I joined the EFA initially to expand my professional network and snag an editing or writing job here and there. It was quickly apparent that the EFA is a vibrant, value-based community, a culture where members stand for each other either on a case-by-case basis or institutionally through focused volunteer work.
Understanding the value and power of giving time in this setting, I decided to volunteer. I became a member at large on the Board of Governors and later volunteered to become the chair of the Membership Committee. For sure, I had my writing career in mind in jumping into the pool so deeply so soon. But melding the career passion with devoting time to the the EFA community provided another ideal opportunity to give back.
Many years ago, I had a memorable discussion about charitable giving with a law practice client who had massive inheritance wealth. We were making a rush hour trek from San Jose to San Francisco after his deposition in a case about a disputed investment. The ride home was our first major block of time to get to know each other outside the lawyer-client relationship.
I got to hear about his comprehensive charitable giving program, which functioned virtually on autopilot each year. He had the disposable funds and, to his credit, shared them liberally. He said, however, that while he valued donating money to select causes, the charitable contribution he cherished most was the time and services he donated three days a week at a clinic in San Francisco’s impoverished Hunter’s Point section. He was a psychiatrist and maintained a no-fee practice treating local clients who couldn’t afford therapy services.
His joy came from using his passion and professional training as tools to give back to a community in need. For him, it was the ideal volunteer situation.
I experienced this firsthand some years later when, in parallel with my law practice, I began coaching high school varsity basketball, donating time doing something I loved that reconnected me to a thrilling part of my youth in the Bronx. Anyone who knows anything about coaching high school sports understands that coaching salaries at that level don’t advance the ball on any retirement plan. Coaching high school sports is, for all purposes, a volunteer position, a classic labor of love. But it allowed me to enjoy a personal passion while contributing to the emotional, physical, and mental development of young student-athletes.
One of the most impactful rewards I received as a coach was a comment from a player I had taken under my wing. He grew up in large fatherless family in Marin City, California, a neighborhood that clung to a low economic rung. A talented athlete, he struggled personally and academically and needed substantial support to meet his student-athlete obligations. He sometimes came to practice hungry and habitually struggled to get to practice and games on time. One weekend, as I was driving him to a tournament to make sure he showed up, he interjected out of the blue, “Coach, when I grow up, I’m going to help others like you help me.”
Countless ways exist to contribute in the larger world, none better than the other. How we choose to contribute depends on whatever works best for each of us. Specific context and wherewithal are important, as is our personal sense of legacy. The devotion of time can be a challenge in a busy life. It usually comes down to resourcefulness.
When Christina Frey a few weeks ago at the annual conference in Chicago asked conference volunteers to stand and be recognized, I expected to see a smattering of bodies popping up from tables. Instead, we saw a relative regiment. It was impressive.
Please consider this a friendly call to arms. The more volunteers we have, the stronger and better the association and the more meaningful the personal and professional experience. Again, I am mindful of busy lives. I know too how enriching the experience of giving can be when it happens within a professional sweet spot. Volunteer opportunities at the EFA abound, not least I am constrained to say, on the Membership Committee, now a committee of one. But whatever the inclination, please consider finding a way to give back, however modest or circumscribed.
We owe it to ourselves, our colleagues, and our legacy to find ways to help pave the way for others.
Chairperson, Membership Committee
EFA Board of Governors