Give Back — Your Way

 In I Wish I'd Known, Leadership, Values

Each month in 2023, I feature one of my top-ten “Things I Wish I’d Known” when I first started as a manager and leader years ago. This article is my ninth: Give Back — Your Way.

Giving back is my thing.

It’s a way for me to feel like I’m making a difference in the world — even if it’s just in my small corner.

In high school, I babysat during monthly parent meetings, participated in walkathons for worthy causes, and even took part in political campaigns. Not because my high school had any volunteer requirements. I just enjoyed it.

Once I got the taste for giving back, my appetite grew. Since then, in one shape or another, I’ve continued to support a variety of causes by volunteering my time or making financial contributions.

While I’ve always had this spirit of giving as an individual, I wish I’d known — as a young business owner — that I could also bring that spirit of giving into my company and its work culture. To know it was not only “okay,” but that it would be a positive, desirable trait, bringing people together around a common goal.

And in my continued evolution as a leader, I’ve also become more conscious of my responsibility to give back. Not just for myself, but for the way my company gives back, too.

Get Your Copy:

My free worksheet features this month’s theme, “Give Back – Your Way.”

Oddly enough, it took a phone call from the state of Georgia — years ago — to get me thinking about giving within my company.

We were asked to help out with the state’s annual “Clark’s Christmas Kids,” a Secret Santa program founded by radio personality Clark Howard.

Well, they’d sure come to the right place. I was thrilled to say “yes!”

That year, and for many to follow, we were the administrative North Pole and warehouse for the mountains of gifts people donated. And to fill gaps, we also served as Santa’s elves, buying gifts with donations from individuals to match children’s wish lists.

But as the company grew in size and scope, it was no longer feasible to close our operations for three full weeks every year, even with a state stipend!

Through this experience, I learned important lessons about giving back as a company: In addition to the desire to give, you have to consider the ability to give — time, resources and capabilities.

Your ability to give may change over time. We ultimately created our own non-profit organization, Communities4Children.

As a leader, you set the tone for a culture of giving back.

The following Power Challenges can help you explore the why, what and how for giving — both as an individual and as a team, division or company.

Power Challenge 1: How Can YOU Give Back?

Giving back is a personal choice. It’s more important for some people than for others. We’re all drawn to different causes, and in varying degrees. What’s comfortable for me may not work for you, and vice versa.

So, how can you contribute in a way that feels right for you? What is possible? What is realistic?

First, reflect on your overall relationship with giving:

  • What does “giving back” mean to you?
  • Does giving come naturally to you? Was it part of your upbringing?
  • In what ways have you given back in the past? How did you feel?
  • What fuels your drive to give back? Does it align with your values? Does it feel obligatory? Do you have ulterior motives? (Be honest with yourself!)

Second, consider how you can give back. Here are some helpful guidelines to help you explore your options:

1. Lean into your values.

For me, giving itself is a value. But how and why I choose to give back matches my values. For example, gratitude is one of my core values. I feel a huge positive boost when I’m  thankful for my blessings — both large and small. And I find myself wanting other people to feel that special boost, too. I often give small gifts to others, or even a hand-written note of appreciation. Sometimes it’s as simple as a text or email saying thank you or I appreciate you.

What are your core values, and how will they influence your choices? The “what” you give hinges on the “why.”

Related: Who Do YOU Want to Be?

2. Be realistic.

This is a biggie if you have a generous nature!

Maybe you want to donate $100 (or more) to your favorite charity. But can you realistically afford that amount right now? Consider giving a little less, with a goal to donate a larger amount when it fits more comfortably into your budget.

The same goes for your time. For example, you’ve just seen a local animal shelter take in a large number of displaced pets after a natural disaster. It pulls at your heartstrings. You want to help! Is it feasible to volunteer every night after work? Or better to start with one evening a week?

You can give back during lean times as well as prosperous times. Just in different ways or amounts.

Any type or amount of giving is helpful. And it’s always appreciated. Don’t let yourself diminish your efforts by thinking they’re too small or insignificant!

3. Think outside the box.

There are plenty of creative ways to give back. See if you can find something unique to fill an unmet need in your community.

Many organizations offer opportunities to mentor young entrepreneurs, tutor English as a Second Language, read to older adults in assisted living facilities, and so on.

Or consider individual acts of service. Offer to help an elderly neighbor do their holiday shopping or clean their roof gutters. Giving doesn’t have to be large or public.

Power Quote:

“Everyone can experience the joy and blessing of generosity, because everyone has something to give.” – Jan Grace

4. Serve on a Committee

There’s power in numbers. Often, giving back happens as part of a larger mission, such as a hunger task force, for example. Charitable organizations, however large or small, rely on a leadership team,  engaged committee members and volunteers.

Many committees are made up of volunteers just like you. People with diverse skills, experience and talents who come together to achieve a wider goal.

Think of ways your skills could support a committee’s objectives.

Love interacting with people? Terrific! Offer to be a greeter at the organization’s annual fundraiser. Or make phone calls to local businesses to ask for donations.

Love arts and crafts? Wonderful! Offer to paint a set for the community center’s annual holiday festival.

Are you more of a “numbers” person? Great! Every committee needs someone to manage the budget.

Power Challenge 2: How Can Your Company Give Back?

Leaders play a key role in why, what and how a team, division or company approaches giving back.

What’s your why?

Employees are increasingly drawn to companies engaging with a cause or social mission rather than those solely focused on profits. Is attracting the right employees a key motivator?

Do you want to increase your company’s visibility? Is it sheer altruism? Or maybe a combination of reasons?

Set aside judgment. You’re running a business! The desire to support a worthy cause isn’t diminished by any of these (or other) reasons.

Look through a collective lens.

Unlike giving back as an individual, you’re now involving employees. Accordingly, consider their interests, preferences and dislikes.

What if you feel strongly about finding foster care for stray animals, but your team members aren’t into dogs and cats? Maybe they’d rather work at a soup kitchen or participate in a Habitat for Humanity project.

Power Move:

Conduct a survey to check the pulse of your staff. While you’re not likely to get 100% consensus, a survey can provide insights into what most people want.

Once you select a cause for your group to support, spread the word! Give it visibility. Educate employees so they understand the impact of the initiative.

And give your employees options. They’ll appreciate being able to choose how to contribute to the bigger picture.

Some people might enjoy community outreach or fundraising. Others might prefer hands-on activities such as delivering food to a pantry. Encourage and make it possible for people to find a role they’ll enjoy.

Don’t take it personally if some people choose not to participate at all. And by all means, don’t require it — that just doesn’t work!

Coordination is key.

When you’re contributing on a companywide level, many departments may be involved. Thus, strong internal and external communications need to be in place.

For example:

  • Marketing can spread the word within the company to attract participation.
  • Public Relations can increase visibility for the initiative within the community.
  • Human Resources can determine how much time employees can spend on volunteer projects during work hours.
  • Accounting can manage the budgetary considerations for the initiative.

Just as a symphony comes together to delight an audience, so can your team, division or company. There’s power in numbers. And beauty in shared efforts.

The Gift of Giving

In both my personal and professional life, I feel blessed. I bet you have a lot of things to be thankful for, too.

During the holiday season — and throughout the year — what better way to show gratitude for our blessings than to give back? Individually and collectively, our efforts can truly make a positive difference for others.

The way I see it, that’s one of life’s greatest gifts.

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Carla inspires leaders and team members — and provides real-world tips to become the best version of themselves that they can be. Contact her today.

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