It was another accident. I'd been searching for a new hobby to fill my 'study work' segment. This thing called Toastmasters was brought to my attention by a few different people in the years preceding; I'd seen one friend get quite excited by it and another person I knew clearly had transformed in the years they had spent attending meetings.
If one is going to commit to a hobby however, even if a couple of times a month or an evening a week, its best to ensure the environment is right and that any factors that can influence should be considered. For example, I picked what is my 'home' club for reasons such as:
True story...I surprised myself with the last point. My decision was very focused on this being a professional development activity and due to the nature of my work being very social, I spent enough time in public houses!
A couple of months in and I was happy going at a steady pace familiarising myself with the club, format and the education programme, and then bam! It was almost time for the annual elections.
Sadly there was notable turnover in the outgoing committee that run the club. I was approached by the chap likely to be the new President about taking on a role. He said something about my energy and had earmarked the Vice President Membership role.
Truth be told, if it had been any other role, I think I would have declined. I'd picked up enough in the short term that I'd been a member to understand that this role would be focused on the 'sales' aspect of the club business, and even more so the year of my tenure as something wasn't quite right about the long standing members calling it a day. Whilst there is more to the role, and the areas for focus vary year on year, in my head, I just needed to talk to people! Easy peasy!
Having a wealth of experience in this area, and understanding the basics of the sales process (follow up), helping the club turnaround that year was extremely fun and rewarding and it became inevitable that before long, I knew who everyone was! I wouldn't say that I grew a huge amount during this time, but I picked up a lot about the running of the club and the wider organisation quite quickly.
Contributing in what for me, was a relatively easy way, helped me serve my club community, make some lifelong friends and was the start of its own separate path. More on that in the next #giftwork post.
Find out more about my friendly and safe club here: https://www.facebook.com/TrojanSpeakers/
More about Toastmasters International: https://www.toastmasters.org/
Rupa Datta was VP Membership - Trojan Speakers in Ealing 2016-2017 and at the time of writing is the Immediate Past President
Economists and social scientists have long researched the idea of charitable giving. Charity has existed since the beginning of human civilisation. But why do people give, time or money, to causes and organisations without expectations? Fundamentally, what motivates us to part with our hard-earned cash or volunteer labour, knowledge, and services for no tangible returns?
“To give back to the society,” is the most intuitive answer you would get if you were to randomly ask a thousand people. But is it really altruism or do we just want to feel good about ourselves? The drivers behind our acts of benevolence, it turns out, are more complex than what our collective intuition may suggest.
A good way to find out why we give is to first understand what we get from it. Numerous studies have loosely categorised the benefits of giving under three broad labels: economic, social, and private.
Your donations of money, labour, and knowledge have a substantial direct economic value. According to a study, the British donate 54p out of every £100 they make. (We are more generous than the Germans or the French, but less benevolent than the Kiwis or the Americans, the world’s biggest givers). The UK’s voluntary sector is worth £23.9 billion or 1% of the country’s GDP. Any skills learned or experience gained via volunteering or mentoring proportionally leads to better economic opportunities. Anyone who has built habitats in rural Africa or taught language classes in Asia is likely to stand out in a crowded job market.
The social value of giving, on the other hand, is slightly trickier to quantify. But there’s mounting evidence that the rate of return to society on each £1 in donation or in volunteered time is categorically manifold. For example, an impact study found that every £1 spent by Centrepoint, a homelessness charity, generated a societal benefit of at least £2.40. That’s a return of 140% over a five-year period. Another study, by Bank of England, found interventions funded by donations helped a children’s charity bring down the rate of substance abuse and missing-persons report while also providing secure homes and educational opportunities to vulnerable children. The social welfare multiplier effect, in this case, for each donated £1 was estimated to be 6-12 times.
And then there’s the private value of social benevolence - to the benefactors themselves! This is the part you mostly hear about, the mysterious oxytocin-laced feel-goodness one experiences after donating money or labour. Volunteers regularly report feeling satisfaction, happiness, better confidence, novel experiences, opportunities to make new friends, learning new skills, and improved mental health.
However, my own experience of volunteering helped me discover what I like to call the knowledge value of social giving. As a journalist, my livelihood depends on constantly learning about almost everything, and this experience was a gift like no other. In the summer of 2012, I began volunteering at an Age UK charity shop on the weekends. What started as a weekly escape from Milton Keynes, a black hole of boredom where I lived at the time, soon became a fascinating source of social engagement that brought huge bursts of learning. So much so that I would look forward to the weekly gig in earnest.
