Kelly Greene, a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal in New York, considered how individuals can change the world on a limited budget. She notes that one of the the best methods was through a volunteer vacation with Globe Aware. Read the Dec. 20, 2010 article in its entirety:
How to Change the Worldâ€¦
â€¦Whatever the size of your wallet. These ideas, with budgets from $20 to $20,000, can help better the lives of others' and your own.
By KELLY GREENE
Got any plans for next week? Perhaps you could begin changing the world.
Yes, household budgets remain tight. But you don’t have to be a lottery winner to make a difference in your community or halfway around the globe. People who are winding down first or primary careers and looking for new directions are discovering that for the cost of a weekend getaway, they can help change the world. Or start to.
Bob and Jo Link, for instance, retirees in Portland, Ore., serve on a nonprofit board that awards scholarships in Belize. Mr. Link, age 69, also troubleshoots computer problems for African refugees. This after the couple spent two years in the Peace Corps, helped with Hurricane Katrina cleanup, assembled computers for schools in Guatemala and worked with deaf orphans in Peru.
The cost to them? A few plane tickets, some scholarship donations and sweat equity.
“When you do this kind of stuff, you get back more than you really expect,” Mr. Link says. “A lot of people wouldn’t, or couldn’t, put two years into the Peace Corps, but they could afford to spend a week in Peru.”
We decided to look for ways that people, whatever the size of their savings, can change the lives of others' and their own. So go ahead: Pick one of the following budgets and write it on your calendar: “CTW.”
$100 and Under
SERVICE PROGRAMS: In some cases, you actually can get paid while you’re helping to make a difference.
With the help of DonorsChoose, students in a school in New Haven, Conn., received new musical instruments to form a school band.
The Links, for instance, earned $300 apiece each month in the Peace Corps, where about 7% of the organization’s volunteers last year were age 50-plus. Closer to home, AmeriCorps, one of the largest national-service programs, is aiming for 10% of its 85,000 participants to be at least 55 years old' up from 4% in fiscal 2009.
AmeriCorps volunteers receive federal stipends averaging $11,800 for a commitment of 10 months to a year. They can also receive education grants of as much as $5,350, which, starting this year, they can transfer to their grandchildren, says Patrick Corvington, chief executive of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the agency that runs AmeriCorps. Work varies from part-time service in a volunteer’s own community to full-time opportunities across the country. Options include helping to rebuild communities on the Gulf Coast and installing solar-electric systems in low-income California neighborhoods.
BECOME A LENDER: For what you spend today on lunch, “microfinance” allows you to play a big role in jump-starting modest entrepreneurial undertakings around the world' whether it’s boosting inventory at a produce stand in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, or providing additional nets to fishermen in Cambodia.
Farmers in Peru, with assistance from Heifer International, are able to afford cattle to help plow and seed their fields.
If you’re interested in lending to an individual entrepreneur overseas, Kiva.org lets you choose the borrower on its website. If the loans are paid back, you can fund another loan, donate the proceeds to Kiva or get your money back. DonorsChoose.org, where you can pick a classroom project to fund with as little as $1, sifts proposals by cost, school poverty level and subject. Requests might include $140 for dry-erase markers or $2,000 for camcorders and laptops for budding filmmakers.
Heifer International, through which $20 buys a flock of chickens or $5,000 delivers an “ark” of animals to a family or village in Asia or Africa, finds that many people age 50-plus seek out the cause around holidays. Then, as they learn more about it, many wind up joining study tours to the communities raising the animals, coordinating fund-raising efforts in the U.S., or working at several Heifer learning centers, says Steve Stirling, executive vice president for marketing in Little Rock, Ark.
$300 to $4,000
GIVING CIRCLES: One way to get more bang for your charity buck is to join a so-called giving circle, a group with a common interest that pools its resources and collectively decides where to put its combined money to work.
In the 1960s, Sally Bookman studied social anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. Now she leads a Dining for Women chapter with two dozen women, many of them retirees, attending monthly dinners in Santa Cruz, Calif. At each meeting, they eat a potluck dinner and chip in about $30 each to support women entrepreneurs in developing countries.
The national Dining for Women group, based in Greenville, S.C., picks the cause du jour and sends educational materials to local chapters. But the members’ life experience gives the gatherings their flavor, says Ms. Bookman, 67. “At one meeting we were learning about women in a remote village in the jungle in Peru, and one of our members had been to that village for three days with her husband,” she says.
If you join a giving circle, you can choose simply to write checks, or take a more active role researching where the circle’s money might have the most impact.
“VOLUNTOURISM”: Trips on which people do volunteer work, typically overseas, have exploded in number and type in recent years.
How do you choose among the estimated 10,000 trips out there? Ask how the work you do will fit into the overall scope of the on-the-ground project, says Alexia Nestora, founder of Voluntourism Gal, an industry blog. If you’re working with children, ask how what you do will build on what the previous volunteer did. (You don’t want to be the 20th volunteer to teach them to sing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” in English, for example.) Also make sure the operator provides emergency medical insurance and has an employee living in the country who speaks English in case of political upheaval or a natural disaster.
Mark Sanger, a 58-year-old retired transportation engineer in La Grande, Ore., has taken several weeklong trips with Globe Aware, a Dallas nonprofit that coordinates volunteer travel work. In a tiny Costa Rican village, his crew slept in A-frame cabins and helped villagers build housing in hopes of drawing national-park tourists and generating additional income. He also spent time eating meals in local families’ homes, where you could “see how they interact with their kids, what pictures they have on their walls.” He enjoyed his next trip even more, teaching English to children in Cambodia.
