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On volunteering

On volunteering

I posted recently asking if people paid their kids for grades. A couple of people responded saying they were against the idea, because (essentially) people shouldn’t do things just because they’ll get paid; they should do their best instead because it’s the right thing to do.

I can agree with that in theory, but it got me thinking about volunteering. In reality I wonder how many of us really do the things we do STRICTLY because it’s the right thing to do. That might be part of the reason, but all of it? I dunno.

Would you work as many hours at your job as you do right now if it was unpaid? Would you work there at all? Would you join the PTA if you didn’t have a child? How many of us volunteer our time every week anyway? And do we know our neighbors to help them out when they are sick or tired? (That’s not very common at all in this area.)

I’m super proud of my son, who grabbed our shovel and went to help when he saw our neighbor trying to move many tons of rock alone. My son didn’t want anything in return; he just knew how much it sucks to have to do that kind of a job all by yourself, and so he wanted to help. I knew it too, but did I go help? I’m afraid not, and I have no excuse.

I’ve volunteered at things in the past, but am not currently doing so. (Except on a game, which counts for something I suppose.) And I know that there are many, many people who do volunteer regularly. I’m just not sure that I buy that it’s for purely altruistic reasons.

I think that there are benefits to volunteering (and that there’s nothing wrong with that.) We get to feel good because we are helping. Maybe there’s more purpose in our life. Maybe it’s nice to be needed. We meet people who have similar outlooks, and maybe become friends. Sometimes we even end up gaining monetarily because of our volunteer work, even though that wasn’t our intention.

I just think there’s a long way between strict altruism and only doing something because we’re getting paid. Most of us, I suspect, fall somewhere in the middle most of the time. And of course it may vary from situation to situation.

One thing I do know though is that I’ve made increasing giving one of my goals this year. Right now it’s increasing monetary giving, but I’d like to do other stuff as well.

View Comments (5)
  • I’ve cut way back on my volunteering as it was starting to ‘take over” my life so to speak. I belong to a couple social organizations that do various volunteer projects and one local professional organization that asks for volunteers. I made the decision a few months back that I would support a couple organizations with monetary contributions and not my time for the upcoming year. My time has become limited and I decided to use my “spare time” for me for the year 2009.

  • I’m the director of a small, volunteer-run nonprofit and give about 10 hours per week to the cause. It’s the issue I care about most in the entire world, so I put in as much time as I can. I give a few dollars to other organizations here and there, but I feel that the amount of time I put in for my volunteer “job” is enough. Plus, I’m a social worker so I spend my day helping people as it is. By the end of the week I am burnt out! In the past year, I’ve realized how much I could be doing for myself financially if I didn’t have the career/volunteer “job” that I do. I’ve explored ways to cut back on my volunteering so that I can make more money for myself, but it’s difficult to juggle.

  • I volunteer with several organizations, some that involve my kids some that don’t. This year I coached someone else’s kid for a technical student competition and advised the middle school yearbook club which neither of my children was on. I did these things because I have skills to share, and I enjoy turning on new talent. It’s a real privilege to be able to help these young people achieve things they didn’t think possible, and really rewarding when they flag me down in the grocery store years later to tell me what they’re up to. So my motives aren’t completely altruistic, I get so much back in rewards, it’s almost like getting paid. BETTER than just getting money, I think.

  • The intangible returns from doing charity work is great. And as Jen pointed out the returns are very rewarding and last a lifetime.

    But somehow for many of us it is easier to make a commitment that involves giving away…things, money etc…rather than our
    time:(

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