How to Give Smarter

Here are five ways you can make a big difference in your community without spending a ton of time or money. Volunteerism is what you make of it; find a cause that’s right for you.

October 14, 2013

With a deep level of neighborhood knowledge and a loyal community presence, it’s a natural fit for real estate professionals to become volunteers for local causes. Getting involved is not only a great way to give back, it’s also an opportunity to connect with local residents and business owners while rallying behind the community you’re a part of.

However, getting involved can be intimidating, especially for busy real estate professionals who may be low on time or tight on funds. Here are five tips for starting out.

1. Find a charity or cause that’s right for you. Passion is key to making a difference in your community, so choose something you care about deeply. There are plenty of online resources available to aid your search. Find volunteer opportunities by location and type on sites such as VolunteerMatch, Charity Navigator, and GuideStar. Both Charity Navigator and GuideStar also publish ratings as well as the nonprofits’ financial information, so you can verify that your time and money will be well spent.

2. If your time is limited, choose a short-term project. Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco, for example, partners with the city of San Francisco’s Parks and Recreation Department to host a park beautification on the last Saturday of every month. “This event is a great way to spend a morning making a real difference in a neighborhood,” says Kristine Leja, senior director of development and communications at Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco. “It offers a wide variety of activities for all skill levels, from weeding to building benches to planting a vegetable garden.”

3. A little can go a long way. If you’re looking to make a monetary donation, it’s best to be consistent. Many charities have monthly donor clubs. Leja says $5 or $10 per month makes a big difference for Habitat: “Our sustainer donors are some of our most important donors because the gift is a reliable, steady stream of revenue that fuels our day-to-day building efforts and ensures that we are able to build more homes in the Bay Area.”

If you don’t want to give monthly, think about donating based on your sales. Shay Hata, an agent with Koenig & Strey Lincoln Park in Chicago, is an avid animal lover who donates 10 percent of each commission to a local animal rescue of her clients’ choice. If they don’t choose a favorite, Hata gives to Illinois-based Starfish Animal Rescue. “I think people like knowing that their agent is a caring and compassionate person who gives back to the community,” she says.

4. Spread the word. Sometimes your sphere can be the best gift for a charity in a crowded media field. The simple act of talking about or posting links to your charity of choice on Facebook or Twitter can go a long way toward informing the people you know about causes or fundraising events. “We are always building our online community and looking for ways to engage in thoughtful conversations about affordable housing,” Leja said.

5. Use your skills. Maybe you play an instrument or have an artistic hobby – try volunteering at a museum, art gallery, or with a community band or choir. Are you a great listener? You might be a good fit in a retirement home, shelter, or drug rehabilitation center. If you are a history buff (community knowledge included), there might be a historical society or national park that’s perfect for you. Love kids? Try out a day care, sports team, or after school program. Whatever differentiates you as a volunteer can also help separate you from a crowded group in the business world. Hata agrees that her devotion to a cause helps her stand out.

“It helps me win business as it differentiates me from a lot of the competition. A love of animals is something I have in common with a lot of my clients. I get that when you have dogs, having a yard or being close to a park may be a bigger priority than the perfect kitchen,” she says. “I would encourage other agents to find their passion and tie that into their business mission.”