Monday Musings: Volunteering

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IMG_3119Volunteering…generally a good thing, generally a fun and fulfilling activity…sometimes absolutely thankless, sometimes demoralizing.

I started doing a bit of volunteering back in college.  I joined Alpha Phi Omega, a national co-ed service fraternity.  We were the Alpha Alpha Chapter at the University of Illinois.  I’m thinking we had on average 30-40 new members join each semester, maybe we had 100 active members.  It was a great group to be a part of…we had service projects every weekend covering all sorts of areas in need of support and help.  Sometimes the projects were campus oriented, sometimes out in the local community or at the national or global level.

The chapter posted a picture to their Facebook page last night.  It was a picture of the new pledge class for the spring semester…260 new members wanting to be part of this organization!  I was floored!!!  There are over 400 active members.  It’s amazing!

Volunteering is part of the American culture.  So much so that our school district requires that students do 75 hours of volunteer work in order to graduate high school.  Which does beg the question…Is it volunteering if it’s required?  But at least, where students donate their service is up to them.  And they can get started in middle school, giving them 7 years to reach 75…really not a challenge.

Most people can give you a list of benefits to volunteering…helping others, meeting new people, community involvement, etc, etc, etc.

But sometimes, volunteering can be very disheartening.  Maybe because of the nature of the service being provided, maybe it involves some of life’s unpleasantries…illness, poverty, death…things that can certainly take a toll on anyone.

And sometimes, volunteering can be totally demoralizing because others will decide that you are doing things wrong and you feel that regardless of what you do, it’ll be wrong.  I was in that situation a several years back.  Let me tell you, it SUCKS big time!

I had taken up an assistant position in our community for the summer, in part because I (actually the whole family) had been involved in the activity for a number of years, someone was needed for the position, and I had been told that it would be a shared position and have plenty of “training”.  Well, my co-person dropped out before the summer started and the “training” binder didn’t exist.  Pretty much everything I did was not done well enough.  I always got comments about what I should have done.  I SOOOO wanted to walk right out, but stuck it out because otherwise my duties would have fallen on the shoulders of one of the top co-leaders.  It was the other co-leader that gave me grief.

Lately, I know of others who are finding themselves in a similar situation.  People who stepped up to jobs when no one else would, when others (maybe with more time) didn’t want to get involved.  Now these people are having their ideas trampled without a trial, or are having their actions criticized because they’re doing things a bit differently.  I don’t know how long they will stick it out, don’t know how long I would if I were in their shoes.

Certainly there are more efficient ways of doing things at times.  Of course there are times when legal or financial issues dictate a “right” way of doing things in the world of volunteering.  But many times there aren’t.  When someone wants to try something that they believe will be of benefit to others, maybe those ideas should be given a fair shake and not just poo-pooed right away.  Somethings really really don’t have to be done a certain way just because “we’ve always done it that way.” Sometimes, organizations have trouble getting volunteers.  Maybe others don’t want to step up and learn the job…maybe they’ve seen others beaten down by other volunteers/leaders or (even worse in my mind) those who refuse to get involved. I know it’s hard to let go of control of an area one “owned” and maybe we “know” exactly how it should be done.  Sometimes a volunteer is absolutely floundering and struggling with the task…yes, step in…just be aware of how the help is offered.  Tone makes a huge difference.  Shadowing is a great way to hand over the reigns, but once handed over, it’s time to step back. So maybe some rules…

For the Non-Volunteers:

  • Remember the Volunteers are NOT paid, but are giving their time and energy (probably way more than what you see)
  • Next time a position needs to be filled that fits your talents…fill it.
  • You don’t necessarily know that your ideas are better if you haven’t worn their shoes.
  • Remember to say please and thank you.
  • Share your thoughts in a positive way.

For the Volunteers:

  • Remember your fellow volunteers are in the same boat…follow the Golden Rule.
  • Don’t take everything personally…there will always be grumps.
  • Know when it’s time to pass the baton and then pass it.
  • Know when you need help.
  • Remember the job isn’t about YOU.

With budget cuts everywhere, more and more is falling to volunteers.  Churches, PTA’s, community organizations are picking up more and more duties and responsibilities.  These kinds of organizations are volunteer run…if all the volunteers went on “strike”, I believe many, many things would come to a screeching halt.  Keep that in mind when someone suggests hanging the decorations differently.  Does it really matter if the garland is hung here or there?

I ended up taking a year off from that summer position.  I went back the following summer and am part of a well functioning team.  A team that is great fun to be a part of.  A team that addresses issues together for the most part.  A team that works together well, even when opinions don’t all fall the same way.  It makes all the difference. Just my musings after a very busy weekend.


p.s.  Photo credit goes to my favorite daughter.

What do you think?