One of the greatest gifts we can give to others is our time. Another great gift is the freely given money that we earn. Each is a type of volunteerism. Each should be treasured no matter how large or small the sacrifice may seem to others. We truly do not know what is in another person’s heart. Nor do we know what value they place on their own time or money. What may seem like a small sacrifice to one person could be everything to another person.
These are ideas I have been examining in my own life. In the past I have given money and time to causes, organizations, and groups I feel benefit others as well as me. I generally give time because the majority of my money must pay for bills and the raising of my children. When I give my time I gain and sacrifice simultaneously. I gain because I usually meet wonderful like-minded people. I also usually bring my children to help so they gain in knowledge and work ethic skills. Their gain is in essence my gain.
However, I also face losses. These occur within the realm of quality time with family and personal opportunities. Instead of volunteering I could be working, or spending one on one time with my family and friends, or even allowing myself to indulge in personal pleasures. Instead, I give because I love to give and because I usually gain more than I loose. In the past my volunteer mantra has always followed the idea that when the losses become greater than the gains I would stop volunteering.
As I am growing older and my children are moving on I am noticing a loss in volunteer value for some groups and organizations. When I volunteer I don’t expect very much. If I have a warm fuzzy feeling at the end then I feel that the group has done a good job of valuing my time and service. However, when I walk away feeling as though they expected more and were disappointed in me no matter what the reason, I feel undervalued. I have encountered a few groups which use guilt to gain more from their volunteers. This works only because volunteers have big hearts, but it only works for the short term. When big hearted people realize they are undervalued pawns in somebody else’s success the loss for both parties becomes great.
We should value our volunteers. This value doesn’t have to come in the form of monetary or expensive gifts. Instead, most volunteers would be happy with a smile, a free meal, a little gas money, or a supportive hug. Most volunteers also want to be thanked and appreciated even when other opportunities call. As I said before, I have volunteered for numerous organizations. I have given countless hours of time and money to these groups. Some volunteer positions have been held for the sole benefit of my children. Fewer have been held to benefit my interests. All volunteer hours were given because I believed in the value of the group. With each organization I am acutely in-tune with who values me and which ones just use me.
Since pursuing my graduate degree, cycling, and hiking interests I am even more aware of which groups and organizations actually care about me as a person. Honestly, the groups that care about their volunteers are the ones I will continue to stand by when my children are grown and my future career is established. This is because I want to be loved as much as the animals, nature, children, history, guests, or causes they love. I am after all a contributor to their cause and should be valued as such. The same value should be applied to all volunteers.
I have a feeling the next few years are going to present some interesting changes as I begin examining which groups value me. Using a library term, it is time to weed out the collection.