When I was in the Boy Scouts, our leaders decided to teach us a lesson on service. So, one December we undertook a “twelve days of Christmas” activity in which we left anonymous gifts on an elderly man’s porch on each of the twelve days leading up to Christmas Eve. All I knew about the man was that he was poor and that he was blind. Being young and dumb as we were, my friends and I decided to turn the whole thing into a game where we were dropping off packages to a shunned man who—as the days went on and the story grew—was blind, part zombie, and entirely terrifying.
On the twelfth day, our leaders threw an audible at us and explained that we would give the last present in person and that we would sing Christmas carols to summon the man to the door. I was admittedly quite nervous. Even though I was pretty sure he was just a normal senior citizen, my imagination ran wild, and I half expected a zombie-like creature to open the door and attack us for leaving unwanted packages at his door. On the contrary, what happened next was a moment I’ll never forget.
When the (perfectly dignified) man came to the door, and we handed him the final present, he began to cry and offered heartfelt thanks. He spoke of us as if we were his guardian angels sent to save his holidays from loneliness and sorrow—and not as the story-telling buffoons that I knew we were. By the time he was done thanking us, and shaking our hands, my sleeves were soaked in my efforts to not let others see my tears. And as we left his yard and returned to our leader’s car, I distinctly remember feeling pure joy. Despite my admittedly foolish motivations, the act of service left me feeling good about myself, my scout troop, and service itself. Ever since then, I’ve had a strong conviction for offering service to others—especially during the holiday season.
The holidays are just around the corner, and it’s never too early to make sure you’re ready to take advantage of opportunities to give. A couple weeks ago, we offered tips on planning your holiday parties. As part of the holiday season, many organizations will also be planning service projects and other activities meant to “give back.” Even if (like myself as a boy) some of your people lack the proper motivation at the beginning, acts of goodwill will strengthen them. Also, acts of service will strengthen your company’s culture, bring people together, and even improve job satisfaction—especially among your millennials. So, while many companies are still in the planning phases, I thought I’d offer up some ideas.
Here are five totally different (and fulfilling) ways to approach service this upcoming holiday season (and all year long).
1. Local service project. There are a myriad of different projects that you can get involved in on a local basis (and they vary from location to location). Whether you decide to help feed the homeless or help a local school fundraiser (etc., etc., etc.), make sure the service project fits the values of your team. And then involve them. When it makes sense, you can even survey your team to decide the service project. If you have any employees who show a particular affinity towards the project, give them additional responsibilities. Don’t shy away from immersing your people in the project, because they more you do the more fulfilling it will be for them.
2. International service project. If you’re like us, your business may have reaches far beyond the local. Regardless, a lot of employees seek fulfillment through international service projects. As with local projects, it usually makes sense to match your far-reaching service projects to the values of your people. But, unlike local service, it can be more difficult to ensure positive results when you go international. That’s why it’s important to find reputable service organizations and NGOs to work with on service projects; set aside time to adequately research who you can and cannot trust. Every holiday season, we join with Feed My Starving Children to pack meals for starving children throughout the world, and it’s a richly rewarding activity for all of us.
3. Employee Fundraiser. Or if you want to get very local, there are often people very close to you in need of service. And if you have the right people, they’ll know who is in need. Whether it’s a coworker whose relatives have costly medical expenses, or merely a longtime employee in need of a much-deserved (but expensive) trip to see family far away, there’s a growing trend to fundraise for colleagues. How this could work and what limitations your organization may put on these types of service activities will vary, so make sure to talk it over with management. But if you’re able to take part, there are few activities more rewarding than helping a friend.
4. Paid day of service. Speaking of individual employees, a lot of organizations offer their employees paid days off to give back in whichever manner is pleasing to them. This is an especially useful benefit for those who don’t have the manpower to devote large numbers of their workforce towards one service project or those looking for less conventional benefits to attract candidates.
5. Mentorship. Sometimes the best service we can offer is our own professional expertise. Mentorship is a great way to lift others up, whether you are mentoring those within your organization or those on the outside. Leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith recently offered a free mentorship to 15 HR professionals. His only stipulation is that those he mentors must promise to “pay it forward” and mentor 15 other HR professionals at some point in time. This is an excellent example of an outside-the-box approach to giving back.
Whatever the shape and size of the cause, fulfillment comes to those who give back. Whether it’s mentoring a fellow HR pro, helping fundraise for a colleague in need, feed the homeless, or even sharing a little holiday spirit with an old blind man, we (and our people) will be better for it. And there’s no better time to plan on serving than now.