Why Volunteering is Good for the Soul, Community, and World


Make it attractive, make it meaningful, and make it worthwhile. According to The Guardian, these are the main factors that motivate a person to volunteer. While the behavioral science behind volunteering isn’t comprehensive, there is some consensus on a few common threads:

  1. The experience needs to provide learning for the volunteer,
  2. It needs to be convenient for the volunteer,
  3. It needs to include a social aspect, and
  4. The volunteer needs to be able to see the impact they are making.

How do you feel about these factors? Do you agree? Would they motivate you to volunteer? Do you already volunteer? SGA posed these same questions to our staff in order to understand the nitty-gritty of why people volunteer.  We specifically turned to a remote SGAer, Sara, who recently returned from a 2-month trip volunteering in Paraguay with Para La Tierra (For the Earth) studying howler monkey populations and conservation. Read about her journey; why she went, the difficulties she faced, and why it was all worth it!

Why was this experience attractive to you?
Other than wanting to spend two months living in the jungle, I wanted to volunteer for Para La Tierra because I am extremely passionate about wildlife conservation. I have always looked up to scientists like Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey and I’ve always wanted to be able to do what they did, as their work has had huge implications for wildlife and environmental conservation. This was the perfect opportunity for me to help make a significant contribution in the field. Knowing that my work there could truly help the conservation efforts in Paraguay was a huge motivator for me to go.

What were some of the challenges you encountered?
Although there were some barriers that could have prevented me from going and some hardships while I was in Paraguay, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I was fortunate to have.
A couple of the barriers I faced were: 1) Danger – there are many potential threats when traveling to South America as a young woman on my own, to a place where I didn’t know anyone, and had never been. 2) Time off of work – not many places will allow you to take a 2-month vacation! Luckily, I have an amazing boss and job at SGA, that understands the value in volunteering and helping the environment.
A few of the hardships I encountered were: 1) Getting lost – one day I ended up lost in the forest by myself with a dying GPS, surrounded by swamps that I could not cross. Luckily, I made it out, no thanks to my poor sense of direction! 2) Hunger – where we were staying, we had to cook and carry all of our food with us for the entire time we were there. This meant we had to be very conservative with what we ate.

How was this experience meaningful to you?
I believe that giving to organizations whose work you are passionate about is important – whether it is through time or money. There are so many organizations that carry out meaningful work; I wanted to be able to contribute to this.
Some of the best parts of volunteering were: 1) Living in nature – it was a healing, restorative experience to be totally immersed in a natural environment. Most of the time, we lived a simple lifestyle, with little access to Wi-Fi or technology. 2) The friendships I cultivated – spending 24 hours a day around the same people, we all got to know each other very well, very fast. I got to work with people who shared the same love and passion for the environment and wildlife as me. 3) Experiencing a different culture – Paraguayan and South American culture is very different from the lifestyle we live in the United States. It was humbling to live there and has helped me to live more sustainably.
This experience was incredibly difficult much of the time, but it changed my life in many ways. I feel that what I was doing made an impact. Additionally, the whole experience helped me to grow as a person and I feel extremely accomplished in having completed this endeavor. I feel like if I could do this, I could do almost anything!

While  Sara’s experience didn’t hit all four common threads, we did learn (in Sara’s case at least) that sometimes volunteering doesn’t need to be convenient if the motivators outweigh the barriers. Our desire to make a positive impact on the world, in an area we sincerely care about, can be enough! The overall takeaway here is that people volunteer for causes they are passionate about, when they can see themselves truly making a difference, and when the experience is fun! So what are you waiting for?  Volunteer today and make a difference!

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How Consuming and Wasting Less Means Living More

Take the opportunity of a fresh, new spring season to reaffirm your environmental goals. One way you can become an environmental hero is by reevaluating ways in which you can reduce waste in your everyday life. According to a study conducted by Duke University, the average person generates 4.3 pounds of waste per day. That’s about the weight of three basketballs per person being thrown into landfills every day.  We are producing 1.6 pounds more than what was produced per person back in 1960. But don’t despair! Spring is all about renewal, so here are a few beginning steps that you can take to make a difference:

Avoid Disposables

  • Bring a portable reusable bag with you everywhere you go or at least have it readily accessible in the car. If you go shopping, you’ll be able to easily retrieve your reusable bag. Next time the cashier asks plastic or paper, your response will be “I have my own bag.”
  • Bring a portable water bottle with you. Not only will you save money, you will break the cycle of plastic consumption.

