Small things matter — an introduction

Managing Volunteers / Friday, February 14th, 2014

“Go home Andrew.”

That was the joke the VolunteerMark CEO and I had going for several weeks. I met the VolunteerMark team, Andrew Stanley and Venkat Dulipalli, in a shared startup incubator space. They stuck out to me from the rest of our neighbors because they were so incredibly nice.

Andrew and I quickly fell into a habit of competing to see who worked longer hours, which he almost always won. Over the following weeks of kitchen coffee break chats, I pieced together what VolunteerMark was doing and fell in love with it.


The concept was simple, yet brilliant: make philanthropy effective by making volunteering as easy as possible, for both volunteers and organizers. I liked it because I understood what it meant to be in service organizations. I’ve seen the unspeakable amounts of labor it requires and I’ve experienced the difference between having help and getting by.

I connected with VolunteerMark because there is nothing I love more than being part of stories that are bigger than me and partnering with people who believe what they do matters. I’m passionate about taking care of caretakers, getting them the resources they need and sharing their stirring stories.

My goal as a contributing writer for VolunteerMark is to empower people who believe their actions make a difference. I’ll be writing blogs with practical advice and resources on the nitty gritty details of running a nonprofit. In addition, I will also be creatingservice spotlights — stories about inspiring people doing amazing things.

“Anna,” he said slowly, “everyday you make people happy. You make them feel seen, and valued. That is no small thing.”

In the last couple of years I’ve gone through what my mother calls the “great disillusionment of adulthood.” For years she tried to tell me that life is made up of endless small moments, most of them fairly mundane. But I, like most 20 somethings, have believed that life should be comprised of big things: grand gestures and significant causes.

I’ve spent my adolescence and college years trying to figure out how to do something that really matters and trying to figure out how to make a significant difference. It’s been frustrating, because no matter what my vocation has been I — like everyone else I know — spend the bulk of my time doing unsexy, practical things. Though, I am less cranky about it then I used to be.


The climax of my frustration came while working as a barista in a coffee shop. There I learned that there are few things less inspiring than working in customer service. Particularly when you are dealing with flustered people on a Monday morning, before they’ve had their coffee.

For 5 years I had lattes thrown at me for things that weren’t my fault, was criminally underpaid and ruined my pants while hosing off grimy floor mats. Little did I know that that job would introduce me to people that would change my life.

One foggy morning while the sun had hardly risen, I was taking my 10 and complaining to one of my favorite regulars Don. Don was a prestigious professor at a nearby college and was used to kids whining, so he took mine in patient stride.

I told him that I believed what I was doing was demeaning and pointless. That it was just coffee, and what was the point of it all? It really didn’t make any kind of real difference, it just didn’t matter. He let me have my moan, while thoughtfully considering his cigarette. Finally, he met my eye.

 “Anna,” he said slowly, “everyday you make people happy. You make them feel seen, and valued. That is no small thing.”

My goal as a contributing writer for VolunteerMark is to empower people who believe their actions make a difference.

I had been seeing my job as a failed American dream, but Don was wiser. He knew what I was just beginning to get a whiff of, that job titles do not change the world — ordinary, kind people do.

I had been so busy trying to do something big, something important, that I didn’t realize that, cliché as it was, it was small acts of service and kindness that mattered. It challenged me to look back on my story and at the things that had changed me.

Most of them were small. Even as small as a man with much better things to do, taking the time to befriend a lowly barista and give her some life perspective. That is why I volunteer; because I truly believe the sum is greater than the parts, that small things matter.

– Anna Spady, [email protected]