Jeff Bradford, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Nashville, is Founder and CEO of The Bradford Group, an award-winning PR/marketing firm. While growing his company from one to 12 employees, Jeff simultaneously served on the boards of EO, Knowledge Academies, Boy Scouts of America Middle Tennessee Council, Safe Haven Family Shelter and You Have the Power. The Nashville Chamber of Commerce named him Volunteer of the Year. We asked Jeff how he carves out time for community involvement. Here's what he shared.
Emailing. Strategizing. Networking. Decision-making. Speaking. Managing. Leading. Volunteering? As a CEO, there are a million things to accomplish and only 24 hours in each day to do so. When I started my company almost 20 years ago, with a quickly growing team and a rapidly growing family at home, I had no idea how to find the time to commit to civic organizations. But I knew it would be a valuable investment on many levels―and that I had to make it work.
Identify your "Why"
The crucial first step is to identify your Why, as noted by Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. You'll never start volunteering if you don't have a motivating reason to do so.
Why does it matter to you personally to get involved in your community? I would guess that the two main reasons may fall under the categories of altruism and business development. As a business leader, it's important that I keep my finger on the pulse of the local business community so I can both do my part to support local causes and stay aware of opportunities to grow our company. While there are a variety of ways to accomplish this, including social media, newspaper, television, social circles and networking, I believe there is no better way to stay in the local loop than immersing myself in the organizations within my community.
Deciding which organizations to become part of should inspire another round of self-reflective questions. If you aim to do well by doing good, it's imperative to review the list of board members of organizations that interest you and gauge how influential they are. Are the board members also executives, founders or presidents of private and public organizations? Is the board already flooded with representatives in your same industry? If so, your efficacy might be limited―both in terms of how much you'll be able to contribute to the organization and how much your involvement may lead to new business opportunities.
Spread the good
Maximize your effectiveness by spreading your involvement across a variety of organizations, focusing on sectors where you're personally vested, if possible. Were you a Boy Scout? Did you attend a university in your area? Do you have a specific passion for history, coding or animals? Previous knowledge of or personal dedication to particular areas will enable the time you spend with the organization to be more authentic and purposeful.
Make your time count
Since time is a precious commodity, spend the small amount of it that you have making the most significant impact possible. Start with one to two organizations that resonate with you and focus on creating a substantial contribution before adding more.
There is a misconception that community involvement as a business leader is limited to passively attending monthly board meetings. If you want to be a valuable resource, don't just show up―show up ready and informed so that you can contribute to the organization's success and growth. Do your homework: Be prepared to ask informed questions and speak on topics that are within your wheelhouse. For example, one project I am most proud of was helping devise the brand and messaging guide for a local organization that cares for homeless families. In addition to donating my skills to a great cause, I was able to prove my industry knowledge to a wide audience of influencers.
Set a strong example
One of the most beneficial―and perhaps underrated―perks of starting your volunteer journey is the example it sets for those around you. Within your own company, a CEO that volunteers isn't just good for business, it's phenomenal for the wellness of your company culture, as you're demonstrating that community involvement is a core value. While it's important to network, don't discount the benefits of having members from your team contribute in their own ways in the community.
From your family members and employees to other local business leaders, your efforts to make the time and commit to your community won't go unnoticed―they will set a positive tone in your company for years to come.