Seven Ways to Getting Started and Making it Stick

The fact is, the world needs you. It needs your goodness, generosity and time. Whatever your gifts, your limitations, your uncertainties or your schedule, the world needs the good that is uniquely yours to share.  Whether your current reach is one person, or a roomful, or on a global scale, using your strengths to make the world a more humane, sustainable and generous place is worth every bit of the time and attention it takes to make it happen. Here are some steps for getting started and sticking with it.

  • Gut Check

There are a million needs in this world, but there’s only one you. So which of the world’s needs resonate with you? Which headlines make you feel something deep in your gut?  Which photos make your heart ache and long to help? What stories call you to make a difference in the outcome and the future?  

Pay attention to what gets the attention of the best parts of your mind and heart, and then really listen to what they are telling you. Find a way to make a difference where you live. If you can’t help lost kids across the world, can you help one kid in your town?

  • Start Small

Once you’ve identified the direction of your heart and your gut, research organizations in your area that are a good fit for you.  Drop by the centers, read their literature and talk to volunteers. If you are housebound, or limited in your ability to be physically present, be emotionally present via online communities, inviting others to your home, making phone calls, making meals, writing letters. Don’t be afraid to ask for help in achieving these goals.   

If you have kids in your life, talk with them about the organization/cause that draws you and why you care about it.  Tell them why you would love them to be involved with you in some way with this new project, and take them with you so they can see volunteerism in action.  Lead by example and show them why it’s good to care about people, places and needs beyond our own. If you don’t already know the reasons yourself, you’ll learn it through the process of showing up.

  • Show Up

The key to showing up on a regular basis to anything, including volunteer projects or community service, is being honest with yourself about how much time you actually have to give to it. Don’t make community service just another thing on your long to-do list. If you realistically only have one hour every other month, start with that and see where it goes. Show up for that every-other-month commitment and be completely present for the work you do in that time. Model the behavior, the commitment, and the reality check with your kids.

  • Don’t Be the Boss

Your go-to position in life might be that of the boss. Now might be a good time to check that at the door. Organizations that endure do it by being organized (and ethical, genuine, responsive, committed, funded and relevant). Listen to what they do, why they do it, and how they do it. Then help them do it by being willing to be present and serve. It can be as simple and beautiful as that.

  • Be a Leader

Yes, it’s actually different than being the boss. Whether you volunteer for an established organization, work with a grassroots startup, or rally a group of coworkers together for a special cause, leading by example—being creative, adaptive, focused, determined, committed, compassionate, inclusive, intelligent and inspiring—provides the fuel that powers the ability to change lives for the better. And if one of your leadership skills is the ability to make people laugh, use that talent liberally. In good times, humor lifts us and in bad times, it saves us.

  • Be Present

Whether you are canvassing for a cause, or dishing up meals at a community shelter, the good that you do, and feel, multiplies when shared with others. Connecting in real time is one of the surest ways to become accountable, committed and engaged with a shared purpose. Whether it’s one-on-one tutoring of a child or distributing food for hundreds, real life, and real change, happens in community. The desire for community, in whatever way you define that for yourself, happens within, but the power of community manifests itself through the dedicated presence of its members.  

  • Be Generous

Within the realities of your personal and professional commitments, be generous. Whether it’s time, talent, or muscle, be generous with what you have to offer. If you have the resources and desire, be generous with funding, too.  Contrary to the old adage, money isn’t the root of all evil, it’s what people do with money that poisons or nourishes life.  Develop a constructive, responsible and open relationship with money and share that process with your kids. Set a good example of responsible generosity. Kids watch adults for cues on how to act, react and live in the world—and they watch very closely. Model behaviors that are worthy of them and their future.

Photo by Steve Debenport/iStock / Getty Images