The dark side of volunteering that no one talks about if you are an entrepreneur  


I’m ruffling some feathers today

Hey guys, today’s topic might ruffle some feathers and listen. I am perfectly okay.  Because if this helps a fellow entrepreneur, a   small business owner who is trying to grow her business and see the next level of opportunity and see that next revenue threshold, listen, I am here for it.


Should we volunteer if we are trying to grow our businesses?

The topic is volunteering, and I think it’s a really unexplored topic for entrepreneurs.  On the one hand, many of you want to grow your businesses so you can earn more money in your companies and give back  in a meaningful way.  You want to have the time to give back to the causes that matter to you. And you want to have the physical energy because you’re not always working right.

But at the same token when you are growing to that stage, you need to conserve your energy.

Of course it makes you feel good to give back!

I’m betting you are asked on a regular basis to volunteer.  As entrepreneurs, we need questions to help us discern if it’s a good fit.  There’s the surface question –  do you want to do it?  But consider, if you say make this commitment to volunteer, you’re going to give up mental and  physical energy which will take away from the growth of your business.


What no one tells you about volunteering when you are an entrepreneurAsk yourself 2 questions before you say yes to volunteering

If you’re going to make that sacrifice, then discern the value of what you get out of it. I’ve got two really good questions and a story  to help you understand how I started thinking about these questions.


Everyone talks about the # of new businesses that are starting

There is a real big push by the media right on the idea that there are new businesses starting every day. It’s been going on long before COVID.  


But no one pulls back the covers on what it really takes to start a business

And while it’s really easy to look at the statistics of the number of people that have actually registered the business, do you go behind the scenes and see how many hours and how much money they are logging in?  How do I get the accountant that’s going to support me best?  Consider all of the things behind the scenes that the statistics don’t measure.


The tough question:  Should I volunteer or spend time growing my business?

The statistics of ” I started my business” doesn’t mean that I’m making money.

For alot of underestimated entrepreneurs, this question of volunteerism causes many of us not to grow our businesses. 


What do you do if you have a heart that wants to serve?

But what do you do if you have a heart of service and you want to give back?  You want to bring joy to others?  You view life as not worth living if all you are going to do is make money, make money, make money

How do you balance both in a way that supports the growth of your business, but also supports that need to give back?Should you spend your time volunteering or growing your business?


Q1: What is important about this particular initiative to YOU?

On a surface level, there’s probably a gazillion causes that are good for you to give back to:

  • Your church
  • Your local religious organization
  • Your synagogue
  • Your mosque
  • Your local community group
  • The kids
  • The elders

There’s a gazillion causes, right.

But I want you to examine for yourself really closely. Why does that matter for you personally?

And I want you to get really, really deep on that on a real ego level.

My story of examining this question

When I first started my business, I was asked all the time to volunteer. I deliver workshops, I deliver speaking, trainings, facilitation. So, it was very common for professional associations or community minded groups to ask me to speak on different topics related to entrepreneurship.

Now, for years, I did it because I prioritize giving back.  Ireally thought that it was important to make sure that I contributed to my community.  If someone asked me to to contribute to a cause like beautifying the community,  I may not contribute to those causes. But if it was about economic development,  mentoring our youth, or providing tools for people starting businesses, of course, I was going to do that. Like, that’s my thing. That’s who I am.

But I started asking myself if that was enough.

A couple of years ago, I stepped back and asked myself this question from a deeper level. I realized that I got huge value when someone recognized me and my talents .

When you first hear that, you might think, well, that’s really egotistical ,Malla. Of course it is.  But I also know that until I got to the real core of why I volunteer –   the very thing that you probably wouldn’t want to say out loud – it’s easy to say yes.  I would feel bad if I didn’t jump in and serve.


The dirty little secret that I uncovered about why I used to volunteer

What I started realizing is that volunteering provided a sense of value for me.  I would be working really hard.And then someone asks me to volunteer.

Because I hadn’t been valuing myself enough – ie.  taking time out for self care, sleeping well or eating well, I would feel good when someone asked me to help out.   It would immediately trigger….oh I feel valued and feel worthy. So I would say yes.

There was like a momentary hit of – Ooh, they notice me. They recognize me. I feel really good about myself.

Listen, I’m digging into the weeds of my own story here to be very vulnerable and personal with you. I want you to do the same thing for yourself.  Once you see what that real thing is for you, it gives you a completely different place to say yes.


I focus on my own self care first before I say yes to volunteering

Years later,  I’m very conscious of that need. If somebody asks me to volunteer for something and I know that I haven’t been sleeping well; eating the way that I’m supposed to; and I’m running ragged, I have to say no.

Even if it’s the most amazing cause ever. 

I need to take care of myself first in order to be able to give back at the level that people are gonna want me to give back to. And listen, that’s hard.  Because when someone asks in the moment, you might be thinking  this is so amazing and so awesome.


It’s OK to say no without feeling guilty

I think we need to stop apologizing for saying no and feeling bad about it.  We don’t get honest about the real reason why could say yes or no. Get really clear and really honest from a very ego-driven level. Why do you want to say yes? Why does it feel good to you? 

