The Not-So-Sexy Side of Volunteering

Written by Danielle Stewart

Volunteering is multi-faceted in its importance to our society.  It enriches our society, brings us together as a community, and helps keep organizations afloat. However, when we think of volunteering, there seems to be an all too common misconception. It’s easy to get lost envisioning ourselves as the protagonist travelling abroad to dig water wells and vaccinate young children in third world countries. And it’s an admirable picture, no doubt, but are we romanticizing what we think we should be doing over the reality of what needs to be done?

It’s hard to know where to begin when it comes to volunteering; we get the inspiration to do so, go online to check out what is out there, and may feel disappointed to see a lack of volunteer opportunities that don’t match our expectations. Images of saving children and animals portrayed in the media often dilute the importance of the work done in our local community. It’s easy to think that unless we are helping on the front-line – we are not helping at all. Or perhaps it is a case of out of sight, out of mind.

The hard reality about non-profits is that grants are difficult to come by and most organizations are living year-to-year. Often working on shoestring budgets, volunteers become crucial to the organizations ability to operate and deliver invaluable services, programs and events within the community. It’s easy to be blinded to this fact when we are bombarded with messages in the media from internationally recognized charities with large advertising budgets. It’s easy to feel tapped out with giving more of ourselves when we are constantly asked if we would like to donate a dollar at what feels like every till we encounter these days. This is not to devalue the importance of these organizations in any way. It merely serves as a simple reminder about something I once heard someone say. “If we want to create a better world, we need to start with our community”.

Let’s say you’re passionate about tackling homelessness. You check out opportunities at shelters and other related organizations, and discover an opportunity to help with a fundraising BBQ. Sure, flipping burgers doesn’t sound ‘sexy’ or altruistic, and it may be hard to imagine how doing so for a few hours will make a difference to the homeless.  We don’t directly serve the individuals this organization helps, therefore it can be easy to oversee the impact that helping at this event would have. However, reframing how we look at this opportunity and the effect this ‘not-so-sexy’ task can have is a great place to start in order to realize the value of our time.  Let’s break it down and take a closer look at the significance of our time spent at the BBQ would have in the community:

  • The organization relies heavily on fundraising initiatives, events and donations to serve the community in need. Therefore, this BBQ is imperative to the organizations livelihood and ability to keep their doors open to serve the homeless through programs and services.

  • Organizations cannot afford to pay individuals to help execute majority of the tasks necessary to raise funds or keep their operations going on a day-to-day basis. Lack of help turns into being unable to operate, which turns into the homeless being under-served in the community, which turns into community issues and challenges we all feel eventually. Our time donated as a volunteer helps relieve this never-ending hamster wheel of not having enough resources to deliver effective programs and services to our community.

  • Not only does your help at the BBQ impact the organizations ability to execute their mission in the community, but on a deeper level, you could indeed be helping to save someone’s life. When you donate your time to the organization, you are helping them keep their mission and programming alive in the community. Without some of these organizations, individuals - and consequently - our community can suffer from the lack of resources available. The other side of the reality we usually don’t see in our everyday lives is the grave consequences a lack of resources in the community can have to an individual’s life or family.

  • Whether you directly see the impact or benefit from it or not – you are making a difference. Giving your time and energy to volunteer to this organization makes our community a better place, not only for the individuals they serve, but the greater community as a whole. It enhances inclusion, safety and opportunity. You also benefit by cultivating compassion and kindness. Many people this day in age only are willing to give their time and energy if they know they get something material in return. If you can see the intangible gains you get out of giving, you are making a huge difference.

  • Spreading kindness makes you feel amazing. The organization you help when you volunteer will always be grateful for your contributing because they know they need people like you to keep their organization running. Even more so, by helping out at that fundraising BBQ, you contributed towards building a stronger and safer community by enhancing the organizations capacity to serve their clients with another warm meal or clothes to wear in the cold. You may not personally see the smile on someone’s face when the organization puts bread on their plate, but take comfort in knowing how gratifying of an experience that is, and how grateful that individual is to have a warm meal or safe space to sleep with their family from the cold. That smile signifies that you have made a difference in that person’s life, and is why we do what we do.

It’s pretty amazing to see the ways a few hours of our time can unfold into something much bigger than ourselves. Not only does volunteering help the organization and their purpose, but it helps us become more compassionate, resilient and invested in our communities. Volunteering has a substantial ripple effect that starts from something as little as a few hours at the community BBQ. If you think flipping burgers isn’t important or a worthy way to spend your time - think again my friend!

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