The boutique-like charity shop, housed in a refashioned period home with large sun-filled windows, was situated in a quiet market town called Stony Stratford. I began as the shop-floor girl who helped with everything. On the first day itself, I learned how to creatively rearrange the clothes rails each week. It turns out, this is vital for making the limited stock in a charity shop look fresh and appealing in order to keep the much-needed footfall coming. Soon I could independently dress up the windows, decorate the home section, and operate the cash register.
The outlet attracted an eclectic mix of people, many of whom would visit regularly to pore over the same goods and sections. Casual conversations with some of these bargain-hunters and treasure-seekers revealed fascinating nuggets of wisdom and knowledge I probably wouldn’t have learned anywhere else. An old woman in her sixties and with a remarkably good taste in fashion once showed me how to tell silver from steel by using just a piece of cloth (scrubbing silver until it shines will leave black marks on the cloth). Another regular, a middle-aged biker donning coloured leather jackets would come in every Saturday to meticulously examine our stack of vinyl records. Rare vinyl was a lucrative market; there were people out there with turntables who valued them more than gold, he told me.
But the real learning (and some back-breaking work) happened in the cold storeroom at the back of the shop where we sorted donations, steam-ironed clothes, and priced goods. This is where I got a glimpse of the staggering environmental cost of our fast fashion industry, the fate of our discarded yet perfectly wearable clothes, and the far-reaching impact of recycling. For example, did you know it was better to donate your unwanted underwear and socks to charity shops rather than send them to landfills? Charity shops can sell these items known as ‘rags’ to recycling companies and make money (but you should call them first and check). We sold our unwanted stock in large black bags, each weighing roughly 8-10 kgs, fetching us £6 apiece.
My most cherished memory of that experience, however, came from my favourite corner of the charity shop - the large oak bookshelf. I bought several books before I left the gig, among them a copy of The English Patient. Inside the Booker-prize winning novel penned by Michael Ondaatje, I found a hand-written love letter penned by one KJ. Addressed to one sloppy Geoffrey, who clearly forgot to retrieve the letter before donating the book, the beautiful letter reminisced their time spent together, of food cooked from unusual pantry pickings, and how KJ was now nursing a squirrel she had run over.
Any attempts to trace Geoffrey remained unsuccessful. Guess I will never know whatever happened to ‘Almost-Squashed Sydney,’ KJ’s new furry companion. The letter, a vignette of the intimacy between two strangers to which I became unwittingly privy, is a cherished souvenir from the time I spent helping in that Age UK outlet. It was like I had stumbled upon bottled-sunshine by the seashore on a cold wintry day, a warm reminder that sometimes you gain more when you give!
What do you call a Prime Minister with flowers in his hair?
What did the American President’s bodyguard shout?
What do you call a Canadian leader who absolutely loves to hide inside his travel bags?Justin Case
It was three weeks since I’d agreed to try stand-up comedy for the first time, two days before I would take to the stage on a busy Friday night in a central London pub, and those were the only three jokes I’d written so far.
Needless to say, my first foray into the world of stand-up comedy wasn’t a roaring success.
On the night, I managed to get one big laugh. It could have been two, but I didn’t trip over on my way off stage.
It did not go well. I’d done my best to pack out the audience with friends and family but even they couldn’t muster much of chuckle.
My best review came from a good friend who said:
“I prefer to try and remember you how you were before.”
Well, at least I had a quote for the poster when I went on tour.
But despite the lack of laughter, it wasn’t the worst experience ever.
I realised that I’d gone on to a stage in a packed pub and at least tried to do some stand-up comedy.
Had I ever done anything braver?
In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that going up on stage, knowing full well I didn’t have any funny material, was even braver than going up there armed with a barrel full of guaranteed laughs.
So, I went back.
Over the next few months I just kept doing it. Eventually I was doing stand-up three or four nights a week. All amateur, open-mic stuff of course, but still – I was starting to get a few laughs.
In February of this year, just before Armageddon struck, I went to Calgary in Canada and managed to book myself six stand-up slots at comedy clubs. And they weren’t all just amateur open-mic type affairs. I did a set at Canada’s oldest comedy night, Monday Night Comedy, which has seen some of the most famous names in comedy appear on its stage. I did a 20-minute set at a smaller venue and I performed alongside several of Canada’s top TV comics. The Justin Case joke went down a storm!
On my way home, I even stopped off to perform at Bob Ruffer’s Comedy Club at Pete’s Hideaway in Palm Springs, California. I was on a roll!!