If you are taking care of yourself, you give from a full cup

You might be getting the type of sleep that you need and praying and meditating and doing all the things that help you stay centered. Awesome. Then when you volunteer, you’re going to give back from a full cup. And are you kidding me? The experience is going to be amazing for everyone.


Switch up saying yes or no as a default

But a lot of times we say yes  without getting clear about  how we show up.  I want us to switch that. I want us to really start getting present to that and start asking those deeper questions.

  • Why do I really want to say yes? 
  • What do I need out of this experience in order to feel valued in order to feel like I’m making an impact? 
  • Are there other areas of my life that I need to address first before I say yes to this opportunity?

I think you’ll come from a different place  when you  say no.  It’s different than if you’re just saying no by default and not examining those areas that need to be filled up. 


Q2: Do you have system for volunteering?  

The second part is do you have systems, structures, processes in place? Don’t try to answer this question and put a structure in place if you didn’t answer question 1. 

Far too often, we go straight to trying to solve the problem.  But we haven’t gotten really clear on who we are in this experience. Don’t shy away from my first question.  You don’t have to answer the question publicly.  You can keep it totally to yourself. Whatever ego-driven reason shows up for you, be honest and own it.  You don’t have to tell a soul. Okay. 


Why you need a system or structure?

Put a structure around it. Put a process around it.  Put a plan in motion so that it’s not this random thing that shows up and then drives your entire schedule into chaos.


What are the 2 questions that you are not asking when you volunteerA recent example of how this showed up in my own life

A family member asked me to volunteer for a speaking engagement next month. At first, I said, okay, cool. I’ll look at it.  I dedicate two hours of volunteer time every month.   I set that structure in place after I had my daughter.  I realized I’m not going to be able to contribute in the same way that I used to in my single days. But I still wanted to give back. 


How do I factor the 2 hour limit?

So here’s the challenge with the two hours,.  Does travel time count?  The prep time that I have to put in in order to prepare for the opportunity?

When someone asked me to come to a food bank and packaging bags, I just have to show up and do the work.

But if you’re asking me to tap into my intellectual property – which is typically what people will ask you to do – you’re asking me for a presentation.  But do you understand the amount of hours that it took behind the scenes to get me there? Hmmmmm….


Start with a time limit

I’d recommend that you start out with how many hours do you want to volunteer each month? It gives you a place to start.

 If I don’t have a structure in place, you’ll easily give up valuable time.  

I may go up to four hours if I know that it’s a really busy time and there will be many opportunities.  But I also don’t add time and allow myself to be open to all of the behind the scenes details.  For example, ff someone asks you to speak, there are often 600 phone calls to prep.  How do you want to handle that?


I broke my own rules recently

I want to be clear. You can put these structures and processes in place.  And still mess up. But at least, at least you have a place to be able to start from and improve, rather than just letting your time just be wide open to everybody.

A quick example with my recent ask.  I reached out to the contact at the organization via email because that’s my structure. I will have conversations with you all day via email versus us jumping on the phone at random times.   I also sent a form that asks very specific questions.

  • Date
  • Time
  • Location
  • What is the topic?

Well y’all I broke my own rule. The contact did receive the email.  They did get my calendar scheduler and my form.  But they didn’t fill it out.

Now to be fair, when you’re dealing with underestimated communities and that person is strapped (ie. no resources to hire an assistant), it’s easy to miss the “rules”.  I’m not here to judge. I think we need to stop with that nonsense.

Your job is to have the structure and the system in place.  You can decide about what that looks like.  If volunteering matters to you a lot, what are the types of information that you would need in order to make the best decision?


Think about your schedule

You might decide to set up something very simple.  They send you date and it drops in your calendar.  If you’re like me, my whole world operates around my calendar.  Hey, you need to send me a calendar invite so that I can see how that fits into my overall schedule.

Sometimes when I’m scheduling  events, my assistant and I look at my calendar for the month to see how it fits.  Is that going to cause way too much extra work?

Even though I broke my own rules, the process is still doing its work

Find ways also to create structure and processes around how you say yes or no.  With this upcoming event – where the person did not follow my processes –  I’m going to say yes.  But based on my process, I’m not following up with this person again.

  • I already called them.
  • They have my email
  • They got my form request
  • They need to complete it.  And it’s super simple. 

I also am very clear that if I need to go back to the family member that asked me, I covered my bases.

Don’t just wait until you earn your money to think intentionally around volunteering

There’s no doubt in my mind earning money s not just about “make more money”.  It’s about giving back. You want to make an impact on your community.

I also think we need to take time to step back. 

  • How does this fit into the goals that I have around growing my business?
  • How does it support me?
  • How does it support my development?

Because there should be that element and the structures and processes that make it easier for you.  I gave you two of structures – the hours that I max at and the data form.

When you start from that place and have to make decisions on the spot, it changes the game completely.  You’re going to find yourself with way less stress about these types of activities.

And I think, it’s going to lead to way better outcomes for all of us about volunteering.  You’ll show up powerfully.

I hope that this conversation gave you some insights. 

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