A Key Strategy to Make Volunteering Meaningful

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Image source: wypr.org

BY: KEISHA JOHNSON

Volunteering in Canada is a way of life that is as ubiquitous as the maple leaf insignia. Not only are engagement opportunities for volunteers everywhere; people from all strata of society are encouraged to give back and get involved. Youth, professionals, retirees, newcomers et al are recruited and encouraged to volunteer daily.

Why?  To help foster the healthy and effective functioning of society.

Volunteers fill gaps where budgets, expertise and other resources critical to a cause or operation may be lacking or meager.

In turn, volunteers gain experience, exposure, a sense of fulfillment, value and contribution among other benefits from giving back. This unpaid exchange strengthens community linkages and keeps progress in motion.

But in certain subcultures, there is an aversion to volunteering that can be counterproductive to thriving in Canadian society.

Anecdotally, we are told that for fear of undermining their value, some people refuse to share their expertise, resources or time pro bono. Others, having been ‘burnt’ in the past, deem volunteering antithetical to their existence. They, therefore, shy away from volunteering to avoid future ‘abuse’. Others rationalize that they can’t afford to volunteer until they first secure an income.

While there may be some legitimacy to the above rationale, volunteering is a significant key to thriving in Canada and to Canada thriving.

The nature of volunteering is that it is an exchange. You are never giving and not receiving.

Implicit to the success of the Canadian model of volunteerism is the expectation of mutual benefit. Irrespective of how altruistic a person may be, they volunteer for a reason. This is human nature. There is an expectation, conscious or subliminal, that they want met.

Equally, the volunteer organization expects that volunteers will honor and fulfill any commitments they make.

Volunteer Canada, the watchdog organization for volunteerism in Canada, in its Pan-Canadian study, Bridging the Gap, identified eleven key motivations that propel Canadians to volunteer. The top five are: contribute to the community, use skills and experience, personally affected by a cause, improve health or sense of well-being and explore strengths.

There are a ton of other reasons why people elect to give of their time and resources to a cause without pay. And asking ‘what’s in it for me’ (WIIFM) you will discover, is a key success strategy for both the volunteer and the organization to a productive and fulfilling relationship.

Let’s look at three criteria WIIFM evaluation clarifies for the volunteer: motivation, goal and time commitment.

  1. Before you take on a volunteer position, be sure to clarify your ‘why’. Establish why are volunteering, why now and what you want to achieve. The answer to that last question is never “nothing”. Even if it’s just to make you feel good about yourself, there must be a genuine motive for volunteering or else you will not be committed and could easily lose interest.
  2. Volunteer Canada indicated from the same Pan-Canadian study on volunteerism that most volunteers approach engagement opportunities with specific personal goals. The idea is that when you have a clear goal you can more readily determine the right fit volunteer opportunities for you as you would with a paid job. The right fit allows you to develop and shine and to add value to the volunteer opportunity. The opportunity, in turn, adds value to you and helps you to flourish.
  3. Thirdly, decide on your time commitment. How much time can you allocate to volunteering and for how long? How does the time allocated to volunteering impact other priorities now and later? Most people gauge your commitment by your time. If you are not committed, others will notice and your risk developing a less than favorable reputation. Reputation today is your brand and your brand is your wealth. Don’t compromise it!

Working through the WIIFM evaluation clarifies several criteria for volunteer engagement that helps to minimize disappointments for the involved parties. Try it before you volunteer.

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