Valentine’s Day is already in our rearview mirrors, but the opportunity to celebrate love goes on as we think about our passions and how we show love to the special people in our lives.

Many of our modern holidays are centered around gift giving. Probably more so than most holidays, Valentine’s Day prompts us to demonstrate our love by spoiling the people we care about with special extravagances like beautiful roses and decadent chocolates. These ephemeral gifts that signal indulgence fly off the shelves as quickly as they are consumed by their recipients this time of year.

But gift giving holds deeper significance when it is accompanied by passion. (Not suggesting we don’t all need chocolate and roses, too!)

The Women’s Fund of Smith County believes in giving with passion, and each year, we mentor high school aged girls in Smith County through a program we call GIVE (Girls Invested in Volunteer Efforts). During our last meeting, we talked about passion – a word met with giggles in a room full of teenagers.

Identifying your own passions is a meaningful way to discover and define your own personal philanthropic style, whether you’re 17 or 70.

During their experience with GIVE, the girls fundraise, research local nonprofits, and ultimately vote together to determine one organization to which they will award the funding they’ve raised throughout the year.

During our “passions” meeting, GIVE Co-Chairs Carrie-Ann Jasper-Yearty and Johnna Fullen asked the girls a series of questions designed to get them thinking about what their giving priorities might be. Carrie-Ann kicked off the discussion by offering insight into how we can all figure out what we really care passionately about – causes that motivate us to take action and make a difference.

“Your passion is often focused on areas of giving that have been placed on your heart,” explains Carrie-Ann. “Passion asks us ‘what do we care about so deeply that we are willing to orient our lives around it?’”

For some of us, it’s hard to decide – we love everything! It’s all important, how could you ever choose a cause, when there are so many compelling needs out there?

And yet, the happiest, most committed donors and philanthropists I know give specifically to causes that they genuinely care about on a personal level. They get involved with the organizations in many cases, beyond their monetary gifts, and serve as volunteers and advocates.

If you’d like to give with passion, consider these prompts we asked the girls to discuss:

“Where or with whom do I spend my time serving?”

“What would my friends and family say I care about the most?”

“What brings me to tears? What breaks my heart?”

“I dream I will impact the world by doing what?”

“When I think of how I want to serve others, I always think of what?”

Your answers may not always be the perfect guide – for example, I dream of changing the world by singing, and I know for a fact that’s not going to happen – nor should it.

But I do know that the thought of a hungry child breaks my heart (East Texas Food Bank – Backpack Program). I can’t stand the thought of an animal being hurt or neglected, and I spend an extraordinary amount of time spoiling my three dogs (Pets Fur People, ASPCA). I think music is transformative, and it’s one of my greatest loves in life (East Texas Symphony Orchestra). I can’t stand to see a child in need, a child who is suffering from abuse or neglect (Children’s Advocacy Center of Smith County). I believe we all have a basic right to affordable medical care (Bethesda Health Clinic). I was fortunate to have received incredible educational opportunities that equipped me for what has been a meaningful and enjoyable career. I want that for everyone, even if they didn’t have the same opportunities I did (Literacy Council of Tyler).

Once you’ve figured out what really matters to you, your philanthropy and volunteerism become more meaningful, and you can begin to give with passion. You become better equipped to support the causes that are most important to you and enjoy the extraordinary experience of giving from the heart.

Zoe Lawhorn serves as president of the Women’s Fund of Smith County, a collective giving circle of more than 350 women with a mission of transforming our community by funding programs that enrich the lives of women and children. Any woman with a giving heart is welcome to join our organization. Please visit for information about membership and outreach.