Volunteer Time Off (VTO) Programs Can Transform Employees

Photo credit: Larm Rmah for unsplash.com

Photo credit: Larm Rmah for unsplash.com

Beyond offering leadership academies, mentoring, and coaching, more companies are choosing to engage employees in a more meaningful, personal way by offering Volunteer Time Off (VTO). I am a firm believer in volunteerism and how it enhances professionals’ skills. What is unique about VTO is that employees are paid while working on important local, national, or global community projects, learn from the experience, and hopefully apply that learning at work. Outdoor gear specialist Patagonia offers employees a variety of VTO opportunities, and sales leader salesforce.org offers its employees seven paid VTO days each year.

VTO is a win-win for both employer and employee. Here are some thoughts on the benefits of VTO:

Deeper level of connection. Service to others sets aside the ego because your number one goal is to help others. Many companies require employees to remain “unplugged” from technology while participating in VTO. No quick sales calls. No checking in with the office. The whole point of the experience is to engage fully in the work to be done.

Present moment awareness. When you are volunteering for others, you are most concerned with handling the task at hand, no matter what it is. Whether helping to build a Habitat for Humanity home in an aging urban city or bring fresh water to a small village in Africa, you are most mindful of what you are doing from moment to moment.

Expanded worldview. When you see the world from an entirely different perspective while living among people whose cultures and way of life are completely opposite from yours, it shifts your worldview. Some say the experience is as if someone removed a film from their eyes so they could see more clearly.

Transformation. Beyond an expanded worldview can come a complete transformation of mind, body, and spirit. Acts of kindness build character. You may see a slight change in yourself, or you may see a different person emerging after a VTO experience.

Better employees. When you learn something new every day, use different creative thinking or problem solving skills, and lead, or even follow, you return to your company as a better employee. You gain much more from an offsite cultural exchange than you ever could experience within an office environment.

Shared, supportive values. Companies that offer VTO to its employees share positive values with employees, like compassion, kindness, generosity, and creativity. When you work for a company that practices social responsibility, you just feel good when you come to the office every day.

How could a Volunteer Time Off program benefit your company and its employees?

Repositioning a Generation: How March for Our Lives Elevated Generation Z’s Image

ThankYouthPosterWhat has happened since the tragic February 14, 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, is truly remarkable. In just five short weeks, Stoneman Douglas students ignited a nationwide youth movement #NeverAgain to speak out against gun violence, encouraging participation in the March 24, 2018 March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. and cities around the world. The result: Their generation, Generation Z, has elevated its position in our American psyche, shifting older generations’ views of them from “entitled” or “lazy” to now a generation of doers, thought leaders, and change-makers.

These youth elevated their image in several simple yet powerful ways:

Determination. The Parkland students were determined to give voice to an issue that has plagued our country for decades. They succeeded in setting themselves apart in the March for Our Lives and changing how others saw their generation.

Inclusion. Students, teachers, administrators, parents, and the general public were invited to participate in the March for Our Lives. Just two weeks after the Parkland shooting, students from Chicago were invited to Parkland to share their experiences. Two days before the March, Parkland students met with students from Thurgood Marshall Academy in Washington, D.C., to discuss their experiences with gun violence.

Organization. What the Parkland students were able to accomplish in just five short weeks is incredible. Students accepted full responsibility for getting their tasks done, and they achieved them.

Eloquence. The memorable presentation by Emma Gonzalez, and her powerful use of silence, has people talking about how she may become Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. Emma and other Parkland students appeared on the national platform for the first time in their lives. Each student spoke with such deep emotion, compassion, and eloquence.

Positive Messaging. Filled with passion and emotion, students’ messages remained positive, clear and consistent throughout the speaker program as well as media interviews. Presenters focused on telling their own stories with insight and great maturity.

All of that hard work created a new statistic: The March 24, 2018 March for Our Lives represents the largest youth demonstration since the Vietnam War (reminder: that was more than a half century ago).

When asked by a reporter “What’s next?,” without hesitation, Stoneman Douglas high school student David Hogg quickly and succinctly outlined what those specific next steps are:

* Reach out to eligible youth across the country, encouraging them to register to vote, and then vote in the next election.

* Host Town Hall meetings in every Congressional District across the country, inviting sitting Congressional representatives to meet and discuss gun legislation.

* Encourage participation in an April 20 nationwide student walkout, the anniversary of the Columbine shootings.

* March on all State Capitols and meet with elected officials.

