This coming weekend is three days long in America because Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. day. Because King was such a powerful model for being of service to others, a great way to honor his legacy is to do something to give back.
I will actually be flying home from Mexico on Monday, because I’m attending the wedding of one of my dearest friends, so my MLK Day act of service is going to be donating money to a couple of my local candidates and elected officials who do great, hard work to take care of their fellow Rhode Islanders. But hey, that’s the thing about giving back—we all have to do what we can, when we can, and there is no right or wrong way to go about it so long as we are making a concerted, thoughtful effort to service the people, places, and causes we care about.
To help inspire you to figure out what act of service makes the most sense for you this MLK Day, here are four strategies and one mindset adjustment to get you giving back:
Own the Fact That You Matter
Let’s start with the mindset adjustment: It’s awfully easy and tempting to think, what can one person do? But OF COURSE you matter, in so many ways. When you do something to give back, you help the people who directly benefit from your efforts, you help yourself (because you’re walking your talk), you inspire others, and you strengthen the fabric of your community. We’re each like one drop of water that funnel together into a stream, then a river, then an ocean. No drop of water is responsible for keeping things going, but each drop of water builds momentum.
Set a Donation Goal for the Year
We tend to wait to give until the end of the month, or sign-up for volunteer opportunities and then blow it off when we don’t feel inspired once the event rolls around. To help you make giving back a more strategic part of your life, use this MLK Day as an occasion to set a goal for how much you want to give back this year, whether that’s a specific dollar amount, a number of hours, or both. This will help you keep tabs on how generous you’re being and inspire you to pay more attention to this very important part of life that often gets overlooked.
Choose Your Causes
It can be overwhelming to decide how to get involved in giving your time, money, or energy. To narrow your choices and find a good match, consider what you care most about. Boil it down to one or two (no more than three!) causes that move you the most and focus your efforts there. No one person can give as much as is needed to everyone who needs it, so let go of any guilt of not helping more. You don’t need to do it all, you just need to do your part. If we all did that, the impact would be huge.
Look for the Quick Hit
A common—and sensible—reason for not doing more to give back is not having the time. But not everything requires hours. It only takes a minute to buy an extra jar of peanut butter for the food drive at your child’s school, for example, or to drop off a bag of books you no longer read to the local library, or to patronize a store that donates a percentage of its profits. Every little thing you do counts.
Give More Without Giving Too Much
It’s perfectly okay to pitch in at a level that makes sense for you—there are no bonus points for giving till it hurts. If you only have a limited budget for donating, can you make it during a matching grant to make your dollars go further? Or if you can’t make the event, can you share a post on Facebook asking for volunteers? When you find ways to give back that feel good to you, you’ll find more ways to do it.
Showing up when I have something to give is more valuable than me over-committing myself and becoming frazzled.
In Other News
An article I wrote got picked up by the Natural Awakenings magazine in Indianapolis (little known fact; I almost moved to Indianapolis in my 30s to take a job with Girls, Inc. I say almost because I decided to start freelancing as a writer instead.)
Natural Awakenings is such a great resource—this issue is chock full of recipes, advice to ward off aging, and much more that’s not related specifically to the Indianapolis area. You can check it out here (my article is on page 24-25).
Wishing you a fun and fulfilling MLK weekend!