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Every Fourth of July, I look forward to catching an amazing fireworks show with my family from my sister’s backyard.  This year, they came a little earlier in an SAP conference room in Washington, D.C. filled with 18 Volunteer Ambassadors and the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) team, as we gathered together for a half day workshop to talk strategy on volunteerism at SAP.  It was part of a three-day trip we took to our nation’s capital, which was hosting the largest national conference on service and volunteerism June 19 – 21st

Keeping My Pants on and NOT getting arrested

The trip for me started off a bit interesting.  It was 5:30 in the morning, I was going through security at Miami International Airport and proceeded to take off the belt on my jeans to go through the detector as required by TSA, but I didn’t stop there. Automatically after, I started to unbutton my jeans and roll down the zipper.  Thankfully before it went on any further I realized “Oh My God I’m undressing myself. Please stop!” Luckily only the wide-eyed Japanese gentleman behind me noticed and I avoided a possible misdemeanor.

But it got me thinking. 

It’s automatic for me that after I take off my belt, I take off my pants. I’m programmed that way.  I started our workshop telling this story because I wanted to urge our CSR team and Volunteer Ambassadors to break the routine.  We do a lot of the same things every year for Month of Service, but we don’t have to. The planning is the same, the logistics, the recruitment, the communication – but it doesn’t have to be.  We came to DC to talk about how we can change that and make it better. How we can make Month of Service more relevant, not just for our employees and our executives, but for our communities, also for our customers, our partners, our government officials and maybe the media. Who knows?

Volunteers burn out. They just do. 

This was a statement conference speaker Karl Rove, former Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to President George W. Bush, stated in his speech.  And it was also a sentiment our team had expressed just days before we left for DC.  Prior to our workshop, I asked the SAP participants what they were hoping to get out of these three days, and almost all of them told me they needed to re-energize.

They were looking for ways to ignite some fire, not only in their local colleagues across the US and Canada, but also in themselves.  It’s hard to manage and plan dozens of volunteer projects every single year and ensure hundreds of employees engage, enjoy and that it creates an impact for the community.  It can sometimes feel like a very daunting task on top of a demanding work schedule.  Yet what really puts the ‘D’ in daunting is the responsibility these volunteer ambassadors feel to the lives being touched by our SAP projects.

The activities and events we provide throughout the year and particularly during Month of Service can yield an impact for a lifetime, like for Amy from the Charles A. Melton Center in Philadelphia.  She told me that cleaning and painting her center for kids last year reignited the students, who started to feel passionate about school and kept some of them from dropping out.  Can you imagine that 3 hours of painting may possibly contribute to a troubled child’s decision to stay in school?

Republicans Praising Democrats? Democrats praising Republicans?

Yep. We saw it.  The theme of the conference was “Service Unites” on how even the most unlikely people unite through volunteerism.  We saw Karl Rove and David Plouffe, 2008 Obama Campaign Manager. White House Senior Adviser, on stage agreeing on how to engage the masses.  We heard Donna Brazile, CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist, praise highly conservative FOX News Anchor Bill O’Reilly for his service.  It was inspiring.

And thankfully, not just for me, but for our SAP group who was so eagerly looking for a spark as we get ready to plan for our 9th annual Month of Service.  One of the most fulfilling moments during my time at SAP was on this trip, when every single Volunteer Ambassador told me that they’ve never felt more energized and that they can’t wait to hit the ground running for October’s signature volunteering initiative.

Boom – there goes the fireworks.

Starting a Flash Mob

Every flash mob starts with one person.  One crazy person dancing on their own that quickly turns into dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands.  It’s absolutely amazing what ONE person can do. 

I don’t think people realize how important they are to that service project they sign up for.  The impact that just one person can make.  It’s about the power that ONE SAP employee can have for many. 

Amidst the busiest and most important quarter for our business it’s difficult to set aside time to volunteer. I get it. It’s impossible, especially with deadlines and managers that demand results.  But SAP is a company that is committed to helping the world run better and improving people’s lives.  There’s no better way to practice what we preach than to take 2-3 hours of one day to serve others in our community. 

Like a flash mob starts with one person, so do fireworks start with a spark.  Never underestimate the impact that just one individual can make, and maybe fireworks will come in June, July and hopefully, October.

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