The level of planning and organization of these high school students is truly remarkable.

One final observation: Kudos to MSNBC, who devoted an entire 24-hour news cycle to live coverage of the March for Our Lives. Top MSNBC news anchors shared the role of anchoring throughout the day, inserting live interviews in Washington, D.C. and in cities around the country. What also impressed me was MSNBC’s dedication to including a diverse group of reporters, including a number of young reporters. I especially appreciated that MSNBC did not repeat the same story multiple times; rather, they provided fresh interviews throughout the day.

Th poster that I carried (seen above) during the Saturday, March 24, 2018 March for Our Lives in Cleveland, Ohio (one of hundreds of participating cities) represents a clear message: Focus on today’s youth because they have a voice that needs to be heard, they rallied others to participate in this march, and they deserve our support and recognition.

The March for Our Lives was truly an historic event, one that we will be talking about for years – and generations – to come. For anyone who wonders what the future will be like for the next generations, the message is emphatically clear: They are in good hands.

When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Appears…and Reappears

Photo credit: Fischer Twins for unsplash.com

Photo credit: Fischer Twins for unsplash.com

It was the title of the article that first captured my attention more than 30 years ago as a budding, young professional:

Work Hard; Love People; Be A Professional

Then, the first sentence, in all capital letters, begins: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A PERFECT JOB.

The article, written by Elinor J. Wilson, then Director of the Colgate University Bookstore and sitting President (1985-86) of the National Association of College Stores, appeared in The College Store Journal.

The same article title that caught my attention all those years ago stood out the other day, as I purged old paper files and organized my office. Asking myself the all-important question as I touched each memory, “Does it stay or does it go?,” the answer was an emphatic “Stay!” The fading copy is carefully and meticulously highlighted in yellow, with specific words and phrases then underlined in red.

That first paragraph continues with, “In any position, you will find some duties which, if they are not unpleasant immediately, eventually will be. Success depends not merely on how well you do things you enjoy, but how conscientiously you perform those duties you don’t enjoy.” Reread this last sentence. What refreshing honesty. These words of wisdom could be incorporated easily into new employee orientation or onboarding programs.

Wilson outlines several specific, simple rules to better one’s chance for success:

• Have ambition

• Learn everything you can about your work

• Broaden your horizons

• Set your goals high

• Learn self-discipline and self-reliance

• Communicate effectively; put your ideas into clear language

• Be thorough; cover every side of a question; follow every lead

• Set a definite goal for yourself

She adds, “Before you know it, you may find the ladder of success stretching out below you instead of rising ominously in front of you.” She emphasizes how important it is to Keep (maintain action by care and labor) Doing (deeds of interest and excitement). The true professional is in constant motion, continuously improving, and including others in important decisions.

One of my favorite sections of the article, though, is a discussion about time.

“If you had a bank that credited your account each morning with $86,400, that carried over no balance from day to day, and allowed you to keep no cash in your account, and every evening cancelled whatever part of the amount you had failed to use during the day, what would you do? Draw out every cent, of course!

“Well, you have such a bank, and its name is time. Every morning it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it rules off, as lost, whatever of this you have failed to invest to good purpose. It carries over no balance. It allows no overdrafts.

“Each day it opens a new account with you. Each night it burns the records of the day. If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours. There is no going back. There is no drawing against the tomorrow. You must live in the present, on today’s deposits. Invest it so as to get from it the utmost in health, happiness, and success.

“The secret for controlling time is that there is always enough time to do what is really important. The difficulty is knowing what is really important.”

Wilson encourages the reader to focus on professional development, hard work, dedication, and resourcefulness. “Be a giver to life instead of just a receiver,” she adds.

She ends the article with one simple sentence: “The light of leadership shines only because of the spark offered by each individual.”

Wilson’s words of wisdom are as relevant today as they were when she wrote them more than three decades ago. I hope they resonate within you as they continue to do within me. There is so much more that we can do to contribute and create positive change in our workplaces, our communities, and in the world. Keep doing. Work hard. Love people. Be a professional.

What Every Presenter Can Learn From Oprah Winfrey’s Golden Globes Speech

75th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Season 75At this year’s Golden Globe Awards event, which was held on January 7, 2018, Oprah Winfrey delivered the speech of a lifetime, as the recipient of the Cecile B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement for her accomplished career in television and movies.

