I have mixed feelings about volunteering, but on the whole it’s been to the good, so I’ll take this opportunity to suggest that you make the time to do some. Mind you, volunteering can take many forms, and you can get different things out of it, depending on your interests and goals as a human being. I’m going to take this Monday blog to share some of the reasons why you should consider doing volunteer work if you are not already doing so.
Meeting like-minded people
The best thing you get out of volunteering is the opportunity to meet a network of like-minded people with shared interests–dare I say it? You might make some good friends along the way.
Thing about volunteering compared to doing work for pay–and trust me, much or most of volunteer activity is work–is that you are self-motivated. You don’t have to be there, you’re there because you choose to be. That’s not to say you’re not at your day job out of choice. Often you are. But there are things you have to do to pay the bills whether you like them are not and there are things you will do willingly in your free time because you feel they need doing.
It makes you feel good about yourself
And now I’ll say something that might offend some true believers, but bear with me: volunteering for causes you believe in is a positively selfish act. And that need not be a bad thing.
- You get to contribute to some idea you want to see happen in the world.
- You get to partner up with people who also want that idea to happen.
- You get satisfaction from doing something that allows you to live in accordance with your personal set of values.
- You get to develop new skills.
- Assuming you’re not getting paid, you know you’re doing it because it’s a mission that you truly believe in.
And yes, if you’re a true believer, you’re doing your thing to help make the world a better place.
Choose a cause that works for you
I think volunteering gets a bad rap sometimes because there are causes that deal with seriously hard issues, problems that a lot of people don’t want to think about, or situations that you personally lack the skill set or appropriate mind set to handle. That’s okay. The point is to volunteer to do some good that a) you believe in and b) you think you could help make better with your particular set of skills.
My big things happen to be (I know, you’re surprised) space exploration advocacy and STEM education. I was always interested in space, but it wasn’t until a space advocacy conference was hosted in my home town that I even learned that there were organizations dedicated to getting people interested in doing more of it. I was at the conference a day when I saw where I could make my contribution: communications, writing. I started writing stuff for the National Space Society–letter campaigns, presentations, citizen lobbying materials, what have you. That eventually led to other things, like running events.
I also have a habit of writing about science, technology, and other such things. A mutual friend connected me to Darlene the Science Cheerleader, and soon I was writing for her blog. After a couple years of proving myself, I was asked to step out of my blogging role and into the volunteer event management business. I’d already had some experience, so it seemed like a fit. Eight years after being introduced to the Science Cheerleader, I’m still a regular volunteer.
Regardless of your interests, there is probably a nonprofit group–sectarian, secular, or otherwise–that you can contribute to and make your small contribution to the world.
If you get disillusioned with one group, don’t give up on the cause
I’m not doing work for NSS any longer–I reached my limit with them for my own personal reasons and moved on to other organizations–but I did have to take a break from “the cause” after I ran a conference in 2011. The plain truth is that people can drive you up the wall no matter where you are. We’re a cranky species that way. But as science fiction author Larry Niven once wrote, “There is no cause so right that one cannot find a fool following it.”
The mistake one can make is thinking that just because you had a falling-out with one particular person or group of people that you should give up on your favorite cause completely. If you found one group sharing your passion, odds are, you can find another one. And yes, if you’ve got a niche interest, it’s entirely possible that you will run into some of the same people who drove you up the wall in the past. But if you’re still volunteering in your new group, and that makes you happy, you’re not required to put yourself into positions where you have to refight old battles.
Alternative ways to contribute to your cause
Of course maybe you don’t have the patience to deal with small-nonprofit politics. Do you have money? Set up a foundation. Don’t have money but a lot of interest and there’s no group with your interests nearby? Start your own. You might have a passion for restoring antique automobiles or crocheting or painting. If you can do that and others can’t but want to, you’ve just found your audience. You might find yourself becoming a leader…or an entrepreneur. You just never know.
The bottom line here is that volunteering can provide you with internal and external rewards. You get to help other people and you get to do something you love. That alone seems worth doing, don’t you think?