About two years ago, my publicist Alyson Campbell, called me from her offices in New York and asked if I would like to be involved with an amazing charity she supports, Rosie’s Theater Kids (RTKids).  Started by Rosie O’Donnell, RTKids’ mission is beyond inspirational; giving young people from disadvantaged schools around the five boroughs a chance to be immersed in Broadway level training; voice, dance, acting, etc.  I was interested to find out more, but was a bit hesitant at first because of my schedule at the time.  Once I spent a few hours attending some of the classes and watching the work of the organization – I was ready to jump in and help however I could.

Being a start-up entrepreneur I was not yet able to make the level of financial gifts that the organization deserved.  I met my baseline donations financially and did all I could to give more in-kind work.  For instance, through sourcing some amazingly talented people in my business (Blazetrak.com), I created videos to help promote the organization.  After officially making a larger commitment by joining the RTKids’ Jr. Board, a relatively new board that was founded to foster a culture of giving in the younger demographic, I started wondering about “giving” among people my age and younger.

What is true in building businesses through “long tail” aggregation may also be true in reciprocating success through philanthropic work.  In essence, philanthropy is missing money and in-kind donations from a massive community of young people between the ages of 18 – 35. According to Blackbaud a typical year sees about 250 to 300 billion from charitable donor sources, with the bulk of the donations coming from a fairly consistent group of wealthy individuals. Conversely, young people between the ages of 18-35 are missing out on the benefits of being a part of something meaningful, larger then they are, and a potential boon for stabilizing their own personal happiness.

According to a study by the Freelanthropy Charitable Giving Index – close to 30% of 18-35 year olds reported giving nothing to charity in the previous year.  It makes sense that most charities look primarily to the “head of the tail” by focusing asks on wealthy more established individuals.  I would argue that the donor aggregate of a much larger number of economically stable young people could be equal to, or greater than, the aggregate donations from a much smaller group of individuals with deep pockets.  Furthermore, the future “head of the tail” philanthropists are most likely hidden jewels in the long tail.  Sustainable giving is clearly based on long-term relationships.   Organizations not currently focused on cultivating a culture of giving from the long tail, are going to find themselves on a sinking boat in the future.  Thus, I believe that donorship should be promoted more aggressively to young people.  I also believe that organizations that serve the youth directly need to be a focus of such promotions.

There are many charity sectors in need – particularly education and the arts. As an example, the arts typically receive only about 5% of annual donations.  The tax benefits of giving are not a big secret.  Nonetheless  – the benefits of giving that are not obvious on the balance sheet might be the biggest surprise of all.  Happiness is clearly a derivative of giving.  Recent literature, like “Happiness Hypothesis” by University of Virginia Professor Jonathan Haidt, points to “being part of something bigger then oneself” as a key component to happiness.

Throughout my two years with RTKids – I have really benefited in so many ways.  I have gained friends, met celebrities, attended some amazing parties, attended incredible performances by the RTKids, and grown my network.  Best of all, I have become a happier person.  I genuinely feel like I am part of something purely good – that is very much bigger than I am.  When I hear the news of RTKids getting into great colleges and breaking out into the world with all of the tools to succeed – that is when I really know that the work of my organization is helping to change lives.

Start-up culture has created a middle ground play for available market funds in all sorts of verticals.  From restaurants to software development, young people are learning how to make money without having to slave under the watchful eye of the big boss or graduate from a top five MBA school.  In addition, there will always be young people who stabilize economically or become wealthy early in their careers as doctors, bankers, lawyers, CEOs, etc.  For every successful young professional there is a community of people, mentors, family members, and organizations that all played a part in helping to cultivate their success.

Eight years ago, Daniel, a fifth grader at PS153 in Harlem, son of a hardworking single mother of three, became one of the first Rosie’s Theater Kids.  In 2011, Daniel became the first person in his family to go to college, studying musical theater at the University of Michigan.  From fifth grade to college, RTKids helped Daniel to recognize a simple truth – he has “unlimited potential”.

When you find yourself at a point in life when general needs are met, it is time to start giving back.  What seems at first a sacrifice will quickly become a windfall of benefit, and yes, “unlimited potential”.  I know this has been true for me.

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give” -Winston Churchill

More on RTKids (involvement or donations) – http://www.rosiestheaterkids.org/


Author: Nathaniel Casey