June 13, 2011

Give A Part of Yourself - And Feel Great

I am a firm believer in the positive power of volunteering one's time. My involvement with a state wide prison ministry organization has been a tremendously gratifying experience. If you missed it, please read Pushing Back Against the Box for a glimpse into that world.

Volunteerism is one of the most important aspects of retirement for a lot of people. The chance to give back one's time and experience is a win-win: you feel good and the organization or person you help benefits, too. If you are so motivated, I urge you to donate something of yourself to others.

Like anything, being an effective volunteer requires certain qualities. Regardless of how you choose to become involved, here are 6 basic considerations:

You have the skills needed  or can learn them in short order. In anything there is a learning curve. Whether you are restocking the shelves at a food bank or helping to build a house for Habitat for Humanity, there will be certain abilities of yours that can be used. If a certain way of doing something is needed, you will be taught how to accomplish your task. 

You can use common sense to problem-solve.Sometimes you have to make a decision without specific guidance or policies. Common sense comes in handy if there is no one you can turn to for an answer. Trust yourself to make the right choice. 

You are dependable. Even though being a volunteer means you are not being paid, there are others counting on you to do what you have promised to do, when you promised to do it. Make your word your contract. Be sure others know they can count on you.

You are able to cooperate with others. Often volunteer work means you will be interacting with others. If this is the case you should be able to operate well in a group environment. Complaining about this and that or trying to enforce your will isn't going to make your experience a positive one. It will also limit your effectiveness. Remember kindergarten...play nice.

You are able to serve someone else freely and openly. This is a tough one for many of us. We normally don't like to put ourselves in a position of serving others. Yet, that is exactly what being a volunteer all about. Your are a servant for a greater good. You must be able to be humble.

You have compassion. This probably should be listed first. Unless you are volunteering because your company tells you to, deciding to give some of your time and self to help others requires a well-developed sense of compassion. You have an urge to help others ease their pain and suffering. You are aware you are better off than another and want to help ease that person's burden just a bit.

One other type of volunteerism that often gets overlooked but is just as valuable is the type that occurs in your own family. If your daughter has young children, what are the odds she would welcome your offer to play with the kids or watch them while she took a break or went shopping? Could your Mom or Dad use your help in going to the pharmacy or grocery store? Does your son's or grandson's scout troop need another leader or someone to teach a merit badge?

It really doesn't matter if you donate time through an organization like the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, a local elementary school, prison ministry, or just within your own family. Volunteerism enriches your life and the lives of others. It is part of being human, and it feels great.

Finally, let me share a few quotes from various people that really capture the essence of sharing yourself:

It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little - do what you can.  ~Sydney Smith

It's easy to make a buck. It's a lot tougher to make a difference. ~Tom Brokaw

The purpose of life is not to be happy - but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you have lived at all.  ~Leo Rosten

Wherever a man turns he can find someone who needs him.  ~Albert Schweitzer


  1. Great post Bob. As you know I am a altruist to my soul so volunteering is in my blood. The dictionary defines compassion as:

    a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

    If compassion doesn't result in volunteerism I don't know what would. Compassion is number one on your list; everything else will come along naturally as a result of that.
    Now it is off to the soup kitchen where I volunteer two days a week. The regular cook is taking vacation this week so I am filling in every day. I couldn't be more happy to be able to do that. The Lord has blessed me with all the things on your list.

  2. Good morning RJ,

    Thanks for adding your on-target comments. Helping others makes the person doing the giving feel so good. If everyone gave it a try and learned that fact, we'd have more volunteers than needs. Wouldn't that be a nice problem to have!

    Speaking for all those folks you are serving this week at the soup kitchen, Bless you.

  3. I just came across your blog and found it be really helpful in my evaluation

  4. Hi Aisha,

    Glad you found the blog!

  5. Hey Bob, really great message. Volunteerism gives our a lives a new sense of meaning and purpose. And helping others is one of the best ways to expand ourselves as individuals. As you mention, it is a learning experience, it teaches us how to cooperate, how to have compassion, and solve problems. And the best part is you are helping someone else be happier - which in return makes you happier.

    Sticking with the theme of your blog - I think volunteerism is an EXCELLENT opportunity for retired people. Actually, scratch that, it's really a good opportunity for anyone who is able to share their skills and talents with others.

  6. Hi Steven,

    You've summarized the key points very nicely. Whether you are working, retired, or retired and working part time, volunteer opportunities can be found to fit any schedule.

    Now I must go and explore your site: The Emotion Machine. Looks fascinating.

  7. Your evaluation of what it takes to be an effective volunteer into 6 basic considerations is really quite valuable. One thinking of offering to volunteer might serve themselves, and those they intend to serve, well if they first seriously measure their capabilities by that yardstick.

    Also, focusing on and internalizing the basic considerations for being an effect volunteer may just help one to be an effect volunteer.

    Some nice quotes that you shared too. I will point out the one from Leo Rosten, "The purpose of life..." as a quote that would almost certainly generate much discussion between bloggers, on its own. Therefore, with respect to Mr. Rosten: For me, the purpose of life is to love.

    The Rosten quote does cut across the grain well though, because so many people would likely state: To have fun and be happy


  8. Hi QwkDrw,

    The Rosten quote cuts to the core of most folks' biggest fear: that their life leaves no mark when it is over. We all want to be remembered for something, to matter.

    We don't have to do something big like find a cure for cancer or invent a perpetual energy machine. As you note, to love and love well will make a difference. All of us can do that much. Isn't that what volunteering is all about?

    You are right: just that quote alone would be a strong centerpiece for a post on almost any subject.

  9. In 1980 I spent 2 months working in the Killing Fields refugee camps on the Thai-Cambodian border. It changed my life, and I still think about it every day. I truly received more than I gave.
    Dr Keith

  10. What a great experience. Thirty years later and I'm sure it is as vivid as when it happened.

    A volunteer opportunity can be as exotic as yours, or working for a homeless shelter in your hometown. In either case, the feeling of getting more than you get can be just as strong.

  11. What a wonderful post with great ideas on preparing yourself for volunteering. Once you are retired, it is rewarding to feel that you are giving back. I volunteer part of the year teaching English to high school students. They are so eager to learn and I enjoy interacting with them each time I go. It is good to reach out and see where we are needed. We need more people like you to work in the prison system. Thank you.

  12. Hi Cathy,

    Thanks for the nice words, and thanks to you for teaching English as a volunteer.

    Folks don't have to wait to retire to get involved. The joy a volunteer feels is something anyone can experience.

    With roughly 3 million people in jails and prisons, that is almost 1 out of every 100 Americans. Prison ministry needs all the help it can get.

  13. Bob,
    I volunteered in Belize with 12 nurses in a Mayan village called red bank. We were in a school and I had to weigh and measure the kids and give them their de-worming pills. I loved it and bonded with one 11-year-old girl who said she wanted to be a doctor. She kept asking questions and seemed so different from all the other kids, yet she came from a very poor family. I want to do more, and my latest thing is to teach English in another country.

  14. Hi Sonia,

    What a great experience. Do you ever wonder what became of that little girl? If she had that type of inquisitive mind, she may have made her own mark on her village's life.

    Note: Sonia is writing and publishing a book about her time in Belize. I will be featuring an interview with her sometime in early July. Look for it.

  15. Bob... What started out, three years ago, as our teaching English to Hispanic adults has blossomed into a community of cross cultural friendships. We're all enriched immensely. Bill

  16. Bill,

    Volunteerism has that incredible ability to enrich everyone involved. More power to you, Bill and Wendy.


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