Volunteering offers a multitude of benefits, including the altruistic goal of feeling good about yourself and helping make the world a better place. Volunteering also gives you leadership training you can bring back to your firm or business, increases your network of friends and acquaintances, and improves your professional credibility.
Yet, what happens when volunteering becomes a time-drain, when you are the reliable one, getting the work done and no one else seems to step up to help. Or when the organization you volunteer for just keeps coming back for more and you don’t have any more to give?
Ultimately, you need a healthy volunteer relationship with the organization. Here are some tips on how to do just that.
Choose the Right Organization
All kinds of organizations need volunteers—schools, nonprofits, churches, and synagogues. Before becoming a devoted volunteer, you must feel a “calling” and think the cause is important. You need to care about the organization’s success. This desire to help the organization succeed is the basis for a healthy volunteer relationship. If you don’t like dogs, don’t volunteer for the ASPCA. It’s as simple as that.
Organizations need help with all kinds of tasks from stuffing envelopes and organizing events to tutoring, bookkeeping, serving on a board, and even raising money. The more involved you are with an organization, the easier it is for that group to ask you to take on additional volunteer tasks, despite the fact that you are already doing quite a bit.
Set boundaries. It’s important to know what you are willing to do so you can be prepared with an answer. Here are some questions to ask yourself before deciding how to proceed:
1. What is my goal for being involved in this organization? Besides helping to further the cause, you may want to gain leadership skills, meet more people, or work directly with individuals to make a difference. Volunteering gives you the opportunity to gain skills you may not have access to at your office or even with clients. Make sure you identify the skills you want to attain through your volunteer service.
2. How much time do I have to give? With busy careers and family, volunteering may take a back seat to other priorities. Obviously, taking on a volunteer project or activity during busy season or close to an audit deadline won’t work. Determine how much time you have to give, then set your schedule. Organizations are usually very good about working around your time, so think about, for example, helping with an annual event that has a beginning and an end rather than a monthly or weekly commitment.
3. What impact do I want to have on the organization? Answering this question is the difference between serving soup at a local shelter or serving on a board of directors. Both are essential roles, but you have to decide where you’ll get the most enjoyment and sense of accomplishment.
They Keep Asking For More ….
Being clear about what you want out of the organization helps, but it doesn’t necessarily make it easier to say “no” when you are asked to do something.
Jared Jones is a dog lover. He enjoys walking and playing with dogs at the local animal shelter on the weekends. It feeds his soul and he looks forward to it, but the shelter found out that he is a CPA and asks for help with their financials. He’s put off answering, but feels he needs to reply. All of a sudden, he hates showing up at the shelter!
This scenario is pretty typical for volunteers at any organization, so what is the right answer? Telling the staff you are a bus driver so no one will ask you for help? Of course not. Be proud of your profession—but seriously think about what you want rather than what they want.
If walking dogs is what you love, make that clear with something like, “You know, volunteering here is my break from work and I love working one-on-one with the dogs. I really can’t take on any pro bono work right now but I would be glad to see if someone else in the firm can.”
A Healthy Volunteer Relationship
Volunteering provides tangible benefits and setting personal boundaries is essential to ensuring you get what you need from the volunteer experience. Remember that there are only a certain number of hours in a given day and all of us have many projects to juggle. Give your time the way you want, but don’t let anyone take advantage of your good nature. If you do, you’ll soon resent the time you otherwise used to enjoy.
Many of our young members are engaged in all sorts of volunteer efforts. What are some of your favorites?