Giving back, paying forward

March 15, 2013

Donating time, resources reaps personal and professional rewards

The OWL Quarterly By Georgette Pascale

Getting involved in a good cause can be good for business, good for your health, and good for society. But as someone who has been involved in a number of professional and charitable efforts, including two in ophthalmology, I can attest that there’s a right way to do it.

First of all, you have to want to get involved. Nonprofit work is a significant investment of your time and energy. Doing so requires a certain level of commitment and dedication to the cause. It demands that you bring to the table the will to “get it done” and the time to do what you say you will. Volunteers are the lifeblood of any nonprofit organization and their positive energy is critical to keeping the organization vital and relevant.

Giving back is deeply satisfying personally, and it pays off in the long term often in unexpected ways. Whether you have launched a public relations firm or an ophthalmology practice, there are doubtless people along your path whose help made a difference. Perhaps a friend, a mentor, or even a stranger steered you in the right direction, took a chance on you, or did you a favor. Now, it may be you who has the opportunity to do a good turn for another through service. I’m a firm believer that good things come to those who do good.

At the most basic level, nonprofit or charitable work offers a chance to meet like-minded people who support a common cause. In our busy lives, when it can be hard enough to build a sense of connection at home and work, that alone can be priceless.

And, of course, volunteering can be a great networking tool. This is especially true when you get involved with professional societies or other organizations directly relevant to your occupation. As a board director of Ophthalmic Women Leaders (OWL), for example, I’ve had the opportunity to meet colleagues; identify potential partners, employees or vendors; make and receive referrals; and learn from others’ mistakes and successes.

I think I’m better at running my business because of what I’ve learned from other OWL members, even if they weren’t in exactly the same role. This kind of service is also an ideal way to establish your reputation and expand your sphere of influence within your profession.

Doing it right

So what is the right way to get involved? Many people don’t get involved because they just don’t know where to start or they are waiting until they have the time (of which there is never enough, of course). My answer to this conundrum is to start small, do what you know and love, grow your involvement, and manage your time well. If you do that, I believe you’ll gain even more than you give.

Start small. Perhaps it makes sense to “spread the love” among several different organizations. Giving of your money and your time to a variety of organizations can help you figure out where you best fit and where you want to concentrate your efforts in the future.

Do what you know. Experience an organization as a member or passive stakeholder first before committing to working actively with it. Read the newsletters. Get to know the leadership. Every organization has its own culture-you may like the cause but not the organizational vibe, and that’s okay.

Grow your involvement. Just because you like an organization and maybe even have been watching it for a while, you can’t expect to come out of nowhere and immediately join the board. If you aspire to serve on the board, actively earn it.

Manage your time. If you are passionate about getting involved, and if it’s an organization that you admire and respect, then working for that organization is something you won’t mind doing. But don’t overcommit. It’s not a job-it’s an extension of your life, a reflection of what you value, and how you want to be treated. Be clear about what you want to get out of the experience and what you want to provide for the non-profit. You’re donating your time. It’s scalable.

Service to the community-whether that community is OWL, underserved patients in a developing country, or a hometown cause-is a responsibility of leadership. It’s encouraging, inspiring, and lets other people know that there still are people who care and who want to give back. And if it makes you feel good, the real question is: Why wouldn’t you do it?

Georgette Pascale is president and chief executive officer of Pascale Communications LLC, a virtual health-care public relations firm based in the New York metro area. She serves as board secretary and public relations chair for the nonprofit Ophthalmic Women Leaders, and is an active leadership volunteer for Prevent Blindness America.