How many times has an organization asked you to volunteer for one of their community projects? When was the last time that you reached to a local organization and asked if they could use a little help? Have you ever considered that outreach from a worthy organization does not mean that you have to give money? How many hours do you spend watching television or hanging out with your friends when you and your friends could be volunteering for a worthy organization?
These and many other questions come to mind as I talk with folks on a regular basis about my organization and volunteerism as a whole. Unlike other articles you will find on volunteerism, I am not going to recite the myriad fantastic quotes from Robert D. Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, and neither will I bash you for not volunteering. Rather, I choose to outline how I became involved with a volunteer-based organization, how volunteerism has affected my organization and my personal life, and how you can get involved as a volunteer.
As I considered writing this, I see embedded in my mind that my parents did not volunteer for activities during my formative years. This is likely attributable to the level of volunteerism that I know today. I grew up in a blue collar home with parents who volunteered at church and for activities surrounding my time playing sports. (I started playing sports at age 7 and continued through my freshman year in college.) They never talked about giving a few hours here and there to the local Red Cross, arts council, history museum, Habitat for Humanity, etc., but I think it was because they spent so much time working hard at their vocations and spending time at church and on a ball field. Honestly, my father usually complained about receiving phone calls for volunteer activities, but I do remember him stepping up and doing whatever was necessary.
My entrance into the professional world after college did not initially involve volunteerism, but very few weeks passed before I learned about the importance of volunteers to organizations worldwide. Like many people in the non-profit world, I am expected to recruit, train, and retain volunteers. We are always on the search for people to help us with everything from setting up 10′ x 10′ pup tents to spreading the word throughout the community that our organizations are worth everyone’s support, both financially and with sweat equity. A substantial investment of staff time is necessary to train all of our volunteers because most folks don’t take too kindly to being uniformed about the activity in which they are investing their time. Out of all the the steps involved with a successful volunteer program, retention has to be one of the most difficult parts of the three-point approach to volunteerism.
So, why are organizations not calling you to ask for help? If you are already volunteering for a local organization, why are others not stepping up to the plate? I consider these questions on a weekly basis. I live in a small community in North Carolina that includes around 18,000 people in the only incorporated town in the county, and there are nearly 80,000 people in the entire county. This may seem very small to many folks, but it is very difficult to reach all 80,000 people. Even with all the social media outlets available today, there is no way to reach everyone.
Well, what do we do? We depend on our constituents to spread the word about our organization, and we push everyone with whom we have contact to volunteer in their respective communities. We don’t hound people to death, we encourage them to volunteer four to five hours every week or every other week. And, it is not considered “begging” to ask people for help. You do not move into the realm of begging until you persist with the “ask” after they’ve said no. I just wanted to make this clear. You might be amazed at how much a small group can accomplish working on a Saturday project from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. As a gravestone and monument conservator, I lead cemetery workshops and workdays, and with a small group working within the aforementioned timeframe, we can clean and reset between 25 to 35 gravestones and monuments. At the museum where I serve as the executive director, my volunteers can process (inventory) a large paper-based collection within a week.
You still may ask what you can do to become more of an active part of your community and what benefits you derive from all of the time you give. First, you need to determine what you like to do. Do you like books? Do you like the outdoors? Are you an animal lover? Are you an artist or a history buff? Decide what interests you and use that thing called a computer for something other than Facebook – – search for non-profit organizations in your city and county. If you contact them and let them know that you are interested in volunteering, I can assure you that they will welcome you with open arms. You will probably think they are a crazy because they will be so jazzed up because you called and expressed an interest in volunteering. Try out a number of organizations or volunteer for more than one local organization. Numerous organizations where I live want me involved with their projects and activities because they know that I will bring some of my volunteers with me to work on their organization’s projects. We all understand that a little time from a lot of people can accomplish big goals.
What does volunteering in your community bring to your life? I have no doubts that you will establish long-term relationships with people with whom you spend time volunteering. Your social circle will increase exponentially when you become an active volunteer, and you may even learn something. I am fortunate to have such a great relationship with so many of my organization’s volunteers, and we all take care of each other. We reach out by text, phone, or email when too much time passes between activities, and we make ourselves available to the group when we are needed. Nothing brings more joy to us in the profession than when a teenage volunteer flies out of the nest and ends up choosing a career in the same field as the focus of their volunteerism.
So, determine what you like, search for organizations in your city and county with missions that meet your needs, contact them, and get involved. You don’t have to give tons of your time on a weekly basis, just give some of your time at some point. There is no way to quantify all of the joy that you will experience.
Your volunteer support is just as beneficial as financial support. As one of my sagacious former board members used to say, “It is not about how much you give, it is simply that you do give.”