August 18, 2019

Applying The Skills You Have

I am a firm believer in the positive power of volunteering one's time. Even so, over the years I have learned that limits need to be established. It is easy to find time spent on volunteer opportunities can begin to take over larger portions of one's time.

That said, volunteerism is an important aspect 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 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. It took me about two years after retiring to decide on a path for volunteer work. During my working years, I knew I had a tendency to end up "in charge" of organizations I got involved with - whether by default or a badly timed hand in the air. :-) So I was nervous to make a choice without finding out what retirement felt like first.

    I finally decided on hospice work, and I have found it to be very rewarding, although not exactly what I imagined. Perhaps not surprising, I found it to be very different from using hospice for our own family members (which is how I came to admire the work in others). I've been doing a variety of things (caregiver relief, visiting patients, sitting with the actively dying, etc.) and it's much more satisfying and less emotionally draining than I expected.

    Last year I took on learning the harp so that I can also do bedside music for patients. It's a definite challenge, but I'm slowly getting better. I've played a couple of events (background music at a rehab center event, group play for a night of remembrance, etc) and I do hope at some point I'll feel confident enough to play bedside alone. Soon. ;-)

    1. The hospice group that was with my mom during her final months was fabulous. I have so much respect for people who come alongside someone at that final stage of life.

      Harp? Well, you have taken on a difficult instrument. I trust you have a large vehicle to carry it from place to place.

      Seriously, I applaud your choice of service to others. Well done.

  2. My passion for volunteering is at a facility for the social and recreational needs of adults with special needs. The director tells me how much I give to the participants when I am there, but honestly I get tenfold what I give. I am so privileged to share time with so many people who live life with pure joy (or very occasionally not so much joy but at least the emotions are always honest) My gift is not what I give to them but rather what they give to me. (plus it is the only place I ever go where every single person there is glad to see me)

    1. Like Hope (above) I am so impressed with your choice of service. Folks with special needs are too easily forgotten in our society. It takes an extra dose of patience and love to take on this challenge.

      I am not surprised that you feel you get so much more back than you give. I believe that is true of virtually all volunteers.

      Thanks for how you serve, Anne.

  3. I volunteer to teach at community college and the senior center. Soon, I trust, I will be doing some volunteer babysitting for our new and expected grandchildren.

    1. Grandkids are such a blessing. That will be volunteer work you ask for!

  4. I have campaigned for a national charity and now sort books, clothes and other donations in one of its shops on my local high street; I have also continued to act as a trustee for an almshouse which is a position I held whilst working and which exercises the grey matter as does the role of Parish Clerk where I clerk council meetings, take minutes, advise on legal and procedural aspects and am responsible for the village noticeboard and website (It's supposed to be a paid role but is so badly remunerated that it has always been regarded as a voluntary position). Whilst the latter two positions make me feel as though I am doing something useful for my community using many of my skills from legal practice, in many ways I prefer the back shop work: no responsibility and applying my organisational powers in a totally different way is personally fulfilling.

    1. How do you find time to blog?

      It is always interesting to get this type of detailed response to a question in a post, especially from a reader in another country. I looked up almshouse to be sure it meant what I thought it did.

      What I find so fascinating is the variety of ways you use your time and skills.

  5. 2 years before I stopped working, I started volunteering with a local literacy organization as a reading tutor for adults. Then in 2017, when I stopped working, I started helping out with data entry for the organization’s database of students and tutors. I noticed a few problems with the database and thought I could fix them. Back in the 80’s, I developed building automation software for Honeywell, before moving into project/program management and I thought that great strides must have been made since then with the speed of software development, since we now have all these web and phone based apps that seem to crop up every day. So now 2 years later, after finding out that no, software development tools really haven’t progressed that far, reading many online tutorials, taking Udemy online classes and figuring out 2 major ways (e.g. Wordpress, Google Scripts) not to fix the database problems, I have a web-based tool that is useable by the organization. A lot of the time was spent in meetings with organization leaders determining how we really needed the database to work. I also kept on tutoring and now work with a GED team at our county jail one evening per week. The tutoring has been very rewarding and eye opening. I highly recommend it if anyone is looking for a volunteer opportunity.

    1. Using your skills and aptitude from your work experiences is a tremendous way to give back. I applaud your dedication to finding a workable solution for the literacy organization.

      I spent several years involved in prison ministry. It was way outside my comfort zone, but turned into one of the defining experiences of my retirement. Helping men like this pays dividends, both to the individuals and society.

      Thanks, Dan.

  6. One of my goals when I retired was to get involved with volunteer work. I said “yes” to the first person who asked (which is probably not the best way to decide) but it has worked out really well. Both Rob and I are now members of our local Lions Club, an international service organization. We have met some great people in the club and it has been an excellent way to integrate into our new community. Also it is very satisfying to know that the money we raise and the the service we provide helps others in so many ways. I also volunteer at my grandson’s preschool, for my art group, and now for a Canadian political party that has a strong environmental platform.


    1. Becoming a part of a new community is tough, even more so as we age. Volunteering is an excellent way to get involved, meet people, and fulfill your own needs.

      BTW, I always donate my old glasses to the Lions Club. They do good work.