Monday, December 31, 2012

It Is in Giving that We Receive

I haven’t been the most faithful blogger lately, but recent interactions with two well-known people have caused me to reflect on a topic near and dear to me: volunteerism. As we look back on one year and prepare to start another, such reflection is natural, a form of examination of conscience. In this post, I’d like to discuss how doing good for others can also be good for you; how altruistic service can benefit your career, though I hope the former is your true motivator.

On December 2, I had a great conversation with C.J.Wilson, a pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. We met at the Winter Wish Gala fundraiser for The Partnership at, a nonprofit organization with which my employer, Watson Pharmaceuticals, partners.  C.J. presented the Major League Baseball Commissioner’s Play Healthy Award to a student athlete and a youth coach who are committed to fair, clean competition and a healthy lifestyle. C.J. is also a supporter of The Partnership, which is apropos because he lives a “straight edge” life – eschewing alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs – and is a proponent of healthy, sportsmanlike play.

In the course of our conversation, C.J. asked me about the role of a corporate board of directors, and while the technical answer involves a fiduciary duty to shareholders, it is more than that.  A board helps discern a company’s vision, sets compensation for executive management and policy for the organization, and lends its expertise to the proper operation of the corporation.  I told him it’s the same as serving on the board of a volunteer organization. I told C.J., who is also a business owner and race car driver, that whether it’s a local youth group or a college’s board of trustees, serving as a director on a nonprofit board is a good way to lend his expertise in ways mentioned above.  It’s also an opportunity to network with other corporate professionals who, once they learn of his ability as a strategic thinker skilled in more than pitching, may very well invite him to join their boards.  C.J. is no stranger to philanthropy, starting his own nonprofit foundation to help children and teens who have medical, financial or social challenges. He is a role model – not just for youth, but for all of us, especially to those to whom much is given (and much is expected).

Over the past few days, I learned of the work of meteorologist and reporter David Brown, who is leaving his dual positions at WCVB, the ABC affiliate in Boston, to become Chief Advancement Officer for the Forsyth Institute in Cambridge, MA.  They are a leading independent oral health research institution, which started as a provider of free dental care for children in Boston. David’s résumé shows a true commitment to helping others through significant involvement in a variety of volunteer positions. I’m sure that in those roles he contributed his own talents and learned about nonprofit operations, especially the all-important role of fundraising.  As Chief Advancement Officer, David will be responsible for generating donations needed to keep the Forsyth Institute in operation.  David is an example of good things happening to good people.  His dedicated service helped prepare him for this new stage of his career.

I could say the same thing about myself.  Over the years, I’ve served on the boards of more than 50 nonprofit organizations.  I did so because I believed in their causes and have a sense of duty to give back to the community in which I live and work.  Jobs that I’ve had over the years, particularly my current position as director of corporate giving at Watson, resulted from contacts or experiences resulting from my community service work.

Whether just starting a career, in the twilight of it, or retired, we all have perspectives, expertise and life experiences that can and should be put to work on behalf of others. All it takes is as little as an hour or two a month to make a difference.  Over the course of nearly two decades, I’ve known hundreds of college students who have talents in communication, construction, finance and fundraising, health and wellness, human resources, law, real estate, teaching, technology, and many other fields.  So many organizations need their – and your – time, talent, and yes, your treasure.  You may not be able to donate all three, particularly if you’re saddled with college debt, but perhaps you will consider the first two to start.  

What’s your passion?  Is there a disease that impacted your family or friends?  Is there a cause in which you are interested, anything from animal welfare to literacy to human rights?  There are organizations out there begging for your involvement.  Contact one and offer your services.  You will be welcomed with open arms.  You may even get more out of it than you put into it, developing your people skills, learning about operations in areas outside your field of expertise, and meeting people who could become mentors, advocates, references, employers or friends.  

One last thing…In my previous post I said I would write about employment benefits, but work and life got in the way.  My thoughts on those will eventually make their way here.  However, as we enter the New Year, and harking back to that examination of conscience I mentioned earlier, I want to provide links to two columns that appeared last week in the New York Times.  The first reflects on philanthropy by the top one percent, or more accurately, the top one-tenth of one percent, and is written by Nicholas Kristof.  The second is by Frank Bruni and causes us to think about what is really important in life.  It’s a valuable lesson on which to reflect each day of our lives. Have a happy, healthy, peaceful and prosperous New Year!