Getting into Volunteering

Getting into Volunteering

A lot of us enter retirement with a strong desire to give back.  A lot fewer of us have already established how we are going to do that.  The difference in what happens with those two different starting points can be dramatic.  Why?  Because finding a way to “give back” when you are approaching existing organizations who don’t know you is every bit as daunting as finding a new job.

You have to prove yourself.  That comes over time.

That means you will have to make peace with the reality that those who were there before you will have more say in how and what gets done–even if you are an expert with 35 years experience in what the group is trying to accomplish.

You will have to accept that politics can exist and be every bit as lethal in the volunteer setting as in business, academia, education, or whatever arena you just stepped out of.  

And you have to accept that you are a beginner in everyone else’s eyes because they don’t know you (yet). If you’re already smarting from losing the sense of competence the job gave you, that can be a more brutal beating than you’re ready for.

Do it anyway. 

But be ready to be “the new kid” in terms of what you get to do and how you are perceived.  (And be ready to do your happy dance if being seen as “the rookie” when you aren’t turns out not to be the case.)

Find a volunteer gig that relates to something you’re deeply interested in rather than just jumping into what a friend is already doing.  With paid work, you show up anyway if what you’re doing isn’t that interesting.  With volunteering, “ya gotta wanna” to keep at it long enough to achieve the momentum of enjoying being part of the group.  If you quit a lot of things right after you start because they aren’t interesting, you lose interest in volunteering altogether–an unfortunate overreaction.

Pay attention to the tone of the organization.  Do they appreciate volunteer help?  Are they upbeat with their mission?  Do they treat both those being helped and those doing the helping with respect?  Are they well organized?  Are they using resources wisely?

When you volunteer, you really do get paid–but in emotional benefits.  Being part of a group effort for the greater good can foster a sense of belonging, create the opportunity for new friendships, and make you remember how lucky you are yourself.  But you need to choose the organization wisely to get those things.  “Whatever comes along” might leave you way short of that.

Or, as a good friend used to say “I’ll work for nothing but not any less.”

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