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Philanthropy as a Strategy for Getting Ahead

Philanthropy as a Strategy for Getting Ahead

By Debra B. Davenport

We've all heard that it's better to give than to receive and that we get by giving -- but did you know these adages are especially true when it comes to your career?

For those who feel especially fulfilled by giving back and reaching out to those less fortunate, your worthy efforts can also make a meaningful contribution to your professional development. Following are ideas that might spur you to action.


Volunteering provides an excellent opportunity to "try on" a new job or career to see if it fits. If you're pondering a career change, take a volunteer role in the types of positions you're investigating. Considering a new career in public relations? Volunteer to write a press release for a nonprofit's PR department.

Looking into teaching careers? Volunteer in a community-outreach and educational program and help deliver seminars to those in need. Most charitable organizations offer an abundance of possibilities for people looking to build new skills, develop contacts and investigate new career paths.

Be Strategic

Strategic philanthropy can put you in the power seat. Of course you want to support those organizations that have special meaning to you. But you don't have to limit the scope of your involvement. For example, don't be shy about offering to serve on a board of directors. Often, charitable organizations are hard-pressed to find dedicated people to help lead their efforts.

Contact the current chairperson and inquire if a board position will be coming available. If so, express your interest in serving and perhaps suggest a lunch meeting to start building that relationship. Alternatively, volunteer to spearhead a committee or major project. Everyone involved will naturally be contacting you. This is a great strategy for putting yourself out there and helping people get to know you and your talents.

What Are You Good At?

Sharing your natural abilities can take your career to the next level. Do you have great people and sales skills? Raise money. You can gain considerable media coverage and cachet in the professional arena by generating noteworthy donations. Make note of your community's "heavy hitters." Some of the most notable people in your area may have achieved their status through fund-raising for their favorite charities.

Keep in mind, too, that as a fund-raising representative for your favorite cause, you now have a legitimate reason to contact key people whom you may not have felt comfortable approaching before. Successful fund-raising is also often acknowledged through a variety of awards programs. Imagine how gratifying it would feel to be honored with an award for your selfless efforts.

Generosity Opens Doors

One more tip: Although it's not widely talked about, many high-powered philanthropic positions are "pay to play." You either need to make a significant donation, or you need to raise substantial funds in order to have the opportunity to network in the more exclusive circles. Be discreet when inquiring about an organization's upper echelon and remember that, first and foremost, you're there to serve.

The caveat: It goes without saying that true altruism comes from the heart and a genuine spirit of giving -- anything less is merely self-serving.

[Debra Davenport is president of DavenportFolio, a licensed firm with offices in Phoenix and Los Angeles that provides high-level career counseling and Certified Professional Mentoring to professionals and entrepreneurs. She is the creator of the Certified Professional Mentor(R) designation.]

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