Gallagher: What cause gives you a ‘warm glow?’ | AspenTimes.com

Gallagher: What cause gives you a ‘warm glow?’

R.J. Gallagher
Philantopia

"It's never too late to be who you might have been." — George Eliot

The holidays are a wonderful time of the year. Gathering with family and friends. Appreciating and expressing gratitude for the blessings we have been given. Reflecting on the peaks and valleys of our lives and taking stock in our personal and professional accomplishments.

It's also the perfect time of year to take a hard look at how we have made a difference for others and make a game plan on how we can continue to give back in the coming new year.

According to the Quarterly Journal of Economics, every year 90 percent of Americans donate to charities. Philanthropy, the studies show, increases what experts call a "warm glow" for those who are inclined to be active philanthropists. I like that term, "warm glow." It resonates with me and accurately describes how I feel when I get involved and put my money and time where my heart is. I also really like that 90 percent of Americans are supporting charities and causes in one way or another. The number surprised me in a good way. It speaks volumes with regard to what makes our country special and such a great place to call home.

If 90 percent of Americans are already experiencing the "warm glow," what do we need to do to up the ante and make our world an even better place for all? I think it starts with developing a personal philanthropy plan. Taking a good look at ourselves and really analyzing our personal and professional resources and how we can best make a sustainable impact by providing our time, skills, money and networks and capitalize on our personal generosity.

I have my plan for 2014, and I am focusing on the children of our valley. Among other deserving child-focused charities, I will be giving a donation to the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club. I am also on the board of the club, and I continue to be amazed at the positive impact this organization has on our valley's children. The programs provided by the club go far beyond the on-mountain experience, and it attracts participants from every community in our valley and many from beyond our backyards.

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I think that Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club Snowboard coach Tim Ward summed up the spirit and mission of the club in a recent Aspen Times article when he reflected his focus as a coach for AVSC: "It's more (about) developing relationships with the kids and mentoring them and helping them grow as people, as well," Ward said. "We grow really good people first and really good athletes second. … I feel very blessed to have that opportunity to participate in these young people's lives so much."

Well said, Tim.

Now, back to that plan. Do some research, and make sure that your valuable dollars and invaluable time are focused on causes that you are passionate about. From personal experience, I have found that the more engaged I am with my philanthropic goals, the warmer the glow is for me. Ask yourself the following questions when you are researching nonprofits:

• Are there a clear strategy and a realistic goal established?

• How do they evaluate their programs?

• Do they have a track record of success?

• What percentage of their funding is utilized for staffing and administrative costs versus making the actual difference for those the organization is attempting to help?

Ask those you respect why they support the organizations they do. You also can research most nonprofits online. Two great resources are the websites GiveWell and Charity Navigator. The bottom line is that the more discovery you do, the stronger the impact you will eventually have for the organization and its causes.

Enjoy the holiday season, and celebrate the gift of giving by giving back. It truly is the greatest gift you can give. And the "warm glow" that you will receive in return will make the holidays even brighter.

Philantopia is a monthly column in The Aspen Times focused on philanthropy and community involvement. R.J. Gallagher Jr. is a three-decade resident of the Roaring Fork Valley community. He has served on numerous nonprofit boards including the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club, The Aspen Community Foundation and Komen Aspen. His firm, Forte International, is a supporter of local philanthropy that makes a difference on a global level. You can reach out to him at rjg@forteinternational.net.