I have always held the opinion that volunteering is an important activity for all human beings to take part in, in order to try make the world a better place. But let’s get real, most people do things that benefit them in the end. So here are a few reasons that you should start volunteering from a selfish, GenX and GenY standpoint.
Top Reasons to Volunteer
You will feel better (and can brag) about yourself after volunteering
You will go to bed feeling like you are a better person for helping out an individual or organization. Think about it, who can dispute the goodness of your heart after you have volunteered 8 hours a month at the children’s hospital? In the hallway or at the water cooler you can #humblebrag and say “Yeah, well my weekend was pretty chill, I only helped doctors cure sick kids. No big deal.”
You gain experience through volunteering
Gone are the days when you get a job out of university or get promoted because you have seniority. You will not gain much (any) practical experience through your SOCI345 university course: The Theory of Teen Angst. If you really want to know how to deal with teens in the foster care system than VOLUNTEER for an agency.
If you have been in the workforce for any period of time, you know that you are lucky if your company provides an environment for growth. Especially in larger corporations, you probably have a specific task. In such a situation there may not be much room for you to become a well rounded person. For heavens sake VOLUNTEER. You can gain skills that are valuable to your (any) organization. Usually your higher value (say management skills you acquired when you organized a fundraiser for HIV Calgary) will translate to promotions and higher pay. Just saying.
You can get into events for free
There are lots of events that you cannot afford to go to. If you volunteer for the event you want to attend you can most likely get in for free. Of course, you won’t be there as a guest, but at least you will have access to a little bit of the fun. Good volunteer coordinators will let volunteers enjoy a little bit of the evening on rotation.
Don’t use volunteering as just a free ticket though. You will just end up being a dead weight for the organization. Work hard and earn your spot. If the ticket to the event costs $110.00 and you are pulling in $15/hour you better put in the hard work to be there. No one likes a boob.
You can make great contacts volunteering
Do not underestimate the value of being in the same room as people who are working for free. If you are a professional you may be working with other professionals who are doing skills-based volunteering. They could be employed at or be the HR person for the company that you want to work for. The old saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is still relevant today. You cannot underestimate the value of forming and maintaining contacts. A solid network will serve you well for years to come. Also, don’t think that you have to network with just “important” people. You never know when you will need a friend with a truck to help you move 😉
You gain important social skills/see the world through a new lens
Think about this very carefully: Your friends are probably reflections of you. You most likely roll with people who are in the same social-class, of the same race, practice the same religion, and are in the same economic segment as you. Consider the following (Bill Nye):
A window repairman sees the windows on people’s houses when driving by, while a gardener sees the types of plants that are planted, while an architect sees the style of building.
These perspectives allow us all to bring something to the table. If we all saw the same things, life would be a boring mess.
When you try to see the world from the lens of someone else, you can become wiser. You may understand why certain things offend other human beings. Not only that, but you could learn to understand why a person dresses a certain way or why they believe the (interesting) things they do.
By becoming accustomed with people who are “other” and not like you, you can adapt to many social situations and “fit in” almost anywhere. You know those Americans that walk around Banff in tacky shirts and “walking shoes” (usually white sneakers)? Don’t be like them. Adapt.
You can actually make a difference
Organizations in your backyard need your help to build better communities, lift up those who are in unfortunate circumstances, and raise funds to support “the cause”. The overall benefit of you volunteering your time is truly incalculable. You can put a price tag on labour hours to build a home for a family in your city , but you cannot put a price tag on a family’s security and well-being.
Mini Rant: Volunteering abroad and your “Pathological Altruism”
Before you head off to go volunteering in Africa (yes the country) or Nepal give your head a shake and think if you are doing more harm than good.
The following blog post has some good information on this, but I will summarize here:
Many times “volunteer projects can actually foster dependency on international aid and compromise the dignity of the people they are trying to help.” Other projects have fundamental ethical issues (i.e. trying to change a people’s culture, imposing questionable views and beliefs, exploitation, misuse of money, etc.). – Nomadic Matt
Not only that, but many projects are carried from the Western perspective. Why do I bring this up? Because sometimes these projects can be exercises in futility. Not everyone lives the way Westerners do, so for you and I to come up with a solution without consulting those impacted is questionable at best. See the two part quote below.
PT 1: “The problem with voluntourism,” … “is its singular focus on the volunteer’s quest for experience, as opposed to the recipient community’s actual needs.”
PT 2: A “failed voluntourism project” in Haiti — a set of houses built by an American church. Buoyed by the imagined nobility of their endeavor, the builders failed to consider the needs of the would-be inhabitants. The uneducated families that moved into the houses lacked professional skills and employment to improve their conditions and continued to beg for food long after the tourists left. – The white tourist’s burden by Rafia Zakaria
Before you take your “Pathological Altruism” half way across the world think of the hungry people in your own backyard. There are lots of people who struggle in Canada. There are millions more who struggle in the rest of the “developed world”. Do your research and don’t let your complex think that Africa needs saving. There are lots of worthy causes right here at home.
Don’t get me wrong, I encourage you to volunteer abroad. But to be frank, the “developing” world doesn’t need your unskilled labour for three weeks in July. They need local solutions and the help of skilled locals and foreigners to implement the solutions. Are you skilled? Have you done your research? If not, take that year off school to work at the food bank.