Use your gifts. You’ve probably heard this advice before. Identifying your unique skills, character traits and innate talents can help guide you to a career you love, where you get to use those strengths every day.
Your strengths also can be guideposts for how to give back and make the world a better place. Using your strengths—those things you are good at and enjoy—gives you energy and boosts your sense of well-being. And you can get the same benefits from helping others. According to Harvard Health Publications, people who volunteer their time and talents feel more socially connected (which can ward off loneliness and depression) and may experience better physical health, including lower blood pressure and a longer lifespan. When you combine your skills with giving back, you’ve got a powerful combination to make a difference to the community at large.
This year, on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, we celebrate the fifth annual "Giving Tuesday," a global movement and day that celebrates and encourages giving back. Unlike Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which emphasize material gifts or discount purchases, Giving Tuesday celebrates philanthropy and kicks off the charitable season.
Giving Tuesday is a great reminder to write a check to your favorite nonprofit organization. But beyond money, when it comes to planning where and how you will spend your time and energy, let your strengths guide you to the most impactful ways you can help the people and community around you. And keep in mind that giving to a friend, neighbor or family member can be just as significant as giving to an organization; you are still making a difference in someone’s life.
Discover your strengths
The first step is to identify your strengths. “Don’t go looking for them,” says Michael Mantell, Ph.D., a transformational behavior coach. “Your strengths are within you, not to be looked for or searched for, rather, to be revealed.” If you aren’t clear on what those strengths are, tune in to the compliments people give you. “Sometimes, it’s someone else who sees something inside of us that reveals our strength,” Michael says.
If you are still unsure, look for what you are doing when you don’t notice time passing. Or, pick up clues by remembering what you loved to do as a child. Or you can take VIA’s free 10-minute survey to reveal your character strengths.
Writing a check or volunteering your time with your favorite nonprofit organization is always a great idea. But we’ve pulled together a list of 18 creative ways for you to put your strengths to work when giving back this year.
Ways to give back
- Are you a savvy businessperson or entrepreneur? Mark Victor Hansen, co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, came up with a twist on tithing: Instead of giving away 10 percent of your money, he suggests giving 10 percent of your fantastic business ideas to nonprofits.
- Are you an animal whisperer? Consider fostering some furry friends from your local animal shelter.
- Expert swimmer? Volunteer to teach children how to swim at your local gym or YMCA.
- If you are an Eagle Scout, volunteer to work with Boy Scouts or a similar organization. You can work with kids or help the organization with its fundraising efforts.
- If you’re an avid reader, pass on a book that could change someone’s life. The right book could help someone start a business, improve a relationship or provide a confidence boost.
- Love fitness? Sign up for a charitable walk or run and give to a cause you care about. Or, ask someone to work out with you and be a fitness mentor.
- Is your thumb green? Lead a community garden project or teach kids how to care for flowers and plants.
- Are you a talented teacher or an expert in a specific subject such as writing or math? Talk to a local school about volunteering to be a tutor.
- If you have skills as an event planner, you can donate your time and talents to a fundraising event for a worthy organization.
- Well connected? How could you use your network to help someone else? The right introduction could lead to a job prospect, an increase in revenue or a new friendship.
- Are you great with children? Volunteer to watch your friend’s kids for an evening or host a slumber party for your kids and their friends.
- If you are highly empathetic? Use this powerful emotional tool to lend an ear to someone in need. Look into organizations that work with at-risk youth or with teens who have gone through the juvenile detention system.
- Have a little extra cash in your wallet? Think about buying something for a stranger. Pick up the tab for the person behind you at the coffee shop or at the tollbooth on the bridge.
- Do you have a knack for photography? Offer to photograph a friend’s wedding, a home someone is putting up for sale or the birthday party of one of your friend’s kids.
- Are you a good mentor? If you’re in the position to do so, hire an intern who is interested in doing what you do and show him or her the ropes.
- Do you have the eagle eye of a copy editor? Volunteer to review and polish a resume for someone in need—or better yet, volunteer your services to a deserving nonprofit.
- Love to cook or bake? Volunteer your talents at a local soup kitchen.
Stay true to yourself by giving in the realms that make you the happiest. When you give back with your own talents, it doesn’t feel like work—it feels like an expression of who you are.