Give A Little, Get A Lot

Volunteer Work Will Enrich You. It won't Be Bad for Business, Either

You would think Elaine Sosa is too busy for volunteer work. After all, the owner of Javawalk spends seven days a week taking visitors on eclectic walking tours of San Francisco's sites and coffeehouses. When Sosa isn't touring, she's testing new routes or struggling to find advertisers for Javawalk guide maps.

Nevertheless, Sosa cuts out early twice a week to be the volunteer leader of a "conversation group" for foreign students studying English at the University of California at Berkeley. She blows half a day when she decides to do a field trip--and money too, because the school won't cover the cost. But Sosa, 39, plans to keep teaching. "It's very fulfilling," she says.

It's not bad for business, either. Sosa's Berkeley contacts have yielded a growing list of international connections and press coverage for Javawalk, not to mention word-of-mouth publicity from students who talk her up at home. The result: a steady stream of new clients, including the university. It signed Javawalk to take international visitors on tours of the city--up to 20 people per month at $15 each.

GRAVY TRAIN. Like other small-business owners, Sosa says she carves out time to volunteer because she enjoys it. "What I get for volunteering in terms of direct new business for Javawalk is gravy," she says. But helping others can bring bottom-line benefits, too, including new ideas, new connections, and new contracts. Volunteering, in fact, has become a staple of small-business growth plans and how-to books, and trade groups say their members have taken it to heart. For instance, the National Foundation for Women Business Owners estimates that 78% of women proprietors--about 6.2 million of them--do unpaid work. Susan Peterson, the group's chair, says owners view it as a good way to develop ties to the communities they depend on.

Take Rose and Rod Beals. The owners of TRC Staffing Services Inc.'s two San Diego offices noticed welfare reform was bringing in new job-seekers, but many seemed unprepared for office work or had a poor work ethic. The solution? The Beals dedicate 30 hours a week between them to hosting motivational workshops on job-hunting in community training centers and churches. The Beals estimate they've found and placed 300 workers.

"My wife and I, of course, wanted to give back to the community," says Rod Beals, 48. But, he adds, "my reasons for volunteering are somewhat selfish. If I make someone a better-prepared candidate, I can command a higher fee for that temporary's service."

HEALTHY GLOW. One of them was Sandra Richey, who attended a Beal lecture arranged by the National Urban League earlier this year. "He said, `If you want to work, I have jobs and can show you how."' She aspired to be a secretary, but Beals found her a more lucrative sales job with an industrial air and gas company. Then she told her sister and brother-in-law about the Beals, and he placed them, too.

The Beals earn a fee equal to about 10% of the temps' salary, but the rewards go beyond the financial, he says. "Have you ever seen the glow in a young person's eye when the light comes on and they finally get it? You feel like you've really saved someone."

Just because you're dealing with charities, don't assume they won't pay. Look at Nan Hawthorne, 45, owner of Sound Volunteer Management. Not-for-profit groups pay her Seattle company to recruit, train, and manage volunteer help, but some can't afford her services. So Hawthorne does a lot of pro bono work--and finds this often leads to paid work.

Last spring, for instance, she led a free workshop on volunteer management for local charity leaders. A few days later, a participant signed her to do a half-day seminar for a regional conference of the American Lung Assn., for which she got her usual $125 hourly fee. In fact, Hawthorne says about 25% of her revenue can be traced to pro bono work. By any measure, that's time well spent.