By the time the winter rolls around each year, I find myself operating at full tilt with the day-to-day running of my business, preparing for Project Winter Survival, our annual charity initiative, and spending time with my family.
It's not easy. But as cliché as it sounds, what keeps me going – despite all the late nights and endless to-do lists – is the feeling that I'm making a difference. Regardless of your background, here are some reflections on the art of giving back in a way that's meaningful to you.
1. Giving back feels good. Some people will tell you that giving back should be a selfless act; that giving back should have no benefits for you. We're all busy – with demanding jobs, families to look after, and a million things demanding our attention. Taking time out of our busy schedules often requires finding motivation. The truth is that giving back feels good – and for me that's one of the biggest motivators. It connects us to others, to something bigger than ourselves, and helps us find meaning in our lives. When time is often our most precious resource, how do we decide where to spend our efforts?
2. There's always a need. It's easy to get anesthetized to the charitable 'asks' around us: canvassers knocking at our doors, charities asking us for donations, volunteers stopping us on the street. All of those asks can become overwhelming, and sometimes it's easier to just shut it all out and disengage.
My advice for those facing this predicament is to find a cause that's meaningful for you. Choose something that interests you and that you feel strongly about; something where you can make a difference, or learn something new. It might be raising research money for an illness that's affected a loved one, or protecting the woodlands near your home, or perhaps a human rights initiative in Africa that somehow appeals to you.
3. Giving back creates community. Starting a charity on top of running a business and raising a family might seem like risking all-out burn out, but I have found that it has had the opposite effect. A huge part of giving back for me was engaging the people around me: staff, clients, family and friends. This has contributed to a strengthened the sense of community at our workplace, a meaningful experience and important set of values I can share with my children, and so many new and meaningful friendships.
4. Start where you are. Amidst the overwhelming number of social causes out there, I recognize that it can be difficult to figure out where to start. There's a quote from professional tennis player Arthur Ashe that speaks well to this point: "Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can." I encourage you to reflect on what you have to offer, how you want to contribute, and to take that first step. By just diving in, you'll help the community, broaden your horizons and feel good knowing you've made a difference. I promise, you won't regret it.
Jody Steinhauer is an award-winning entrepreneur, non-profit advocate and mother. She is the founder and CBO of Bargains Group, a national discount wholesaler, and has been a member of the Toronto Chapter of Entrepreneurs' Organization since 1997. She founded Project Winter Survival and Project Water in 2000, two community initiatives under her charity Engage and Change.