‘When are you going to start doing some real work?’
When people ask me what you do, they really just want to know about what you are paid to do. If you answer with ‘I volunteer at my daughter’s school’, you can expect an ‘oh’ and something along the lines of ‘when do you think you’ll get back to your real job’?
Let us share a collective scream: “What about the value of volunteering?!?!”
Volunteering while juggling other responsibilities can be challenging and requires a combination of professional and life skills to manage successfully. Those who have held leadership positions or organised events such as festivals understand this well. The role of a volunteer can encompass various tasks such as event planning, change management, marketing, social work, strategy development, leadership, baking, small business management, graphic design, sales management, and financial approval, to name a few. Some days it is only one or two of these but if you’re really lucky, maybe you get to wear all of these hats in one day. How much more real does it get?
If I had a job where I was expected to do all of that and more I’d very rightly be proud of the work I did and I’m sure others would respect it too but for some reason when this amazing work is carried out without the benefit of a pay cheque and to benefit little people in uniforms, it loses value in the eyes of many.
So how do we turn this around?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot and it seems like those who’ve never volunteered often don’t grasp the effort involved. Trust me, I’ve tried explaining the craziness of running a canteen, but they just don’t get it. My solution? Give ’em a taste of the real deal! I convinced my husband to give it a go this year and now he’s a believer. Let’s start focusing on all the awesomeness we bring to the table, because, after all, volunteering is all about creating value!
Here are some examples that emphasise the value of volunteering:
Instead of “I’m on the Fete Committee”
They’re thinking – How hard could it be? It’s just planning where you are going to put a few merry-go-rounds and a cake stall.
I plan and co-ordinate a community event that is the highlight of the school calendar, brings in half of all money raised each financial year for our school, involves 40 external stall holders, 200 volunteers, 20 internal stall holders, entertainers and over $30,000 of donated prizes and sponsorship.
Instead of “I’m on the Fundraising Committee”
They’re thinking – You sit on your couch, watching The Bold and the Beautiful, stapling raffle tickets together.
I map out a yearly event calendar, plan and co-ordinate events and competitions that ensure we raise funds for critical school equipment and resource purchases, encourage community building and raise the profile of our school in the local community.
Instead of “I’m the Treasurer”
They’re thinking – You probably just run the money from selling those raffle tickets to the bank right?
I manage all financial, financial planning and regulatory matters for the equivalent of a $200,000 retail and service business in my spare time to ensure the school community has access to appropriate funding for key resource upgrades.
Instead of “I’m the President”
They’re thinking – You chair a meeting for an hour or two a month, max!
I lead a team of professionals who are dedicated to ensuring our school is the best it can be via resourcing, fundraising, community building, facilities and services. Working with this group and the principal on a regular basis I plan, co-ordinate, market and lead a variety of initiatives dedicated to this each year and lead the decision-making process for the allocation of funds towards critical school resources.
It’s about attitude
Yes, it sounds a bit naff. I’m not saying we should have to justify our contribution or sound like a walking job description. Maybe though, if we start to embrace the value of volunteering and think along these lines, then when we do describe what we do it will come across with the confidence necessary to command the respect that volunteering deserves and help others to better understand the value of volunteering.
It’s time to give volunteers the recognition they deserve! No more downplaying the importance and challenges of volunteer work. Our contributions are just as valuable as a paid job, and although it may not pay the bills, the sense of fulfillment is priceless. Let’s start giving volunteers the credit they’ve earned!
Mandy Weidmann is Australia’s ‘Fundraising Whisperer’ – publisher of the Fundraising Directory and author of the Practical Fundraising Handbook for School and Club Volunteers. Mandy believes that parent volunteers shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel all the time and is passionate about providing resources to make fundraising easier (and more fun). Click here to learn more about school and club fundraising ideas in Australia.