This was no ordinary acceptance speech. Her presentation – both in content and delivery – is one that will endure over time as one of the most powerful of its kind, as you can see on video or listen to on Spotify. It was an opportunity for Oprah to use her dedicated time on the platform to share an important message: “Time’s Up,” a movement begun by women in the entertainment industry to draw attention to and give voice to the pervasive societal issue of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Women attending the Golden Globes event chose to wear black as a visual symbol of their unity and support of Time’s Up. Refreshingly, red carpet interviews with celebrities focused on the Times Up message rather than couture dresses. Time better spent.

Here’s what made Oprah’s speech so successful and why college professors and speech coaches will be referencing it for years to come:

Attention getting. Oprah opened with an anecdote from her childhood. She remembered at that young age watching television, as an Oscar award for best actor was presented to Sidney Poitier, a black man who served as a positive role model for her. Her story tapped into the emotion of the audience.

Clarity of message. In my presentation skills programs, I remind participants to make their message meaningful and memorable through clarity. Oprah’s message did just that. She communicated her intent clearly and concisely.

Relevance. A message must be relevant to the needs of the audience. In this case, an audience of millions, from ordinary everyday people to celebrities. Her powerful message resonated with people across cultures and socio-economic classes because the time had come to speak openly about an otherwise hushed subject.

Intentional intonation. A good orator uses the voice as an instrument and masters vocal variety. Oprah’s words, so eloquently prepared and delivered, were shared with perfect emphasis and volume.

Use of stories. Stories create an emotional connection with the audience. Oprah shared several stories and personal anecdotes, about her childhood, her hard-working mother, and stories of inspirational female luminaries like Recy Taylor and Rosa Parks.

Selfless content. Oprah’s speech wasn’t about her; it was about a critical societal issue far greater. Audiences often complain about self-centered presenters, saying “All he did was talk about himself. Blah, blah, blah.” Oprah gave voice to a persistent problem in our society, and elevated her message to rise above the ordinary.

Inspiration. Her powerful words provided inspiration to millions of women and girls to speak openly and truthfully about sexually harassment and sexual assault. Those words provided inspiration to all who listened, including men who play an important part in making voices heard. To any disenfranchised people whose voices have gone unheard or who have ever been violated, undervalued or under appreciated in any way there was a recognition that their voices too were being heard.

Power-packed ending. The energy in the room exploded when Oprah emphatically began building her closing remarks with the statement, “A new day is on the horizon…”

So many people were openly inspired and motivated that Oprah’s acceptance speech immediately started a speculative buzz about whether she would consider running for President in 2020. To borrow one of Oprah’s signature phrases, “This I know for sure”…Words really do have power, tremendous power. Words can spark curiosity, command attention, and motivate others to take action. Words can take you to places where you never before imagined or dreamed.

Questions:

In what way can you incorporate more power into your presentations?

How can you better motivate and inspire others to take action?

Photo credit: Paul Drinkwater, NBC News

Winter Solstice Celebrates Darkness and Light

 

Photo credit: Ben White, unsplash.com

Photo credit: Ben White, unsplash.com

I never paid attention to any of the Solstice events when I was growing up. I just knew that in the Summer, the sun stayed out later so we could play longer, and in the Winter months, we somehow adjusted to the darkness.

Now that I am older and wiser, I have discovered that the Winter Solstice isn’t just about being the year’s shortest day and extended darkness. It’s about light, in the fact that the date, December 21, represents a season of the beginning of more light, adding about a minute each day or two to our evening light, leading us towards Spring. Does that help you to feel more hopeful? Visit the Sunrise Sunset website to see the daily calendar for your city.

With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, which often includes shopping for that perfect gift, planning the perfect family meal, or baking favorite holiday treats, the Solstice is a perfect time to simply be in nature. When you feel like things are spinning out of control right before the holidays, take a moment to return to the rhythm of nature to clear your head.

The natural world offers its own timelessness that you can get lost in, observing subtle changes in the weather, listening to the sounds of nature, or experiencing the smallest change, like feeling the breeze touching your face.

If your body is feeling lethargic from too much good food or mounds of sugary sweets, put on your walking shoes, go out into a local park or nature preserve, and take a stroll. Not only will it make you feel better physically, it will melt away any emotional unrest. You will feel much better equipped to handle anything that comes your way at holiday socials or family events.

