Don’t Put This On Robert F. Smith: 15 Ways You Can Make A Difference in Young Lives (Without Being Rich)

Robert F. Smith, the richest black person in America, made headlines for a generous gift he made to the 2019 Morehouse College graduating class—paying off the student loans of every single graduate.

Shortly after the news broke, people on the internet were crying for more funds to be given to different universities, colleges, homeless shelters…you name it.

I’m here to tell you; this one isn’t on the rich. In a perfect world, we’d all be able to make magnificently grand gestures like Smith. We want that Oprah money so that we, too, can change the world with one fell swoop, but the people who need us, who really need help, they aren’t looking for billionaires to pull up. They are looking for us.

And if we all give a “little bit” we can make a splash bigger than Smith and Winfrey combined. Here are a few ways you can use cash, time, resources, or education to make a difference in students’ (and others’) lives.

15 Ways We Can Make A Difference


1. Pay off your own debts.

Before you can give to anyone else, you really need to be in control of your own financial house. I’m not saying that if you owe $20,000 you need to pay all of that off before you start donating to the local women’s shelter. What I am saying is you can’t pour from an empty cup. Make sure you are good so you can do some good. Oh, and don’t forget those loans friends and family gave you. They may be waiting for you to pay them back before they make the changes they see need to be made in the world.

2. Give your time.

Smith is wealthy in cash. However, some of us are wealthy in time. If you have the time to go to a local college and donate some hours of tutoring, that keeps a kid from having to work a few extra hours to pay a tutor. The time you give may save $15–50 per hour for someone. This also works if you want to tutor elementary or high school kids.

3. Buy a book or two.

Better yet, organize a book drive. Kids in college need books. A lot of times, scholarships cover tuition, room, board and then that’s that. The books, which can cost up to $300 per book—aren’t necessarily covered.

4. Donate your car.

Is it time to get rid of an old car? Kids who go to college may need your clunker more than you need the trade-in. Don’t have a car? Several cities and states run auctions where you can buy a car cheap for a college kid or even a high schooler

5. Mentor.

There are all kinds of mentors and one that would make an impact is being a financial mentor. If you are going through the process of debt consolidation or debt reduction, find a few young people and teach them what got you into the mess and then show them what investing looks like, the value of acquiring assets, and how to create and balance a budget.

6. Give to your alumni association.

A lot of us left college and never looked back. But it’s time. Go to your alma mater’s site to find out what an extra $1,000 could do to provide for the students. Usually, you can give your gift as a lump sum or as monthly payments. Whatever works for you will work for the school.

7. Set up a scholarship fund.

Setting up your own scholarship fund may sound like you have to give a bunch of cash, but that’s not necessary. You can set up a $500 fund for a member of your church, a member of your neighborhood, or even for members of your family. Making a yearly commitment of $500 would mean in the next 10 years you would have given $5,000 toward a college education.

8. Offer a paid internship.

If you own a business, you can pay an intern to do work for you during the summer or even during the school year. I worked for a bank for two hours a week when I was in high school. The experience led me to work there for the next 10 years. Giving our kids a paid opportunity to learn a profession or trade sets them up for future success.

9. Give out books that teach wealth building.

Speaking of internships or apprenticeships, Robert Greene’s book Mastery is a great book for college students to learn to set themselves up for becoming true experts, which will contribute to their overall financial well-being. Some other great reads to learn about money are The Wealth Choice: Success Secrets of Black Millionaires; How Rich People Think by Steven Seibold; and The 50th Law by 50 Cent and Robert Greene.

 10. Start an investment club.

Don’t know about investing? No time like the present. Teach young people how to save their money and make it work for them instead of them working for it.

11. Start a backpack drive

Fill some backpacks with all the cheap school supplies from the school sales going on, and give them to shelter children, foster children, or single parent groups.

12. Organize a suit drive.

Looking the part plays a huge difference in getting the part. Get some good suits to someone who needs them. Find a local tailor you can pay or who may donate his skill to make the alterations.

13. Have a business leader meet-and-greet luncheon.

Building a network now means young people can get a leg up in society. Expose them to the leaders in their community.

14. Finally, spread the word.

Don’t be shy about your giving. Let people know what you are doing. For some it is hard to let others know we are up to some good, but why is that? Be a ripple in a pond and start letting others know what “we” can do when we come together.

Black Enterprise Guest Author