With all kinds of menial, unpleasant tasks an organization could potentially assign to you, volunteering can end up being a chore. But does it have to be? With my limited experience as a volunteer, I believe I’ve come up with a quick test to identify whether the volunteer opportunity you may be considering is the right fit for you. It’s as simple as asking yourself a couple of questions.
I spent a few months interning with Realized Worth in the summer of 2013. During my time there I developed a better understanding of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) field and some of the keys to successful employee volunteer programs (EVPs). In a blog I wrote during my internship I outlined some organizational benefits of effective EVPs.
Although I was working at RW and writing about the benefits of EVPs, I had very little volunteer experience. In the fall of my senior year I knew I wanted to take on something new. So when a cute classmate took to Facebook to find volunteers for a community center, I signed up. It was a clear win-win situation: minimal commitment and, at worst, I might get to hang out with said cute girl, not to mention the added volunteer experience would bolster my resume as I entered the job market.
At the community center I volunteered once a week as a counselor for the after-school daycare program. Most of the children I worked with were under the age of twelve and required extensive supervision. I didn’t particularly enjoy the “babysitting” role I had acquired. So instead of constantly negotiating the terms of homework with young kids I decided to focus my attention on an older age range. It was really rewarding; I collaborated with a fellow volunteer and a staff member at the community centre to start the youth mentorship program, an after school program for teens to help them with homework and to hone important skills like time management, how to write a resume, and discuss things like post-secondary plans. The two experiences were very different for me: The work I did with the younger children felt like a chore, whereas, the work I did with the older kids was something I looked forward to every week.
Around the same time, I came across an article on a recently published book called Give and Take by Adam Grant. Grant, the youngest tenured Professor of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, is a well respected social scientist. His book discusses in depth the role individuals play in society: as either givers, individuals that look to help others; matchers, people that look to trade evenly with others; and takers, individuals looking to get as much as possible from others. In his research he found that many highly successful people were in fact givers, but that the trend wasn’t consistent; many givers also act selflessly to their own detriment. What distinguishes successful givers from unsuccessful givers is the fact that successful givers are selective in the ways they give. Successful givers help others in areas that the givers themselves excel in, which make their contribution both effective for the receiver and often enjoyable for the giver.
This very approach is practiced by industry leaders in the CSR world. Microsoft, an innovator in the CSR field, has programs where employees visit relatively undeveloped educational institutions and teach basic computer skills. Similarly, Forge54 attracts young marketers to donate their time (54 hours straight to be exact) to help revamp the brand and marketing strategy of a select nonprofit organization.
If I’ve learned anything from my small body of volunteer experience, it is to be selective in choosing where to donate your time. For the future, I’ve adopted two basic questions as a quick check:
- Will this opportunity allow me to do something I enjoy?
- Will this feel like a chore?
How you answer these two questions will determine whether it is a likely fit. Don’t stop volunteering, just be more selective!
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