Saturday, August 06, 2005

Curious about Volunteering - Should We and How Much?

Gillian Anderson summed up the number one reason to volunteer, when she wrote, “Be of service. Whether you make yourself available to a friend or co-worker, or you make time every month to do volunteer work, there is nothing that harvests more of a feeling of empowerment than being of service to someone in need.”

When we volunteer, however, we are not always helping someone in need. There are many other opportunities to volunteer for groups and organizations - and, yes, they are all in need of help - but will this give you and me a “feeling of empowerment” or just take time and energy away from other important endeavors?

If you are a natural volunteer like I am - when a group asks for someone to volunteer, my hand shoots up almost automatically - I think we need to reconsider our volunteering efforts. In the past, I have always recommended volunteering. It is a terrific way to meet and work with other people. You will find all of the reasons I feel an independent professional and business owner should volunteer by reading my article here .

It has always served me well as I have served others. By doing a good job, we not only learn a lot, we also develop a good reputation for being dependable and more than competent.

Alexis Herman sums it up beautifully, “There is no substitute really for learning about the world of work and being in the world of work. You can do that through internships. You can do it through summer job experiences or even from volunteer jobs in your local community. Strive early to get some kind of practical work experience.”

Now, I am going to discuss the downsides. As my business has grown, I have been forced to focus on how I am spending my discretionary minutes. I have realized that the percentage of time dedicated to volunteer efforts is too high. This doesn’t mean in any way that I will stop volunteering. It just means that I need to think it through thoroughly before committing to any new volunteer opportunities.

What has solidified this decision - and actually pushed me into writing this blog - is a volunteer job that I accepted in early July. I was called by a woman whom I count as a friend to ask if I would be willing to be a member of the nominating committee for a group to which we both belong.

At one time, I was the editor of their bi-monthly e-newsletter, but had to pass it on because of my time limitations. She told me that the job would just “consist of a few phone calls.” So, I broke down and said “yes.”

Another woman, who is now the chairperson of the nominating committee has had the idea - and an excellent one too - that when we call members, we also find out if they would like to be on a committee and ask them for their suggestions for making the group better.
This is an international group, and our leader (there are only four of us on the committee) has decided that we will call 22 to 23 members a piece. I have told her, “no way” and that I could manage 8 or 9 calls tops, but, of course, I feel guilty.

Ron Burton puts it in perspective and quite succinctly, “In the business world and the volunteer world, each job has certain requirements that must be met in order for that job to be done properly and for that organization to survive and prosper.”

I have learned a lesson. Don’t say “yes” when you know in your heart-of-heart that you already have enough volunteer and business jobs on your plate.

Yes, it is difficult to find volunteers - let alone “good” volunteers who do the job properly. But, we don’t always have to be or should be that volunteer.Do let me know what you think. I would love some comments (hint).