A few years ago, a movie came out called Pay it Forward. It wasn’t a huge box office hit, but it certainly hit home for my children and me. The idea behind the film was that there is an opportunity to perform "random acts of kindness" for people we encounter that do not necessarily come with the expectation that we will receive something in return. It’s a very basic premise, but one that I really think many of us don’t consider very often.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, nearly 45 million Americans participate in some kind of volunteer activity. Although this number seems quite large, the needs of our communities and the nation far outstrip the number of people who volunteer.
Over the last few years, I have spent a fair amount of my time, either professionally or personally, volunteering for associations, my church and community. I began down this road, because I witnessed many selfless individuals who gave of their time and they all seemed to have a perpetual smile on their faces when I saw them perform these "random acts of kindness’. What did these people know that made them experience this strong sense of personal satisfaction?
Now, don’t mistake these same individuals with those people that have an inordinate amount of free time to volunteer. On the contrary, they experience the same amount of daily time pressure as the rest of us. They are attorneys, presidents of companies, clergy, healthcare professionals, single parents, all with a desire to balance their lives through the selfless act of giving back in any simple way they can.
So how do we give of ourselves in a non-stop, high-pressure business environment and what does giving really mean? We all need to ask the question: "How can I best use my time in order to make this cause or association successful and sustainable- Giving of one’s time is not limited to just showing up at an occasional meeting or conference call. It is truly delving into the long- term planning and execution of goals that enhance the efforts of a particular charity or association.
In recent years, the attitude of corporations has changed concerning the benefits of volunteering. According to a recent survey of 125 executives, 85 percent of companies now allow employees to volunteer during the workday, with over 86 percent of the top executives supporting this trend in their own companies. These same executives see the business benefits, which include building brand awareness, generating positive visibility for the company, strengthening community relations, and enhancing the company’s image as a ‘good corporate citizen’.
For the last few years, I have been volunteering my time with SHOPA, serving on many committees from the steering committee to the board of directors. Throughout this tenure, I have developed many strong relationships and learned a great deal about the industry, the association and my own capabilities. Although I have never received monetary compensation for volunteering, the experiences gained by this effort have certainly been too numerous to quantify, including the sense of personal satisfaction I derive from giving of my time to the industry.
Building long-term friendships, both professionally and personally, seeing the direct effect of charitable organisations in the lives they touch and the increased sense of accomplishment we can all receive from giving of ourselves can be hugely rewarding.
Next time you have an opportunity, or are invited to become a member of a volunteer group, whether that group is a professional or personal endeavour, think about the difference you can make in so many lives just by "paying it forward".