The subject of volunteerism is something I usually keep fairly intimate. In the past, I’ve been hesitant to tout my commitment to community service for several reasons. First, I’ve never wanted others to perceive my efforts as self-serving. Far too often, companies use community service as a marketing ploy. They show up in a lower-income neighborhood, proudly spend 8 hours building a park bench, snap a quick shot— and leave. Second, servitude is so inherent to my life it’s absolutely normal. To me, volunteering is a nonevent— it’s just natural and not worthy of any proclamation.
Entrepreneurs are saturated with bold, philanthropic headlines clogging up our newsfeed: “Mark Zuckerberg pledges to donate $45 Billion fortune.” “Bill Gates gives 100,000 chickens to Africa.” We see billionaires who give in a big way, and assume charity and community service are capital-intensive. But it doesn’t have to be. I’m fortunate to have befriended so many successful entrepreneurs and visionaries of tomorrow. However, the sentiment seems almost unison that volunteering is too time consuming for a budding business tycoon. Everyone seeks to give someday, but it’s always tomorrow. The thought of volunteering is always post-acquisition, post-cashout. Right now, we’re just trying to steer the ship to the Green Gods… right? Wrong. Volunteering doesn’t have to fight your work life. The two can not only coexist, but thrive off each other.
Last October, #IdVolunteerBut trended on Twitter, calling out those who make excuses for not donating their time.
I’ve decided to speak up about my experience as a volunteer in hopes of enlightening fellow young entrepreneurs who believe they’re too strapped for time to serve. When I branched out and decided to start my own business, I promised to build my career around a commitment to volunteer— not vice versa. And the model I’ve used can translate to almost any self-employed individual.
For me, the expectation of community service has been present my whole life. Perhaps it’s just in my DNA. My Grandfather is a Civil Rights Leader and Presbyterian Minister who fought segregation in the 60’s and helped establish the first substantial church-based community outreach programs. I have cousins who travel across the globe to help those caught up in war-torn regions. And my parents have always been big into philanthropy, especially in healthcare and human rights. But for me, I found my best fit is serving in my local community on a modest, but consistent basis.
Run Your Service Like Your Business
To be a successful and impactful volunteer, the process is similar to starting a business. We A/B test strategies, and explore where in the market we belong. I’ve dabbled in quite a few different volunteer projects before I found the right fit. From fixing up middle school band halls, to helping families recover after a massive fertilizer explosion, I’ve tried just about everything. But over the last year, I finally found my calling— working with the kids. In particular, kids who don’t have a strong family support system in place. Through a friend, I found Jonathan’s Place, an emergency shelter for abused and neglected children. Kids come in from all different backgrounds, and have experienced pain and suffering no child should ever even comprehend. But at the end of the day, they’re still kids, and optimism always prevails in a child’s mind. They just want to enjoy their summer, play video games and shoot hoops. And in a very self-serving way, isn’t that just what I need and want?
As business owners, we’re constantly caught up in the crisis of the day. There’s a furious client, an unpaid invoice, a list of dead-end sales leads. We’ve trained ourselves to deal with the daily knock-down in the best way we can. But instead of coping through drugs and alcohol as many of us do, why not unwind in a way that helps others? For me, I feel at home with these kids. We get to slow down the pace and focus on the simple things; like a quick pick-up game, or a round of Connect Four. Don’t get me wrong, the journey can be emotional at times. I’ve had to deal with a teenager attempt suicide. I’ve tried my best to comfort a young boy afraid and confused as to why the court split him apart from his older sisters. And no MBA or business leadership course could train you how to respond to a five ear old jokingly recalling the time his Dad punched him in the face. Yes, a five year old. But at the end of the day, I’m so inspired by their perseverance and optimism it makes me a more determined, focused, and conditioned entrepreneur. I no longer wake up feeling afraid to open my inbox, and remember whatever ‘crisis’ lies ahead is trivial and survivable.
We’re Giving More Than Ever
The good news, is that Millennials are more committed to volunteerism than any other generation. In 2014, over 74% of Millennials spent at least an hour volunteering. That’s staggering! And unlike previous generations, Millennials aren’t motivated to volunteer by an overbearing boss. More than 65% are motivated by peers and co-workers and are more eager to use their skills to benefit an organization rather than a monetary donation.
As of now, I’m volunteering roughly 10-12 hours a week. I donate as well, but on a scale that’s not headline-worthy. Yet, I sleep at ease knowing when it comes to my community, I give more than I take.
Dillon Roulet is a Dallas-based Entrepreneur, Musician and Volunteer. Feel free to email any questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jonathan’s Place is a residential emergency shelter providing services to children that have been abandoned or removed from their homes by Child Protective Services due to abuse and neglect. For more information on Jonathan’s Place and to become a volunteer, visit their volunteer page.