Here’s some advice for anyone wanting to volunteer from someone who’s been involved at every level of community work for over 15 years:
- If you find yourself wanting to volunteer consider very carefully why you want to do it. If it’s because you are feeling deeply troubled inside, empty, lonely, scared & lost. Go look after yourself first and get some great help for YOU. Get a great therapist/mentor/pastor, or even better all 3. Invest in yourself. After a year or two of doing this, or however long it takes, you’ll find yourself in a place of emotional abundance and genuinely able to contribute to people who are struggling in the broader community.
- Consider your skill set that you’d like to contribute. Maybe you’re a lawyer but burned out from paperwork and you want to contribute to a local environmental cause. So you want to plant native trees in parks on a Saturday morning. Make sure they know that. Consider the exact amount of hours you are willing to sacrifice and invest. Consider the tenure of this season that you are willing to commit to. Something might happen. A baby, unemployment, a car accident and things might change but otherwise, have this clear in your heart and mind and communicate that clearly to your family, your friends and of course the organisation. If you start and then stop you have not only wasted all of those hours but every hour the organisation spent with you has also now gone to waste and that valuable time they could have spent helping people that actually need the help: not training you.
- Pick one great organisation, group, church, political party or charity. Read a few books on it so you’re sure in your mind but also something you’re passionate about so you’ll stick with it when it gets messy. Unless you’re a millionaire retired at 40 with no kids you will only have time to significantly help 1 (ONE) mission. Only one. That’s it. If you come across another one you really like then finish up with the existing one… and then once that is complete you can move on to the next stage with your head held high. I guarantee you that you cannot divide your volunteering time into 2 lots of 50%. At best dividing it once severely diminishes the overall quality of those few and precious hours means you will only contribute about 2x 20%. More than that you will succeed in annoying both organisations. It’s not just the hours. It’s even worse if you’re good at time management. You’ll be fooled into dividing your time. Don’t. You’ve only got one heart and you’ve only got enough emotional energy for one mission (over and above family/work/friends/etc). Pick one and put everything into it.
- Consistency is King. 2 hours dedicated and consistently delivered every week with any deviation thoughtfully communicated in advance is far more valuable than 1000 hours at your personal convenience. These organisations don’t exist to satisfy your need to feel good about yourself. The purpose of volunteering is to genuinely sacrifice your time and resources to a collective that is coordinated to alleviate poverty or somehow help serve the greater good in this world. The mission can only be completed through individuals who are consistently committed and carefully coordinated over time. The nature of the mission is always difficult and so for anyone commissioned with the difficult role of coordinating volunteers in this field they need reliable volunteers to get the mission done. Consistency & reliability are vital for success. Be consistent and reliable. Commit to a small amount that you can realistically stick to without burning out. This is what I believe volunteers are really looking for. To be part of something bigger than themselves, being a recognised integral part of it but still discreetly anonymous, the camaraderie of a sports team and ultimately it’s the euphoria when your team scores a goal by significantly changing something meaningful in the world.
- Patience. If you want to be involved with a great organisation with exceptional systems and procedures then go work for Apple or the government. Be prepared that the very nature of grassroots community organisations means that it’s gonna be messy. Get over it. If it really means something… by that if it means something to the mission, not just your personal need for things to be in the order satiates your need for it. Then you will need to step into that role to create the systems and procedures and implement them throughout the organisation: for free. Or you could just spend your time doing the thing that makes it a powerful, flexible grassroots organisation attacking a niche but vital cause and helps the people they’re helping by doing the tasks they give you without whining or complaining. We all know it’s difficult. That’s why you’re doing it. That’s why it’s important. That’s why you’re just gonna have to be patient.
I believe volunteers change the world. Volunteers make the world a better place. I have so many great volunteers at Liberty and the work they do is incredible. They mostly do it with little recognition, no financial remuneration on top of their already busy schedules. In my eyes they are the truest of heroes.