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Share Our Strength (SOS)

Community Wealth Ventures, Inc. A for-profit consulting subsidiary of SOS, launched on the premise that every organization can increase its social impact by building on its own internal assets, rather than relying on support from external sources.

The Cathedral Within: Transforming Your Life by Giving Something Back Bill Shore (Random House, 1999)

Revolution of the Heart: A New Strategy for Creating Wealth and Meaningful Change Bill Shore (Riverhead Books, 1996)

A sampling of US-based organizations that can help you find a way to give something back to your community through volunteerism

America’s Promise–The Alliance for Youth

Corporation for National Service

The Points of Light Foundation

Youth Service America

“...the most effective way to forge a winning team is to call on the player's need to connect with something larger than themselves. Even for those who don't consider themselves 'spiritual' in a conventional sense, creating a successful team—whether it's an NBA champion or a record-setting sales force—is essentially a spiritual act. It requires the individuals involved to surrender their self-interest for the greater good so that the whole adds up to more than the sum of its parts.” —Phil Jackson, Head Coach of the NBA champion L.A. Lakers, from his book Sacred Hoops

In an age when so many people ask, “What’s in it for me?” Coach Jackson’s ideas may seem fanciful. At Share Our Strength (SOS) we've found he’s right.

Share Our Strength is an anti-hunger organization born out of the Ethiopian famine in 1984 that has raised over $100 million to support anti-hunger and anti-poverty initiatives worldwide. In pursuit of the most basic of goals—ending hunger—we’ve learned some unexpected and rewarding lessons. Most importantly, it takes more than food (or money) to fight hunger. It takes talent, hope, and people united by the need within the human spirit for something more. Share Our Strength founder Bill Shore likes to point out that, “Doing something that counts is a basic human need, like water or calcium. We can actually get by with surprisingly little of either, but we hold together better and longer when we get regular servings of each.”

How can each of us find that elusive something more? The best way is the simplest: share your talents with those who need help. Tapping into that innate human need to give something back aids the recipients and sows secondary benefits for us as individuals, our families, and the organizations where we work. Helping others helps us. 

We uncovered these lessons in some unexpected places. When Bill Shore began to think about ways to end the world hunger problem in 1984, he had a fortuitous insight. Why not turn to the people who work with and respect food more than anyone—chefs and restaurateurs. This is not the group that you might think of to mobilize a global movement to stop hunger, but we found that when chefs were given the opportunity to share their own unique talents, we accomplished revolutionary success.

The fine-dining industry embraced the cause by donating time, talent, and food to help Share Our Strength launch Taste of the Nation, now the largest culinary benefit supporting anti-hunger and anti-poverty efforts in the United States. Each spring, thousands of community leaders—from chefs, restaurateurs, and beverage purveyors to public relations professionals and accountants—organize over 100 events in more than 75 cities throughout the United States and Canada. These one-of-a-kind culinary events, including food and wine tastings, seated dinners, brunches and barbeques, raise millions of dollars each year that goes directly into programs to prevent the root causes of hunger and poverty.

Once the chefs got a taste of helping others, they couldn’t get enough and actively sought ways to do more. Subsequently, Operation Frontline was launched in 1993, mobilizing chefs and nutritionists, people who previously didn’t have an outlet to share their knowledge and skills, to teach low-income people to shop, cook, and prepare healthy and nutritious meals on a low-income budget. The return on their investment of time and talent has surpassed what we could have hoped. For many of the chefs, the experience of teaching others means as much (if not more) than success in their career.

Susan Goss, Executive Chef of Zinfandel in Chicago, explains it best, “The biggest boost to my self-esteem is not when people tell me how great my food is on a Saturday night in my dining room. Rather, it’s when I’m teaching an Operation Frontline class and look around the room at the participants’ faces and see their extreme interest in the lesson.” Driven by chefs’ enthusiasm for the program, Operation Frontline now offers classes in 90 communities in 13 states. These classes have reached more than 16,000 people and their families across the country.

