Tips for Volunteering: “What’s in it for me?”

By Theresa Sweeney-Smith

I have heard the question “What’s in it for me?” from both my sighted and nonsighted friends. Well, maybe not these exact words, but this sort of underlying thought when the topic of volunteering comes up. I have heard responses like, “I am too busy,” “I need to focus on my job,” “They probably don’t have anything that I can do with my limitations,” and “I put my name on the list, and they did not call me.”

As with any other commitment in life, volunteering takes energy. What you get out of it, however, depends not only on how much you put into it, but also depends on picking the right volunteer opportunity for yourself.

Sometimes, you just “fall into” the right opportunity. You may be invited to volunteer by someone you really like, or the opportunity that presents itself may sound really fun or interesting. If no one has personally invited you or if the volunteer activity does not sound like something that fits or appeals to you, take some time to do a little research.

Almost every nonprofit organization, including charities, needs volunteers. Start with what interests you. If you are interested in volunteering in comfortable settings, start with your place of worship. If you enjoy animals, inquire at your local humane society. If you want to serve your community and assist people with vision or hearing disabilities, contact your local Lion’s Club. If you feel more comfortable, have a friend come with you. Most clubs and organizations are very warm and welcoming.

Every church or nonprofit organization has a philosophy, mission statement, vision statement or written values that tell you a lot about them. Take some time to read about their goals and whom they help, how they do it and what outcomes they are trying to accomplish.

Whether you volunteer in your church or at another nonprofit organization, you are networking with other volunteers who have a passion for what this group stands for and what they want to achieve. They will see your value and help you hone in on your talents; however, they will want to see that you are excited to help them in their work.

I have been a volunteer since I was in my 20’s. My son was young and in youth hockey. I found out that there was an opening on the Youth Hockey Board for a secretary. I am a good communicator and can type well and so that seemed like a great fit. My town did not have a Youth Baseball League at the time my son was old enough to play. One of my neighbors found out I was the secretary to the Youth Hockey Board and asked me to help out. They needed a secretary– someone to help get the word out about the new league– and it sounded great to me.

I volunteered for my town’s Park and Recreation Committee. They understood my sight was failing; however, they needed someone to interview older teens to help out with the younger children in the summer. This was right up my alley! I taught Sunday School and worked with fourth and fifth graders. I learned a lot, and the kids were really fun! Currently, I serve in my community’s Lion’s Club. I love their motto “We Serve.” I get to head up our team for VisionWalk which raises money for the Foundation Fighting Blindness. I coordinate members to test the vision of preschoolers, and I write for the local Lion’s Club newsletter to let town residents know what we are doing. 

These opportunities fit who I am and what I love to do. In every situation, I take the time to determine “How can I manage what needs to be done? How can I become an asset and help the organization meet its goal?

I use my best tools: my brain, my sense of humor and my communication skills. When I decide I want to take on the task at hand, I come back to the volunteers and tell them what I may need to get the job done. If I do not have a solution, the volunteers may not have any ideas either.

I have networked with CEO’s CFO’s, IT people, CPA’s, teachers, principals, town chair people, in addition to lots of other very talented people.

Here are a few tips after you have found a good place to volunteer:

If you are asked to take on a task, don’t say “no” until you have had time to think it over.

Keep your commitment. If you find out that the task you have agreed to undertake is not what you thought it would be, remember that you can always ask for help, but don’t drop the ball! The task still needs to be accomplished. If you just walk away, another volunteer will be stuck with your job in addition to their own.

Do your best work and plan out the details of what you are trying to accomplish. You may think of a better way to get the job done!

Enjoy the people and the experience, and keep the end goal in mind– especially if you begin to feel overwhelmed.

“What is in it for me?” you ask? Friendships, the opportunity to build upon your reputation and skills, possible job leads, compliments, more energy, gratification for a job well done, new knowledge, and a positive attitude. You will also be rewarded with the greatest feeling—that of self-worth.

Theresa-Sweeney Smith lives in Wind Lake, Wisconsin but spends a lot of time in Arizona with her family. 

Featured Image, courtesy of Theresa Sweeney-Smith, pictures Dick from the Wind Lake Lion’s Club grilling chicken. He is grilling almost a whole table full of chicken as he looks off into the distance. There is a baseball field behind him. 

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