VOLUNTEERS RULE

Recently, fellow blogger, Lynn Daue, wrote a post called “Resistance Is (Not) Futile” (http://lynndaue.com/2013/03/08/resistance-is-not-futile/) in which she writes about being involved in a volunteer organization where she isn’t motivated to do that particular work. Though her post is about far more than volunteering, it reminded me of some advice I received from a retired couple. Referring to my impending retirement from paid work, they cautioned, “You’ll have to guard your time jealously.” “Why?”, asked I. The answer: “Because everyone thinks you have all this free time to volunteer for their cause. If you’re not careful, you’ll become a professional volunteer. You won’t have time for what you intended to do with your retirement.”

Whether retired or not, volunteering is a way to give back, to make the world a better place and, as a volunteer, I have always felt I received more than I gave. The caveat on that last thought is I received great satisfaction when I was volunteering for a cause I felt passionately about. Unfortunately, I’ve also had the experience of volunteering for an organization because a friend, neighbor or co-worker cajoled me into raising my hand and “volunteering”. As a result, I really didn’t enjoy what I was doing. My heart wasn’t in it. I didn’t contribute as much as I was capable of contributing and eventually left on a note of disappointment all around. So, after reading Lynn’s post, I put together my little set of rules for volunteering.

Rule number one for volunteering is to be sure you’re doing it because you feel unequivocally passionate about the cause. Just like the champion race horse who wins the race every time because they have heart, you’ll give your all to the organizations you choose because they touch your heart. Just because you say “no” doesn’t mean it isn’t a good cause. It isn’t a judgement of those who do support it. It’s just not YOUR cause.

Recently, at a class I’m taking, one of my classmates said she was having a tough time keeping up with the assignments. She’s retired so she should have time for doing the work. Right? What was holding her back? She’s the professional volunteer my advisors were talking about! She volunteers for five organizations, including one that takes three hours of her time five days a week. She wants to leave a couple of the organizations but feels guilty because they are already short-handed. Oh, the guilt!

So, rule number two for volunteering is know when to say “no” right up front. Don’t let yourself reach the point where the volunteering controls your life. When that happens, no matter how passionate you are about a cause, it may become a chore in short order. And, as in rule number one, if you’re not even passionate about the cause to begin with, it’s worse than being stuck in a paid job you don’t like because here your efforts are not even rewarded with a paycheck! Which leads me to rule number three. Know when to cash it in and do so without guilt. You gave it a shot. If it’s not YOUR cause, move on. You’ll be doing them a favor.

As I mentioned, I’ve been involved with organizations where things just didn’t work out, even in ones where I thought their cause was my cause. I’d start out all excited to be a part of the good works, all gong ho to show up and make things happen. Then, fizzle. Why? Well, I was just a warm body. I was a warm body to file paperwork. I was a warm body to take tickets at a special event. I was a warm body to type up the newsletter. You know, the one I didn’t write. In other words, they didn’t want my ability. They didn’t want my experience. They didn’t want to hear about any thought in my head. I was just a warm body to do whatever needed to be done that day.

So, rule number four is choose organizations that truly respect you, your experience, your expertise and your time. While this is true for everyone, I believe it’s especially true for retirees who are looking for community. Choose organizations that show their gratitude. I volunteer for an organization where I am routinely thanked for my volunteer activities and my time. I was trained by this organization to do a specific job for them and my brain power is welcomed. Although I’m a volunteer, they make me feel just as important as a paid employee.

So, do volunteer. But, choose organizations which support your passion, not someone else’s. Don’t let yourself get bogged down with too much volunteering. Be your own good cause. Remember, you have other passions as well. And, this one is really important for retirees, choose organizations where your life experience, expertise and brain power is not only respected but expected. Lastly, if you find yourself in the position of wanting out, but ohhh…the guilt, set them free so they can find someone with the passion to do a spectacular job at volunteering for their cause.

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