Ask the Expert: Entrepreneur Tuan Nguyen on Volunteering

Last week, LifeSpeak users around the world got to ask entrepreneur and philanthropist Tuan Nguyen about incorporating volunteering into their daily lives. While working as a full-time public accountant, Tuan began volunteering in the community and raising money for various causes.  Before he knew it, he had raised $1,000,000 by the time he was 25 years old, and volunteering had become an essential part of his overall well-being. He continues to volunteer and has raised over $10,000,000 while running various online and consulting businesses. He has coached and mentored thousands in finding their way into contributing to a worthy cause.

Here are the highlights from our user webchat with Tuan. Please keep in mind all user participation is anonymous and confidential.

Defining volunteerism.

Tuan Nguyen — “So what is volunteerism? I like to answer that with answering two parts of how I feel volunteerism plays a role in people’s lives. The first role is the teacher role and essentially volunteerism is the most amazing teacher you can ask for in terms of life. And the other role is the role of the channel where the channel is where there’s an exchange where you share yourself with the community. All the skills I’ve developed from organizational skills, managing people and learning about life in general, what people deal with in terms of hardship and how to overcome hardship, is through the act of volunteerism.”

Encouraging others to get involved.

QUESTION — “How can I encourage my employer to partner with a charity and in turn as a high-level manager, how could I encourage employees to volunteer. I would love to organize baseball games or other events for us to raise money to help those in our city. Where can I begin and how can I show everyone it’s a fantastic way to get engaged and working together outside of the work place?”

Tuan Nguyen — “Wow…lots of great questions here and I’ll do my best to answer them concisely here. They are related but require different responses.

  1. Employer engagement. I like to start with asking or researching how the employer gets involved. What are their criteria or conditions that need to be met. I for example, will support causes that encourage young people to explore their entrepreneurship creativity as I am an entrepreneur. Or anything to do with [the] heart as I lost my father to heart disease. A great way to convince the employer if you feel it makes sense is to prove to the employer that a particular charity is value by many people within the company. So this will require you to connect with colleagues and gather those who are interested. I did this exact approach 22 years ago where I found 11 employees who valued a children’s related charity and the company got involved.
  2. How do you engage colleagues. This depends on your relationship with [your] colleagues/team. Some relationships are strong enough to simply start inviting people with an exciting energy behind it. However, this is not always the case. I’m all about long-term commitment so the following point is more of a mid to long term commit. The smaller the group the quicker the results. Essentially, it’s about understanding what your team members value and what they would like to do to contribute. I was part of the hi-tech days in the late 90s and my manager was great because he sent out an email asking us to list 3 favorite charities and 3 favorite activities we would do for these charities if the company were to back us up. It allowed us all to say anything. This general approach gets everyone thinking openly and from there, you can take your newly found insight and figure out what is the best way to engage.”

Leveraging professional experience.

QUESTION — “I am thinking about retiring in the next couple years after 30 years as a HR professional. I really want to spend the next few year maybe mentoring HR professionals entering the workforce. How can one go about doing that? I really want to share my years of expertise and encourage the younger generation.”

Tuan Nguyen — “Wow! Congrats on so many years of service! This is such a great question and a hot topic among many.

  1. First, is to understand a bit how the younger generation is consuming content and learning and also choosing who they trust. With them growing in such a transparent world, seeing real value is important to them and then loyalty is given.
  2. That means for them to seek you for coaching and mentorship, they need to see the value you offer.
  3. So the actual first step to take is to start writing down, whether on paper, a word doc, or even starting a blog – many of your thoughts and lessons you would like to share. It is not about building a massive following – it’s about taking what you know and putting it down. The more you do this, the more you’ll see how you’d like to organize your own experiences and lessons to share with others.
  4. In the meantime, be ultra-aware of some of the challenges you truly care about that are faced by many younger HR professionals. I say this because to make a great impact, it starts with a deep impact. And that means we get very specific on how we can help people. As with a space shuttle entering the atmosphere, it starts with an entry point and then it spreads.

The sooner you start to curate your lessons and start communicating, you will find your voice, your audience and your legacy.”

Overcoming shyness or introversion.

QUESTION — “I want to start volunteering in my community, but I am not sure how I could help. I’m an accountant by trade and a bit on the shy side. I’m not very sporty or really out-going, so I’m not sure how I could really coach or participate in fundraisers to raise money. How can I be useful, maybe more behind the scenes?”

