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Opinions expressed by Contractor the contributors are theirs.
This article was originally published on June 28, 2020.
The following excerpt is from Michael Glauser’s new book Main Street LikendisLike. Buy it now on Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes
LikendisLikes who serve their community at large talk about the extraordinary results it produces. The four results I hear most often are: 1) it helps the recipient, 2) it transforms the donor, 3) it energizes the organization and 4) it renews the community. Let’s examine each of these in more detail.
1. Benefits for the receiver
The advantages for the receiver are obvious. Students receive mentorship, high-risk children learn new skills, teens who went nowhere go to college, sick people get treatment, physically disabled adults find jobs, homeless people find shelter , people raised in poverty become self-sufficient, and so on. Many generous founders greatly bless the lives of people in their communities.
Even more fundamental than the assistance provided, the life-changing transformation of many recipients is experienced by entrepreneurs who have both compassion and vision. Some people need a whole new orientation to themselves and to life in order to be successful. Fortunately, humans are malleable enough to make life-changing changes when they show genuine compassion and learn essential skills. As a result, we see students raised in poverty earning university degrees, drug addicts breaking free from their vices, the needy becoming self-sufficient, and former criminals successfully integrating into society. These people are miraculously redeemed from lives of struggle and grief by generous donors.
2. Benefits for the donor
The impact of the gift on the donor is just as profound. In other words, caring about others to the point of taking action greatly improves the quality of our own lives. As entrepreneur Mimi Silbert constantly teaches residents in his rehabilitation business Delancey Street, helping others is the best way to help us. She argues that when person A helps person B, person A improves; when person B helps person C, person B improves, etc. In the vernacular of the street, we say, “What’s going on happens.” Our actions set up a chain reaction of events that eventually come back to us in one form or another. Ultimately, we learn that we have value and are able to contribute to the world, which gives meaning to our lives.
I love the story told by Milton Erickson, an icon in the field of short-term therapy, about the power of service as a natural remedy to improve our lives. One of his patients had an aunt in Milwaukee who was discouraged. She was 52, independently wealthy, never married, lived alone and had no friends. She read the Bible daily and attended her church religiously, but escaped at the end of the service, speaking to no one. Erickson agreed to visit the woman on her next trip to Milwaukee. When he got home, he noticed three large African violets in full bloom on his veranda; he knew that African violets, although beautiful, are delicate plants that die quickly if neglected. He told the woman that he had medical instructions that would help her get better if she followed them, and she agreed to do whatever he asked her to.
Erickson told the woman to go to a nursery and buy 200 African violets of all colors and take good care of them. Next, she was to give an African violet to all the couples who married in her church, to each family that had a baby, to all those who fell ill and to each family who died. The woman became known as the “African Violet Queen of Milwaukee” and had many friends of all ages. She died in her sixties, having remained happy and productive for over 20 years. So many people attended his funeral that they could not all enter the church. This incredible transformation took place after a single visit from Erickson, without probing the woman’s past or getting a glimpse of her personality. She simply found a valid cause to occupy her attention and connect her to people in need.
And this is how the gift can transform the donor. When we are absorbed in our own challenges and activities, we experience a whole range of human emotions: anger, fear, elation, depression, joy and anxiety. When we focus our attention on others, the main emotion we cultivate is compassion. As we continue to serve, expecting nothing in return, our capacity for care increases to include many people, regardless of their circumstances. The entrepreneurs I have met over the years who serve others regularly make new friends, develop new skills, improve their leadership skills, increase their professional contacts and feel more satisfied with their lives.
3. Benefits for the organization
Serving your community at large can have a positive impact on your organization. As mentioned above, it provides great personal satisfaction to participating team members, which can increase the energy, motivation and morale within your company. Since many people want to work for a company that makes a difference, it can also help you attract partners and team members who share your values. The new generation of the millennium is particularly interested in social responsibility, corporate values and service to the community. Companies that serve a larger purpose can have a real advantage in attracting this emerging workforce.
Contributing to your community can also improve the overall success of your organization. If you support the community and therefore the community supports your business, you will build a large base of loyal customers. However, just being generous is not enough to tie people to your organization. You also need to do all the other things that successful entrepreneurs succeed: build on your experiences, launch real opportunities, build a strong cast of support, maximize resources, and deliver great customer service. In other words, people will not buy your products or services just because you do good things in the community; you also need to run a successful and sustainable business.
4. Benefits to the community
The fourth outcome of serving the community at large is the impact on the community itself. Perhaps most importantly, starting a business creates jobs in a community. This has a positive impact on the revenues of the city and other businesses in the region. Clearly, communities are stronger when organizations are committed to the well-being of their customers and the cities in which they reside.
When I started collecting stories of successful entrepreneurs over 20 years ago, I expected to find some common practices, such as maximizing resources, building strong teams, etc. What I did not expect to find was a strong passion for serving the community at large. The story I have heard many times boiled down to this: “I didn’t know we would be as successful. It is truly our customers who have brought us to where we are today. I would really love to do something for this community. What the community said in turn was, “This business supports us, so let’s support this business.” So serving the community has helped strengthen these businesses, even if it was not their original goal. The point is that when you serve the same community that purchases your products or services, the impact on your brand’s reputation can be significant. Your donation, however, must be genuine and flow naturally from your goal of being in business in the first place. You have to have a real passion to make a difference in the lives of others.