December 2, 2022

5 Critical Questions to Ask Before You Give Your Time

How you spend your time is as precious a decision as who you spend it on. Here are five questions I ask myself before volunteering my time.

Author and activist Maya Angelou said, “All great achievements require time.” 

I couldn’t agree more. That’s one of the reasons I emphasize discovering your purpose in life. While it’s a long-game journey that’ll require your consistent focus and energy, the personal fulfillment that comes from knowing your why is incredibly rewarding. 

If you’ve ever gone on a road trip with your family or friends, you might recall one or two side trips along the way. These were brief and sometimes spontaneous excursions off the main route of your planned itinerary. 

Growing up, my brothers and I spent a fair amount of time trying to convince our mother to take a side trip on our weekly drive to her job at the motel, but she wouldn’t have it. She was on a mission. In my mother’s defense, we were not on vacation!

When I got older and was behind the wheel more frequently—and on holiday—I took more side trips because they were often as interesting and memorable as our destination. They also served an important purpose because they provided a much-needed mental break from the long journey. 

As we come away from Thanksgiving season and head into the holidays, I’m filled with gratitude and a desire to turn that feeling into action, which causes me to reflect on volunteering. Lending your time or expertise can be a meaningful “side trip” and much-needed mental break from your daily journey as a leader. 

Volunteering is typically overlooked when people consider how they’re living their why. In reality, volunteering is a great way to complement what you do at work or at home; it’s also how you serve your why in ways that work can’t. 

In today’s climate of inequity, complexity, and disruption, we have an opportunity like never before to be a source of positive influence and connectivity. There’s an abundance of causes and people in need where you can put this mindset and your sense of purpose to work. 

How you spend your time is as precious a decision as who you spend it on. Here are five questions I ask myself before volunteering my time:

  1. Does my volunteering support my why and the organization’s mission? If I’m going to make the effort to show up and bring my gifts and talents, is the way I’m serving the cause genuinely helpful and honoring my why, or am I window dressing? One of the best ways to vet a cause for this answer is to first ask the organization what types of skills they’re looking for. If they don’t know yet, you might find that your service is incompatible with your why and theirs.

  2. Can I make a measurable impact? Try this question on for size: “If I’m involved, will this organization be just as impactful?” Or “Based on my skill set, can I move this organization forward with others?” For instance, when I considered volunteering for New Leaders, they needed people who would help develop leadership content and programming for public school principals so they could improve students’ educational outcomes. Leadership development is a passion of mine and has been for more than forty years. I knew that I could make a difference by offering my experience.

  3. Will the journey be fun and interesting? There is so much need in the world and so many places for us to help. If we choose causes that are personally relevant to us, we’ll be inspired to do our best work on their behalf. Causes deserve no less from us when they have only so much bandwidth to manage volunteers. Everyone they attract to their organization should be someone who’s willing to be the best advocate for the cause.

  4. Are the mission, people, and cause authentic? Do you feel like you’re making good use of your time with a cause where the people and purpose reflect your own desire for authenticity? Is everyone in the organization there for altruistic reasons, or do people feign interest in the cause for their personal agendas? 

  5. Do I have the time to truly commit? Avoid choosing too many causes. Instead, go a mile deep versus a mile wide. The more you focus your energy and time, the greater impact you’ll have. Be as judicious about your time with volunteering as you would at work. If your team asked you to take on too many projects, you naturally would be concerned about the quality of your outcomes. Apply this same rigor to the number of causes you serve. Again, these organizations deserve no less. 

Last month, we explored four ways to make 2023 your best year ever. A great purpose typically involves serving others in some way. Let today’s post inspire you to incorporate some meaningful side trips that serve your purpose with impact in the community. And if you’d like, tell me about the organization online! I’d love to learn more about your favorite cause

Live your why,


P.S. Tune in to my latest podcast interview with Boardroom Zen that goes live this week on Friday, December 16. In that interview, I’ll talk with the host about what separates average leaders from exceptional leaders, how to come out strong under pressure, and what one thing I’d go back in time and change if I could. Look forward to having you join the conversation!

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