Spitfire Strategies

Make a difference in 2018

Mark Dessauer

By Mark Dessauer
Vice President

Volunteering offers more than a chance to network, build your skills and feel the satisfaction of doing a good deed. Serving our communities strengthens us professionally and personally, and makes us want to give back all the more, creating a virtuous cycle that helps us as much as it helps others.

Like most of my fellow Spitfires, I see volunteering as an important part of my life and career. By day, I advise nonprofits and foundations on communications strategy; as a volunteer, I work directly with nonprofits in my community to help them achieve their missions. Over the years, the work I do professionally and the ways I give back have become intermingled, for the betterment of myself and my community.

If you are fortunate like I am to work in a position or for a company that impacts the world in a way that matters to you, I commend you. But if you feel you are earning only a paycheck and not making a difference, look to your community.

Donate your time, experience and privilege.

Learn about your community, your role in it and what life beyond your own front yard looks like. We all have professional and personal talents, which can be invaluable when shared with others. You’ll quickly see how significant your impact can be, and that volunteering is a two-way street. You undoubtedly will get as much as you give — and I’m talking about more than the health, networking, career and halo-polishing benefits.

Volunteering is more than just a donation of time – it’s about weaving your life into your issue or community.

My time in the community over the past few decades has varied, from building Habitat homes to serving at soup kitchens, tutoring in elementary schools, leading a local running group and serving as part of the neighborhood association. Along the way, I picked up carpentry skills, learned how to organize and run a race and how to improve my neighborhood.

After my children were born, I began investing my time in their school – serving on the PTA, trying to get healthier food on the lunch menu, leading the garden club and establishing a monthly walk-to-school program that lasted well after my children left the school. 

Over time, I began to see the alignment between my professional work on childhood obesity across the country and the work I was doing in my own backyard. I spent 10 years helping communities develop healthy living programs and policies, so why not bring them home? I worked with Durham Congregations Assemblies and Neighborhoods and the Durham County Health department to determine how to introduce healthier food into Durham Public Schools. I joined with other parents and partners to start the Durham Hub Farm – 33 acres of woods, ponds and farmland owned by Durham schools and nestled between an elementary school, middle school and library.

Working for my community has become a regular part of my life.

You may not see these activities at the top of my résumé or on my LinkedIn profile, but they have been just as important as my 9-5. My professional work has fueled my volunteerism, no question. But the work I do in my community also has shaped who I am as a professional. It has helped me develop skills and perspectives I would not gain anywhere else — sitting across a serving bowl and listening to the story of someone’s hopes and dreams, digging in the dirt with neighbors to create community gardens, walking to school with other parents and their children and catching a glimpse into their lives. I can’t help but take these very personal experiences into my professional work, where they fuel my passion for improving the world for others.

Wherever you volunteer, it matters.

Being part of your community strengthens your network, your dedication to teamwork, your ability to communicate with anyone — no matter how different your background or experiences may be. These are the kinds of skills that strengthen us as professionals and as people. And being stronger, more compassionate people may be the most valuable benefit volunteering can offer.

A commitment to the values we fight for every day is essential to the work we do at Spitfire. When giving back to our communities becomes part of our daily lives, it can’t help but enrich everything we do. Giving back is a resolution worth making and keeping this year.

“This is a truly transformative program and there is no question that it is preparing leaders to be courageous communicators.”

- Colleen Bailey, Executive Director, The National Steinbeck Center

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