My first experience of community service opportunities started at school and then extended on to different projects in University. I participated in old age home visits, organised outings for children from an orphanage, participated in various non-profit fundraising campaigns, taught basic legal principles to high school kids and even provided free legal advice through Legal Aid. Being involved in community service from an early age instilled a commitment to what I am calling “social investment” in some form or another that has remained with me throughout my life and led me to forming my own non-profit organisation. I call it social investment because it’s more than community service or social awareness but is actually my investment in the society that I want to live in.
Why invest socially?
In my life coaching course, they teach you that social investment is an important part of living a holistic, fulfilled and balanced life. You do not have to be 100% altruistic to invest socially. Hopefully you get an incredible sense of fulfilment from it. If not, then it’s still an important step in self-development and growth teaching people of all ages and backgrounds compassion, empathy and understanding. You also gain a better perspective of your life and the things that you should be grateful for. It Is active form of participation in your own community while working towards developing a better community.
I would not describe myself as religious but that airy-fairy definition of “spiritual” which sits unsatisfactorily in the pallets of both believers and atheists alike. But what I have always admired about organized religion is a general commitment and exposure to social investment. I also have many friends who work in the non-profit sector, sacrificing higher earning potential because their work contributes to society and helps others.
In countries like South Africa, where we have a huge poverty gap and social inequalities, there is a responsibility on those of us who are more fortunate to invest back into our country. People may spend a lot of time complaining about the government and its inability to serve people instead of becoming active socially responsible citizens themselves.
How much to invest socially?
While it’s hard to put an amount on how much to socially invest, and I would argue that people have to decide for themselves, there is some guidance from some religions. For those who might not be aware, the Christian religion usually requires some form of tithing from its members to the Church which is around 10% of income (gross or net income is debatable). While a lot does go towards the running of the Church, which services its own religious community, the Church also dedicates a portion of that income to non-profit outreach programmes. The Muslim religion has a concept of a “zakah” which is one of the five pillars of Islam and prescribes a 2.5% donation of savings to non-profit organisations and causes. So hopefully these amounts should put how much you could donate to community-orientated third parties.
Social investment obviously does not need to be in the form of a financial donation. It can be in the form of donating second-hand stuff or volunteering of time. Decide how much time you would like to spend volunteering such as once a week, month, once a quarter or one a year. How much time are you willing to commit to spend serving others and then do it.
How to get started?
But if you aren’t religious and no longer part of school or university where do you find the opportunities to donate or volunteer? Do you donate any second-hand items? Do you donate money regularly to a non-profit organisation? Do you volunteer any of your time? Here are 10 ways that you can become more socially responsible:
1. Consider putting an amount aside each month to donate to your favourite non-profit organisation via debit order. Do your research on the organisation first to make sure it is legitimate and has proper governance structures in place but don’t prescribe how they spend it. Non-profit organisations do need to spend money employing people and on items which you may seem as unnecessary such as stationery. You won’t feel the money as much going off from your account if it’s via debit order.
2. Give spontaneously on occasion if there is a cause or fundraising event that particularly speaks to your heart. You may get bombarded with this friend or that family member continuously doing a fundraising sporting event for some or other cause, but be open to occasionally supporting a friend/family whose activity you find admirable or who is fundraising for a campaign that you would like to support.
3. If you work for a company, find out how much of their budget is for CSI (or “corporate social investment”) and which non-profit organisation they support. Consider campaigning for smaller organisations or causes that you support. I personally found more volunteer opportunities in the form of pro bono work at law firms than any volunteer opportunities for large corporates.
4.Do not throw useable stuff away. Clothing/food etc. there is always some-one desperate who needs it and a number of people or places who will take it.
5. If you live in Cape Town, South Africa buy a Big Issue magazine (currently R25.00) each month. The Big Issue is a wonderful organisation that supports homeless, marginalised and unemployed people in Cape Town to earn a living via the purchase of the magazines. There may also be an equivalent organisation in your own town.
6. Volunteer once a month, once a quarter or once a year at your favourite non-profit organisation. If you are in South Africa and you don’t know where to start then find curated volunteering opportunities at https://brownie-points.co.za/ or https://www.bettersa.org/.
7. Teach your children the importance of social investment. I still remember if anyone rang the doorbell hungry or looking for clothing, my family would try to find some clothing for them and always give them something to eat. Every time. Sometimes I give bread and milk to homeless people if I go into a shop or convenience store and I see them sitting outside because I remember my mom giving a pie and a bottle of milk to a homeless child who was lying on the pavement under a blanket on a cold winter’s day.
8. Talk to your friends and family about social investment and ask them for help with community projects when you can. It shouldn’t be a “drag” or a “burden” but something you are proud to be part of so that it becomes the norm.
9. Do not live in a privileged bubble. Go into the poorer areas of your community and serve. See what the reality of life is like for most people in the world. It may be hard, it may be depressing but it will make you a better person.
10. Do a community service audit on your own life. How much money do you give to third parties for non-profit works and can you afford to give more? How much of your own time do you donate each year to helping others? And are you happy with the amount that you do or could you do more? Strive to be better and do better but do something.