Paying it forward

by jeffhilimire on February 10, 2014

I’ve been in a fairly deep state of reflection over the last few months. It really started with my Leadership Atlanta experience in 2012-13, but then kicked into a new gear while reading, Mountains Beyond Mountains, suggested to me by the pastor of my church, Gary Charles. Mountains Beyond Mountains tells the story of Dr. Paul Farmer, who has dedicated his entire life to helping others, with a particular focus in Haiti. He is a brilliant doctor that could be making millions of dollars a year, and instead is giving everything to help one of the poorest countries in the world. If you want to change your life, pick up this book.

I’ve been reflecting on my life and how I’ve been spending it in regards to helping others. I sit on several non-profit boards, and while I enjoy that and feel that I provide some value, that’s not making a real difference. I’m fairly gracious when I hand money or food to a homeless person, but that’s only helping that one person that one day. I’ve been asking myself lately, how can I do more?

My schedule is a mess. I am CEO of a startup trying to break through in mobile games. I’m on four boards and several “advisory” boards. I have four children and we’re adopting a second child later this year. We’re pretty involved at our church and I coach my daughter’s soccer team. And I’ve created two different entities that will help non-profits and causes in Atlanta that need it most (more on those in future posts). Needless to say, I have a fairly full plate.

So where would I find the time? After studying my calendar, I discovered something interesting as it relates to how I spend my time. In business, I’ve had many people help me with advice over the years. So when people ask to meet with me to get advice, I almost always say “yes” as I’m a huge believer in the power of selflessly helping others. I get asked to meet with people who want to start a business, who want to sell a business, who are looking for a career change, who have a child in need of guidance or an internship…the list goes on. On average I have five of these meetings – or the equivalent of five hours – a week! While I love doing it, in reality those aren’t the people that really need help.

Which brings me to the question of where my passion really lies. There are two areas that I feel most passionate about making an impact in:

  • Homelessness
  • Social justice

I feel so passionately about helping in these areas because I personally have been given so much. I’ve had every advantage that a person can have in life and there are so many who have zero advantages…in fact, they have DISADVANTAGES, and because of that I feel the need to see how I can help.

THE BIG IDEA

Until this weekend I thought I was going to decide to stop meeting with people who wanted business advice and instead use those five hours a week and donate time to helping in either homelessness or social justice issues. While I wouldn’t want to stop helping people in the business community, at least my time would be going to a place where I feel needed it more. And then the big aha moment hit me!

Rather than tell people “no, I can’t meet with you”, instead, I’m going to ask them to agree to donate one hour of time to a non-profit or charitable activity in exchange for meeting with me. That way, I can happily agree to meet with someone to see if I can help their business or career, and at the same time I’ll be ensuring that the people who REALLY need help are getting it. PLUS there is a possibility that the people that I send to these non-profits will feel inspired and continue to help!

So…

==============================================

THE RULES FOR ASKING ME TO MEET / FOR ADVICE

I will happily meet with you – if I can – but in exchange you agree to spend one hour helping a non-profit (or other related activity). And you agree to share that experience afterwards, either on your blog, Facebook, LinkedIn or other public way.

==============================================

Update: Answered questions about the concept here.

  • A Skeptic

    Sounds like your passion may be volunteerism rather than the two stated passions… ;-)

    There is merit in volunteerism and you have full right to exchange your time for that payment. I would counter some of your thought though.

    If your passion is homelessness then your contributions as a businessman and feeder of others in business are more powerful than even the direct support of a charitable homeless program. You have earned the right to make choices with your time and money because of the success you have had. Are you mandating that others do what you already don’t feel effective at? Forcing time from others could actually thwart your stated intentions as many have fewer choices with their time… but might would share your vision if only they could achieve the success you have. More wealthy philanthropists in Atlanta are more powerful than more volunteers sacrificing their chances at financial independence in lieu of volunteerism.

