Monthly Archives: February 2014

To Volunteer or Not to Volunteer?

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IMG_1205My favorite cocktail napkin of all time has the words, “Just Say No to the Sign-up Sheet”. Oh if only I could do that! I find myself drawn to stepping up to the cause, whatever it may be, and cannot possibly stand being at a meeting where the request for help is issued and no one raises their hand. I’m getting better at knowing my limits, but there is still the inevitable pull of feeling responsible for helping out. Over the years, I have been involved in all sorts of volunteer activities. When my kids were in elementary school, I volunteered to run the “Fun Fair” (because no one else wanted to do it) and I came in with a bang – I mapped out an organization chart showing me at the top, then the committee chairs (food, prizes, games, etc.) reporting in to me, then their teams reporting in to them, etc.

This was a less than successful approach. I quickly learned that what might work in my corporate world will not necessarily be appreciated in the school volunteer world. Let’s face it, most school volunteers are stay-at-home Moms, and although there are an increasing number of Dads and those with flexible corporate careers, still, in my community at least, it’s mostly stay-at-home Moms. So my org chart came across pretty heavy-handed, to say the least. Fortunately, that event was a success despite my fumbling leadership.

I’m still not sure I have the right touch when it comes to organizing a group of volunteers which all come from different backgrounds and have different motivators for volunteering. But I am finding that there are two things that are key:

  1. Be super passionate about your cause and work hard to spread that passion to others, and
  2. Rely on good relationships with fellow volunteers. There’s nothing like a good friend looking you in the eye and saying “I really need your help on this” to get you motivated in supporting their project.

Aside from the benefit of doing something good for the community or organization, our kids are able to see that we care, and we’re working hard to make a difference. Whether it’s just bringing snacks to a party or running a huge event, the act of reaching out in some way does have an impact.

Another great benefit of volunteering is developing good relationships with others in the community. As our kids move through middle and high school, having relationships with other parents and school administrators can be invaluable. In Rosalind Wiseman’s book, “Masterminds and Wingmen”, she quotes a teenage boy, “My mother has a mom network. It’s really bad. They knew something that happened before it happened.” And I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned by volunteering with parents who had teenagers older than my own.

But if too much volunteering leaves you feeling over-committed and dreading the work, maybe it’s time to take a step back and re-evaluate why you are volunteering in the first place. Complaining about volunteer work is counter-productive. Either do the work with a smile, or find a way to exit gracefully.

Being a full-time employee at a large corporation, I find that my career demands ebb and flow, and sometimes I can devote more time to volunteering and sometimes I’m locked in a conference room with very little contact with the “outside world”. All we can do is to try our best, to find the passion within us that drives our desire to help out, and to, every now and then, put our name on the sign-up sheet.