So, when I got back from my ‘sold-out’ international tour, I thought it was about time I updated my LinkedIn profile to fully reflect this proud new string to my bow.
I’ve spent the last 15 years or so as a Copywriter and Communications Specialist, working with some of the biggest businesses in the UK.
‘Copywriter, Communications Specialist, Comedian’
“That has a lovely ring to it.” I thought.
But no sooner had I made the update, the messages started coming in from connections.
“Dan, are you ok?”
“Dan, are you looking for work? I might be able to help, mate.”
“Dan, I had a mid-life crisis myself a couple of years back. There is light at the end of the tunnel.”
The crunch point came a couple of weeks ago when a really good friend asked me if I could write him a LinkedIn recommendation.
I wrote a deservedly glowing report, detailing his skills and my experience of working alongside him.
He sent me this reply…
“Dan, thanks so much for the recommendation. I really appreciate your kind words. Could you do me a favour though? I’ve noticed you’re now saying that you’re a comedian as well as a communications specialist. Is everything ok? Also, do you mind taking it down for the next couple of weeks? Your recommendation is so good, I don’t want people seeing it has only come from a comedian.”
So, I removed it. In all honesty, after almost two months of lockdown and having done zero stand-up comedy in that time, I feel a lot less like a comedian than I did on my triumphant return from Canada.
But it did make me wonder…
Stand-up comedy is regarded as one of the scariest things anybody could ever try. Most people would run a mile at the thought of standing on stage and being expected to make people laugh.
Should it really be something I should be ashamed of?
Is it a skill I should hide away and keep totally separate from the day job?
Should I be Clark Kent during the day and Stupid Man at night? – nobody ever knowing that we are one and the same person.
Two LinkedIn profiles some people have suggested.
“Maybe wear glasses in your serious profile.” one ‘friend’ kindly offered.
For the moment, I’m back to being just a Copywriter and Communications Specialist. We’ll see how things go when everything gets back to a new normal.
One thing is for certain; after two months in lockdown, it’ll be a while before I’m back in any kind of shape for appearing on stages.
My big problem is, I eat too much pizza. I eat too much pizza, I get fat. I get fat, I get depressed. I get depressed, I eat more pizza.
I call it the dominos effect.
Dan Magill is definitely a Copywriter, Communications Specialist and Comedian, currently eating pizza in quarantine
4/5/2020 0 Comments
I became a volunteer more years ago than I care to think about, when everything was in black and white (sort of!) and my mobile phone was too big to keep in my pocket.
I had told my boss that there ought to be some sort group that I could join, both to meet my peer group and also prospective clients. He hadn’t heard of one but after some serious (hard copy!) research I found such a group and joined. Every month they would have an event at the City of London Guildhall. I noticed that the volunteers often had a lot to do, so I started to lend a hand.
It wasn’t long before they asked me to join their committee, Although keen I had an image of committee’s as being boring and stuffy with a chairman speaking slowly (in a broad Yorkshire accent) and grey men sat around shouting out, ‘order, order’. It turned out to be anything but stuffy as one of my new committee colleagues stood up mid meeting and demanded quite forcefully that things should change. At the end of the meeting she apologized to me and figured that I now wouldn’t want to join. She was wrong. I did join and I also sought to assist in making both the committee proceedings, and the events a lot more dynamic.
At the next meeting it seemed that they didn’t have an event planned for September, so I piped up and said I would organize something. I arranged a building visit to St Pancras Chambers which at the time was empty. A very ornate gothic building, trashed by British Rail in the 1960’s but awaiting its new life as an Hotel and apartments. The event was a success with all places taken. Since then I have organized over 100 events for the BIFM (now known as the IWFM, Institute of Workplace & Facilities Management).
About a year after the St Pancras event, the position of Chair became available and after a vote I was accepted as the new Chair. I drew up a list of aims and set out to make the committee more balanced in terms of gender and ethnicity, make the events bigger and better and have several speakers at each event (if one speaker turns out to be deadly boring, then the other two will counter balance that). I sought to team up with other institutes, meaning we could jointly attract more sponsorship money in bigger and better venues with top notch speakers.
I have gained so much from my volunteering, new friends and acquaintances, tons of CPD (Continuous Professional Development) points and visits to so many interesting buildings. However I know that I have also given back. When someone tells me an event some years ago inspired them to join the IWFM and later on to also volunteer, take the qualifications and develop their career in FM then I know that all the events I volunteered to run were not just a success, but they were also someone’s inspiration!