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The Burden and the Benefits of Making Communities Better

The way I view my purpose as a leader changed in an important manner several years ago when I was visiting with a second-grader at a school in Denver.

I wrote about this experience in Transfluence, but it’s worth summarizing again: After sharing with her class about how my job involved constructing buildings for companies that needed them, a little girl approached me with a question:

“Sir, if you build things for people, can I ask you a favor? Can you build me and my grandmother a house that we could live in?”

It’s not like I’d never been involved in community service before that moment – I was speaking at an elementary school, after all – but the simple, soft-spoken, and heartfelt request from that second-grader inspired me in a fresh, new way. While I couldn’t personally build her a home, I realized it would be irresponsible of me if I didn’t use my sphere of influence to do something about the challenges she and her classmates faced.

Every leader and every organization, in my opinion, carries a similar burden.

That doesn’t mean we all need to help low-income, inner-city students, but it does mean we all have an obligation to make our communities better in whatever ways we can.

While I was CEO of Prologis and its headquarters were in Denver, our employees there volunteered throughout the city with Junior Achievement, adopted an elementary school, taught classes, raised money, sponsored clothing drives, held holiday parties, and conducted career days—all for kids from underprivileged communities.

Our offices in other parts of the country and around the world, however, adopted different causes that were unique to the needs of their communities or the interests of their employees.

Figuring out where to invest your efforts begins with a very simple three-step process:

  1. Assess your community’s needs.
  2. Assess your strengths and your organization’s strengths.
  3. Put your strengths and your organization’s strengths to work addressing your community’s needs.

Those strengths might be technical in nature, driven by shared passions within your organization, or some combination. In my experience, they lead to three or four broad areas of service that connect in some way to the organization’s purpose and mission. And then the organization also can support individuals who have gifts, talents, and interests that lead them to serve other areas.

The key, in my opinion, is involvement. And involvement can take many forms.

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Later this month, for instance, Kourtny Garrett will be my guest on Off the Rak to talk about her efforts as president and CEO of Downtown Denver Partnership. What does an economic development organization have to do with helping people in need, you might ask? Well, everything.

When Garrett was in a similar role for nearly two decades in Dallas, she helped generate more than $11 billion in public-private investments into their downtown area. Vacant buildings found new life and thousands of new residents moved to the area, all of which raised the standard of living for everyone in the community.

Non-profits, civic groups, economic development groups, professional organizations, faith-based organizations – they all play a role in creating healthy communities. But we just can’t sit on the sidelines and wait for it to happen. We have to embrace our burden and use our sphere of influence to make a positive difference in the world. That’s the power of involvement!

Colorado Gives Day is on December 5, but early giving for the state’s biggest fundraising day has already started. A small contribution can have a lasting impact. Since 2010, Coloradans have raised more than $415 million for strengthening their communities. Learn how it works and find causes nearest your heart, like Denver Scholarship Foundation and Colorado UpLift, at www.ColoradoGives.org

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