by Susan J. Ellis of Energize, Inc.
People volunteer for a wide variety of reasons, especially wanting to help others. But it’s also OK to want some benefits for yourself from volunteering.
Some people are uncomfortable with the notion that a volunteer “benefits” from doing volunteer work. There is a long tradition of seeing volunteering as a form of charity, based on altruism and selflessness. The best volunteering does involve the desire to serve others, but this does not exclude other motivations, as well.
Instead of considering volunteering as something you do for people who are not as fortunate as yourself, begin to think of it as an exchange.
Consider that most people find themselves in need at some point in their lives. So today you may be the person with the ability to help, but tomorrow you may be the recipient of someone else’s volunteer effort. Even now you might be on both sides of the service cycle: maybe you are a tutor for someone who can’t read, while last month the volunteer ambulance corps rushed you to the emergency room. Volunteering also includes “self-help.” So if you are active in your neighborhood crime watch, your home is protected while you protect your neighbors’ homes, too. Adding your effort to the work of others makes everyone’s lives better.
Think about how much you receive when you give and consider why you want to volunteer. You may have several different reasons. Here are just a few of the many possible motivations identified by other volunteers:
to feel needed
to share a skill
to get to know a community
to demonstrate commitment to a cause/belief
to gain leadership skills
to act out a fantasy
to do your civic duty
because of pressure from a friend or relative
satisfaction from accomplishment
to keep busy
to repay a debt
to donate your professional skills
because there is no one else to do it
to have an impact
to learn something new
for freedom of schedule
to help a friend or relative
to become an “insider”
to be challenged
to be a watchdog
to feel proud
to make new friends
to explore a career
to help someone
to do something different from your job
for religious reasons
to earn academic credit
to keep skills alive
because an agency is geographically close
to have an excuse to do what you love
to be able to criticize
to assure progress
to feel good
to be part of a team
to gain status
because you were asked
to test yourself
to build your resume
to be an agent of change
because of personal experience with the problem, illness, or cause
to stand up and be counted
You will probably have some special reasons of your own. Remember that the motivations you have to select the place to offer your services may not be the reasons why you stay. Once you’re on the volunteer job, you will continue to serve as long as you feel that your efforts are accomplishing something, that your talents are appreciated, and that you make a difference. And if you also like the people with whom you work, so much the better!
As long as you are truly serving through your volunteer work, isn’t it wonderful that such an exchange occurs? In fact, it tends to strengthen your commitment to volunteering when you can see the benefits to both the recipient of your efforts and to yourself. And it is much more comfortable than “charity” because it upholds the self-esteem of those with whom you volunteer.
Copyright Energize, Inc., used by permission.