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With the International Volunteer Day just about to be celebrated on the 5th of December, we are bringing to your attention a series of posts dedicated to the topic. In the next few weeks we will discuss why volunteering is so important, how to recruit volunteers and how to look after your volunteers.

This week we had a conversation with one of the founders of infoodle, Richard Smith, whose own experience of helping charities and churches both in New Zealand and overseas inspired him to create infoodle.

In your opinion, what is the value of doing volunteer work?

We are by nature people who need connection, a sense of worth, a purpose in life. We all spend some periods of our lives reflecting on these things and measuring the state of these things. These are the kinds of things that determine whether we feel we are leading a successful life and so hold a level of importance to us.

We are also engaged in a number of activities through which these values can be attained, work, family, leisure time. But what can we do when the activities we are currently engaged in do not satisfy our needs in these areas? We can be doing our 9-5 but have little if any real connection with our work colleagues. We can recognize that our leisure time is simply that – leisure, and does not give us any real purpose.

Volunteering can be a powerful tool in our toolbox of life activities which enables us to meet our needs for connection, worth and purpose.

Why choose volunteering over paid employment?

Firstly – why volunteering rather than paid employment. Let me say, if you can find employment that fulfills these areas of your life then jump in – boots and all. Your job will not feel like work, but more a vocation. Monday seems way too far away from Friday and taking time off will be an intrusion. It is possible but to be fair, you are fortunate if you achieve this. Employment brings with it a certain sense of need rather than want, a purpose that is impinged on us rather than us choosing – ‘we all need to pay the bills, so I work’ kind of attitude. Employment brings uncertainty as we are usually there at the request of a manager of some sort, and they hold the purse strings. You are vulnerable to their requirements and those of the business.

Volunteering flips that all around. You are there because you choose to be. You have made a decision to give something of yourself to something and you will have a motivation for doing so that is outside of money. This choosing is a vital component to the mix. The fact that you have made a conscious decision to not profit from your activities but give them voluntarily returns a sense of control, and dare I say it, power back to you.

volunteer work

What kind of mindset does a person need to do volunteer work?

Volunteering is service and needs to be done with a humble heart. You are serving the organisation you are volunteering for. Their need of your skills and time are determined by them, not by you. You may be a skilled manager, but they need someone to make the coffee. You may be a skilled carpenter but they need someone to hand out food parcels. You may be a lawyer and they need legal skills. It all depends on them. So volunteering can help you, but it certainly helps recognize that you are not as important as you thought you were, that there are needs out there more important than yours.

Can volunteering help with my need for connection?

Yes! It connects you to another group of people with a shared interest. You are all giving your time to a common activity. Unlike employment, you all choose to be there and you are enriching your lives together, serving the organisation and one another.

Can volunteering help with the sense of worth?

Yes! You are giving something of yourself to another group. Your input is making a difference to other people. Your input is valued and seen to be valued (see our next post which will be on recruiting and managing volunteers!). By serving others, you are connected to them, and your self-worth is enhanced by being a part of their lives.

Can volunteering give me a purpose in life?

Yes! As you commit yourself to an organisation, you will often choose an organisation that shares common values with you, be it a church, a youth group, a community action group etc. These are organisations that enhance your understanding and awareness of your own values and gives you an action to fulfill those values. You are literally making your values visible to yourself and others. With a good fit between action and values, this drives you to focus more of your energies in these areas which in turn gives you direction and purpose for your life.

What is your last piece of advice to someone interested in volunteering?

None of the above negates the need for gainful employment and so finding the time to commit to volunteering can be a challenge, but with thought and determination, a route can be found. Find an organisation you believe in, and offer your services – in humility!