“It was like a whole other world opened up to me,” he says. “There’s a sense of adventureâ€¦without your life in danger every day. It’s a nice balance of doing something interesting, exciting, different and incredibly rewarding.”
Your room, board and airfare in some cases are tax-deductible if you travel with a nonprofit. Vincent Mirrione, 69, of Newman, Calif., has taken seven trips with Cross-Cultural Solutions, a nonprofit operator in New Rochelle, N.Y., for six to eight weeks at a time. His work at a Guatemala soup kitchen and orphanage, Russian senior centers and a project that Mother Teresa started in India have wound up costing about $300 a week after the tax break, he says.
BACK TO SCHOOL: Retraining, as a classroom teacher, for instance, can jump-start a second career as well as benefit others.
“Green,” of course, is hot. Clover Park Technical College, Lakewood, Wash., offers a number of environmental-sustainability programs, which include cla ssroom study and hands-on field work. The programs last 12 weeks to two years, depending on an individual’s goals.
Pam Kirchhofer, 49, enrolled there in a 15-month sustainable-building program after she was laid off as a personal-finance counselor. The attraction: “You’re helping people save money by conserving energy and resources, andâ€¦you’re being a good steward of the Earth,” she says. The tough part: “I haven’t had a math class in 28 years, and we just did an energy audit of this woman’s house using algebraic equations.”
$5,000 to $10,000
JOIN A BOARD: A director on a board? You? Why not?
“Almost half of all nonprofit board seats never get filled. Nonprofits would love to have more qualified candidates, but they don’t know how to tap into really talented people in the community,” says David Simms, a partner with Bridgespan Group in Boston, which advises nonprofits. (One new resource for a board-seat search: The websites where nonprofits place want-ads for volunteers also are starting to post vacant board seats.)
Bonnie R. Harrison, 61, a retired Corning Inc. executive, became involved with Southern Tier Hospice in Corning, N.Y., after serving as her father’s caregiver while he was also receiving hospice services. To join the board, Ms. Harrison asked her father’s hospice nurse to write a recommendation. Shortly after Ms. Harrison retired last year, the hospice board’s chairwoman stepped down, and Ms. Harrison was asked to take her place.
“The challenge of working along with the board, the staff and different organizations has been a great help in making the transition away from a high-pressured job,” she says.
BECOME A BENEFACTOR: So, you like the idea of having a charitable vehicle to help others, but you aren’t Bill Gates. Consider a donor-advised fund, a good tool for people who want to give away amounts starting at about $5,000 a year.
Such funds can be set up through big financial-service companies, like Fidelity Investments, as well as university, religious and community foundations. The fund will invest your assets and make grants based on your guidance. Typically, you become eligible for an immediate tax deduction.
“It might be a little more than you can handle doing on your own, yet you don’t want to set up the superstructure of a foundation,” says John Gomperts, the recently named director of AmeriCorps. “You might go to a community foundation and say, ‘I want to give this money away, and I care about the humane care of animals, so please give me some suggestions and administer this for me.’ “
$20,000 and Up
START A NONPROFIT: You have a cause you’re passionate about, and nobody seems to be tackling it. So you dream of starting a nonprofit to that end. Expect to spend at least $10,000 to $20,000 on start-up costs, including the legal expenses involved in creating an organization and asking the government to grant you a tax exemption, called 501(c)3 status.
First question: Are you sure there are no similar efforts? The U.S. has about 1.5 million nonprofits, and “many of them are doing phenomenal work,” says Mr. Simms in Boston.
If your idea truly is unique, try to find a community foundation to “incubate your effort so that you can worry about the service you want to provide” instead of setting up the business end, says Christopher Stone, faculty director of the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.
Elaine Santore is the 59-year-old co-founder of Umbrella of the Capital District, a Schenectady, N.Y., organization that helps older adults, in part by matching them with retirees-turned-handymen. She and her partner jump-started the program before receiving their not-for-profit status. “I would clean houses if need be, and he would mow yards,” she says. “It’s good to be hands-on at first so you know what it’s like.”
ENDOW A SCHOLARSHIP: What if you win the lottery, or your stock options go through the roof? The sky’s the limit: You could fund scientists trying to cure cancer, build a new stage for your local symphony, or even start your own university and town, as did Domino’s Pizza founder and philanthropist Tom Monaghan.
One of the more popular big-ticket items, though, is creating your own college scholarship. With $1 million, you could set up an endowment that should last for decades, says Becky Sharpe, president of International Scholarship & Tuition Services Inc., Nashville, Tenn., which administers privately and publicly funded scholarships.
Joe Scarlett, retired chairman and chief executive of Tractor Supply Co., Brentwood, Tenn., started a family foundation in 2005 with $2.5 million to provide college scholarships to business students from middle Tennessee, and he hired Ms. Sharpe’s company to run the award program.
“We generate way too few business leaders in our country, so we wanted to focus our scholarship money on business,” says Mr. Scarlett, 67. The foundation now has a balance of approximately $24 million, thanks to additional gifts from the Scarletts and growth in its value, and is expanding its efforts, supporting students in high schools and even preschools.