Supporting a Favorite Cause Can Be Good for Your Professional Life

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Today is known in our gift-giving season as Giving Tuesday, a day devoted to giving back to the community. The movement, which began in 2012, shifts public attention away from the commercialization and consumerism of the holiday season toward more meaningful, community service activities. Giving Tuesday is intended to bring the focus back to what the Christmas season is all about – giving to those in need.

As an independent worker or small business owner, giving back not only makes you feel good, it can be good for your business. Getting involved with a charitable group, especially one aligned with your professional identity, can give you added exposure in the community and attract new clients.

For example, if you work as a graphic designer, volunteering for a small theater group to design their sets can not only improve your skills, but put you in touch with people who may need your services. Likewise, if you write for a living, you might consider volunteering for organizations aligned with your writing interests, such as libraries, literacy programs or be a writing tutor.

Before you sign up for a volunteering program, there are several factors to keep in mind.

1. Why do you want to volunteer? There are many different reasons for getting involved with a cause. For some, it’s important to give back to their community. Others want to make a positive difference in someone’s life. Yet others get involved to build their skills or improve their community. Whatever reason you have for volunteering, make sure it’s honest and sincere. The more sincere you are and the more passionate you are about the cause, the more likely you will stick with your commitment.

2. Do your homework. If you want to get involved and aren’t sure where to start, there are plenty of resources available online that can help you figure out what’s important to you and put you in touch with organizations that need your help. Check out Volunteer Match, Serve.gov, and Allforgood.org. These sites are a good starting point to find out what types of volunteer opportunities are available and the types of organizations that need help.

3. Assess your interests. Before you begin volunteering, take time to reflect on issues that are important to you. What issues get your blood thumping or makes your heart swell with joy? Are you concerned about the environmental, poverty, homelessness, literacy or women’s health? Make a list of these issues, then prioritize them in order of most important to least. Then choose one or two that are most worthy of your time and attention.

Next, find organizations that best represent those causes that are important to you. Do a Google search, entering key words that match your interests. For example, enter “literacy programs, volunteer” and see what pops up on your list. As you find these organizations, take the time to research each one. Review their website, read their mission statement, understand their requirements to volunteer. Some organizations may require a background check, especially if you plan to work one-on-one with children or seniors. If the group seems suitable, contact them to learn more about them. Most groups have a new volunteer orientation so you can see what they do.

Other places to look for volunteer opportunities: a local place of worship, library or park district. Don’t forget to ask your friends and family too since they may already be involved in an organization and can give you the inside scoop about what kind of assistance that group needs.

4. Consider your time commitment. How much time can you give to the cause? A few hours each week? One afternoon each month? Volunteering doesn’t have to take up a lot of time, but make sure you have time to truly commit to the cause. Be honest with yourself. If all you have to contribute is one or two hours per month, then be clear about that with the organization up front.

5. Consider your skills and talents. Volunteering is a great opportunity to develop your skills. Maybe you want to gain experience fundraising, event planning or grant writing. The opposite is also true. If you have strong organizational skills or communications skills, you can put them to work by negotiating contracts or teaching people how to read or write.

Once you know what causes are important to you and how you can contribute, getting involved with your favorite non-profit group and contributing to the community can be one of the most satisfying experiences you’ll ever have.

16 Quotes About Gratitude

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Wherever you celebrate Thanksgiving here in the U.S., enjoy this time with family and friends. Take time to smell the turkey and reflect on what is important in your life.

No actual story this week. Instead, enjoy the following motivational quotes that are sure to inspire you and warm your heart. Happy Thanksgiving.

