If I have mastered any skill in my career, you might expect it to be getting a good value for my customers. Having worked more than three decades in banking and investments, I've spent a lot of time focusing on obtaining value for others.
In my world, "value" is usually expressed on financial statements, and success depends a lot on what the investor expects and needs.
But what I've come to appreciate in my life experiences and community involvement is that the best and highest value any of us can get in life is helping others.
As co-chair for United Way of Central Indiana's annual campaign, I do analyze and project financial scenarios. But what I know is that value is not always what follows a dollar sign. And reaching a certain financial goal is not really the #1 outcome that I expect or need from my involvement with United Way.
What inspires me to invest my time and my resources is that United Way's very mission matches my own values. By helping people learn more, earn more and lead safe and healthy lives, United Way is improving life for us all. That's quite a value!
Like many of my contemporaries, I started giving to United Way because at the bank where I began my career in 1973, it was the culture and the thing to do. Since then – and thanks to my wife, Becky – I have come to understand that when we treat giving as simply writing a check, we are likely shortchanging ourselves and shortchanging others.
My life-changing moment came during a family crisis. In August of 2006, my wife, Becky, was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer and given a year to 15 months to live. To get the surgery Becky needed, we had to travel to San Francisco. When we returned home, Becky began her chemo and radiation treatments. At the same time, a friend had put a blue and white cooler on our front porch and organized scores of volunteers to fill that cooler with meals to feed us every day of the week.
Some of the volunteers were folks who knew Becky from her own volunteer service at Christamore House, a United Way Community Center on the Westside of town. Some were eager to help her because she had helped them.
It was uncomfortable for me to have people dropping off food to the porch of our Geist home. I remember telling Becky, "We don't need this. We can take care of this by ourselves."
Becky disagreed. She understood there are two sides to giving. We DID need to know that Becky was surrounded by caring people who were contributing to her healing – and to mine – and not just with delicious, ready-to-eat meals. With faith, family and friends, we are celebrating six years survival this month.
I picture that blue and white cooler whenever I am tempted to talk about United Way with people as though it merely involves a transaction with targets and dollar goals.
What we do together to improve our community amounts to calling on our best and highest values. We help caring people see and understand the challenges in our community, and see their neighbors as people with needs that we can tackle together.
When we LIVE UNITED as volunteers, as givers and as voices for others, the value is not just a good return. It's an abundant one, that turns numbers into neighbors, despair into hope, and barriers into opportunities.
Please join us!
--Steve Schenck, senior partner, The Schenck Group, Merrill Lynch