Guest Author: Deb Stargardt, Dallas, Texas
A.A. Milne wrote the following: “In the quiet hours when we are alone and there is nobody to tell us what fine fellows we are, we come sometimes upon a moment in which we wonder, not how much money we are earning, nor how famous we have become, but what good we are doing.”
A few weeks ago, I volunteered for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. It was an exhilarating experience – a day filled with a wide span of emotions. I made new friends and connected with my community in a purposeful way. It felt great. Driving home, I asked myself why I didn’t volunteer more often. The answer seemed obvious – not enough time. In fact, that’s the #1 reason adults give for not volunteering.
There is a volunteer crisis in America. The stakes are so high that President Obama recently signed into law a landmark bill to greatly expand government national-service and volunteer programs. He has asked Americans to “stand up and play your part.” There are lots of terms for 21st century volunteerism – social entrepreneurism, civic engagement, community service – but the bottom line is giving back. So what’s in it for you? There is actually a pretty compelling business case for volunteering. Thomas McKee is a volunteer management consultant and he’s done the math on volunteerism. According to McKee, people are motivated to volunteer for three distinctive reasons – all of which lead to success in one form or another.
- Self-serving motivation – This is the most basic level of volunteerism. Networking is an incredible opportunity and benefit of volunteering. Professional men and women often connect with new clients and potential business partners through volunteer associations. As McKee notes, it’s a win/win – the organization benefits from the volunteer’s professional training and expertise and the volunteer benefits from “meeting people who know people.”
- Relational motivation – This is the next level of voluntary participation. When a friend or co-worker asks you to volunteer, it’s hard to say “no.” Certainly in my situation, I would not have known about the Race for the Cure event (it wasn’t on my radar for the weekend) had it not been for a colleague who asked me to serve on her team. Through her invitation, and my acceptance, I spent an otherwise uneventful Saturday surrounded by cancer survivors and cancer research supporters. Instead of running errands and catching up on household chores, I reached out to women and daughters, husbands and brothers – promoting breast cancer awareness and a healthy lifestyle. If only one person scheduled a mammogram as a result of what I did that day, it was worth it. I was successful if I touched one life.
- Belief motivation – This is the highest level of commitment. When people volunteer because of their passion for a cause, the sky’s the limit. The opportunity for success and victory is boundless. Passion is a power word. Passion is inspiring; it changes things. There is no amount of money you can place on something about which you are passionate. Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best. “Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”
At the organizational level, businesses that put their support behind a civic cause are rewarded with sustained customer loyalty as well as community pride. Southwest Airlines’ Adopt-A-Pilot program mentors fifth graders across the country by showing the practical application of math, geography and writing skills. Associates of The Home Depot are passionate about supporting non-profit endeavors by donating millions of hours, tools and supplies each year to community service projects. Rotary Clubs, under the motto Service above Self, have achieved remarkable success in their campaign to combat hunger, improve health and sanitation, provide education and job training, promote peace, and eradicate polio all over the world.
So what about that classic excuse for not volunteering? The American Time Use Survey (ATUS) research published in 2008 found that volunteers are at least as busy as non-volunteers and equally engaged in activities such as work, household chores, education and shopping. While non-volunteers may put in slightly more hours at work, on the whole, the time constraints of volunteers are not significantly different from that of non-volunteers.
Simply put, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Just as an experiment for the next seven days, log the time you spend watching television or surfing the internet. The average American between the ages of 35-55 will spend about eighteen to twenty hours a week engaging in such discretionary activities. Over the course of a year, that’s almost 1000 hours expended in what could be characterized as unproductive, and probably unfulfilling, activities. What if you were to give back to the community as little as 10% of that time? Consider the impact if 100 of you, 1000, 10,000 of your co-workers, friends, family members did the same!
Here is Sue’s story. Her doctor had been after Sue to get more exercise, but she had procrastinated – she simply didn’t have the time. But when the lady next door suffered a broken hip, Sue quickly volunteered to walk her neighbor’s pet pug each morning and evening until she was back on her feet. In just a few months, the neighbor regained her mobility. Sue recalls the letdown she felt when her “tour of duty” was over. That same week, Sue posted her name and number with the local hospital as a volunteer “dog-walker” for other individuals recuperating from surgery. These days, Sue is healthier; her doctor is happier and tails are wagging all over town because one person cared.
Publisher’s note: Deb Stargardt is a leadership development professional in Dallas, Texas. She has served a number of organizations in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, including VHA and Parkland Hospital. She has also served other organizations throughout the state of Texas. Deb’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be a volunteer. Serve others with no expectation of anything in return. Share your strengths, expertise, wisdom and time. Share yourself. You, your community and the world will be in a better place!