    As for social injustice… I’ll personally leave that one for the philosophers and those that think they feel qualified to judge such things… I, for one, find that a thorny path.

    We know you are a good man, but it is always wise to tread carefully when trying to promote good in others directly as opposed to doing so by example.

  • robforman

    Dear @Skeptic, out of curiosity why do you find social injustice a thorny patch?

  • SarahB

    Jeff, I think this sounds like a great idea, and it calls to mind the sermon I heard in church yesterday. My rector explained that when Jesus said that we are the “salt of the earth,” part of the meaning is that none of us can be the “food” for everyone. We do not have enough time and other resources to single handedly perform every good deed. We can do some good deeds–perhaps many good deeds, but not all of them. So what we are called to do is to be the “salt,” enhancing the flavor in others, calling out others to be the best they can be. I feel like I am not describing this very well (I don’t think I missed a calling to minister!), but hopefully you get the drift. Way to be the salt of the earth, Jeff!

  • Allen

    I would recommend this book: When Helping Hurts (and it’s free right now, see link below!) I’m listening to it now after a recommendation from my brother. I’m not through it yet, but it addresses some of your frustrations of being effective in the lives of those in poverty. This is definitely a listen (read) to the end book, as so far, the daunting task of helping those in poverty looks to require much, much more than money. Time is a much more expensive and limited commodity, but much more effective. Regardless, it addresses the reasons why your contributions to the homeless guy feel inadequate. Whether you are on the extreme of wealth distribution to help impoverished people or on the other end of thinking they should “just get a job”, this book will speak to you.

    https://www.christianaudio.com/free/?utm_source=HomePage&utm_medium=InternalBanner&utm_campaign=CAFreeBook

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    Appreciate the insight and thoughts. And you didn’t have to be anonymous, its all good and I love to hear other opinions.

    I think you might be missing my main point a little, however. I’m still going to try to create jobs. I’m still going to sit on non-profit boards. And I’m still going to give my personal money to causes. I’m just going to do more than those things.

    And I think you’re overstating the amount of time I’m asking of someone. It sounds like you’re suggesting that by asking people to give time to charity, they’ll be less successful at their business ventures because of that lost time, and therefore not produce jobs, etc. I’m just asking for an hour of time to do some good. If that derails their success, then they probably were going to struggle regardless.

    Also, not sure what you mean at the end by “as opposed to doing so by example.” I intend to do both, to give my time but also encourage others to do so. I definitely didn’t mean to imply that I’d not be giving my own personal time.

    Do keep in mind, I’m only asking this of people that ask something of me. I agree with your suggestion to tread wisely. For example, I don’t require this of the people that work at my company. So I’m not forcing this on anyone and I’m absolutely not going to judge anyone that chooses not to meet with me because they’ll be expected to spend an hour helping others.

  • Blaine Bassett

    Jeff. We met briefly in Ms. Osbon’s class last week where you let us have our way with you in the form of a Q&A. I happen to really like the idea of trading time for advice, with time for giving. When person A goes to person B for advice, it is primarily for personal growth in one way or another, so I believe a great way to offset this notion would be to give equal time to a charity. I have found that most people do enjoy giving, but for one reason or another, be it lack of drive or knowledge do not give. So leading them in the direction of a non-profit is a great idea and a great motivator for them to start. I learned the power of giving when I recently spent 10 days living in the Favelas in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. We were able to meet some great people who unfortunately were dealt a tough hand and who are trying to overcome their disadvantages. My suggestion to you would be to schedule a family day when you are able to give a few hours of time together at a local (or foreign) non-profit. There is something about giving time together as a family that truly creates a holding bond. Plus this would allow you to spend both time with your family, and at the non-profit; (clearly two of your passions). Just reading your blog makes me want to get out there and donate some of my time. So thank you for that and good luck in the future!

  • http://writethegoodfight.com/ Brandon George

    A creative idea, Jeff, thanks for sharing. Just curious: are you dead-set on the charity/non-profit being one of your choosing, or can the individual offer their own suggestions for organizations based on their personal passions? Either way, I’d jump at this chance!