Buy/Wear Second-Hand Whenever Possible

  • Fast fashion is the second biggest polluter in the world next to oil. Clothing made via the fast fashion method are not durable. As we buy more and more of these types of clothing, we are increasing our consumption of unsustainable clothes.
  • Visit thrift stores to find unique clothing while saving some money and the environment
  • Borrow clothes from friends or set up a clothing exchange where everyone can share items together. Not only will you expand your style options, you’ll also make a tangible effect on the amount of pollution produced by new clothing manufacturing.

Make the Transition to Digital

  • Cancel paper subscriptions of magazines and newspapers and switch to digital
  • Use audiobooks and ebooks. If you must have a paper copy, visit the thrift store to give old books another life.

The less we consume the less we waste. You don’t have to aim for a perfect, zero-waste lifestyle. Every little bit of trash that is diverted counts. So the next time the waiter asks if you need a straw, just say “No thanks.”

Black History Month: 5 Environmental Leaders to Look Up To

In honor of Black History Month, SGA celebrates the achievements of five African American environmental leaders who have championed environmental issues for local and national communities. These heroes brought awareness to environmental issues by creating urban farms in empty lots, walking everywhere and giving up motorized transport, live broadcasting environmental justice issues, and sharing stories of the Buffalo Soldiers. Take a moment, in fact take many moments, to celebrate the spectacular accomplishments of these five remarkable African-American leaders who worked to promote healthy environments and communities for all.

John Francis, The Planet Walker
“One day in 1983, John Francis stepped out on a walk. For the next 22 years, he trekked and sailed around North and South America, carrying a message of respect for the Earth — for 17 of those years, without speaking.

During his monumental, silent trek, he earned an MA in environmental studies and a PhD in land resources. Today his Planetwalk foundation consults on sustainable development and works with educational groups to teach kids about the environment.” Watch his TED Talk here

“Part of the mystery of walking is that the destination is inside us and we really don’t know when we arrive until we arrive.”

Karen Washington, Urban FarmerGrowing up in the urban density of New York, all Karen wanted to do was become a farmer. Since 1985, she has transformed empty lots throughout the Bronx into community gardens. The first one was named the “Garden of Happiness.”
Karen is the co-founder of the Black Urban Growers, an organization that helps build networks and communities between urban and rural growers.

“You know sometimes people think food is a privilege. Food isn’t a privilege, it’s a right. And we want people to exercise that right to fresh, healthy produce in their neighborhood, and that’s what we’re all about.”

Will Allen, Urban Farmer
A MacArthur fellow, Will Allen is a former professional basketball player who built an urban farm without fences on an empty lot in Milwaukee to provide fresh, healthy, and affordable foods to underserved communities. As the founder of the non-profit Growing Power, Will has used innovative farming techniques such as vermicomposting, or using worms to turn organic waste into high quality compost to produce large amounts of food in small areas.

“It’s my belief that everybody regardless of their economic means should have access to the same healthy, safe, and affordable food that is grown naturally.”

Margie Eugene-Richard, Activist
Margie installed a webcam in her trailer home to live broadcast the pollution of her predominantly black neighborhood of Norco, Louisiana coming from her local Shell oil refinery. While speaking at an international environmental conference, Richard approached Shell officials and invited them to take a sniff from a bag of Norco air. Margie was the champion in a long, hard victory to hold the Shell oil refinery accountable to her community.

“Truth and justice for the betterment of life, the environment and government is the stairway to upward mobility.”

Shelton Johnson, National Park Ranger
A Detroit native, Shelton grew up dreaming of wild mountain landscapes. Today, he shares stories of the Buffalo Soldiers as a park ranger in Yosemite National Park and across classrooms in the US. Shelton invited Oprah Winfrey to Yosemite in 2010 to encourage African Americans to claim their inheritance as owners of our national parks.

