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Melinda Gates On How to Volunteer When You're Not a Billionaire

By Elizabeth Siegel

Yes, we should be organizing pledge drives for A Walk to Save the Endangered Species of Indigenous Communities of Southern Cleveland in our vegan slippers and multicolored ribbons, but who has the time? Well, Melinda Gates. As a cochair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Gates has practical, creative solutions for giving back when you’re really busy. (She would know.) Here, we chat with her about why volunteering is vital.

Q: What's your advice to someone who wants to volunteer but doesn't have time?
A: "You can make a huge difference even if it's an hour a month. In the philanthropic community, a lot of organizations are really small, and the common thread is that they're on a tight budget, so any service helps. Volunteer your services around whatever it is that you’re good at. I know a woman who is a really good writer and has a head for numbers, so she writes grants for a small organization. Ninety-five percent of the hours she gives are from home. It’s her way of giving back. Another example is tutoring a young child. Kids nowadays get tutored over Skype. To know that the child actually succeeded at that test or that quiz because you were a part of it? It's very, very fulfilling."

Q: If more people thought about volunteering as a means to happiness, would they do more of it?
A: "It’s not just about happiness. It’s fulfilling in a deep way, and it gets you to connect with people you might not otherwise connect with and see parts of society you might not see otherwise. My kids and I serve many times in a food line here in Seattle, and it’s really not just about the service that we're providing. It’s the humanity of connecting over these people’s stories and understanding who they are and how they are in the circumstances that they are in. Those are the really meaningful moments."

Q: Any advice on making time to volunteer?
A: "Put it on your calendar and commit to it — it's easier to commit a month ahead. The night before, you’ll think, Oh, my gosh, how in the world am I going to do that tomorrow? Until the minute I drive up to the place, I feel like I’m too busy for this. The minute you cross the threshold into the actual work, you think, Why didn't I put this on my calendar four times this month? When it tugs at your heart and brings up your enthusiasm, it stays alive for you, and you start to see where your talents meet the world's needs."

Learn more about Gates by watching her exclusive MAKERS story in the video above.

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