Why volunteering is good for business
On Monday, I volunteered to an organization called Open Hands in Atlanta. My intention was to use the public holiday wisely and by giving back, it was a good start.
It’s kind of like making your bed each morning. If you do that, it’s one less thing you have to do in the day, and when you return in the evening, you see the fruits of your labor.
For me, a birthday has just passed and of course, for me and many others, it’s a new year. With every intention of starting, it off well, I am trying in earnest to do things that I have put to the wayside. Thus, volunteering.
I’m an introvert and taking the steps to turn up anywhere by myself outside the safety of a business environment terrifies the crap out of me. My heart starts racing, my palms become sweaty and I become very agitated. As I ring an Uber to take me to my destination, I am overwhelmed with desire to turn back to the safety of my hotel room, but I know that if I don’t turn up, there will be one less person volunteering – and that would be on me.
As I arrived, I soon realize that there is no-one inviting you in or holding your hand. You really need to work out all on your own how to get in, get ready and start work.
Wendy, my internal accountant, who so kindly organized my day of volunteering, suggested that I do packing of meals. To be honest, anything people facing would have been a stretch, as COVID is not something I am aiming to catch. As an entrepreneur, I don’t think so much of illness, more downtime. I really can’t afford the time off work.
The supervisor gives us instructions and we put on a cover for our hair and gloves. I immediately take up a position of putting vegetables into the meal packs. It’s the last person on the line before sealing up the boxes.
At first, I fumbled and dropped vegetables. It annoyed me because I don’t like wasting anything, and every single bit of food that can go in the containers should. I imagine for some, this may be there only meal of the day.
While I am packing, I think about the people the food will be delivered to. Are they young? Are they old? Are they sick? Whoever is receiving this food matters to me and as such, every single time I put vegetables in the box, I made sure that it was a carefully curated. White beans, green beans and carrots, all in equal amounts. I also filled it to the brim, more than I was suppose to. “One handful they said”. I didn’t listen. It was at least two. I was reprimanded multiple times throughout the shift for putting too much in. I realized fast that I needed to make sure that no piece of vegetable went past the line, but if this was on me to do, I was making sure that we packed as much as possible into each meal box.
As I packed, I began to think about the nutrition in each meal. I would not personally eat one of these meals. That made me sad. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. I guess in many ways I am privileged and I won’t ever be put in that position, but some of these people lack choices, and this meal is important. My brain went into overdrive. How can we provide better meals for the people who receive these meal packs?
Then I was thinking about how people feel when they receive them. It’s a box of food. Maybe the only one they have for the day.
The process of putting food in by the hands of volunteers is inefficient, and while it feels good to be part of this process, I immediately thought about how robotics could do everything we were doing. But then, what else would we do?
I thought about spending time writing every single person a handwritten letter. Giving them hope and love. Wouldn’t that be great? My idea was trashed as others in the group thought that this might not be well-received. I don’t give up and little deters me when I am determined. I immediately thought about the people who would like it and how they would respond.
As my shift finished, I realized that I hadn’t stopped. My mouth was dry and in need of some water and my arms and shoulders felt tight. I worked hard without pausing and didn’t stop even for a second. I was committed to putting in as much effort doing volunteering as I do in the office working on my own projects.
When I left, I felt grateful for the opportunity. It’s not every day that you get to participate in something that is truly good.
What I learned from the day:
The effort you put in, is what you get out: Don’t be afraid to push yourself to the limit and work as hard as possible, but when you do, it’s really worth the accomplishment.
When building a team environment: Take your new team down to a center where you can all volunteer. Observe who puts in effort, who complains, who doesn’t care about outcomes and so on. This will teach you what people will be like when they work as part of a team.
Packing vegetables shows how much you care: If you just slop the vegetables in and don’t care whether there is balance, enough in the box to feed the person it is going to or the hygiene factor – you probably only care about yourself.
Celebrities popping in for a photo opportunity and leaving: These people are not leaders and don’t deserve your following. They want to be perceived to be ‘giving’ and ‘charitable’ but only when people can see it.
Send a thank you note to the organizers: Always send a thank you note to the organizers. They put in the hard work on a daily basis and if they feel like people recognize their work, they will work twice as hard – for a good cause.
Encourage others to participate: Don’t be afraid to organize groups of people to volunteer together, whether it’s your work colleagues or friends and family.
It feels so good: What you get out of volunteering is so much more than what you give. Always remember that.