“And I can’t not think of the other kids, just like me – in Detroit, Oakland, Watts, Anacostia – today. How do I get them here? How do I let them know about the buffalo soldier history, to let them know that we, too, have a place here?”

The Cause Marketing Approach to Life: Anya Liddiard

Meet Anya Liddiard, our primary Marketing Manager on LA Stormwater, whose life trajectory followed the question: What can I contribute to make the world a little better? A native Russian who holds advanced degrees in Economics and Mass Communications from Virginia Commonwealth University, Anya later relocated to the West Coast, even though she initially didn’t like the weather in California. Today, you can find her enjoying California’s splendors with her family and upcycling abandoned furniture. “I’m that person that drives and picks up interesting items off the street to repurpose them. It is my way to consume less,” Anya says.

Her passion for sustainability and cause marketing has been successfully harnessed while working at her previous marketing and advertising jobs with NBC and E! Networks, Tesla, and Hyundai. Today, she brings her experience and her belief that doing good is good business to SGA.

Here’s what she has learned along the way:
I come from the fast world of traditional advertising and I have always been driven to find that component to do good in this world. Throughout my journey I have developed a certain approach to my life and my work.

Go Beyond Consumerism: Encourage people to buy more than the product and get behind a positive cause. While working at Hyundai, I was challenged to ask deeper questions. How can someone benefit from this company rather than just motivating people to buy our product?

Go Beyond Promotion: Promote positive behavior change. Find ways to challenge yourself and change people’s behavior for the benefit of all. Search for patterns and opportunities to solve brands’ business problems by adding value to the world, even if it’s as small as motivating people at work to use one paper towel at a time.

Go Beyond Messaging: Make people think differently. Find ways to help brands and consumers prove who they are through the actions they take. This could mean creating meaningful partnerships, acting on a cause, creating inspiring ideas of social change or simply giving reusable water bottles for people’s birthdays (been there, done that!).

Above all, the most important approach to my life lies in my daughter. I began Russian in the Park in Long Beach to immerse my daughter in her culture while getting families together to celebrate Russian culture.  As a mother, I am lovingly driven by the needs of my daughter and hope to keep her interested in her culture and language.

Appleseed: Social Marketing in the Developing World

At SGA, all of our projects focus on using social marketing to change behavior and improve communities working hand-in-hand with our clients. That goal is the foundation of every decision we make in designing our programs and, in this case, even in the decisions staff make when they move on from SGA. This very special blog features Appleseed, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization started by former and current SGAers through a program at SGA called Core Time.

Appleseed (appleseedimpact.org) brings social marketing to the places that need it most to improve what children eat. Appleseed partners with existing nonprofit organizations who are doing great work in deserving communities, but maybe don’t have the marketing background or resources to undertake the kind of social marketing campaigns that SGA implements for communities across the state. By volunteering its expertise, Appleseed is able to increase the impact of its partners by orders of magnitude and make big change in short time.

Appleseed produces a podcast to keep its donors up to date on its work. This episode of Appleseed Radio follows the origins of Appleseed with Stephen interviewing Philip Kao, former SGA Project Manager and Appleseed Project Director.

Listen on if you ever imagined what it would be like to mix social marketing with a healthy dose of giardia.

You can also read the full interview transcript here: Appleseed Radio Episode 6 Transcript

If you want to hear more of Appleseed Radio, check them out on the Appleseed Radio Page and if you want to learn more about how SGA’s work shaped Appleseed (like how a brand guide to get Bay Area teens to stop littering helped shape a strategy to get rural farmers to embrace a funny looking corn), drop us a line and let us know.

Protests and Progress: How Action Inspires Change

It’s impossible to tune into the news right now without hearing about the thousands of people across the country who are demonstrating. On so many levels, this is a good thing.

By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the grand jury decisions—one in Missouri, the other in New York—not to indict two white police officers in the deaths of two unarmed black men. We could go on for days discussing every tiny bit of information about both cases, but for a moment, let’s focus on the reaction: protests. People have channeled their disbelief, anger, frustration and fear into action.