Give of Yourself This Giving Tuesday

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Black Friday has come and gone. Cyber Monday sales are over. And the numbers are in. Drum roll, please. Between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, online retail sales totaled $13 billion. Yes, that’s with a b. Giving Tuesday, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, is designed to remind us that amidst the rush of holiday spending, we must also remember that in every community, there are people in need who need our support. Here are some thoughts on how you can participate in this global giving event:

Set aside funds for charity. Let’s say that between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, you spent $1,000 on gifts for your family and friends (and you know there were a few purchases for yourself too). If you took just 10% of what you spent and gave that $100 to charitable organizations, you could make a difference in other people’s lives. (Could you imagine what it would be like if charitable organizations benefited from this 10% philosophy? Ten percent of $13 billion in retail sales equals $1.3 billion to nonprofit organizations. Wow. Imagine what we could do if we adopted this 10% philosophy.)

Think small, dream big. Within the nooks and crannies of communities are smaller, lesser known nonprofit organizations that achieve great things for the underserved, usually because the organizations don’t have as much overhead. Do some research and find those organizations in your community.

Give a little. If your funds are tight this year and you don’t have as much to give, then give a dollar or two. Do you realize that you can feed one hungry person an entire meal for about a dollar?

Volunteer. Beyond financial donations, charitable organizations benefit from hands-on help from ordinary people like you and me. Tasks can include serving meals, delivering food baskets, cleaning up properties, teaching people to read, or visiting the elderly. Organizations like Volunteer Match offer volunteer opportunities in more than 100,000 communities worldwide.

Let others inspire you. If you need to be inspired to volunteer, then review this year’s CNN Heroes list for consideration. The stories of unconditional love and a passion to serve will inspire you.

Be a positive role model. If you have children in your household, in your neighborhood, or in your workplace, teach them to care about others at an early age. Let them see you in action volunteering and helping others who may be less fortunate. Seeing is believing. You will inspire them to serve.

How are you celebrating Giving Tuesday? What one thing can you do to help others?

Get up-to-the-minute news posts by following Giving Tuesday on Twitter at @GivingTues.

Let Your Daily Routine Begin With Thanks

Photo credit Jessica Bristol on Unsplash

Photo credit: Jessica Bristol on Unsplash

Well, it’s that time of year when we take the time out of one day, Thanksgiving Day, to give thanks.

But what if you gave thanks every day? Instead of giving thanks just once a year, you began every morning with a simple “I am thankful for…”

* Good health

* Love in my life

* Loving family

* Good-paying job

* Dear friends

* Senses – sight, hearing, taste, touch

* Mental faculties (still working!)

* Shelter

* Natural beauty in the world

The list goes on.

Thanksgiving Day becomes so rote, we often forget the real reason we get together with family and friends. Though the day is designed to celebrate the historic moment of the early settlers and Native Americans coming together, throughout the centuries we have derived our own personal meaning from the day. For some,  it’s a day of “obligation” to spend time with both sides of the family, rushing from one home to another. For others, unfortunately, the day can be uncomfortable, frustrating, disappointing, or even depressing. For the rest of us, it allows us an opportunity to spend quality time with the people in our lives who truly matter to us.

Beginning tomorrow morning, take just 30 seconds and fill in that blank statement, “I am thankful for…” and see what comes to mind. Then the day after that, do it again. And the day after that, repeat. By the time Thanksgiving Day arrives, you will be in full thanks-giving mode. You may even be able to find a little more joy with the people sitting around that table with you.

Step Outside Your Comfort Zone: Get Involved in Make A Difference Day

DLPk7ggWAAAjC08.jpg-largeSaturday, October 28, 2017, is Make A Difference Day. Twitter: #MDDay. This event is one of the largest single days of service across the country. Projects range from cleaning up public parks and building homes to serving meals to the needy. The annual event began in 1992, sponsored by TEGNA, Inc. with the support of Arby’s Foundation and Points of Light.

You can either start a project or volunteer for a project that is already organized. Find a project in your community here from the Make A Difference website. When I searched for events in my zip code, I discovered 20 projects that are happening in my area, from park clean-up and reading to underprivileged children to building an inner-city garden hoop house and knitting warm scarves and mittens for the homeless. Also, check your local television stations, radio stations, public libraries, schools, park systems, or nonprofit organizations to find projects right in your community. Or if you are feeling ambitious and want to travel out-of-state, participate in a larger scale project or historic site preservation. You will feel inspired when you read the stories about the 2016 project awards.

Beyond this one national day of service, consider simple things that you can do to be of service to others every day.

