Putting books back in the shelves in libraries, representing the Psychological Association in front of students, helping students with their literature search, putting up a teenager in our house for months, organizing seminars, reading to and listening to elderly people with dementia, running a hostel in Spain, taring the deck of the sail ship Star of India, distributing gardening news to garden club members via e-mail and postcards, teaching illiterate adults to learn how to read and write, I have done that and other things as a volunteer over the years. As with everything, with practice comes experience. At the end of this list of tasks is one main question: Why do I and why do people in general volunteer, what is the motivation?
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Volunteer Work - Why and How?
Volunteering is the back bone of social society in the USA. Many, many organizations depend on the graciousness of volunteers. In Europe, where the government finances a lot of the social services, volunteer work is not as ingrained in the culture, but it certainly exists as well. Helping out: That is a genuinely humane trait. It inspires, it feels good, it makes us feel connected. It is great to be able to give and put some of our own talents to work. The responsibility is often low, the commitment is mainly voluntary. There is no pay.
During volunteering at various places in Europe and the US I have worked with many other volunteers. The tenor is pretty much the same everywhere. The "pay" seems to be the praise. There is just one problem with the motivation fueled by wanting praise and recognition. Often there is no one there to do that job. There are mainly fellow volunteers, who also hope to get praise for putting their heart and soul into something. So the tempers are often running high, and the initial pastime turns into a hassle.
That is not how it is supposed to be. You should have a good time when volunteering and not have to deal with "difficult" peers. The following steps help to get the best out of volunteering and to give your kind heart what it deserves: gratitude and acknowledgement.
1. stay with your area of assignment and ignore any wish to tell someone else how they can improve what they are doing
2. be honest with yourself and ask yourself what it is you like about a volunteer position
3. keep reminding yourself that the volunteer place is not your "real world". You don´t need to fix everything, take responsibility, and you won´t be affected in your "real" life by your actions while volunteering (unlike a bread winner´s job)
4. enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. As a volunteer you have the absolute right to enjoy what you do. If you don´t enjoy it, volunteering makes no sense
5. remind yourself, even if the task at hand seem mundane, you are doing a great deed and help the organization fulfill their mission
In any case, volunteering is one of the most noble and honorable things we can do. Keep up the grace of it and let little ripples pass you by, unaffected.
Thank you for volunteering past, present and future.