  • http://AgencySparks.com/ Joe Koufman

    Hey why not kill two birds with one stone and have your meeting with the individual wanting coaching/advice at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or the like WITH you? Many of those places provide prep/down time before the action begins where you could interact and do good TOGETHER at the same time. I would go with you. I used to love spending time at the homeless shelter when I was in college.

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    I love it, thanks SB!

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    Thanks, Allen, I just downloaded a sample to my Kindle app. Looking forward to checking it out.

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    +1 :)

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    Let’s do it, BG. And nope, it doesn’t have to be one of my causes at all!

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  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    I love this idea, thanks JK. I actually think I might try to organize a group. Regardless, you and I should do this together!

  • http://www.digitalmarketingspeak.com/ Vlad Gorenshteyn

    Jeff,

    This is probably one of my favorite posts on this blog.

    1) you’re a freaking saint for adopting parent-less children from abroad, who would have otherwise ended up in the dumpster or thrown off a cliff.

    2) you may not remember this, but I was one of those people whom you met with while you were at Engauge and though I was not homeless nor experiencing social injustices , I was in desperate need of advice because my world (career-wise) was a mess at the time. The outcome was not as I had hoped (which was outside the scope of our conversation) however, for a solid month I had great hope which ultimately helped me get to where I needed to get. So for that, thank you so very much for teaching me what “paying it forward” really meant. As a result I too have never told “no” to anybody that needed advice/help (and the requests have come from people nearly twice and half my age).

    3) Your quid pro quo idea is freaking awesome and totally fair. In fact, if one was to value your time/advice, it wouldn’t be unfair if you asked for 2 hours for every 1 you devoted.

    p.s. I’d like to make #3 retroactive so please tell me which charity you feel needs most help right now and I’ll plan to devote my two hours asap.

    Sincerely,

    Vlad

  • http://www.digitalmarketingspeak.com/ Vlad Gorenshteyn

    nice!

  • Del Ross

    I’m inspired by the volume of responses to this post, so here is my take. I’m a very active volunteer in the community, dedicating anywhere from 4-10 hours per week on average. Even so, I do not have a concern about those who do not volunteer. In truth, I did not think about this much in the past, but several years ago I re-connected (thank you Facebook) with an old friend who runs Caritas in Australia/New Zealand/South Pacific. She has been part of the first response team (or organized it) for nearly every disaster (natural and man-made) in that region for the past decade, and before that served in both paid and unpaid roles in non-profit educational and relief organizations all around the 3rd world. In an offhand comment, I mentioned that her own work made me feel like a crass capitalist. Her response was interesting: “without capitalism, people like me could not do what we do.” She believes that a healthy economy promotes charitable giving, and that companies with a sense of corporate responsibility (evidenced in a number of different ways including volunteerism) play a vital role in creating a civil society and the opportunity to do good.

    Jeff, for all the good that you do with your time in shelters, charity work, and other non-profits, you have probably helped 100x that many through the jobs you have created, the positive impact your agencies have had on client businesses, and the mentorship you have provided to other rising executives in whom you have invested. I am about as far from Al Dunlap (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_J._Dunlap) as you can get, but I may lean more toward his idea of corporate value-add to society than not.

    Thanks for making me think, Jeff!

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    Thanks for the comment as always, Del. I don’t disagree with the overall point, however, I intend to continue to grow businesses and use capitalism as a way to help “the world” with jobs. But I intend to do both.

    Also, what I think most people miss is the opportunity to change other people’s views on how they could be giving back. Honestly, the # of people that have already replied, either publicly or privately, saying how they’ll start doing something like this or how they want to partner with me to do good has been amazing. And I’ve had several people who asked me to meet say they’ve never given their time toward a charity and are excited to do so for the first time.

    So again, appreciate your point but I intend to continue to try to do my part but also see if I can get others to be inspired to do more.

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