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!

Develop a Relationship You Can Work With

Do you have a best friend at work? This question elicits pause, but it is also a question that reveals one of the foundational characteristics of a highly productive workgroup. According to Gallup research, there are 12 key factors that describe great workgroups. One of these relates to the quality of the relationships we have with co-workers. Employees who report having a best friend, or a coworker to share a quality relationship with are:

  • 37% more likely to report that someone at work encourages their development
  • 27% more likely to report that the mission of their company makes them feel their job is important
  • 21% more likely to report that at work, they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day

Here are some suggestions that can foster quality relationships between coworkers. Best of all, these relationship-building activities can be done during lunch hour. Take a break, enjoy each other’s company, and get to know the people you work with over a meal.

Buddy Lunch: Pair a new employee with an older staff member to have an informal one-on-one lunch at a nearby eatery. Use this time to take a walk and bond by sharing a meal in a casual environment.

Themed Potlucks: Once a month, SGA holds an hour long meeting to reflect upon working developments. After some critical conversations, each SGA staff brings in a dish to share. The conversation continues all the way into clean-up time where we tag team to do the dishes. Teamwork and funny conversations naturally develop over Alphabet, Prediction, Campfire, and Smelly Food-themed potlucks.

Salons: Recognize that each and every employee has passions and pursuits outside of work. Take a lunch break to have an open forum to share and cross-pollinate new ideas. As examples, one SGAer shared her experience surviving the Eastern Sierra wilderness in the winter. Another SGAer shared the lessons he learned as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Panama.

This Valentine’s Day, nurture and celebrate all relationships, but especially ones within the workplace. Take initiative to build a stronger work community.

Clinton, Yahoo and the Modern Family

This past January marked 20 years since Bill Clinton first took office as the first baby boomer president, and as one of his first actions he signed the Family and Medical Leave Act. The Act mandated that employers allow either or both of the new parents the ability to take unpaid leave from their work to take care of their newborn baby. In many ways it was the country’s official (albeit, belated) acknowledgment that the world had changed and that families with two working parents were the norm.

At the time when the Act was passed, I was an engineer working at Los Angeles County Public Works and my wife (a pharmacist) had just found out that she was pregnant with our first child. I was just three and half years out of college and as a young dad was ready to take on the challenge of fatherhood in a new era. The plan was that my wife Thuy would take off for the first four months and then I would take off for the second four months.

However, County Public Works, as I found out, had not yet made the mental shift to this new era. I got well intentioned advice that this might not be a good move, various skeptical questions checking to see if I was somehow “gaming” the system and finally, reluctant permission. As it turned out, I was the first dad in the organization to take this new leave and my request was somewhat understandably met with bewilderment by my engineer bosses; men who had been dads in an era when roles were different and young ambitious engineers (like I was) followed a standard regimented career path void of such distractions.

Then in 1997, my second son was born and in four short years perspectives had already changed. By this time I was in management and rising. I had a key role in managing a couple very large and visible contracts. I again, requested time off, however this time the reaction was different. Not only was I granted time off, but my boss worked with me so that I didn’t have to take unpaid leave. Instead my boss created a flexible part time schedule, mixed with my accumulated time off and telecommuting so that I could both cover staying at home with my son and continue to manage those key contracts.
What created such a big change in such a short time? Continue reading “Clinton, Yahoo and the Modern Family”