1. Count your rainbows instead of your thundershowers.  – Unknown

2. If you count your assets, you always show a profit. – Robert Quillen

3. I cursed the fact that I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet. – Ancient Persian Proverb

4. Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. – William Arthur Ward

5. Gratitude is one of the sweet short cuts to finding peace of mind and happiness inside. No matter what is going on outside of us, there’s always something to be grateful for. – Barry Neil Kaufman

6. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow. – Melody Beattie

7. Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy. They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. –- Marcel Proust

8. In the bad times, choose to grow stronger. In the good times, choose to enjoy fully. In all times, choose to be grateful. – Unknown

9. I’m thankful for my struggle because from it, I have found my strength. – Unknown

10. The more you thank life, the more life gives you to be thankful for. – Unknown

11. The real gift of gratitude is that the more grateful you are, the more present you become. – Robert Holden

12. No matter what language you speak, a kind and smiling Thank You always speaks to everyone’s hearts. – Unknown

13. Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the soul. – Henry Ward Beecher

14. Gratitude turns what we have into enough. – Anonymous

15. Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart. – Seneca

16. Gratitude, like faith, is a muscle. The more you sue it, the stronger it grows, and the more power you have to use it on your behalf. – Alan Cohen

Make a Positive Impression with Handwritten Thank You Notes

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There will come a time in your career when someone will do something special for you. It could be anything from buying you lunch, to passing along a job lead or introducing you to a new client. When that happens, it’s up to you to show your gratitude.

But in our busy workdays, how many of us think to write a thank you note and actually take the time to do so? Even if we do think about it, how many times have you sat staring at the blank page wondering what to say?

It helps to work from a formula to get the task done quickly, efficiently, and with sincerity. Be sure you use professional quality note cards or stationery to write your message. Most thank-you notes I write contain three sentences: a thank-you intro, detailed sentence, and a closing remark.

First sentence: Thank the recipient for the gift, meeting, gesture of kindness, advice – whatever they did for you.

Second sentence: Explain why you appreciate the gift, meeting, advice or gesture.

Third sentence: Reiterate your interest in the job, client or product offering, or mention something specific about what you learned.

Closing sentence: Close the message by offering to return the favor, or how you plan to use the gift.

Example 1:   Thank you for giving me the opportunity to interview for a Customer Service Associate with XYZ Company. I enjoyed talking with you and learning more about your organization. Based on what I learned about XYZ, I feel my skills and experience would be a strong match for your needs. I welcome the opportunity to answer any further questions you have about my background.

Example 2:  Thank you for joining me for coffee last week. I enjoyed our conversation and appreciated learning about your company’s latest product innovations. I believe your new products will meet the needs of an underserved market. If there is anything I can do to help you promote these products, please contact me.

I have always preferred handwritten notes better than email. Handwritten notes show that you’ve taken the time to THINK about what you are writing. Because so few people are likely to send thank-you notes, let alone handwrite them, they’re more likely to make you stand out and make you more memorable.

Emailed messages are likely to get lost in the in-box, and texting is too informal that recipients may not take your expression of gratitude seriously.

If you’re looking to make yourself stand out to potential employers, clients or business associate, sending a thoughtfully-crafted, handwritten thank-you note may be the very tool you can use to make a strong, positive impression.

Practicing Gratitude in Your Work Life

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One of the most memorable “gifts” I received during my career was a greeting card for Thanksgiving from a printing vendor. The message on the card was simple, yet powerful. “At this time of Thanksgiving, we want to express our gratitude for your business.”

The fact that I received this greeting card in November before Thanksgiving and before the usual rush of cards and gifts in December made it stand out. The message from my vendor came across as sincere and more thoughtful because it did not get lost in the rush of the holiday season.

November is a month to remember our blessings and express gratitude for the things we have and the people who share our lives. That makes it the ideal time to express our gratitude in our work lives, whether it’s sending thank-you notes to our vendors and associates, or buying a cup of coffee for a co-worker to show appreciation for their efforts on a work project.

Before the holiday rush sets in, think about what you are grateful for, especially in your work life. It could be anything from the technician who fixes your smart phone to the indispensable assistant who makes your business run smoothly. Maybe it was a former boss who gave you good career advice or a teacher who encouraged you to keep writing.

If you are not sure what you are grateful for, try this exercise. On a piece of paper, jot down at least five things or people you are grateful for in your business. I think you’d be surprised at how many people have helped you become the successful business person you are.

