Making time count where it matters through volunteerism

This article originally appeared on Downtown Austin Patch on April 26, 2016.

Between professional and personal obligations, it’s easy to overcommit to tasks that feel more like “have to do’s” than “get to do’s.” Sometimes for me, if it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t happen. Fortunately, my company allows me to incorporate into my schedule something that I enjoy doing as an individual and with my colleagues: volunteering.

As the Austin Market President for Bank of America, I support the company’s corporate social responsibility strategy and work with the Bank of America Charitable Foundation team. I’ve seen firsthand in my 22 years with the bank and 12 years in Central Texas the impact that volunteerism has on Austin – and there is never a shortage of causes to support.

In a busy world, volunteers create connections, change lives and help build prosperous communities. Although National Volunteer Month is coming to a close, there’s still time to recognize the commitment invested by volunteers – and even make the leap on your part to volunteer in our amazing city. You’ll be surprised at not only the external impact you can make, but also the many internal benefits as well.

Research shows that volunteerism can boost confidence and social skills leading to stronger relationships and a greater sense of fulfillment. Perhaps that is why more than 62 million people volunteered at least once between September 2014 and September 2015. In addition, studies like this one in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine have found that people who volunteer are happier with their work-life balance.

This is why many companies encourage volunteerism among employees and implement programs and policies that support the passion and commitment of employee volunteers. Being a good volunteer is important. I was fortunate to join the Junior League at an early age and they taught me how to be a good volunteer. Many community placements, Habitat builds, financial literacy classes and boards later, I still feel like I’m learning.

My Bank of America colleagues and I are fortunate to be able to volunteer up to two hours each week during work hours and can further support organizations where we volunteer regularly by applying for grants on their behalf. Putting our interests and expertise toward a worthy cause is rewarding and meaningful, not to mention a great way to build new skillsets.

So if you’re looking to spring into volunteerism, now is a terrific time to start. In fact, April is Bank of America’s Global Service Month for employees. In Austin, several of us have been participating by helping with a Habitat for Humanity build that is expected to soon be move-in ready for neighbors in need. These volunteer hours and others contribute to our 2016 goal of logging 5,500 hours spent serving the Central Texas community. Last year, our Austin Bank of America colleagues achieved 4,995 hours as part of 2 million volunteer hours given across the company. This year we’re aiming even higher.

There are several different ways for you to get involved this month and beyond, whether you’re looking for a one-time activity, a recurring commitment or an initiative that you can take part in as your schedule allows.

Plan a volunteering event with your family, friends or co-workers. Determine what types of nonprofits you’d like to volunteer with and reach out to them to see if there are any activities that your group can be involved in. There are many websites like VolunteerMatch.com that can help you find the right volunteer position based on your interests, skill sets and location. United Way for Greater Austin is also an excellent resource, and most individual organizations post volunteer opportunities directly to their websites.

Utilize your skills. Many nonprofits are always looking for volunteers who have personal talents or professional skills. For example, through our 11-year relationship with Junior Achievement of Central Texas, Bank of America employees spend time in K-12 classrooms teaching real-world curriculum such as finance and business that helps set up students for success. Caritas relies on volunteers to assist with the preparation and serving of meals for community members without a stable place to call home – and is an organization for which I enjoy donning an apron. Board service with a nonprofit is another meaningful way to share your expertise, from financial skills to communications, in order to address needs in the community. Through my service to Communities In Schools of Central Texas, I can confidently say that I have learned as much as I have given back, and that is something to be proud of.

Learn more about your workplace policies and opportunities. Ask your company if it is planning any volunteer activities in the upcoming months and if not, offer to coordinate one. Remind your company of all the great benefits of volunteering and ask about any special programs that it may have for employees who volunteer. Set goals and keep track of your efforts. You’ll be surprised how they can add up collectively. In addition, if your company is a specialized industry, find out if it could provide its services pro bono to a nonprofit.

I encourage you to take an active role in helping our community thrive. Without volunteers, many organizations would not be able to continue going the good work that makes Austin the wonderful place that it is. I hope you’ll join me in making a difference.

Nikki Graham, Austin President of Bank of America

10/13/16


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