How Giving Back to Your Community Enriches You

By Tom Hanlon

Jim Kolar, managing partner for PwC’s Greater Chicago market, began his career nearly 30 years ago. In that time, he’s made a lot of stops and learned a lot of lessons. He shared one of those lessons recently with students at a Department of Accountancy Lyceum.

“I wonder how much more rich my life would be if I had thought about not only giving back [earlier in my career], but about the impact of giving back,” he said. “It’s been a critical part of my development.”

Kolar admitted that it’s easy for students to focus on building their skills to get jobs – and acknowledged the need to do that – but he emphasized the value of giving back to communities at the same time.

“Giving back provides you many opportunities,” he said. “You work with diverse populations. You recognize community needs and see how to help solve problems. You get the opportunity to lead in a different way, to develop your leadership skills by working with people who share your passion. You get to discover your own passion.”

Discovering his own passion
His own passion, he shared, is in helping youths. “I want to help that next generation,” he said. “I have three kids of my own. Seeing kids without the right opportunities hit me in the heart. A lot of times the lack of opportunities is no fault of their own. You can change a life by stepping out and creating an opportunity, or preventing an opportunity for disaster for kids who couldn’t help themselves.”

Like many professionals, Kolar was focused on developing his own career early on. Then he got involved in a “Dear Santa” program in which he delivered food and presents to a single mother and her daughter. He saw the impact he made on them, and it opened his eyes.

“I continued to give in this way,” he said, “but these were individual actions, and I began to wonder how I could have a broader impact.”

To that end, Kolar became involved with a number of charities and organizations, including CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), Canyon Acres, an organization helping traumatized children, and Treehouse, which serves at-risk youths.

“Kids’ lives have changed” through Treehouse, he said. Lacking self-esteem for various reasons, “They think about themselves differently now. They feel like they’re worth something.
“I know we’re making a difference. The impact we’re having in the community is tremendous.”

Giving benefits all involved
In giving back to your community, Kolar added, you get something in return. “What I get out of it is not only the personal relationships, but the personal development,” he said. “Every time I’ve given back, I say, ‘Is that it? Is it over? Do I have to go back to what I’m doing now? I wish I could give more.’ ”

Kolar advised the students to find the organizations they are passionate about and invest their time and money in them. “The opportunities will be in front of you,” he said. “I ask you not to look past them, but to find your passion.”

Kolar spoke to the need for companies to connect their corporate social responsibility efforts with the purpose of the organization. “At PwC, we have a passion for giving back, and it’s called corporate social responsibility,” he said.

PwC began, in 2012, a program called “Earn Your Future.” This program teaches financial literacy to young people. The company made a 5-year commitment to the program, a commitment that spans $60 million in cash and 1 million PwC volunteer hours. In addition, PwC has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Greater Chicago area alone, and offers ongoing support to United Way.

Giving back to communities makes good business sense, but the benefits don’t stop there, Kolar explained. “What our business is trying to drive is important to us, and that’s good business sense for us, but it’s also giving back to the community,” he said.

“Business is more than the bottom line,” he continued. “Our clients are sincerely interested in improving their communities.

“Clients are focused on the bottom line, but they see the importance of giving back. We enhance our relationship by partnering with them. So there are true business and development benefits, but it’s more than the bottom line. There are true opportunities for our communities, too.”

What companies are looking for
Kolar also addressed what companies such as PwC are looking for in new employees. “We need more than just technical expertise,” he noted. “We need more than just the professional skepticism that we have to have. We have to have all of that, but we’re looking for people who are well-rounded and will have a business acumen and understand how we can give back to the community as well.”

Kolar advised students to tell companies what they’re doing beyond their academics. “Tell us your story,” he said. “Talk to us about where your passion is. Not to take away from the core attributes of what you have to have, you have to understand the skills, but it’s more than that.”

And the reason it’s more than that, he said, is simple: “The most important message we give when we give back is that someone cares about you, someone cares enough to give you their hours and their dollars,” he said. “And that can make a real difference in people’s lives.”