Helping Out. Simple Concept. Strong Results.

On Christmas day I volunteered with members of my family. Pretty simple concept. Pretty amazing results. Here are 4 things I took away from giving a few hours of my time to help serve Christmas lunch to in-need and/or homeless members of a community just outside of Charlotte:

1. Kid volunteers are wonderful! About 7 young volunteers (ages 5-9) greeted guests, helped in the kitchen and were fast to share hospitality (how fast can you ask “would you prefer hot cider or iced tea?) They were quick on the draw and full of pep and readiness. This is the next generation of action-takers and they are not shy! No doubts: kids who volunteer grow in ways that being involved only in their own lives could never provide. One 6 year old girl shared, “I could be at home playing with my new dolls, but I’d rather be here…” Alright to that! If you have kids and you are not offering opportunities for them to serve others, please get busy. This can do far more than “(fill in the blank) lessons.”

2.There is a bigger world out there. When you work in a nonprofit it is easy to feel like you are doing all that you can to reach a community’s needs. Guess what? There are many, many facets of the community out there that we are clueless about. Getting in to other areas away from your own field of service can snap you back into the bigger picture. I spent a couple of hours handing out gift bags to folks (most had held on to their “tickets” to receive these for a week or two to redeem them–this was just a way to gauge how many guest there would be) and I remembered what it felt like to have someone say “thank you” for something other than my handing them a debit card. Sounds shallow. Feels deep. Try it sometime.

3. People want to be jump in. Really engaging volunteers often feels like too much work. People do want to be involved, though. More volunteers than were needed showed up on Christmas Day to help out with the Christmas Lunch, but all were welcomed. What does this tell me? People need some help. People want to help. Give both parties a reason to show up and come face-to-face.

4. It feels good. I learned more about a community outside my own neighborhood than I ever could have from attending a workshop or “poverty simulation” (no, I am not making this one up) by simply showing up to help out. There’s still much to discover about our world and ourselves.As Dar Williams sings: “The world can’t be saved, only discovered.”

Why Nots–5 More to Make You Ask.

It’s time for some more “Why Nots,” folks…Here are 5 more for the picking, the asking, the acting…Go ahead Libraries, orgs or businesses ask yourselves…
…congratulations to all libraries or orgs that are already doing these…

* Why not have short, tear-away library card applications in all printed library newsletters?
* Why not work with local florists to feature fresh flowers on the central desk(s) in your building. This offers a perk for florists to feature their work as well as a more perky public space. What says “we really take pride and delight in this building” more than fresh flowers? [Take a hint from “finer” restaurants and hotels–they know the biz].
* Why not set up an ebay or online bookstore account and sell those autographed copies of books that linger on the back shelves or the more interesting or rare books (ie, books that won’t be going into the collection) that are donated or going onto the book sale table? I betcha there are volunteers who are ebay savvy who would jump at this opportunity!
* Why not ask local stores or even some of the big retailers to partner with you to create shockingly interesting displays? Give the retailer credit for the work. [Check out Urban Outfitters or Anthropology to start with–the things they can do with a few old chair legs and newspaper will amaze].
* Why not replace all those departmental newsletters (online or printed) with blogs–they work better, harder, faster–and live longer.