When working for free is a GOOD thing

By Justine Clay


One of the most challenging aspects of working independently is learning how to manage the inevitable periods of downtime.  Now we all know that, busy or not, we should be marketing ourselves and developing new client relationships, etc. etc., but taking time to give back has both expected and unexpected impact on yourself as a business owner and ultimately, your business.


During my first year in business I received an unexpectedly large tax bill.  My immediate response was  a butterflies in the tummy, ‘what am I gonna do’ one.  But then I noticed, in the same pile of mail, a donation request from City Harvest: http://www.cityharvest.org/.   It was brown lunch bag that proclaimed that a shockingly large percent of New Yorkers don’t have enough money for lunch. They urged me to give up lunch one day and donate that money. 


The clever promotion (plus my penchant for self-improvement books) got me thinking about just how lucky I was.  Tax bills happen to everyone, but not having enough food….that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

Several years later, the recession hit and I found that making regular monetary donations was tough.  What I did have was time on my hands, so I decided to do some voluntary work and give back.  After some research, I settled on the Taproot Foundation http://www.taprootfoundation.org/, a nonprofit organization that makes business talent available to organizations working to improve society.  After an application process (they only take professionals whose skills they can utilize effectively) and a training seminar, I was ‘hired’ as a Project Manager on a brand strategy project for The Mercy Center: http://www.mercycenterbronx.org/, a community center for women and their families in the South Bronx.

I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the rewarding experience that this turned out to be.  I met the most wonderful women, doing the most incredible work in the 2nd poorest Congressional district.  Not only that, but the project challenged me professionally….pushing me to do my best for a center that was doing it’s best.

When you give back, not only do you get the rare opportunity to help others more than you can possible imagine, you’ll:

* realize how fortunate you are
* have an opportunity to grow, both professionally and personally
* meet people from outside your industry and social circles
* have something great to add to your resume
* have better karma

Of course, you’ve got to balance the pro bono with paying work (after all you’re not Mother Theresa) but whether it’s pro bono work, or a regular contribution to a charity….giving back never feels bad.