What does volunteering have to do with empathy?

By Angela Parker

1. You believe volunteering is generally a good thing, but deep down you think: really? Is it all that important?

We agree! Helping others is great, but now and then life gets in the way and volunteering is just not an option. Does that make you a bad person? Of course not. In fact, we would suggest it makes you a normal person. On the other hand, there are some pretty fascinating reasons as to why human beings started volunteering in the first place – and they just might inspire you to get back into it. With Empathy in Motion, we’ll start by telling you the ancient story of Prometheus and bring you all the way to the present. No shame; just good, old-fashioned inspiration.

2. You secretly like doing nice things for others because of how it makes you feel more than how it makes them feel.

In Empathy in Motion, we’ll suggest that volunteering for “selfish” reasons is the most honest and effective way to make a difference. In fact, the reasons human beings have survived for centuries is due to the fact that helping others makes us feel good. But why? What’s the science behind why volunteering works? We’ll tell you what happens in the brain when you help others and why it feels so good – and we’ll explain why that “feel good” reaction is so trustworthy.

3. You’ve noticed some media hype around the concept of empathy and you want to know what it’s all about.

Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence says, “managers with excellent cognitive empathy get better than expected performance from their direct reports.” On a larger scale, empathy is what drives us to defend, protect, and care for each other. But what does volunteering have to do with empathy?

Volunteering can be a safe, nonthreatening space to interact with our out-groups, developing empathy for them as our assumptions about that group are challenged. Over time, this changes people on psychological, convictional, and behavioral levels. Unfortunately, not every version of volunteering helps people develop empathy. Throughout Empathy in Motion we’ll teach you some simple elements to integrate into volunteer events in order to create the right conditions.

4. You’ve asked the question: Why do people do what they do?

What motivates people? Why do we always complain about being too busy, yet never fail to watch our favorite TV shows? Why do I want to do so many things that I never actually do? We’ll teach you about the two types of motivation, the three levels of motivation and how they all interact. And then, we’ll give you some practical tools to determine how to motivate those around you (your employees, your volunteers, even your kids) to do what you want them to do. Take a look at Daineal Parker’s recent blog for some hints!

5. You’re a volunteer organizer and you’ve noticed that volunteers have very different needs based on their experience and expertise – but what can be done about it?

We’re so glad you’ve noticed this! Volunteers need to be met at their highest level of contribution. If we meet them at a level too low, we’re likely to bore them or burn them out. If we meet them at a level too high, we’re likely to overwhelm and frustrate them. So how do we recognize the signs of inexperienced volunteers? What do they need to be guided toward a meaningful commitment to the organization? And what about long-term volunteers who are on the edge of quitting because they’re getting tired? Is there a way to keep them? During Empathy in Motion, we’ll walk you through the stages of the volunteer journey, how to recognize them, and what they need from you.

6. You’re sick of transactional volunteering that has minimal impact and you want to make a more meaningful difference.

Honestly, we are too. Volunteering doesn’t have to be just another wall painted or garden planted. We’re not saying those activities aren’t good; we’re saying the way they’re done now is not good enough. Transactional volunteering is fine, but we want to teach you how to make it transformative. Volunteering has the potential to make a difference on a grand scale – it can even give agency to individuals to address the limitations of their own circumstances and rise above oppression. With Empathy in Motion, we’ll teach you how to create the space to make that possible.

Enroll now!

Empathy in Motion: The Power of Employee Volunteering is a free online course and it’s open for enrollment now! Starting March 14, 2017, the course offers a new perspective on the power of volunteering that goes beyond the traditional transactional model. Anyone can enroll and can share course details with colleagues, other volunteers, and even family and friends.

You can view or download more information at rw.institute including outlines, overviews, and frequently asked questions. You can simply enroll right now by visiting openSAP.

 Realized Worth designs and implements corporate volunteer programs for companies around the world. Want to discuss your program with us? We’ll be happy to hear from you! Find us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Angela Parker
Co-founder/Partner, Realized Worth
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