Service Makes You Better

By LIFT on October 15, 2014

Categories: First Person Perspective


I recently read this letter to the editor in the NYTimes that was circulating around a bit ago. The letter urges more college students to work at nonprofits the year after they graduate. Great idea! Many programs such as AmeriCorps, Peace Corps, and Teach for America already recognize the importance of serving your community after graduation. However, as many of the comments show, things are rarely ever that black and white. Nonprofits are not the only way to give back to the community. While I agree that there are many rewarding first job experiences in other sectors, the nonprofit sector should not be viewed as wholly separate from the for-profit sector. As the author states in his rebuttal to the commenters that everyone is basically right. Well, I may have paraphrased the last part, but I would like to argue that whether or not college students should work at nonprofits after graduation is the most important topic in this conversation

This discussion is not about whether retirement savings that go into a 403b are inherently better earned than those that go into a 401k or that if your email address ends with an .org you are a better person than those whose emails end with .com.  The point is that working for nonprofits to better your community is good for you, good for your careers, and of course, good for the community. We should move away from thinking about where our paycheck comes from and should find our own way to prioritize service and improve the world around us.

The author of the original letter ends with a Woodrow Wilson quote that reads “You are not here merely to prepare to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.” While President Wilson made this comment at a college graduation, we should apply this to our day-to-day lives.

Why? Because service makes you a better employee, manager, leader, friend, partner, and person. Service makes you better. Period.

At LIFT, service is not just a warm fuzzy term we use to recruit volunteer Advocates and Advisors. Service is one of our core values. It is the work that our Advocates, Advisors and staff take part in every day. We believe that through service to others, we can change the world. And at LIFT, we are offering one of the most unique, transformative, and impactful volunteer engagement models in the nonprofit sector. At LIFT, we work alongside with our Members (low-income individuals and families) to help them map a path out of poverty for good. This experience pushes LIFT’s volunteers to grapple with the most challenging issues related to poverty, race, inequality, and policy.

While the volunteer Advocate experience is often what service looks like at LIFT, it is important to remember that service to others can take a variety of forms. You can focus your career around working in nonprofits and social justice organizations. You can spend a year as a member of a service corps like AmeriCorps. You can spend one evening a week mentoring a high school senior. You can spend one day a month volunteering as a docent at your favorite museum.  You can take a yearly service trip with your family. You can serve on the board of a local nonprofit. The beauty is that you can pick an opportunity that fits your life, your skills, and your passions. No matter what you have going on in your life you can commit at least some time to service.

So I urge you, make service one of your core values, too.