Growing up, volunteering was as much a part of our lives as farming. I remember Dad rushing in after chores for a quick shower, bite to eat and splash of Old Spice cologne, then out the door to another late night meeting. He has served on every board imaginable – county farm bureau, fair association, township, school board, regional school board, pork producers. He did it because he felt that if he wanted a say, then maybe he should put in the time. Novel idea, don’t you think?
My mom, in addition to coaching, teaching aerobics, owning a fitness club, and directing a preschool, was always available. She made the cute treats for holiday parties, coordinated the make-up room for high school musicals, was the quintessential sports mom and contributed wherever extra hands were needed.
I suppose it makes sense then that My Farmer routinely calls me a professional volunteer. The word ‘no’ is not in my vocabulary, although at times it probably should be. I work part-time as an ag literacy coordinator, and get bored quickly with seemingly mundane domestic tasks, so volunteering is my way to fill a day.
This week is National Volunteer Week, seven whole days we can spend focusing on putting the extra on ordinary. Volunteers are people who don’t have the time. They are busy with work, family and life, but they give an hour or a dollar to contribute to something greater than themselves.
They are everywhere – coaching youth sports (My farm boy’s basketball coach is also his baseball coach.), leading 4-H Club meetings (Some of our club leaders have been involved for over 30 years.), coordinating school fundraisers (Just this week, our school’s Foundation hosted a Wine, Beer & Cheese Gala.), providing respite care for Hospice families, donating time at cancer care centers, filling in at the school library, cleaning the city park, caring for animals at the local shelter, sitting on boards, directing organizations, sorting clothes at the GoodWill Center . . .
Volunteering has changed though. A few years ago, I attended a volunteer-focused meeting and learned that people are busy. Shocking revelation.
So, volunteering needs to match a busy schedule. People want short-term commitments that use their talents and support their interests. They want to volunteer once and be done for the month or the year. They’re picking their causes and sticking to them instead of spreading the wealth of their time to multiple efforts.
In my time as a volunteer, in being tasked to recruit volunteers and work with volunteers, I’ve learned that time is of the essence. People don’t have it to give or aren’t as willing to, so we must use it wisely. Be organized and respectful. Waste time once and lose a volunteer forever.
I’ve also learned the number one reason why someone doesn’t volunteer? No one ever said, “We need you.” Feeling wanted is a powerful motivator.
What hasn’t changed though is the reason people volunteer. It’s not for a grand reward or recognition for flipping pancakes on a Sunday morning at the annual elementary school fundraiser. It’s for the sense of purpose and belonging.
However, I will say a simple thank you can go a long way. This card arrived Monday from one of our county’s 4-H members. I’ll admit, it took the tedium out of planning for my next 4-H Cloverbud meeting.
For me, volunteering is not an option, it’s an obligation. Some of the most influential people in my life have been volunteers. This community has been my home and will remain so until death. What right do I have to criticize any part of it, if I haven’t put some time into it.
“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” – Unknown.
Thank you to volunteers everywhere!