In my childhood, to “leave a place better than you found it” was a common instruction by parents, teachers and Scout leaders. Every deed mattered, whether big or small — and problems seemed solvable.

Kristin Huber, a volunteer with Portland Wheelers, fastens the chin strap of a helmet on Paul Cardone before a bicycle ride. Portland Wheelers uses adaptive bikes to provide rides to people with disabilities. Cardone is a resident of the Birchwoods at Canco assisted-living facility. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Today, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenges facing the world. Climate change disruption, poverty and homelessness, refugees, violence, drugs and many other challenges are all massive problems, which often leave us feeling powerless to act. Each of us is only one person, after all.

But act we must! Instead of letting powerlessness take over, we owe it to ourselves and others to do what we can to leave our world better than we found it. It’s not easy. Trying to be selfless takes courage and goes against the grain of today’s self-oriented culture.

So how do you get started? With so many problems, it’s helpful to choose just one or maybe two problems to focus on — something that you care deeply about. Then identify organizations that are effectively addressing the issue, and give them your time and financial support.

My top priority, for example, is addressing climate change and protecting the Earth so it remains habitable for future generations. This seems especially important to me here in Maine where we have so much natural beauty and resources, so I volunteer and contribute to a Maine-based environmental organization that advocates in this area.

By volunteering, you give your most precious resource — your time! You’ll meet like-minded people who share your values, learn about the challenges up close and see how collective action can bring tangible results. Solving problems one at a time. Enormously satisfying.

Financial support is just as important. The limiting factor for most nonprofits is money, so a generous donation can be game changing for a well-run organization. Whether the money is directed to programs, staff time, lawsuits, infrastructure or long-term investment, your contribution will help them carry out their mission and make an impact, which becomes your impact.

Your first reaction to the word “donation” may be negative. Few people think of themselves as rich. However, the reality is that there are lots of us — and if we each give something, it adds up to a lot. And some people are blessed with the capacity to give quite a bit more.

But do we have the will to give?

Maybe you’ve never been a significant donor or particularly philanthropic. Perhaps you think that’s the obligation of the wealthy — and you’re right. However, many of us are well enough off, and at the same time missing out on the deep rewards of impact giving, which can be just as satisfying for the donor as the receiver.

As someone who has both donated and volunteered as a fundraiser, I have seen the satisfaction and even joyfulness when:

• You regard your gift as a contribution, not just to your direct heirs, but also to a greater public cause. In effect, it is part of your personal legacy to make our world a better place.

• You have stretched to donate. As ironic as it sounds, giving an amount big enough that it requires budgeting or even sacrifice — whether it’s the amount of a weekly indulgence, the cost of a trip or finishing a home project — ends up being a joyful experience. This seems to be because a stretch donation, by definition, makes us feel that we did all we could to make a difference.

The world is in a precarious place right now, and we need everybody to step up to the plate! Why wait until we die to be generous when the need is now?

Volunteering and making a meaningful donation will bring deep-seated joy and satisfaction that comes from acting on your best instincts, being generous and knowing that you did something significant to leave this world better than you found it.

Together we can make a big difference.


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