Goodbye Grumblings

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Volunteering — it’s about getting as much as giving

Is volunteering its own reward?

It’s National Volunteer Week here in Canada, a time to celebrate volunteers, who give almost 2 billion hours a year in Canada, an amount of time that’s equal to about 1 million full-time jobs.

Volunteering is about giving time, effort and energy. Some 12.7 million people in Canada volunteer, and that’s an inspiring number. More than 4 in 10 people. On average, Canadian volunteers give around 150 hours per year. And on top of that, over 80 percent of Canadians volunteer informally, helping others with things like chores or errands. That’s a lot of giving.

It’s a great idea to acknowledge the work volunteers do, and to consider how different the world would be without all of these people stepping up.

Having said that, as a volunteer, I feel ambivalent when thanked effusively, when rewarded for the time and effort I spend. I appreciate the acknowledgement, but I don’t want to dwell on it. Based on my own very unscientific observations, and conversations I’ve had with long-time volunteers over the years, I’m not alone in this. I can think of two reasons for this feeling of almost discomfort:

  • We don’t do what we do for the reward or recognition. We do it because it needs doing and we get a sense of fulfillment by doing it.
  • We may not start volunteering for our own benefit, but we definitely end up benefitting, perhaps even more than the organization we volunteer for.

I consider volunteering a way of contributing to society, a duty. It’s something I do because it’s right to do it. It helps me feel that I’m doing my part for the greater good and that things are right with the world. When I’ve been in between volunteer activities, I’ve missed that feeling of helping people. As a parent, I considered it important to take my turn as a Scouter, since my own children were benefitting very much from being involved in Scouting. If it hadn’t been Scouting, it would have been something else.

Volunteering has some less obvious benefits

I get to connect with people I may never have otherwise have met, and work with them towards common goals. And I’m not alone! Many volunteers say that volunteering helps them

I got to practise my leadership skills as a Cub Scout leader, and the experience gave me confidence early in my professional life.

Volunteering provides balance and gets me away from computers. It forces me to shift my focus. I find that getting out and spending time with other people, working towards common goals, distracts me from my day-to-day stress. I don’t even have time to think about grumbling when I’m busy at a meeting or a camp. Studies have shown that there are physical benefits to volunteering: it seems that volunteers have

I know that I don’t speak for everyone. Some people may want or need more formal recognition that they are doing good and useful work and that their contributions are valued. I’ve been told that without recognition, volunteers sometimes walk away. For that reason, I think National Volunteer Week is a great idea: let’s celebrate the people who keep so many things going without financial gain — the coaches, band teachers, mentors and companions. Let’s make sure people know just how much happens without money changing hands. Who knows, we may even net some new volunteers.

For myself, more than rewards and recognition, I truly appreciate the occasional quiet conversation with a parent who tells me that Scouting has made a difference for her child. Seeing kids demonstrate new abilities and leadership with confidence, knowing that I helped provide a safe place for them to have fun, to try and to learn, gives me a lovely warm fuzzy feeling, and means more than any badge or certificate.

As someone who has benefitted from the efforts of volunteers all my life — in school, at church, at work and at play — I believe volunteers are crucial to a well-functioning society. But as a volunteer, I want to remember to be grateful for the experiences that come my way, that give me the opportunity to contribute, to do some good and to benefit physically and mentally. All in all, from my point of view, volunteering is a win-win situation that does good for all parties. And I’m on board with  promoting it however we can.

Do you have any tales of when volunteering helped you? Has it brought good into your life? Send me an email at susan_at_goodbyegrumblings.ca or leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

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About GrumblingSusan

Word lover. Story addict. Daydreamer. Optimist. Ottawan. Treehugger. Scouter.

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