At the end of the day today, take a few minutes to pause and reflect on what difference you have made – in the lives of people who you have touched or in your community. When you invest that time in assessing your impact on the world around you, you will value and appreciate your many contributions. You will feel great pride in what you do. You will inspire and motivate others to do more.

First, it begins with you. Take care of yourself and your health so that you can continue your good work. What did you do for yourself today that made you feel good about yourself? Did you start your day with nutritious food? Did you walk a few laps around your neighborhood to improve your stamina?

What did you do for others today that brought you joy? It could be something simple like packing a note in your child’s lunch, or involving a neighborhood in creating a delicious meal together. Did you open the door for a disabled person at the office? Did you help an elderly person carry her food tray to her table? Did you stop and visit a friend or relative who lives alone and enjoys your companionship? Did you give someone a chance to lead others because you believe in that person?

What did you do for your community today that made a difference? Did you bring your talents to a nonprofit organization’s board? Did you help to make an important decision that will have a positive impact on your community? Did you volunteer at a local fundraising event? Did you help build a home for a family in need?

If you want to invest more time in making a difference, then focus on that outcome. When you choose to do more for others, to make someone else’s life more comfortable, or to make your community a better place, the opportunities will come to you. You can also bring your own big ideas into fruition. Anything is possible when you have a strong desire to make positive change a habit.

Nature Reminds Us To Be Fully Present

eclipse-lunarOn Monday, August 21, 2017, millions of people travelled to the path of the total solar eclipse to view the entire cycle, and particularly that moment when the moon travels in front of the sun, leaving a spectacular ring. Millions more viewed the eclipse on television or a mobile device. The rest of us viewed a partial eclipse from our back yards or office parking lots. Even Alaska Airlines maneuvered a flight into the path of the total solar eclipse for invited astronomers and special guests.

The sheer beauty of nature is best revealed in these moments of awe-inspiring wonder. When you sit back, become fully aware, and let nature unfold, you realize that that moment will never again be repeated. Ever. Sure, there will be other sunrises, sunsets, eclipses, but not that same one. It’s a powerful thought.

When you are fully present in a moment, any moment, you derive the greatest pleasure from it, because your mind is nowhere else. It’s not cluttered with thoughts of your To Do List or what you could make for dinner. Your mind is completely focused on that moment.

The benefit of present moment awareness is that it allows you to take in what is happening in that moment. You can set aside other feelings or hidden agendas, anger or angst, and simply be.

We witnessed that on August 21, when we experienced the solar eclipse in person. It took our breath away. It left no room for anything else except our focus and attention. We were suspended in that moment of pure exhilaration.

We came from different cities, countries, socio-economic backgrounds, races, religions, genders, and education levels, and somehow it worked beautifully. We collectively shared that moment together.

Let’s take what we learned in that moment and apply it to our workplaces, our communities, and our country. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright tweeted “Enjoyed watching #Eclipse2017. A great reminder that all darkness is temporary.” Let’s listen and learn from each other. From awareness comes change, true change. It begins with open dialogue. Let the conversation begin.

Be Inspired By Youth

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Photo credit: Mark Zust

When you think of who inspires you, do you often think of someone who is older than you who taught or mentored you? Perhaps it’s someone whom you have admired from afar? Or a world figure who remains with you in spirit?

Don’t overlook today’s youth for inspiration.

While reading the Sunday newspaper, my husband noticed that a special free concert was being hosted that afternoon at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, featuring a nine-year-old rock and roll prodigy, Marel Hidalgo and his band, the Stonefeathers. It was a perfect Summer day and having no plans, we decided to go.

As the band assembled on stage, Marel positioned himself center stage, ready to play. The electric guitar was almost as big as he was! As we sat and enjoyed listening to the music, I also enjoyed watching the surprise and delight of passersby as they realized the young age of the talented guitarist. The playing was not accompanied by any theatrics or jumping around. Marel simply stood and played his guitar. Occasionally he shared a simple “Thank you” following the audience’s applause.

I was impressed with his composure and clarity of purpose. Playing the guitar since the age of four, Marel plays many of the great guitarists, including Santana, Prince, and Jeff Beck. His Purple Rain tribute to Prince is touching. Sometimes adults can be quick to judge or under-estimate “today’s youth.” For me, Marel Hidalgo inspired me, and it’s safe to say he inspired everyone in that audience.

The next time someone asks you, “Who inspires you?” think of a young person you may have met, seen, or heard who inspired you to live your dream or to just be yourself.