Mandela Day (18 July) is coming up. The day corporate South Africa rolls up their sleeves and heads off to the closest non-profit organisation (NPO), armed with business builders, volunteers, gardening tools, buckets of paint and plenty of good intentions.
But, what if our annual efforts aren’t making the impact we think they are? What if we’re unintentionally contributing to the dread that many NPOs feel in the run-up to Mandela Day?
For many charities, it’s a day when teams from well-meaning businesses arrive in a hurricane of matching T-shirts and boot-loads of supplies, get stuck in, and then leave as quickly as they arrived. Aside from having a freshly painted wall, the NPO is no better off than it was before they arrived – and more often than not, there’s a bit of a mess to clean up.
We need a new approach. One that reignites a passion for changing the world.
Here are 5 things you shouldn’t do if you really want to make an impact and leave a legacy, not just for one day a year, but every day:
1. Don’t pick just any NPO
Find a NPO that could really benefit from what you do: your product or service, or your business counsel.
A catering business could easily set up a soup kitchen at a homeless shelter. An IT company can teach underprivileged children how to access educational information online. One costs money; the other time. But both are equally effective.
2. Don’t Assume
Painting walls and planting veggie gardens are popular Mandela Day activities. However, many charities have more pressing, immediate needs – and the simplicity of some might be surprising.
Schools for example, might choose printer paper over a painted wall. For stationery suppliers, this is a cost-effective, low-effort way to make a massive difference. Ask your chosen NPO for their wish list and act on it.
3. Don’t Overlook Planning
You need a solid action plan for the day – especially if you only have 67 minutes to spare. If the homeless shelter really needs a veggie garden – but this is not your core business – consult with experts on the right seeds to plant for the time of year, the right tools to use, and how to maintain the garden.
Without proper planning, the shelter could be left with a barren patch of sand that doesn’t yield a single carrot. Plan for cleaning up, too. One of the reasons why charities dread Mandela Day is the chaos that’s left in the wake. Keep it tidy and don’t leave a mess for someone else to clean up.
4. Don’t Neglect Your Legacy
The efforts you put into Mandela Day should not be a once-off exercise. Ideally, you should partner with the NPO so that you can make a real difference, all year round, year after year – consider doing monthly food donations from your catering business.
It’s also a good way to appeal to Millennials. They’re a conscientious bunch who want to make the world a better place – that’s the type of passion you need for your legacy.
5. Don’t forget …
Mandela Day is not about money or budgets or writing cheques. It’s about using our ability and honouring our responsibility to make the world a better place. Not to mention the positive mental health effects that volunteering has on your team members.
Let’s think about it more, collaborate more and make it part of our cultures. We owe it to Madiba.
About the author: Joanne van der Walt, Sage Foundation Programme Manager for Africa.