Will Work For Free — Why Giving Back Pays Off
Several years ago, I sat down with a longtime business associate for lunch. Our conversations are always lively and tends to be all over the map in different directions and topics. As we were wrapping up, he turned to me and said, “By the way, you should think about how to get more involved with your community.”
“What do you mean?” I replied. The topic came totally out of left field. “We do lots of things for local business. We are always creating something for someone. You know that.”
He shook his head. “You do, but you don’t volunteer enough. You guys really need to start putting yourselves out there. Not just once a year, I’m talking once a month. I know everyone has busy lives, and business is always going at 110mph. But you need to consider giving more back to something in some way. Like, for free. Volunteer.”
I stared at him in silence. I was thinking about our current 50 hour weeks, and how we often work on weekends. Where were we ever going to manage to fit that in on top of everything else and our current commitments?
He laughed as he read my face. “You really should. Trust me, it will do you a lot of good. Find a way to make it happen.”
I walked away from that lunch wondering how the heck that was even possible. I highly value my associates opinion. I knew he wouldn’t guide me in the wrong direction, but I had no idea where we were going to fit that into our already overbooked schedules.
Still his thoughts weighed on me for several months. I never forgot that lunch, and kept wondering what I could do to get started with volunteer work.
That next year I did a serious re-evaluation, and promised to make a commitment to the community. We decided to embrace one pro-bono project per quarter, in which we helped an organization (preferably a non-profit) with a project of some sort that we felt was a great cause. To this day, we still take on one project per quarter, no matter how hectic our schedules are. We find a way to make it happen, whether it’s over lunch, weekends, or late nights.
In addition to our quarterly pro-bono commitment, I also decided that everyone in the office needed to get out from behind the computers and share experiences with the people they are working for. I wanted the team to partcipate as a whole, to get out and “feel” the experience that comes from giving back.
When it came to choosing what we would do, I simply chose something I felt affected everyone. It is common knowledge that our education system is becoming more and more crippled each year with severe budget cuts — our art programs are one of the first on the chopping block. So we fell into what came natural to us — we became Art Docents for a local elementary school. Every month, we research as a team a project that is of interest to us and is age-appropriate for the children. We prepare for the lesson weeks in advance, then we then take a half day and go and teach young children about art, and work on the art project together as a group.
This has been an incredible experience for all involved. For the non-profit organization, for the schools, for the children. But most importantly, for all of us. The reward at the end of the day is not only a grateful customer, or a child’s smile, but it’s that place that deep in your heart you feel personally rewarded for a good deed done. The pats on the back, the thank-you’s … sure, that’s all nice and fine. But it’s truly the satisfaction and the good feeling you just have from your heart that you have the ability to add your talent and time to something or someone who really can use it for a good cause. There is no monetary reward for that … it’s simply the feeling of doing something for someone who really appreciates it.
My business associate was totally right, of course. Looking back years later, I finally understand what he was talking about. I can’t help but wonder that if we all contributed in some way, at some level, to some local cause, what kind of effect it could have on your community. Whether it’s volunteering to help read books at a local nursing home, giving some time to your local schools, coaching the next Little League game — everyone has a talent, everyone has something they are really good at. And everyone can use some help. I encourage you to pay it forward … consider what you have to offer, and think how you can contribute to others. It doesn’t matter it’s on a large scale, or just a small project. Everyone has the ability to make your community a better place.
In the words of my business associate … I promise … it will do you a lot of good.
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