Those who want to make a difference

Volunteers are the unsung heroes of many organizations


 

 

In almost every case, those who volunteer express a desire to give what they’re capable of to a cause that is meaningful to them—and to make a difference along the way.

The process of connecting a volunteer to the opportunity that fits them best has always been fascinating to me. With scores of possibilities available in every community, how does one choose where to offer their time and talents?

There are plenty of reasons or situations that motivate a person to lend a helping hand: school or civic group requirements, kids in school/empty nesters/newly retired with time on their hands, a friend’s experience or a professional-development opportunity, among others.

There’s also an important self-motivated aspect: Volunteers (consciously or unconsciously) want to get something out of their experience.

We’ve all heard the refrain that volunteers receive more than they give. But what exactly are they receiving?

If you’re a volunteer, or are considering being one, rather than state simply, “I want to give back,” ask yourself why. Why do you want to give back; what’s in it for you? It’s not counterintuitive to “get” something out of volunteering— in fact, it’s an important motivation for a great experience.

Once you have an understanding as to why you are seeking to lend your time, the more motivated you are, the harder you will work and the greater benefit you will bring to the organization you volunteer for.

So why might you want to volunteer?

To gain a new perspective. Sometimes we’re given a small peek into the challenges of a specific population. You most likely will be surprised by what you learn and might want to help. As a volunteer, it is possible to see things from new viewpoints and expand your horizons. Volunteering can also bring some special perspectives too—like being able to see firsthand the resilience of the human (or animal) spirit.

To utilize your skills and talents. Skills-based volunteering allows professionals to make a noticeable, lasting difference by connecting with a cause they care about and donating their skills to further that cause. Volunteering empowers these individuals to become change-makers while honing their skills, building their resumes and expanding their networks. A win for everyone.

To learn how to do something new. In the volunteer world, you’re often solving problems and dealing with a mix of personalities while adjusting to life outside your comfort zone—doing things such as learning new software programs, asking for donations or building habitats. It all adds up to acquiring a multitude of new skills.

To belong to something bigger than yourself. Volunteers are exposed to parts of society they might not otherwise encounter, and volunteer activities bring together people who might not otherwise have contact. One of a human’s deepest desires is to be part of something bigger than oneself. Volunteering helps us to feel what it’s like to make a difference in something and know that we are part of a larger effort.

Whether board members, event support, drivers, administrative assistants, entertainers or hands-on help, volunteers act to create change in our communities. Their stories can serve to inspire others to find ways to take action that creates change.

National Volunteer Week 2018 is April 15 to 21, a time for charities, hospitals and communities to recognize and thank volunteers who foster a culture of service.

Next time you are with a group of friends, ask them if they volunteer, what they do and how it affects them. Chances are you will see how their heart is touched and how they are making a difference for others.

Thank you, volunteers!

Andrea Gallagher, a certified senior advisor, is president of Senior Concerns, a nonprofit agency serving Ventura and western Los Angeles counties.

For more information, visit seniorconcerns.org, and for comments or questions, email agallagher@seniorconcerns.org.