Action is a powerful antidote to fear, and it’s an essential component of behavior change. When we listen to the news, we take in a lot of scary information. From climate change and terrorism to racism and poverty, we can easily become overwhelmed and paralyzed by problems too big for any one of us to solve on our own. As a result, many people shut down or deny the problems exist altogether.

But when highly fearful information is coupled with a plan of action, suddenly we have a way to alleviate the sense of danger. Empowerment replaces denial and hope overtakes desperation. We’ve seen this time and again in community-based social marketing campaigns.

Say I created a recycling campaign that informed people that every day the US generates enough trash to fill 63,000 garbage trucks, and left it at that. It’s a pretty staggering fact and it would likely cause shock, fear for the future, powerlessness and ultimately shut down. But if I also told them how they could reduce their trash by drinking from reusable cups, recycling everything possible and starting a compost pile, I would give them something to do. And that action has the power to overcome the fear and helplessness and create lasting behavior change.

The grand jury decisions are a lot like the 63,000 garbage trucks full of trash for many people. The peaceful protests and demonstrations (not the looting kind) are inspiring, because people have joined forces to confront their fear and plant the seeds for real change.

Purging for Good

Spring cleaning is months away but I found myself not being able to stop once I started purging my home of things I didn’t use or need. The best part of downsizing is not the oh-so-proud feeling of accomplishment when you clean out your closet — although I admit it’s up there. It’s knowing that others less fortunate will be able to use what you give and make even better use of it than you ever would have had you kept it in your closet. In short, it’s recycling and reusing at its best.

As the temperatures drop, even in sunny California, it’s hard not to think about how a wool coat could help those who can’t afford to buy clothes to keep them warm; or what a gently worn pantsuit could do to help women trying to rebuild their lives after years of homelessness or abuse.

I have given away more than 20 bags of things so far to the Asian American Drug Abuse Program and I’m just getting started. I started with clothes, shoes and accessories. Then I recycled all of my travel, food, fashion and alumni magazines. Next up: my book shelf that is busting at the seams with books. I’m sure there are people and schools across the city, nation and world that could make better use of some of these used books than I would. I like to hang on to books I’ve liked but the truth is I don’t ever re-read them. So, in Disney’s wisdom, I’ve decided to let it go.

I am now conditioned to scan my home looking for things to give away and donate. Of course, I don’t give away junk that no longer works but you’d be surprised at how many perfectly serviceable items you own that have gathered dust over the years. Moreover, don’t forget the icing on the cake in the form of a tax write-off you get when you donate goods. Timing couldn’t be better for the home stretch of the 2014 tax year.

In this season of giving, consider gathering things you don’t need or use (I use the three-year rule – if you haven’t used, read or worn it in the last three years…) and giving them to those who not only need them but could also make better use of them and most importantly, your things would help them start a new life toward healing and success.

Giving Thanks This Thanksgiving

We recently learned about Rebaldo and Silvia. From the onset, either one of them could pass for just about any other teenager living in LA. As we dug a little deeper into their heartfelt stories, however, it became clear that they had come a long way – a long way toward a place we often take for granted.

Take Rebaldo. Rebaldo and his family of six used to live in a garage. All six of them shared a single bathroom. They shared beds and there was barely any room to walk around in. They didn’t have any outdoor space for the kids to play in and had to drive for miles to find the nearest park. Then there was the last straw. “I was lying down and felt something nibbling on my toe. When I looked to see what it was, it was a rat about six inches long. A big rat. I looked at my toe and it was bleeding,” he said, recounting the incident. “It was horrible.”

Rebaldo’s mom Guadalupe sought help and soon found a home through an affordable housing project funded by the Los Angeles Housing + Community Investment Department (HCIDLA). The children have their own rooms and don’t need to wait for a single bathroom anymore. They have a yard where Rebaldo plays ball with his sister and a beautiful gourmet kitchen with granite countertops and hardwood floors. “I feel like a queen here,” said Guadalupe.