One of the most powerful means of communicating gratitude is thank-you notes. I believe the most effective, and most memorable, are handwritten because I think they come from the heart. In an age when emails and texts dominate the communications landscape, handwritten thank-you notes are often overlooked. The handwritten thank-you notes I’ve received from bosses and other business associates always made me feel deeply appreciated, and they confirmed that I was doing a good job. I still keep a few and re-read them whenever I feel in doubt of my abilities. I will write more about thank you notes in an upcoming blog post, so stay tuned.

Other outward expressions of gratitude may include healthy treats like a fruit basket, gift cards, a cup of coffee, while other forms of gratitude, such as personal affirmations, prayers and meditation, are more private.

Even just verbally saying, “Thank you for your hard work on this project. I couldn’t have done it without you” goes a long way toward establishing good will and respect, and reflects positively on you and your business.

At this time of Thanksgiving, take the time to be grateful for every person and every situation that have served you well in your career. Of course, saying “please” and “thank you” should always be part of your everyday business vocabulary.

Business Lessons from the World Series Champions Chicago Cubs

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It’s been nearly a week since the Chicago Cubs clinched the World Series championship, ending 108 years of futility on the baseball field and finally putting to rest any further talk of goats and curses. While still in the throes of celebrating their victory, it’s also helpful to look at their rise to the top of the baseball world. What can we all learn from the Cubs’ championship run? How can we apply these lessons to our businesses and our work life? Here are a few of my observations.

* If things aren’t working out, start over. Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to move forward. That means cutting the dead wood, so to speak, letting go of the pieces that no longer work, fixing what can be fixed, and rebuilding the business from the ground up.

In the case of the Cubs, that process started at the top rather than the bottom of the organization.  A change in ownership in 2009 brought the Ricketts family on board, followed by the hiring of Theo Epstein and Jeb Hoyer to manage the team’s operations and begin the rebuilding process with the players.  With each new trade and draft pick, the Cubs slowly created a team that was built to win for the long term.

* You may need to go through a few lean years before seeing results. Like any other business, you have to take a few risks and make some tough decisions that may not be popular with your clients. For several years, the Cubs did not have a good team on the field. In 2011, they lost 100 games and fans were doubtful of the changes the Cubs leadership was making. But Epstein and Company stayed the course, knowing they had a game plan they were putting into place, and they repeatedly asked fans for patience. The fact is, whether you run a baseball team or a small boutique business, success does not happen overnight.

* Develop a long-term strategy for success. Create a strong vision of your business. Write down your business goals, and figure out how to achieve them. Develop a detailed plan and make adjustments along the way as needed. The Cubs had a clear vision for the team and knew what it would take to achieve it. Without that detailed plan, owners would have lost faith, and the fans would have too.

* Acquire the best players that can help you achieve your goals. Make sure those team players complement one another in terms of temperament and talent. When they like and respect one another, it’s much easier for them to work together toward a common goal. That likability and respect was on display during the Cubs’ World Series play, both on and off the field.

* Hire a good, strong leader to motivate the team to perform their best. Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon is a master of motivation. He respects his players, and encourages them to have fun, even if they’re on an extended losing streak. A good leader will always bring out the best in your team, so hire the most qualified person you can find.

* Have fun. You don’t want to create an environment of all work and no play. Have fun doing what you are doing, and share that joy with the people you work with. People who infuse humor and fun in their workplace are more productive and are better team players. And that bodes well for the success of your business.

* You need to work hard every day to improve your performance. There is an old saying, “Work comes before success only in the dictionary.” The Cubs have a lot of young players they have drafted over the years. With the assistance of coaches and several veteran players, the young Cubs are still developing their talents, and must continue to work hard each day to learn and grow as individually and as part of a team.

*Savor success and share it with others, especially your clients and your fans. The Cubs’ shared their achievement with their fans in one memorable parade and rally. Likewise, when you meet certain productivity goals, celebrate. Break open a bottle of champagne or treat your team to a pizza party. Recognize the important roles they play in your business success. Without them, your business would likely dry up.

No matter what type of work you do, or how you define success, whether you work for yourself or for an organization, there’s always something to be learned from seeing the success of other organizations. Perhaps the most important lesson to learn from the Cubs’ success is their own motto: Never give up.