When are you going to start doing some real work?
I know I’m guilty of it. When people ask me what I do, I go through the normal stuff about the work I get paid to do then I usually say, ‘And I volunteer at my daughter’s school’. At this point I generally get a ‘oh’ and ‘when are you going to focus back on your real work’? And every time I feel like screaming, “What about the value of volunteering?”
Volunteering along with our other responsibilities can be demanding, sometimes it requires all of our professional and life skills and experience to help us navigate it successfully. Anyone who has been a president or treasurer, on a fundraising committee or has run a major event like a fete or festival can probably relate. Some days you can be an event co-ordinator, a change management consultant, a marketing consultant, a social worker, a strategic planner, a leader, a baker, a small business manager, a graphic designer, a sales manager, financial approver, well you get the picture. 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 anyone who has volunteered in a similar role will understand, it is usually (in my experience) the people who’ve never had the chance to volunteer who downplay the importance of volunteering. From my experience, no amount of explaining just how demanding running the canteen is will ever get them to truly value the work that goes into it. Short of some impromptu work experience (which I did get my husband to do this year), I think we need to start thinking in terms of the value we create.
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 design 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 embrace the value of volunteering and think along these lines when we do describe what we do it will come across with the confidence necessary to help command the respect that volunteering deserves and help others to better understand the value of volunteering.
So maybe it is time we stopped allowing the down-playing (especially if we are the guilty ones) of the important and challenging role that volunteers play. What we do is just as important as a paid job and the rewards, though not as good for our bank balance, are just as fulfilling.