I am a board member of a few non-profit groups. I look for ones to which I have something to offer, but also ones that I have something to learn from. I am lucky in that I can afford to be generous, but honestly, it’s harder to be generous with my time than with my checkbook. Sometimes I do ask myself “Why do I miss family dinners for board meetings? Why do I volunteer my time when I never have enough time?”
But I know the answer…when I look back at all the time, energy and effort I’ve given to help others, I realize I’ve gotten much more in return. The most basic return of all is the warm fuzzy feeling of happiness that comes from helping others. But with each group I get involved in, I meet a whole new bunch of people who have helped me learn a whole bunch of new things. I can bring those lessons back to my own business, and also to pursuing my own dreams. And if I’ve missed a few dinners with my kids, at least they are seeing me doing good things for other people—I hope I’m setting a good example.
One of my favorite boards is the New York Restoration Project (NYRP), which was founded by Bette Midler to help clean up New York City (which desperately needed it when she started almost 15 years ago). She creates beautiful parks all over the city and has set a goal of planting a million trees. My daughter Maya, who lives in New York and can’t afford to donate money, has donated her time to plant trees…so I guess that my good example did pay off in her case.
This year, at the NYRP annual Spring Picnic fundraiser, I was inspired to have a dress made from a vintage tablecloth (and organic fabrics, of course). It was something I have always dreamed of doing, and I found a wonderful woman who makes clothes for historical re-enactors, Lori Beasley, to make it for me. It turns out Bette used to collect vintage tablecloths too! Bette thinks my tablecloth used to be hers, but I told her it couldn’t have been since it had never been used before.
If you want to spend some money to help NYRP, their awesome auction is on CharityBuzz.com until June 10. Just don’t bid on the personal backstage BBQ with Keith Urban—because that is MINE. (You can try for lunch with Hugh Jackman!) If you don’t have money to donate—or don’t even have a job right now—volunteer at a local organization that makes you feel good. Non-profits are really struggling these days, and they need all the help they can get. But you’ll be amazed at what YOU get out of it. Hey, you might even get a new job!