Found a great cause? Inspired by the mission of a new organization? Feeling like you should give back? Ready to volunteer? Yes, but … not right now, maybe after you get things a little more under control, once you build up more vacation days, as soon as the kids are a little older, or definitely during retirement?
There is a very understandable and rational tendency for us all to push off volunteerism “until the time is right.” After all, we do volunteer a lot already – we work with the Boy Scouts, help with the carpool, organize service club work days and even ring the bell for the Salvation Army. These are all important and very worthy efforts, and we strongly encourage you to continue in those.
The push of this article though is for the “big one” – the volunteer effort that takes you way out of your comfort zone, requires you to rearrange your life and really makes you sacrifice time and money that “you just don’t have” right now. Our friend, Birgit, inspired this article by asking us the question, “How do you overcome the tendency of people like me to push off volunteerism ‘until we have some more time’ and get us to do something NOW?”
Instead of just answering this ourselves, we asked several volunteers – really really busy people in different walks and stages of life – how and why they volunteered for the “big one” now. Here are excerpts of those replies that we hope help.
Given my responsibilities at work, it is very difficult to find time to take off. So, the first thing is identifying a window of time where you can take off and then just lock it in – block it off – non-negotiable no matter what changes. And, although we were excited about doing a trip with people that we did not know, sometimes that can be scary. If that is scary for you, get someone you know to commit with you – then you have an accountability partner – someone to share the excitement with and someone you are not going to let down by backing out. We were also excited about working with a new organization we strongly believed in -- we had only done trips before with our church and only inside the U.S., so this was a bit of a stretch. Getting as much information about the trip as possible really helped to calm my panic. I won’t lie, it is hard to sign up for the unknown -- it takes a lot of faith that many of us are a little light on, but honestly, it was way more than worth it.
When I discussed my humanitarian aid mission with various people, the reccurring comments (aside from lots of support and encouragement) were “There is plenty that can be done locally and there isn't a need to travel long distances to make a difference,” “Isn’t it really expensive to go on those trips?” “I hate asking people for money/donations,” "I can’t get that much time off work” and “I wish I had the guts to do that.” Most 30-something men and women are married with young kids. If not, there is a good chance they are highly involved in their career. When I sent out letters asking for support, my approach was this: We all agree that this is a good cause. We all agree that these women and children deserve to be helped and we all want to see it happen. You can either be involved by packing a bag and going on a trip yourself, or by donating funds to help those willing and able to go on the trip. Both elements are crucial to the success of the mission. I am willing to do it. I am willing to leave work, leave home, leave the comforts of America and go on a build. I ask you if you are willing to make this time sacrifice in your own life, or if you will choose to be a part of the change by making it possible for me to go. Either way, you are a big part of desperately needed change.
I am self-employed, which makes for a double-edged sword when it comes to taking extensive time off work to volunteer abroad. On the one hand, I don’t have a boss to tell me NO. On the other hand, if I leave, my business is at a standstill – I am paying quite a bit to go on the trip and losing quite a bit by not working. I made the decision to go from an independent agent to a franchise member in order to give myself a support system that would facilitate my desire to volunteer for humanitarian aid work. God stepped in and placed a colleague in my path that has stepped up and filled in while I have left on trips. She has made this possible for me professionally.
The details feel overwhelming at first, but when you start making plans it is amazing how they come together. Faith is a big part of life, and when you commit yourself to doing something selfless you will be rewarded. I would say to anyone considering this type of work, listen to your heart. If you have a nudge telling you to do this – it will not go away. You may leave home thinking you are going to help others, but I guarantee you will come home feeling like the one who was helped.
Wow, this is a great topic and something that is hard to do. For me, it started by just talking about charities to give money to – as days went on, I really felt like I needed to do more than just give money. I am healthy, my kids are only going to get busier, and truly life is too short. I couldn’t wait until retirement because the future is so unknown. I really prayed about going on the mission trip and one morning coming home from the gym the sunset was so beautiful and there was a cross in the sky. I knew that I needed to go. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It helped my husband and me appreciate each other. It is true, distance makes the heart grow stronger. It was the best lesson for my children to have them learn about others that don’t have as much as we do and to give of yourself.
The planning ahead of time was a lot. I will not lie. But there were so many people that helped out you cannot believe the support that you have until you ask for help. When I was on the trip, my family ate better than when I am home. My daughter said, “People just kept showing up with food every day!” People were willing to help out at work and cover whatever needed to be done so I could be gone. It is crazy that if I would just take the leap of faith that the rest would fall into place. My daughter’s teacher just gave her more hugs and combed her hair when dad just didn’t get that done that morning.
The best advice I can offer is if you wait for the "right" time it will likely never come. Many things in life can be put off until a better time – let's wait to have kids or let’s wait to get married. If we wait we may never have the experience, but if we take that leap, we may be lucky enough to repeat the experience that comes with volunteering over and over. I have been blessed to take several "trips of a lifetime" and none were easy or convenient, but stepping outside our comfort zone and committing is the first step to opening a treasure chest of experience – if not now, then when – commit – write it down and follow through! The sooner we have the experience the sooner it can influence our lives and through us the lives of others – why deny ourselves, and others, that gift?
Well said, volunteers! We agree.
So, what did Birgit take away from this that might help you as well?
The volunteers' comments show that no one jumped into this lightly. A lot of thought, prayer, and planning went into the individual decisions. All felt what one volunteer called a "nudge" and finally took the leap of faith to commit. None could have done it without some kind of support system, and all were enriched by the personal experience and by feeling part of the change they helped bring about.
For those of us just peaking over the edges of "our box" it is good to know that joining this type of effort is a process that includes stages of fear and doubt. As with many things in life, the "nudge" will manifest itself in other parts of our lives, through images, articles, or events, and as we let it percolate, we will know which direction to take when the opportunity presents itself.
One step in the process should be to examine our own motives for volunteering. Guilt or peer pressure probably don't make good long-term motivators. A big part of developing and sustaining the desire to volunteer, I think, is being passionate about the intended experience or result. Curiosity also plays a big role: the desire to look beyond the need of the person and to get to know his or her personal story, history and culture so that volunteerism is not simply a feel-good experience for us, but rather a fusion of shared experiences and mutual learning. That's when the whole world becomes our comfort zone.
Well said, Birgit! We agree.