Do you embrace these give-something-back sentiments, but think they belong squarely in our free-time-outside-of-work lives? Evidence is increasingly pointing to the conclusion that aligning with philanthropic efforts benefits businesses. Cause-related marketing and corporate/philanthropic alliances bring companies valuable public exposure and PR benefits, and can open up new markets and potential clients. When companies can help the world outside the company doors, while impacting the bottom line at the same time, everyone wins. Another benefit is that the personal and individual rewards that come with helping others can be a business objective in their own right. Organizations that help employees find ways, traditional and non-traditional; to share their strengths can dramatically improve company culture. Employee morale, retention rates, and recruiting efforts are aided when companies are seen as good neighbors in communities and supportive environments for employees. Surveys support this. In 1999, People Report, a Dallas-based research and consulting company specializing in human resources, surveyed 50 hospitality companies and found:

 88 % said their companies’ community and charitable involvement had a positive impact on employee morale.

 64 % said it increased employee commitment.

 33 % said it helped improve employee retention.

I recently received an email that supports those numbers, too. Joe Macon, a Tyson Foods employee, had just returned from flood-ravaged Houston, Texas. He helped deliver and cook some of the over 70,000 pounds of chicken and foodstuffs Tyson donated as part of their disaster relief program, which also sends product donations and volunteers to help in disaster areas. For Joe, the company-sponsored opportunity to impact people in critical need through money, food, and time, had a deep impact. Joe wrote, “It was truly a humbling experience. When I arrived back in Arkansas I was glad to be home and I was proud to be part of a company that thought and cared about our neighbors enough to coordinate an effort like that. Should the need ever arise to organize and go on a mission like this again, feel free to call.”

The Timberland Company, named year after year as one of the 100 best companies to work for by Fortune Magazine, has also found tremendous benefits from community service. They foster a real sense of community-focused commitment within the corporation to strengthen employee satisfaction and to further develop their brand. Not only do they pay employees for 40 hours of community service per year (known as Path of Service), but they also make a habit of earmarking certain products whose proceeds go to an array of community-based organizations. For example, in response to the devastating earthquake in India in January 2000, Timberland formed a cross-functional team of employees to help provide 9000 units of apparel and footwear, with a retail value of $400,000, to some of the 25,000 families in need in India.

Jeff Swartz, Timberland’s President and CEO, said, “It is not enough for Timberland to make the absolute best boots, or shoes, or clothing in the world. Everything we do, everything we sell has an impact on the communities in which we live and work. In short, Timberland must serve our customers, shareholders, employees and communities by not only creating economic value, but also social value.”

Getting Started

So, what does all of this have to do with you? Simple. Everyone has a strength to share. The not-so-well-kept secret is that when you are doing something good for others it pays off equally well, if not more, for you. Here are some recommendations to get you started:

 Pursue what feels fulfilling. Happiness will follow. 

 Take inventory of your talents and hobbies to identify how you can help. Often it is a skill or talent you've come to take for granted, but one that can make a difference in the life of somebody else if properly deployed. It does not necessarily have to have anything to do with how you make your living. Love of music, love of books, love of mathematics, all can be brought to life with kids in need of caring adults in their lives.

 Engage in service with your family, friends, and coworkers as much as possible. It’s a wonderful way to spend time together and share a meaningful experience.

 Explore community-based opportunities your company can take part in—it will help with employee teambuilding and morale, raise the company’s public profile, and most importantly, help the community in which you live and work.

 Encourage your company to explore non-traditional ways to get involved—instead of only contributing dollars, offer service hours for employees each month, plan office-wide service days. This gives employees a sense of ownership in the positive work their company is committed to.

 Have fun.

Chuck Scofield is Executive Coordinator at Share Our Strength. He has shared his strengths around the world, including on irrigation and hunger projects in East Africa and India, and on projects closer to home in his Washington, DC community. Reach him directly at cscofield@strength.org.

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