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How to give back with Miami nonprofits

So you’re a young adult who wants to give back to Miami? Good choice. Giving through Miami nonprofits can open your mind, shake up your relationships, and altogether alter your life path.

As super volunteer Jonathan Gilbert Flores explains, “All you need to do is to volunteer at one organization and from there you’ll discover a whole new world. You’ll meet all these people who do great things, and it motivates you to do so much. Sometimes you’ll feel like going crazy because you have so many ideas for making our city a better place.”

While Miami statistically has lower giving rates than other cities, if you look for it, there exists a thriving community of nonprofits, foundations, volunteers, and philanthropists here. With our largest nonprofit fair, Philanthrofest, coming up this weekend, it’s an opportune time for you to jump into this life-altering world of contribution.

Luckily for you, the nonprofit crowd are a generous bunch. So generous in fact, that a few of them, like Flores, are eager to share the lay of the land, so that you don’t have to navigate the maze alone.

The donors, volunteers, and leaders we spoke to identified five main ways in which you, as a young professional, can contribute to the nonprofit sector. While these areas are pretty universal, Miami has some unique resources that will help make your giving experience easier and fun.

Nonprofit Young Professional Groups

If you want to grow your network, develop your leadership skills, and make an impact all in one shot, consider joining a nonprofit young professional organization. These groups generally ask for a yearly membership fee and offer fundraising mixers, group volunteer days, and leadership opportunities.

Naomi Lauren Ross, who has served on the boards of Habitat Young Professionals and U.S. Green Building Council Emerging Professionals and has volunteered with dozens of other nonprofits, shares, “I wouldn’t be where I am today and I wouldn’t have the connections that I’ve made without serving these organizations. So many of the skills I’ve developed over time such as fundraising and networking have come from volunteering. Young professional organizations are a particularly great way to step into the nonprofit world. If you want to become a nonprofit board member, for example, you can get the experience you need.”

If you’re saying, “yes, yes, yes,” to what a young professional organization has to offer, start researching nonprofits to see if they have the group for you. In the meantime, here’s a nonexhaustive list of a few local groups get you started: Habitat Young ProfessionalsUSGBC Emerging ProfessionalsLotus House Seeds of ChangePAMM ContemporariesThe Women’s Fund Young ProfessionalsThe Frost Science Young Patrons and United Way Young Leaders.

Direct Service Volunteering

Perhaps you’re satisfied with your network, and are simply longing to make a direct impact on a person or place through volunteering your time.  You want to feel like super volunteer and philanthropy maven Cristina Mas who says, “The first time I went and volunteered at Miami Children’s Hospital through Radio Lollipop and saw a young patient’s eyes light up, it changed my life.”

Besides Radio Lollipop, the volunteers we spoke with recommended mentorship programs like Big Brothers Big SistersEducate TomorrowTake Stock in Children, and Women of Tomorrow as long-term volunteering options. But with a simple online search in your area of interest, you’ll find that opportunities for regular direct service are nearly endless.

If you don’t have time for an ongoing commitment, but do want to contribute when you have a few spare hours, Hands On Miami is the place to start. Their aim is to make volunteering easy. Simply go to HandsOnMiami.org, browse through their list of upcoming projects, sign up for one, and go make this city a better place.

Volunteering Your Skills

“One missing piece in the relationship between young professionals and nonprofits is skills volunteering,” says Naomi. “Young professionals could approach nonprofits and say, “I have this expertise, how can I help?”

If you have the chutzpah to put yourself out there in this way, contact an organization to see if they need your time.

JCI Miami planted a garden at Miami Central Senior High School.
JCI Miami planted a garden at Miami Central Senior High School.

Alternatively, if you want to join a nonprofit that has a built in capacity to put your skills to use and teach you new ones, Junior Chamber International (JCI) Miami does just that. The group is comprised of dozens of young professionals who take on projects to benefit our community – currently they’re creating a natural habitat oasis in Miami Gardens so that elementary school children can experience interactive learning.

Flores, JCI’s secretary, explains, “When we work on projects, whoever has expertise in a certain area mentors other members looking to gain that skill. It becomes a domino effect – we all build our leadership skills and we all learn from each other.”

Events

Attending a nonprofit event allows you to donate to an organization while having fun, with a minimal monetary and time contribution. While there are a host of events you can attend every weekend in Miami from races to galas to shows, if you want a broad view of what’s going on there’s one person you need to follow: Cristina Mas.

When she’s not working in marketing for Pointe Group, Mas helps to organize charity events that bring together fifteen or more nonprofits, with each organization receiving a portion of the funds raised. “A big problem in Miami is people don’t know how to get involved,” said Mas. “I started these events to engage people, to answer their questions about giving, and to show them the different organizations out there, beyond the big ones everyone knows about.”

Mas also actively volunteers with, champions, or attends events of dozens of nonprofits.  She alerts her followers of everything she’s going to and supporting, so if you want to be in the know, follow Mas on twitter, or contact her directly to get on her email list.

Donating

Give Miami DayWhile we’re sure you know how to choose a nonprofit and make a donation, if you want to do it Miami style, there’s a way: Give Miami Day.

“Give Miami Day is the best resource I’ve seen for donors,” said Andrew Lane, founding Board Member of the Miami Society for Young Philanthropists. “One of the biggest giving challenges for our generation is we get lost in big organizations. People aren’t sure how to connect with the smaller nonprofits out there that really need help. Give Miami Day does a great job of listing organizations that could use the help and categorizing them by cause so that you can find a charity you care about.”

Give Miami Day happens once a year in November and is organized by The Miami Foundation. Last year the participating organizations collectively raised over $5.2 million in just twenty-four hours. If you want to jump on the Give Miami philanthropy wave this year, stay tuned in by following the Miami Foundation on Facebook or Twitter.

Get started at Philanthrofest

PhilanthroFest 2015 Map
PhilanthroFest 2015 Map

So you’ve decided how you’d like to give, but you’restuck on deciding which local organizations to support.  Well, are you free this Saturday afternoon?If so, take out your calendar right now, and book a date with Philanthrofest 2015: Carnival of Dreams.

The event, taking place a Museum Park, will feature tables with hundreds of local nonprofits arranged according to cause. “Before PhilanthroFest, there was no centralized resource where people in Miami could make meaningful in-person matches with causes they are passionate about,” explains Philanthrofest Executive Director Estrella Sibilia. We’ve created an environment where folks can do just that.”

Philanthrofest will also feature carnival activities and a zipline across Biscayne Bay. Best of all? You can attend without paying a cent.

If you can’t make Philanthrofest this year, there’s always good old Google, the way many of our veteran volunteers originally found some of the dozens of organizations they’ve supported.And if you’re confused about where to start your search, consider this tried and true advice from our volunteers and leaders:

“Think about what you like,” says Mas. “Find a cause that you care about, that you’re truly passionate about,” advises Ross. “Find something close to your heart,” said Lane. “It’s essential to get involved with a cause that matters to you,” said Sibila.

So, check in with your passions and then start researching and connecting with organizations to let Miami’s nonprofit sector rock your world.

Rachel Davita Harris is a writer passionate about telling the stories of people and places. She blogs about writing and Miami at racheldharris.com

Have a favorite nonprofit or volunteer opportunity already? Let The New Tropic community know how to help in the comments.