The odds were equally stacked against Silvia when she first came to HCIDLA’s partnering agency Central City Neighborhood Partners to get tutoring classes when she was in 3rd grade. Silvia’s family of eight was making $9,600 a year, which is well below the federal poverty line. Her dad had intermittent work and her mom had an autistic sister that she cared for. Through the help of the agency’s social services that included parent education, healthy lifestyle and civic engagement, Silvia and her mom took advantage of existing resources and got more involved over the years. Silvia excelled in school and recently graduated with honors on her way to becoming a freshman at the University of Southern California, just down the street from where she grew up in Pico Union.

Rebaldo and Silvia’s stories reaffirm the importance of leveling the playing field to ensure everyone has the same opportunities to succeed in life. More importantly, their stories remind us of how fortunate we are to have what we have and to be thankful for it.We would like to thank HCIDLA for sharing these powerful stories of impact with us and urge all of you to take a moment to give thanks – for good health, for a loving family, for a roof over our heads, the list goes on.

Why Free is the Enemy of Change

Everyone loves free stuff. We’re culturally wired toward getting something for nothing. And marketers know it. Order now and receive two free months! Free shipping! Buy one, get one FREE! The lure of free is a powerful and universal motivation to buy.

At SGA, our marketing isn’t focused on selling air conditioners or getting people to drink more soda. We set out to change the way people behave in a lasting way that will benefit the planet. Our method is called community-based social marketing, and while its end is lofty, we’re not above using a few freebies to get people there.

That’s because one of the main principles of behavior change is reciprocity. Basically, people feel indebted to someone who does or gives something to them. Hand out t-shirts at an environmental expo, and people will be more likely to listen to your recycling message and even recycle more at home.

Freebies do work—to a point.They’re more of an icebreaker than a closer. To bring about lasting change, you need people to invest in an action. Studies show that while we love free, we value what we’ve purchased. Let’s give an example. Say I save up to buy a vintage cake stand (that’s a hint, Santa Claus). To me and most people, the cost of the cake stand gives it worth. Choosing and purchasing that cake increases its value in my eyes and ups my commitment to using it and treating it well.

The same logic goes for environmental tools. It would be great to give away low-flow toilets to every resident of a city. But the better way to get people engaged in water conservation would be to sell the toilets at a highly discounted price. Homeowners would feel that they’re getting a deal—which satisfies the love of free—while still requiring them to invest a little cash and show commitment.

A Different Kind of Holiday for Foster Children

For SGA’s volunteer event this quarter, I was honored to be part of the very first Korean American Service Day on Nov. 8 where SGA’s army of 10 helped to wrap gifts and write cards for foster kids’ holiday party organized by nonprofit Korean American Family Services.

We wrapped gifts for about 100 foster kids, all of whom had jotted down their wishlist that included everything from basic necessities such as socks and underwear to a tricycle and mega Lego set.

We also wrote cards with messages of hope for those same kids so they know there are people who care deeply about their well-being and happiness. Each and every one of the cards’ messages was different.

Team SGA worked so quickly and efficiently that we were done at least an hour early, which left time to snack on the spread that the hosts had generously laid out that included Madeleine cookies, grapes and chips.

It was extra special to volunteer on this very day, as Korean American Service Day was a national effort that included nearly 300 volunteers across seven cities including New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Atlanta, San Francisco and San Jose.  Activities included planting trees, making kimchi at a woman’s shelter and tutoring.

Korean American Service Day was a project born this year out of a program I was a part of called the Network of Korean American Leaders, which brings together Korean American professionals from all over the country to coach us on leadership and how we could better serve our community. The program culminated in this Korean American Service Day that seeks to become the biggest annual community service day organized by an Asian American group.

While the day is organized by Korean Americans, neither the volunteers nor beneficiaries need to be Korean Americans. In this inaugural year, our LA crew volunteered at the LA Regional Food Bank, Korean American Family Services, Korean American Coalition and Kollaboration.

We mobilized 300+ volunteers in seven cities — not too shabby for our first Korean American Service Day. I’m looking forward to volunteer at many more Korean American Service Days with our fierce Team SGA!