Volunteering Isn’t Glamorous

Volunteering Isn’t Glamorous

I have been working in the nonprofit world for about a year now and I’m a little fed up slash coming to what I think are some pretty solid conclusions about pretty much everybody’s notion of volunteerism.

A lot of people require a slap upside the head regarding their over-romanticized expectation of what happens when you express interest to a nonprofit about helping them out.

First off: we’re a nonprofit. We want to put anybody to work. But remember: we’re a nonprofit. We really need people with an actual skill to donate their time or materials. Skilled or not, we literally need you in order to function.

It’s also incredibly important to remember that we are not a training center for your child. We do home rehab, free of charge, for low-income homeowners. This does not mean that every skilled contractor that comes our way wants to be paired with your sixteen-year-old son, teaching him how to use a Sawzall. While the idea of a partnership program sounds great where a seasoned tradesman can pair off with worthy youngsters from time to time, showing them the ropes while helping out person in need, remember that this person gained his or her skill after years of apprenticeship or schooling. Your child will not become a tradesperson after spending a few afternoons with Joe the Plumber through the vehicle of our organization.

If you want to build a spirit of volunteerism in your child, pick up a paint brush with him or her, and come our way.

Oh and hey, please call us back. It is a waste of our time and hopes when someone expresses interest and never follows up on it. In the past month we have had a good many volunteer groups even tell us which day they wanted to come out, and then never followed up with a confirmation. Change your mind about coming out? Great, just tell us. Again: we’re a nonprofit. Please don’t abuse us.

Ok, if you’ve made it this far, consider all of the above to be just venting in comparison to the next item on my agenda:

We are most likely going to give you a task that isn’t fun. But we’re experts in making it fun, or at the very minimum, bearable. We still need people to do these things, even if it’s not as glamorous as you’d like.

This one’s important, kids. A few months ago I volunteered for the Humane Society and got to play with puppies all day. I promise you that, with exceptions that are few and far between, nothing comes halfway close to as fun as getting to hang out with the Humane Society. Especially if you volunteer for us.

We get groups all the time expecting to play with power tools, install new roofs, and raise a barn (Amish-style, of course). But think about the logistics of those types of “fun” activities: we need someone who knows what they’re doing to lead them, and what contractor is also a super-teacher who can gracefully manage 30 unskilled volunteers doing all this high-risk stuff? We don’t have a small army of skilled people we can call on to lead these groups. Because there simply isn’t that many tradespeople who can donate their skills. If your group is lucky enough to be paired with one of these precious commodities, he or she will be doing the heavy lifting, and the rest of you are going to be hauling away debris.

Volunteering isn’t glamorous. But there is still work to be done. Today I’ve had 5 skilled workers (not volunteers; we had to pay them this time) tearing off the roof of a home all day. The old roof is in a thousand tiny, naily, splintery pieces on all four sides of the home. But that stuff has gotta go, and we can’t begin work on the walls until it’s gone. We don’t wanna pay skilled people to do something as unglamorous as hauling pieces of trash to the dumpster. That is where everybody else comes in.

Of course, there are always opportunities to learn something new just by being around the people who know what they are doing. And, of course, there is plenty of space for the unglamorous stuff to be fun, too. If you’ve ever been handed a can of spray foam, you know what I mean.

Helping comes in all forms. Hauling debris, pulling up weeds, and moving furniture is one of the most common forms for our organization. You’re still helping. And, like I said, we literally cannot function without someone doing this stuff.

Take the menial tasks with a grain of salt. They’re equally as important as the tasks the skilled people are allowed to do. It’s about helping people anyway, right? Trust the expert: the boring stuff is helpful.


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3 replies to “Volunteering Isn’t Glamorous

  1. The Neighbor

    Wow, just think with all you’ve learned, once you settle down some place ( who knows when that will be) you will be able to build your own house. Or at least do maintenance on it. Good job Lizzy, I’m proud of you..

  2. Nancy

    RE: treatment of volunteers. Don’t expect gratitude. If you are volunteering to get a rush of compliments and grateful “thank you’s,” you will be sorely disappointed. Volunteer because it makes YOU feel good, puts you in touch with your own expansiveness of spirit, and gives you a larger perspective. One comment from a mother who was complaining that her daughter could volunteer to get some experience in her field, “Yeah, but it doesn’t pay anything.” She’s correct, there is no money involved. She’s wrong, volunteers get paid in non-negotiable currency: self-worth and humility.

  3. Sean Flowers

    Well said, Lizy! Great post. What you say is very encouraging.

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