Making My Passion My Profession
By guest blogger Colton Strawser, Dekko Foundation Youth Pod and Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy Alumnus
Many years ago I realized that philanthropy was not just something I wanted to do from time to time; it was my life purpose. Growing up in a small rural community in Northeast Indiana where everyone knew everybody, I quickly noticed that everyone helped each other out in a time of need. I was first introduced to philanthropy by my parents and began really getting involved in philanthropy during middle school and high school.
Once day when I was roaming the halls of my middle school I noticed a poster hanging on a bulletin board advertising the county’s local Teen Court program. At the time I was interested in helping people and thought that I wanted to be an attorney when I grew up – so I decided to join the program. Teen Court is a program for students who have gotten in trouble in the school or community and elect to go to “court” instead of serving time in out of school suspension. I enjoyed giving other teens a second chance and was an “attorney” for the program for five years.
In addition, I also joined a youth philanthropy program called LIFE through the LaGrange County Community Foundation. LIFE was a youth pod funded by the Dekko Foundation, and we funded a variety of youth service programs in the community with funds (approximately $15,000/year) given to us by the Dekko Foundation. My youth philanthropy experience was eye-opening for me, because I was able to learn more about philanthropy, my community, and most importantly, myself.
My youth philanthropy experience can definitely be described as life-changing. Through great learning opportunities and wonderful mentors I found that I wanted to continue helping people. When it came time to start looking at colleges, one of my good mentors and friends at the Dekko Foundation told me about the Philanthropic Studies program at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy located on the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus. I did not know that you could get a bachelor’s degree in Philanthropic Studies, and you could not until 2010.
This past spring I graduated with my degree in Philanthropic Studies, and I am currently pursuing a master’s degree in Higher Education Administration. I eventually will enroll in a PhD program where my research will focus on youth philanthropy. In addition, this past fall I was honored with my fifth President’s Volunteer Service Award. At 20 years old I was presented with the lifetime achievement award, which is given to those that have dedicated 4,000 hours of community service.
I encourage all adults to teach young people about philanthropy. While the seeds of philanthropy are already within many young people (caring, sharing, etc.) those seeds need to be grown and developed over time. Teaching young people about philanthropy can teach them more about their local community, and even the world. Philanthropy can show us that the world is bigger than ourselves, and that we can truly make a difference.
My life motto and favorite quote is to “Be the change you wish to see in the world” by Mahatma Gandhi. In order for the world to get better, to change, and to be something more amazing than it already is we need to cultivate the philanthropists of tomorrow. By investing time and money in teaching young people about philanthropy, investment is then made into the future of philanthropy. In order to prepare young people to take positions as nonprofit executives, board members, and community volunteers, it is important that they knew why these roles are important.
While I decided to make my passion for philanthropy my profession in life, that is not the only road to being involved in your community. The great part about philanthropy is that it is something everyone can do regardless of ability, money, or status. Everyone can love another, because after all the literal translation of philanthropy is “love of mankind.”
Colton C. Strawser is the Principal of Colton Strawser Consulting, a nonprofit and communications consulting firm located in Indianapolis. You can find him on Twitter at @Colton_Strawser tweeting about youth philanthropy (#YouthPhil) and higher education.