summer Well Spent, we spoke to Meg Guroff, a features editor at AARP The Magazine, for her thoughts on the best ways for you and your family to donate your time and money to worthy causes.
Where to Start?
Many of us have causes and charities close to our hearts. But if you’re at a loss as to where you can make an impact this summer, Guroff suggests looking for resources online.
“We actually have something on AARP.com called the Volunteer Wizard,” Guroff says. “You can tell it what you’re interested in – animals, poverty, the environment – and it will help you figure out what kind of volunteer opportunities are available to you.”
AARP also has a site called Create the Good, which allows you to search for volunteer opportunities by region so you can see where you can make a difference in your town or neighborhood.
This Summer’s Worthy Causes
If you’re still wondering where help is needed, Guroff notes that there are great organizations out there fighting poverty and homelessness and promoting animal welfare, who need hands and money all year round. But if you’re looking for a summer-specific cause, Guroff says tutoring programs are a good place to start.
“There’s this thing called ‘summer learning loss’ where children forget some of what they learned over the school year,” Guroff says, “Kids who don’t have access to camps and other enrichment programs forget more. Meanwhile, kids who do have these more enriching experiences just learn that much more. It’s part of why kids in lower income neighborhoods tend to get further behind in school.”
Guroff suggests finding a tutoring program that allows you to work with underprivileged kids a few times a week. It’s a great way to share your knowledge and help someone less fortunate to get a head start on a bright future.
Get the Kids (or Grandkids) Involved
If you have children or grandchildren, you know that with summer vacation comes an abundance of free time. Guroff suggests getting them involved in your summer giving. As volunteers, not only will they contribute an extra set of hands, but they’ll have an experience that can last a lifetime.
“When you’re young, you’re developing your priorities and starting to broaden your view of who you are and how you can contribute,” Guroff says. “There’s been a lot of research that shows how important having a sense of meaning is to being a happy human being. And it doesn’t start when you’re an adult – it starts with habits that you can develop as a child.”
Guroff notes that a recent AARP article about ways to have fun during the summer named training for a charity walk with your family as a great way to bring you closer together while also allowing you to give back.
Even if your kids are too young to get actively involved, the example you set by working for others can have a profound effect on them.
“In our culture, we’re taught to give quietly,” Guroff says. “But at the same time, if your kids don’t see you doing it, then you’re not doing everything you can do to set a good example for them. So it’s important to find a way – without being too braggy – to show them that you are volunteering, why you chose certain organizations, and what you get out of it.”
Time vs. Money
It’s an age-old question that comes with volunteering: Is it more effective to give time or money to the causes you care about? Guroff notes that there are definite benefits to both.
“As someone who is a volunteer and a board member, I can tell you money is great,” she says. “I wouldn’t want to say that volunteering your time is better or worse than donating money – these are things that charities need both of.” Guroff notes that money plays a crucial role in just about any charity organization, and to not shy away from writing a check to a worthy cause just because you think it’s impersonal.
But, she adds, “If you’re talking about kids developing priorities, obviously being hands-on with people that you’re serving is going to broaden the perspective of a child who may be meeting people in need and understanding their needs for the first time.”
“Giving your time can have profound effects that extend beyond simply lending an extra set of hands,” she notes, citing a men’s shelter she works with where volunteers cook and dine side-by-side with the homeless. “It’s just very moving,” she says. “When you can understand people as human beings who are down on their luck and need a helping hand, it’s completely different from just writing a check. It’s much more immediate.”
Making Sure Your Donation is Well Spent
Every charity allocates their money differently. If you want to know how various charitable organizations use the money they receive from donors, Guroff suggests checking out Charity Navigator, GuideStar, and the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, all of which offer up information on a wide range of charities to help you make an informed financial donation.
The Lesser-Known Benefits of Giving Back
While there is no shortage of reasons for why giving back is a great way to spend your time and money, Guroff notes that a recent study found that giving back leads to better physical and mental health.
What will you do this summer to give back to those in your community? When it comes to charitable giving, do you prefer to donate time, money or both?