Volunteerism. You hear the word often on broadcast media and see it in print just as often. Why? It comes down to money. According to the “Rural Volunteer Network,” an Ontario, Canada Website, “Volunteers can often make the difference in whether an agency survives.”
I’ve volunteered for decades and gained much from it. But I’ve noticed that some volunteers “jump” from one organization to another. They get tired of the same old stuff or are looking for new challenges. Then too, not all volunteer experiences are happy ones.
Some years ago I volunteered for an organization that had a noble mission. When I went to meetings, however, I felt uncomfortable, so uncomfortable I came to dread meetings. After some detail work, I realized the organization was a poor steward of the grant funds it received. A few weeks later I resigned.
Many organizations need to improve their volunteer policies, according to a 2004 study from The Urban Institute. Study authors Mark A. Hager, PhD and Jeffrey L. Brudney, Ph.D. think “charities interested in increasing retention of volunteers should invest in recognizing volunteers, providing training and professional development for them, and screening volunteers and matching them to organizational tasks.”
Sounds like good advice to me. Preparation is also good advice. Answer these questions before you volunteer for anything. Even if you’re an experienced volunteer you may wish to answer these questions and reevaluate your position.
1. What is the organization’s mission? Ask for a hardcopy of the mission statement and read it carefully. Also, check with your state Charity Review Board to see how the organization spends its money.
2. Does the mission match your goals? I’m a health writer and, to make the best use of my time, volunteer for medical and health organizations only. You may come to a similar decision.
3. What would your duties be? You and the organization should agree on these duties. Since I had trouble selling Girl Scout cookies when I was a kid, I’ll volunteer to make phone calls but will not make calls to solicit funds.
4. Could you make good use of your talents/skills? Your volunteer efforts will be satisfying only if your position makes use of who you are and what you do.
5. How many meetings would you have to attend? One committee I serve on meets only once a month, thank goodness because my calendar is filled with meetings. Too many meetings often mean too little work gets done.
6. Would you get regular communications? Volunteers need to know what’s going on. All of the organizations I volunteer for sending out regular emails and minutes.
7. Do volunteers receive training? Several of my friends volunteer in a hospital gift shop. Before they started work they received cash register, ordering, and merchandise display training.
8. Are mentors available? You may wish to volunteer for something new and need a little help. Once you’re “up and running” the mentor can help someone else.
9. Would you be able to add to your skills? Volunteerism should be a win-win situation for all concerned. Being able to add to your skill set is a real volunteerism plus. You could volunteer to a new career.
10. Does the organization recognize its volunteers? Every organization that relationships with volunteers should thank them in some way, whether it’s listing their names in a newsletter or hosting a coffee party. Recognition is your “pay” and makes you feel good inside.
I thank all volunteers for sharing their time and talents with others. You keep the world turning!
Copyright 2005 by Harriet Hodgson. To learn more about her work please go to www.harriethodgson.com
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