"When we help others, we may not only be helping this one particular individual but potentially many others downstream."
– Tina Hallis, American author, speaker and scientist
Nelson Mandela, also affectionately known by his clan name, Madiba, devoted 67 years of his life to serving people. Each year, on July 18 (Madiba's date of birth) people across the globe take part in Mandela Day by donating 67 minutes of their time to a charitable cause.
In South Africa, Mandela Day is particularly important. Each year people go "all out," often working on charitable projects for the whole day. I live in South Africa and every year Mandela Day sparks the same discussion about donating an hour, or a day, once a year: is that the best we can do?
A few years back, the regional office of a large corporation chose to spend Mandela Day helping out at a run-down preschool. This facility served a large, but very poor, semi-urban area. The school provided two meals a day, which for many of the children was their only source of sustenance. (Needless to say, these children dreaded school holidays.)
Although the school buildings were structurally sound, they were in dire need of a coat of paint. There were few books, and no bookshelves, chairs, or even carpets or mats for students to sit on.
Early on the bitterly cold morning of July 18 (that's in the middle of the winter in South Africa!) the employees of the head office "reported for duty" at the school. Armed with tons of paint and endless enthusiasm they started transforming the drab, peeling buildings into colorful, welcoming havens.
Also making an appearance that morning were 20 volunteer carpenters. Before long, shelves started appearing in the library as if by magic. Next, there were chairs, tables and a wooden floor. By the end of the day, the books that the company employees had collected throughout the year filled the shelves and the school had been transformed.
Later that night, with the work finally completed, the employees returned home feeling elated. The excitement and gratitude of the children and teachers at the preschool was the biggest reward they could have asked for.
The CEO, however, wasn't feeling quite so jubilant. There was a nagging feeling that what they had done was only a drop in the ocean. They had transformed the school, but the children were still struggling to eat properly.
Shortly afterward, the company decided to initiate a project whereby employees could volunteer to cook for the children twice a day over weekends and during holidays.
Many employees involved in that project say it's the best team-building "event" they could ever attend: they get to know each other better, they learn how to work together in less than perfect circumstances, and they learn how to do something purely for the sake of love, rather than for any material reward. Some of them have even gone as far as describing the volunteer feeding program as "life-changing."
This story shows how big a difference charity can make – not only to the receivers, but also to the givers.
During last Friday's #MTtalk Twitter chat, we talked about using charity to make a difference. Here are the questions we asked and some of the responses.
@WonderPix Giving back, to the community, environment, etc., to make it a better place to live and work.
@itstamaragt Charity in business is the act of giving back to the community, a foundation, a special cause, or an individual, whether with money, goods, or services.
It was interesting to see the wide range of charities that were covered in the responses to this question. It shows us that we all have a specific "job" to do when it comes to charity.
@sittingpretty61 Charitable organizations that reflect some of my personal struggles with disability and the #NationalArthritisFoundation. I like to promote organizations which further the quality of life for people with disabilities.
@harrisonia Beyond fundraising, we can support a charity or nonprofit by sharing their promotions and news with our audience, to help raise awareness.
@BRAVOMedia1 We can also support by sharing the messaging and mission to others who care, and who can help make a difference on a local, regional or global level. Love the work being done locally to me with @PeaceCenterofCT. We need more PEACE!
The risks include failed projects, employees not managing their time well, and charities that don't manage funds ethically. Here are some ideas to manage employees who want to volunteer:
@MicheleDD_MT Our organization has established guidelines for managers and employees. Participation in large events requires executive support. Smaller events are at the managers' discretion.
@CommunityCorps Employees who feel like their values align with their company's values typically perform better and are happier. That's something to consider when analyzing the "risks." We love seeing companies that encourage their employees to volunteer!
@GenePetrovLMC If that nonprofit is aligned with the company's mission, it creates a lot of momentum. People will naturally want to be a part of it. As for the limits, I'm not sure if this means time or finances but I bet there has to be a limit on both.
@hopegovind Choose a charity from whom you don't derive any direct or indirect benefit. Choose a nonprofit who actually do work at ground level. Choose rural NGOs who work for poverty reduction and enhancing participation and inclusiveness.
Whether people answered "true" or "false" probably depended on how they interpreted the question, as you can see from the following responses:
@Midgie_MT False. Pick a charity that you are passionate about, rather than one that simply looks good to be associated with.
@Yolande_MT To me, "brand image" is not about window-dressing to look good to the world. It's more about aligning brand image with charities in terms of values, ethics and reputation.
Through charity you are able to expose your employees to situations that they won't come across in the workplace. It's a great way of increasing their repertoire of skills, and they can also practice existing skills in a different environment.
@NWarind It develops a sense in you that money is not the sole purpose in life. Bosses must also volunteer, to experience the feeling of fulfillment it brings.
@Ganesh_Sabari By ensuring the act of charity employs one's core skill sets. Utmost dedication is demanded of the employee as the outcome is about reputation and not money. You cannot afford to goof up.
@ZalkaB Giving to others is rewarding. You can see how it impacts those in need, and you can see your team/organization bond, as well. I personally loved seeing that every act of giving has an impact.
@Yolande_MT Exposing people to others who are less privileged helped them look at their own challenges with "new eyes."
Nowadays, people care more and more about how much good a company does, and how it gives back to the community.
@BrainBlenderTec It provides a way of giving back in a directed way, as there is often a story or number of stories which can inspire. It can have a domino effect.
@B2the7 It definitely builds trust and goodwill with both the community and charity, but it also instills a “good feeling” within the organization that they can make a difference and have the businesses support. In turn, it helps to recruit talent that WANTS to work for you.
@hopegovind You must include volunteering and giving back to the society as a part of your employee engagement activities. You should also offer surplus resources, whether technology or expertise, to help the society to grow.
@Jikster2009 There is so much to learn from people who deliver so much with so little. It is gratifying to know that you have supported others that truly need it, as well as the sense of pride in seeing your efforts make a difference.
To read all the tweets, have a look at the Wakelet collection of this chat.
We often work alongside others without really knowing them. Then, when we have to collaborate on a project or work closely together, conflict arises. Next time on #MTtalk we're going to talk about how our culture informs what we see as respect, or being respectful. In our Twitter poll this week we'd like to know which element of respect you think is most easily misunderstood or misinterpreted. Please vote in our Twitter poll, here.
In the meantime, here are some resources relating to charity projects and corporate social responsibility:
Fresh is the key ingredient to every start. In our upcoming #MTtalk Twitter chat, we will be discussing fresh starts and managing new beginnings.
See the best responses from our latest Twitter Talk on holiday highs and lows - discussing the best and worst of the winter holiday season!
"It's learning to balance push and pull, holding on and letting go, being there without smothering."