Volunteering and entrepreneurship don’t exactly go hand-in-hand. After all, the whole point of the latter is for a founder to execute their business vision -- to seek financial and commercial success for themselves and their companies. Entrepreneurship is a pursuit that, almost by definition, centers on a founder and their ideas.
This isn’t to say that an entrepreneur can’t have a passion for helping those in their greater community; their business could provide a desperately-needed service to a hungry market, fulfill a nonprofit function, or take an active role in fulfilling community needs.
But, at the end of the day, the tunnel vision around an entrepreneur and their ideas remains the same. If a founder decides to pursue charitable action, they could build their philanthropy into a company-wide endeavor -- but stepping beyond the office to volunteer with an organization unconnected to their business can seem like a bit of a reach.
I say this because I’ve been in that position. I know what it feels like to be an entrepreneur and feel like your company needs to be front and center in your mind at all hours of the day. Some days, I still feel that way. But I still make time to volunteer.
I’m an on-call EMT for New York City. I don’t have as much time to give as I would prefer, but I try to give as much time as I can. It’s not the kind of job that lends itself to corporate action and company photo opportunities -- but I think that it makes me a better entrepreneur. There are a few reasons for this.
Volunteering Makes You a Better Communicator
When you volunteer, you have a chance to step away from your business challenges and switch your focus to a simpler, if more immediate, need: helping people. Doing so naturally compels you to exercise empathy, communicate, and work well with others.
As Debbie Roman, senior director of Member Strategy for Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania, explained in an interview for Forbes, “The skills gained through volunteering are the transferable skills. These skills are necessary to advance in any career. We are referring to interpersonal skills, customer service, people and time management skills, delegation, listening, and analytics. Volunteering with community-based organizations or nonprofit organizations, it’s all hands on deck.”
As an EMT, I know that every word I say -- to my supervisors, to my peers, to patients -- matters. A patient’s well-being often hinges on my team’s ability to communicate effectively. This idea holds for most volunteer positions, although the urgency of the communication will depend on the task at hand. Regardless of the job, though, you’ll be better equipped to understand employee perspectives and mediate conversation when you return to the office.
Volunteering Helps Resolve Stress
Entrepreneurship is a notoriously stressful occupation. In one 2018 article for the Harvard Business Review, researchers shared that entrepreneurs tend to be more at-risk for burnout because they often lack the secure emotional support networks necessary to carry them through exhausting periods of business uncertainty and effort.
“Before you know it, the physical and mental exhaustion can take over your life,” entrepreneur Ashley Stahl shared of her own burnout experience for Forbes, “depression, anxiety, trouble concentrating, lost sleep, frequent illness, and chronic fatigue. And that’s not to mention that it can lead to heart disease, high cholesterol, obesity, and substance abuse.”
“Overworking yourself and failing to find a healthy balance in life will substantially impair your ability to perform, causing you to fall behind.”
Volunteering can take some of that stress away and help entrepreneurs find a healthier balance in their lives. In 2013, one study conducted jointly by UnitedHealth Group and the Optum Institute reported that volunteering helps people manage and lower their stress levels; a remarkable 78 percent of those surveyed said that they felt less stressed after giving time to their community.
Volunteering Gives You Perspective
Your business doesn’t exist everywhere; it exists here. Having a better understanding of where you choose to set down roots will help you understand your community, build ties with its people, and gain a better perspective of the audience you’re trying to reach.
When you’re striving to make a business run, it can be all too easy to develop tunnel vision around your short-term goals -- to hone in on your successes and failures until they are all you can think of in and out of the office. This fixed, inward-facing perspective traps you in your stresses, prevents you from taking in inspiration from outside sources, and stops you from achieving your full potential.
Every entrepreneur needs to be able to step outside of the office and expand their perspective beyond the minute tasks of the day to day. Volunteering helps you accomplish that perspective shift -- and to connect with those beyond your business interests.
So, volunteer. Find a cause you care about that has nothing to do with what you do at work. You’ll be better for it, and so will those in need.