When I graduated from college five years ago, I pledged to make a personally significant donation every year to a cause that meant something to me. Since then, it has made me more thankful and more aware of how I want the world to change. My personal growth is why I believe everyone would benefit from creating a giving pledge.
I started the pledge not knowing about how it would change me. I had just graduated from college and was fortunate enough to get a great job as an early engineer at a travel startup. Upon reflecting, I realized that a large part of why I got the job stemmed from programs that supported me when I was younger. Because of this, I wanted to return the favor and support similar programs so other kids would benefit in the way that I did.
The first donation
My first gift was to the Smithsonian ImaginAsia Program, a free-of-charge program where kids create art projects related to museum exhibits. I volunteered for the program over the course of six years (including a summer internship) and I saw first-hand how excited kids were to express themselves through art and how thankful parents were that such a program was free.
Japanese Woodblock Printing in the ImaginAsia Program (image by Smithsonian Institution)
The program meant a lot to me personally because of how much I grew from being around the program lead, Stephen. He was the epitome of leading by example: he was kind to everyone and dedicated his career to a cause he believed in. It was a no-brainer for me to support both him and the program.
The toughest part was choosing how much to give. I ended up settling on $1,000, and to be completely honest, I immediately got cold feet about the donation after seeing the dollar amount written on a check. It was more than my monthly rent or a roundtrip ticket to China! However, I followed through with the pledge, and delivered the check to Stephen myself. He was extremely thankful, and I was glad to have made the donation.
I decided to choose a new organization every year, as there were many great initiatives that I wanted to support. After the third donation, I realized that all of my donations had gone towards youth education, so I made that the focus of my giving.
Since my financial situation changes every year, I've allowed myself to be flexible with the amount I give. I define a donation to be personally significant if the amount itself makes me second guess whether I should give it.
Some of the organizations I have given to
I'm in the fifth year of my pledge now; check out all of the organizations I have given to! To make more of a sustainable impact, I modified my pledge so that the personally significant amount is reflective of all donations I make in a year. This allows me to continue to support organizations I've already supported, which is better for the organizations since they can depend on my donation.
Discovering what you care about
I feel the biggest benefit of this pledge is that I've gained an understanding of how I want the world to change. A donation is not just a gift; it's an investment. When you are forced to give away an amount that's personally significant, you care more about figuring out where you want to invest in.
I'm proud to invest in youth education, because I see it as a major factor that shaped my personality. Not only did these programs help me work on skills like math and Mandarin, but they also developed foundational traits like curiosity, problem solving, and perseverance that will last with me forever. I will be forever thankful for this impact.
I can't say enough about this pledge, and I think everyone would personally benefit from creating a giving pledge. Taking the initiative to figure out what you care about, and then supporting that cause, is invaluable and leads to a more supportive society. While I'm fortunate that I am able to give money, what you give doesn't have to be money. It could be giving your time or your skills.
Everyone has something they could give to benefit others, but it's up to them to create the habit of giving it.