Don’t turn your nose at volunteering


To all of you who volunteer, or have volunteered in the past… I salute you!

This week is National Volunteer Week and the focus for 2016 is on a ‘call to action’.  According to the Volunteering New Zealand website:

Lack of time is the most commonly cited reason why people don’t volunteer, both in NZ and internationally. We believe that for volunteering to flourish, and the various benefits of volunteering to be realised, people are increasingly going to need to make time, now and into the future.

Competition is increasing, people are retiring later, the costs of living are rising, industries are waxing and waning, the workforce is more diverse than ever… people who remain stagnant are likely to be left behind and will struggle to find a sense of upward mobility, a far cry from the relatively fairer playing field that existed in years gone by.

I firmly believe that volunteering is a key strategy for enabling people to develop and build resilience.  Not only does it allow a person to gain practical experience, they also learn work ethic and attach value to the work they do.  Volunteering builds self-esteem, it promotes a growth mindset, it stimulates the mind.  It also positively contributes to the productivity of our nation.

Imagine if we didn’t have people volunteering as counsellors, fire fighters, crisis workers, carers, advocates, hosts, animal shelter helpers, language tutors, gardeners, reading assistants…  the world would be a much sorrier place to live in.  The idea is that showing a generosity of spirit is not only beneficial for the community, it also fosters higher level needs for the volunteer as demonstrated by Abraham Maslow’s model below.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

As a career practitioner I have worked with many students from a wide variety of backgrounds.  To do this day I am so surprised when I talk with graduates who have never undertaken formal work before.   Employers appreciate graduates who have developed some level of experience, so engaging in unpaid voluntary work is a much easier way for students and graduates to do this.

Unfortunately a perception exists that voluntary work is not ‘real work’.  Hogwash!  I wholeheartedly wish to communicate to parents and guardians that voluntary work is a wonderful way for their children to gain meaningful work experience.  As many volunteer organisations are charity based, the spirit of generosity will likely develop quicker.

Yes, time is very precious and many people cite being busy as a key barrier to volunteering.  I challenge this thinking.  Volunteering can be as small as a few hours of week.  Imagine if some of the hours we use watching TV or doing ‘nothing’ were converted into volunteering time.

I have been volunteering since I was a teenager and engaged in a range of informal and formal opportunities including tree planting, spending time with intellectually disabled children, phone counselling, mentoring students, providing career advice to people, collecting rubbish, fundraising for charities, delivering pamphlets…

Whilst I have different reasons for engaging in those activities, I always feel satisfied with my contributions and it reminds me about what it means to be a part of a service community.

If you’re reading this and can relate to what I’ve said, then keep advocating the importance of having volunteers in our world.  If you’ve never tried volunteering before, then consider what it might add to your life.  If you disagree with what I’ve said, then that’s your truth.  Just be willing to acknowledge those who wish to pursue it.

I leave you with this wonderful quote by longtime hero, Gandhi.


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