Volunteering was not on Christian's radar - until a chance meeting added another dimension to his life.
How would you react if a charitable organization you'd never heard of approached you to become a board member?
In the case of Christian Sailer, Head of Audit for KPMG in Germany, the request prompted some soul searching.
“To be honest, I had never considered volunteering. So when my friend, who had recently taken a full-time position at the charity, made the approach in early 2019, my first response was `why me?' She responded by saying that she had a strong feeling that the position would be a good fit for both parties, and asked me to at least think about it.”
Christian subsequently did some research into the organization, Light for the World, which runs programs to restore vision to visually impaired people around the globe, operating in 19 locations including Ethiopia, South Sudan, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Bolivia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“At first I wasn't convinced this was right for me. But when I discovered that Light for the World was focused primarily on children and young adults, it somehow touched me emotionally. I have two kids of my own, and the idea that a young person's life could be held back through such a disability gave me a sense of determination to help tackle this problem.”
“When you think how much time and effort you invest in your own children, it makes you realize how shattering it must be for a young person to lack support. Visually impaired people, especially in developing countries, are often destined for lives of dependency and poverty. I felt that, by joining the board, I could have a real impact on the life prospects of many individuals.”
Following some initial meetings in Spring 2019, Christian was elected to the board and officially started in October.
“Not surprisingly, my finance skills are of prime interest and I'm acting as a kind of coach to the finance department, mentoring and sharing my knowledge. The board is mainly composed of medical specialists and other non-profit professionals, and I'm the only member with a commercial background, so my experience can come in useful in many ways.”
Christian's personal and professional contacts are also useful in helping Light for the World achieve a higher profile in Germany in particular.
“The charity is less well-known in certain countries, so it's vital to raise our visibility - and the perception of what we're doing - in order to raise funds.
In a short period of time, Christian has warmed to volunteering and does not feel that the commitment intrudes too much into his work and personal life.
“Yes, I do have to spend time in the evenings and weekends, but it's manageable. What drives me on is the knowledge that I'm making a difference. I think that's worth a few hours a month of anyone's leisure time.”
For Christian, joining a charitable board has taken him into a new dimension that is different to anything he does at work or at home.
“I'm fortunate to have an interesting career and I get a lot of fulfilment from my job, interacting with teams and serving clients. But this takes me to another, more humanitarian level. You don't get anything financial or material out of it - but you do get the satisfaction from having a profound impact on people's lives in a very direct and measurable way. It's not about revenue; it's about impacting individuals' perspectives. Persons with disabilities living in poverty are amongst the most excluded groups in society. The beneficiaries of our efforts are literally coming out of the dark into the light and regaining control over their destinies.”
As a final word of advice, Christian urges would-be volunteers to think carefully about the organization they choose.
“It's important to have a connection, a shared sense of purpose with the charity. Once you find that, I'm sure you will never stop, as it gives you meaning and provides the momentum to succeed.”