Volunteering; why should you?

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This blog will discuss the diminishing art of volunteering.  I like to volunteer because of how it makes me feel to give of myself freely.  My reward is to see the positive impact I have on people’s lives when I give them services or time.  Sometimes, I don’t see the effect immediately and that’s ok too.  I’ve been volunteering since my early twenties and got hooked by the joy I get from it.  I had heard, as a young adult, that everyone should strive to give back to the community they live in so that everyone can continue to receive beneficial services.

Giving back seems to be diminishing in our society as young people don’t seem to see any value in it. 

The disturbing trend can be observed by the average age of today’s volunteers.  If you look closely you may notice they are in their 50’s.  Fewer young people want to volunteer.

There are two main types of people in our society.  People who take energy and services from you and your surrounding and the other type give back to their surroundings.

It’s pretty easy to spot the takers vs. the givers in our society today.  You know what I mean… some folks only know how to take from their environment.  They are the ones who expect that everything is owed to them; that they should always be the first in line or served first before all others.  These individuals are dependent on the people around them to receive the services they need to function on a daily basis.

The giving type not only look after themselves but can also give back with time, energy, feelings, love and positive energy.  I don’t know what the proportion of the two types of people is in our population but I feel like the giver group is smaller. 

I would encourage you to be one of the givers.  I feel that I am a giver because I strive to do this; it’s my life philosophy to put back more than I take.  I’m not sure how I attained that value since my parents didn’t really demonstrate this to me.  I just saw that value as a good one and decided that this is what I was going to do.

Some of the giving back I have done over the years includes:

-Volunteering in my community and church by being a member of a fraternity (Knights of Columbus) which raises funds for less fortunate people and also help support our local churches financially,

-Volunteering for my local fire department as a leader (captain) and provide valuable training from experience,

-Coordinating an emergency first response team for 18 years, this means responding to medical emergencies in my community at all hours since our town is a bit of a distance from the nearest hospital,

-Volunteering with our local ski-club to help keep them running,

-joining local groups like The Richelieu International Club (https://www.richelieu.org/accueil) to promote francophone youth projects on an international level.

-Becoming a civilian volunteer with our local Cadet Squadron for 6 years; instructing youth from ages 12 to 17.

In addition to community volunteering, I really enjoy giving to my neighbors or anyone that calls on me for help.  During snow storms, while the neighbors are at work, I may use my snow blower to remove the large snow bank in front of their driveway and other similar deeds.

I’ll never forget mowing the lawn on one of the hottest days of summer, looking over the back yard, two houses down, one of my buddies was also cutting his lawn and I decided to stop what I was doing and bring a couple of cold beers to his house.  As soon as he saw me, the mower stopped and we sat on his back deck and enjoyed a cold one together.  I remember how much he appreciated that little gesture.  It meant allot to me as well.

Church groups are the best example in rural communities that appear to have shrinking populations.  The workers in those groups are the same men and women who started doing that work over 40 years ago (in some cases).  They fear that if younger volunteers don’t step forward to replace them, their church will fall.  This is a real fear for some people.

Fire departments made up of volunteers face similar challenges in succession planning.  Though it is easier to recruit young people to this group due to the exciting nature of the work involved, a great deal of planning and leadership must be applied to keep the volunteers interested to stay and work.

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Many organizations suffer through this process repeatedly over time.  There are two other non-profit service clubs in my community who are going through this also.  It seems to me like they were established as a particular click or group of friends who founded the group using a known organizational name and as the members of the group leave due to sickness or death they are unable to recruit new members.

Can you see the barriers to recruitment in such groups?  Who would want to join a group of old friends with a 30-45 year age difference that may or may not welcome you?  How would you feel joining a group knowing that the reason you are there is just to keep up the statistics so the provincial body doesn’t shut them down?

Barriers to recruitment:

·         Leader fails to relinquish control

·         Activities are uninteresting

·         No recruitment efforts are made

·         Personality conflicts with existing members

 

I feel that it is the responsibility of the organization’s leader to plan for volunteer replacement.  Leaders that fail to plan for succession allow the group to inevitably collapse when the core team leaves.  I have seen this happen on a number of occasions.  Let’s use the church example from above.  When I attended church back when my kids were young, the group leader’s idea of succession planning was to ask any willing parishioner to step forward for a job or two during the service.   When an outdoor activity took place, the same leader would ask any willing member to help setup chairs and such.  That was the extent of recruiting.  One of the reasons for this, speaking from experience, is that the older core group are quite happy with the status that their volunteer position provides for them within the community and don’t wish to share it.  At the end of 15 year tenure (for example), the leader is tired and would like for someone else to do their work but they have not prepared anyone for that position.  By the time the leader is ready or forced to retire from the volunteer position, no one is willing to step forward.

For years, I have been looking to join a group of individuals who share my vision, passion and energy; so I joined one group, then the next and then another one after that, never really getting what I want from that group.  Don’t get me wrong, we have accomplished some very useful community work in the process but I’m talking about the group cohesion.

Because of my volunteer experience, I have decided that when I become the leader of an organization, I vow to begin immediately training a successor; not because I don’t want to keep the post but so that when I’m not there one day, someone will know what to do.  Shouldn’t every organization be setup this way?  In the military, the top 5 officers are trained to do each other’s jobs.  When one is removed, a new officer is brought in and trained immediately. 

Here are the values that I feel every local service club should strive for:

·         Organization

·         Consistency

·         Punctuality

·         Mentorship

·         Do fun activities

·         Have a recruitment goal

·         Tell the community what you are doing (advertise)

·         Seek frequent feedback

·         Praise the organization and its members often

I have recently been introduced to Attraction marketing where you have or create a product/service that is so good and is presented in such a way that people will be drawn (attracted) to you and your group.  I love this idea!  With this in mind, in any group I am part of, I strive to add so much value and be joyful in the performance of my duties in that group that when the public sees our group work with so much passion and joy that they will automatically be attracted to us.  Working this way assures that there will be a constant demand for the group and that there will be a never ending supply of fresh volunteers seeking the very things I am:

·         A sense of belonging

·         Satisfaction

·         Accomplishment

·         Joy in giving

·         A brotherhood

·         Progress

To be perfectly honest, I have not yet found this group.  As I get older, I am getting the feeling that I am the one who will need to create it since I know exactly what I’m looking for.

If I started a group which had all the positive attributes I mentioned above; wouldn’t you want to join it?

Recently, I found a group of people whom I think are close to my target.  It is the Richelieu Club International.  Here is their Face Book page:

https://www.facebook.com/ClubRichelieuKL/

I joined this group because their members are known for having integrity and success in their personal lives.  I wish to surround myself with such quality people so that I too can benefit from those great values.  I look forward to working with this new team and to expand my shared vision of creating the ideal organization through leadership and hard work.

It’s because of these lessons that I have decided to make it my mission to improve lives wherever I go because that’s the kind of people I want around me and what I’d like for folks to do for me as well. 

That’s one of the reasons why I decided to make it my mission to improve people’s lives around me and on a global level when possible by launching my website improvelives.net.  Though the way to do this is not yet set in stone, I will proceed doing what I have always done and work towards improving every life I touch so that when people walk away from me, they will feel better off than before they met me. 

Happy Volunteering!

Alain Comtois

https://improvelives.net

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