Tuan Nguyen — “Thank you for your question and I can relate to you. I grew up an introvert and studied engineering and then accounting. My very first sets of volunteer activities involved calling (email didn’t exist back in those days) and [I} said that I wanted to lend my skills to a charity that might need it and that perhaps they could ask a few other charities, too. With social media, if you have LinkedIn or Facebook, simply putting a status update saying you’d like to volunteer is also a great start. It took me about 2 months to find something that resonated with me…which was… helping with a small theatre’s books after a show.”

Getting kids to volunteer.

QUESTION — “I’m looking for opportunities for my kids (ages 7-11). Besides fundraising through bake sales/lemonade stands, etc, what can you recommend for kids that age to get involved?”

Tuan Nguyen — “Great question! I’d like to start by sharing something I did recently. I was interviewed with this as a question: What did your parents do to inspire you to do so much volunteer work? Did they do lots themselves? Did they “get you out there?”

The answer was that they were just giving people. They gave our landlord food on Sundays as they knew he worked hard. I saw compassion among them.

So with my kids, I teach them the fundraising side to show them a bit of the entrepreneurship side of volunteerism as I am an entrepreneur. But I ultimately want to teach them compassion and giving. So they come with me to work and hand out baskets of apples to our colleagues. We help cut our neighbor’s lawn who is a senior person. Just yesterday, my former neighbor got into a car accident and did not speak a whole [lot] of English and they came with me and watched me help this person fill out a police report. I believe through getting them involved with kindness acts, it increases the chances of our kids naturally wanting to volunteer.”

Volunteering to say thank you.

QUESTION — “I was diagnosed with breast cancer a couple years ago, and now I am in remission. I am so thankful for the doctors and everyone around me who supported me during my cancer. I want to give back and support other families going through this…where can I start?”

Tuan Nguyen —“Hi Joy! Firstly, congrats on your remission and thank you for sharing your story with me (us). Secondly, there are three ways to give back that I usually inform my friends and my children.

  1. Supporter: Many events related to your cause require a ton of support and volunteers. Contacting them is a great way to just get warmed up and help out at an event or even for the organizations themselves. For example, you can help with admin work. Or if you have experience with accounting or writing proposals, you can help there too if they require that help.
  2. Project manager: This is like supporter, but reaching out to organizations that need higher level skills. Most charities do not have the resources to invest in their own leadership and skills development, so if you have a higher level skill, apply that.
  3. Changemaker: I believe that almost everything you love to do, you can do it with a charitable component. So if you like knitting, or cycling, simply gather a group of friends to join you and ask for a small donation and start small. You’d be surprise how this can grow. Also, if there is something you’d like to do and you don’t see anyone doing it, then the changemaker role comes out and you can start reaching out to friends and colleagues to see if they would like to jumpstart this initiative with you.”

Ask the Expert Survey: What is the biggest barrier that may be stopping you from volunteering?

42.9% – Lack of time
14.3% – Child care
14.3% – Don’t know how to start getting involved
14.3% – Don’t know how I could contribute
0.0% – I did not have a good experience in the past
14.3% – Other

Tuan Nguyen (in response to the survey results) — “I’d like to address the one where some have expressed a lack of time. I hear this often. There are a few points I’d like to mention.

  1. Charities and those in need will appreciate even 1/2 hour of your time. It’s truly amazing what one can do to help. Something as simple as picking up donated non-perishable food and dropping it off at a food bank once a month can be a simple one.
  2. Some individuals, once they find something that truly matters and resonates with them, they start making the time…and again, it does not have to be a large amount of time. The sum of all efforts is what matters and more importantly, the sum of all long-term committed efforts is what’s important. I would rather volunteer once every 3 months for the next 10 years than to exhaust myself with 15 hours a week while having a full-time job and family and then burning out for months and months.
  3. As mentioned before, you can also start with a very small project even if it requires you to go to just one meeting or do just one thing to contribute to the project.
  4. Another major point is that I find many people do not truly believe they can help. So believe you can. Believe that you are needed. Believe that you have gifts that can make a difference today. Find something that matters to you and share your gift. even if it is for a brief moment.”

Don’t miss our next Ask the Expert session!

If you weren’t able to catch our webchat with Tuan Nguyen, you can always sign into your LifeSpeak account to read the transcript. And be sure to log in August 8 at noon EST to catch nutrition tips from registered dietitian and culinary instructor Shauna Lindzon. She’ll be answering questions about how to avoid the “summer junk slump” with children at home. If you don’t have a LifeSpeak account, please have your HR team reach out to us.

What is Ask the Expert?

Our Ask the Expert sessions allow our users to have regular access to our experts in real time, which allows them to have their pressing questions answered. This opportunity provides our users with practical and easily implemented tips to help them make real changes in their lives. To learn more, don’t hesitate to book a demo.


Also published on Medium.